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The Journal Gazette

  • Ball State University Redshirt junior Tayler Persons has been named to the Preseason All-MAC West Team.

Thursday, November 09, 2017 1:00 am

Ball State Men's Breakdown

Schedule

Nov. 6: Saint Francis, 7 p.m. (exhibition)

Nov. 10: at Dayton, 7 p.m.

Nov. 15: at Oklahoma, 8 p.m.

Nov. 17: Stony Brook, 7 p.m.

Nov. 19: at Oregon, 9 p.m.

Nov. 22: at Bucknell, 7 p.m.

Nov. 25: at Indiana State, 1 p.m.

Nov. 28: Oakland City, 7 p.m.

Dec. 2: IUPUI, 2 p.m.

Dec. 5: at Notre Dame, 7 p.m.

Dec. 9: Valparaiso, 2 p.m.

Dec. 19: North Florida, 7 p.m.

Dec. 22: Jackson St., 7 p.m.

Dec. 29: Florida A&M, 7 p.m.

Jan. 2: E. Michigan, 7 p.m.

Jan. 6: Buffalo, 2 p.m.

Jan. 9: at Ohio, 7 p.m.

Jan. 13: at Western Michigan, TBD

Jan. 16: Central Michigan, 7 p.m.

Jan. 20: at Miami (Ohio), 3:30 p.m.

Jan. 23: at Kent St., 7 p.m.

Jan. 27: Akron, noon

Jan. 30: at Toledo, 7 p.m.

Feb. 3: at E. Michigan, noon

Feb. 6: Bowling Green, 7 p.m.

Feb. 10: Kent St., 2 p.m.

Feb. 13: at Akron, TBD

Feb. 17: Toledo, 2 p.m.

Feb. 20: No. Illinois, 7 p.m.

Feb. 23: W. Michigan, 9 p.m.

Feb. 27: at Central Michigan, 7 p.m.

March 2: at Northern Illinois, 8 p.m.

5 Facts

• CBSSports.com listed Ball State as one of its “10 possible Cinderella teams you may be talking about during March Madness.”

• Ball State has eight former Indiana All-Stars on its roster – the most since Purdue had eight in 1998-99. The eight former Indiana All-Stars are Tayler Persons, Sean Sellers and Jeremie Tyler of 2014; Tahjai Teague and K.J. Walton of 2015; Kyle Mallers and Brachen Hazen of 2016; and Zach Gunn of 2017.

• In the Mid-American Conference West Division preseason poll, the Cardinals were picked to finish second.

• Fifth-year head coach James Whitford and his team have put up back-to-back 20-plus-win seasons and consecutive Mid-American Conference West Division championships.

• The Cardinals are up for a challenge this season facing six nonconference opponents that have reached the NCAA tournament at least once in the past two seasons. Ball State plays host to Stony Brook in the home opener followed by Dayton, Oklahoma, Oregon, Bucknell and Notre Dame on the road.

4 games of interest

Nov. 19 vs. Oregon: In the third of three games played in five days, the Cardinals travel to Oregon to take on one of last year's NCAA Final Four teams. As part of Whitford's grueling nonconference schedule, Oregon may be the biggest challenge for Ball State. Oregon head coach Dana Altman and the Ducks are coming off a 33-6 season and finished the year at No. 7 in the RPI standings. While the Cardinals are clear underdogs against the Ducks, Oregon did lose seven players who saw playing time last season. The veteran Cardinals could look to take advantage of that.

Dec. 5 vs. Notre Dame: The meeting between the Irish and the Cardinals will be the first since 1976. Under 18-year head coach Mike Brey, Notre Dame is picked to finish third in the Atlantic Coast Conference. After going 26-10 last season, the Irish return senior forward Bonzie Colson. Last season, Colson led the ACC in rebounding (10.1) and was the only player in the conference to average a double-double.

Dec. 9 vs. Valparaiso: The meeting will be the fifth straight between the Cardinals and the Crusaders. Last season, Ball State fell to Valparaiso 79-73. Matt Lottich enters his second season as Crusaders head coach. In 2016-17, the Crusaders finished with a 24-9 record earning a bid to the National Invitational Tournament. Ball State sophomore forward Brachen Hazen has a younger brother, Parker Hazen, who's a freshman forward for the Crusaders.

Jan. 13 vs. Western Michigan: The Broncos were picked to finish first in the MAC West preseason poll. Western Michigan is easily the team to be chased in the MAC this season. The Broncos finished the regular season last year on an eight-game winning streak that led them to being named MAC West champions. After winning its first conference tournament game, the Broncos fell to the Cardinals 66-63. Ball State won two of three meetings with Western Michigan last season, but with the Broncos ranked better than the Cardinals in the preseason poll, it's Western Michigan that Ball State is chasing.

3 key players

Zach Gunn, Fr., F: The 6-foot-6 Gunn verbally committed to head coach James Whitford and Ball State the same day former Indiana head coach Tom Crean was fired. Gunn had offers from both schools, and the firing certainly influenced his decision. Gunn, a Fishers native, stamped his name in the record books at Hamilton Southeastern as the all-time leading scorer (1,660) and rebounder (791) in school history. The same school produced current NBA player Gary Harris.

Trey Moses, Jr., C: As a sophomore, the Louisville native averaged a double-double over a 12-game stretch. Moses recorded eight double-doubles last season, with five of them coming against MAC opponents. Moses led the Cardinals in rebounding (8.3), blocks per game (1.1) and field goal percentage (.561). Between him and the blocking abilities of redshirt sophomore Tahjai Teague, look for the two to cause a ruckus around the rim.

Tayler Persons, Jr., G: The redshirt junior had a huge first season for the Cardinals last year. He started all 34 games, leading the team in minutes played per game with 29. Persons ranked second in the MAC in assists per game with 4.9. He was named to the Preseason All-MAC West Team. With depth in the backcourt with additions of redshirt junior Jontrell Walker and freshman Ishmael El-Amin, Persons will have added help.

2 points of concern

Replacing Franko House: Whitford's “do everything” player was House. The forward, who holds the record for most games played in school history, earned all-conference honors both his junior and senior seasons. He averaged 13.4 points per game during his senior season, but his most valuable asset might have been his leadership.

Injuries: Ball State is battling injuries before the season even starts. Moses has yet to practice due to a hamstring injury, while Teague has been limited with knee troubles. On media day, Whitford said both Moses and Teague will be fine “big picture,” but the starting core has had to practice without its center. Whitford said the injuries “kind of disrupted the flow of practice a little bit.”

1 major issue

Just three seniors:With the departure of House, it's up in the air as to who will fill his shoes as Ball State's team leader. Guard/forward Sean ellers took on an increased role last season playing in all 34 of the team's games and averaging 8.6 points. Guard Francis Kiapway had a slightly lower statistical line his junior season compared with his sophomore season. Still, Kiapway averaged 8.1 points last season and is just 40 shots shy of the school record for most 3-pointers made. The third senior, Jeremie Tyler, has been unreliable as a Cardinal. The 6-2 guard appeared in only nine games as a freshman due to academic ineligibility. After a strong sophomore season, Tyler was suspended the first 10 games of his junior season due to a violation of team rules. He finished the season appearing in 20 games averaging 8.5 points. As long as he can comply with team rules and keep his grades up, Tyler could emerge as a leader.

– Elizabeth Wyman, For The Journal Gazette