BY CONNOR ONION | BALL STATE SPORTS LINK
Ball State begins its fourth season under head coach James Whitford with a road trip to Atlantic 10 opponent Saint Louis for the first ever meeting between the teams.
Friday’s game is the first of four contests Ball State will play as part of the MGM Grand Main Event. The Cardinals will also play a road game Nov. 18 at Alabama and then two neutral site games against Coppin State (Nov. 21) and Southern Utah (Nov. 23) at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas as part of the event.
Listen to Friday’s game on SL Radio on WCRD and watch on Fox Sports Midwest.
Gaining Steam on the Road
“This is the best position we’ve been in in my four years,” Whitford said.
After a 21-win season last year, the Cardinals are coming off their best showing since the 2001-02 campaign.
There is reason to feel good about the progress over the past three seasons, especially with Ball State’s ability to solve its road woes last year.
In 2013-14 – year one under Whitford – Ball State went 0-16 away from Muncie. The successive season produced a paltry single road win.
Up until January 12th last winter, Ball State lost 13 consecutive road contests. That changed with a resounding double-digit win against Western Michigan.
The transformative win against Western Michigan yielded to five more road wins, including overcoming a 17-point deficit in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament against Tennessee State.
After terminating their road woes in 2015-16, the Cardinals look to curtail another streak on Friday night: Three consecutive losses in season openers.
Rick Majerus Connection
The late Rick Majerus (1948-2012) was the head coach at both Ball State and Saint Louis University.
Inheriting a 9-win Ball State program in 1987, Majerus catalyzed Ball State into two decades of Mid-American Conference and national prosperity.
In Majerus’ third year in Muncie, the Cardinals won a program record 29 games, a regular season conference title and a tournament championship. The 29-win season was highlighted by the first NCAA tournament win in program history with a first round triumph over Pittsburgh.
Following the successful season, Majerus bolted for Utah.
However, the groundwork was laid for the best run in school history the following year.
Majerus’ recruits Curtis Kidd, Paris McCurdy and Chandler Thompson carried Ball State to the Sweet 16 with opening round upsets of Louisville and Oregon State. Majerus’ protégé Dick Hunsaker coached the 1990 team after Majerus’ departure.
After several years at Utah, Majerus landed at Saint Louis in 2007. With only one losing season in his five years, his final season was most memorable. A captivating 26-8 campaign ended in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Shortly after the tournament, tragedy struck and Majerus passed away at 64 years of age due to a heart condition.
Depsite being lost too soon, Majerus will be remembered as quote machine, poking fun at his plump stature.
“Nobody thought I’d be a great coach,” he famously said. “I’m the kind of guy you’d expect to be driving an 18-wheeler through town.”
New Face on the Saint Louis Bench
After Majerus passed away, his assistant Jim Crews was promoted as the master of the Saint Louis program.
Despite going just 59-140 in his previous stint as a head coach at Army, Crews enjoyed success in his first two seasons in his new job.
In 2013 the Billikens made the tournament as a four seed. The ensuing season they were a five seed.
A decline followed, exemplified by back-to-back 11-21 seasons.Crews was fired following the latter of the two.
At Oklahoma State they experienced similar stagnation within their program, firing Travis Ford after last season. Saint Louis swooped the veteran coach before March ended.
“We are going to deliver a brand of basketball that is fun, exciting, aggressive and up-tempo — one that recruits will love playing and fans will love watching,” Ford said.