Every week of the season, we’re going to take a look at the three biggest storylines surrounding Ball State Men’s Basketball, categorized in order of importance the same way basketball shots are: first a basic layup for the most obvious point, then a mid-range jumper and finally a bomb from deep three-point range for our most important storyline of the week.
Layup: The only place to start when you’re talking about Ball State basketball’s opening week is the emergence of two stars in Tayler Persons and Franko House. The pair has combined for 91 points in the team’s first two games, good for 57 percent of the team’s total point production.
Ball State has had talented rosters for the past several seasons, but has desperately tried to find players who can be relied on for buckets in must-have situations. If House and Persons can maintain this level of offense, it raises the ceiling of this year’s Cardinals to a new level.
Persons flashed his ability in his lone season at Northern Kentucky, leading the team in scoring and capturing Atlantic Sun Conference Freshman of the Year honors, but he is showcasing the developments he made during last season when he was required to sit out due to NCAA transfer rules.
He’s transformed his body, down from 230 pounds when he arrived to about 205 with just seven percent body fat, allowing him that extra degree of quickness to penetrate into the lane get around defenders. But he’s also polished his game, adding a three-point weapon he didn’t have at NKU where he shot just 18.5 percent from deep. So far this season, Persons has hit five of eight attempts, stretching the defense numerous other times with the threat of pulling from three.
House had a similar journey, and the reshaping of his body has been well documented. But his ability to shoot from the outside has really opened up his game, making defenders chase him around the floor.
When asked at media day if Cardinal fans could expect him to make more than just the three 3-point field goals he hit last season, House joked, “yeah in one game.” As a matter of fact, House did hit four three-point field goals in the team’s season opener against Saint Louis.
This is not to say House has gone away from his strength, which is still banging down in the paint. Through the pair of games, House has 20 rebounds and was counted on again and again for big buckets down low during Tuesday’s contest with Indiana State.
Mid-Range: The college basketball season stretches for nearly five months, with most teams playing upwards of 35 games. It’s a grind.
As all of the experienced coaches will tell you, the key is to never get too high or too low during the course of the season. This week’s mid-range jumper is the emotional roller-coaster of college basketball.
The opening game of the season came on the road against a team from the Atlantic 10 Conference in Saint Louis, who was a five seed in the NCAA Tournament as recently as 2014.
Yet the Cardinals dominated from start to finish, outclassing the Billikens in every facet of the 85-64 victory. It was a triumphant start to a promising season.
Then the Cardinals returned for their home-opener against rival Indiana State, in front of a sizable crowd in Worthen Arena. Emotions rode high as the game went to overtime, and tension turned to dejection after the 80-74 defeat.
The key will be observing what comes next, as Ball State travels to Alabama for arguably its most difficult non-conference game of the season. The team has shown the ability to compete with higher level teams, but will have to keep their emotions controlled to take care of business against the SEC foe.
Three-Pointer: When looking for reasons as to why this year’s Cardinals promise to be improved from a season ago, one aspect that has gone under-appreciated is their work on the offensive glass. Let’s take a look at Ball State’s offensive rebounding for our three-point bomb of the week.
Last season the team admittedly liked to play small lineups, closing games with Bo Calhoun (6-foot-7) and House (6-foot-6) as its biggest players. Regardless, the Cardinals struggled to generate extra possessions on the offensive glass. Statistically, Ball State ranked 293rd in offensive rebounds per game at 9.1.
Through two games this season, they have grabbed 25 offensive rebounds, up to 12.5 per contest. If that statistic holds, it would rank close to top 50 in the country.
Those offensive rebounds are even more effective when you consider the roster Ball State has, stocked top to bottom with knock down catch-and-shoot players. In the words of ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas, “the best time to shoot a three is off of an offensive rebound.”
When combined with the extra possessions Ball State has gotten due to forcing 31 turnovers from opponents to this point, they give themselves a built-in advantage going into any matchup they face.
The real questions is if they can maintain these advantages, specifically against an Alabama team whose players won’t have a major size advantage over the Cardinals.
That contest is Friday, November 18th at 9 p.m. on the SEC Network and ESPN3.
Stay tuned to Chirp City and @bsusportslink on social media for full coverage!