BY JACK KIZER | Ball State Sports Link
The Mid-American Conference race is sizzling and this week’s pair of games for Ball State are vital. Two 6-6 opponents on the road with contrasting styles of play are the obstacles the Cardinals will have to climb if they hope to stay atop the MAC West.
Ball State @ Northern Illinois, February 14th 9:00pm
|Northern Illinois Team Stats||Ball State Team Stats|
|PPG: 71.8||PPG: 78.7|
|PA: 68.5||PA: 74.5|
|FG%: 43%||FG%: 47%|
|3FG%: 31% (124-404)||3FG%: 38% (216-573)|
|FT%: 68% (394-579)||FT%: 72% (372-515)|
|RPG: 39% (Margin: +3.6)||RPG: 37.7 (Margin: +2.9)|
|APG: 10.9||APG: 15.9|
|TOPG: 13.9 (Margin: +1.7)||TOPG: 14.9 (Margin: -1.3)|
|SPG: 7.4||SPG: 6.2|
|BPG: 2.8||BPG: 3.6|
By the numbers, Tuesday’s game at Northern Illinois has defense and low scoring written all over it. In the last nine meetings, Ball State has failed to score 70 points or more against the Huskies. Pair history with this year’s NIU defense giving up a conference-best 69 points per game, and a slugfest seems inevitable.
The defense is what sticks out, but if Ball State somehow manages to score at a decently effective rate, Northern Illinois is in trouble. The Huskies average just 72 points per contest, 31 percent from three and 68 percent from the line. Despite a great defense, Northern’s offense has not been impressive at all, explaining its 14-11 overall record.
The one player who does provide a majority of the limited offense for NIU is Marin Maric. The 6-foot-11 center from Croatia averages 13 points and eight rebounds per game. Maric did not play against Ball State in the final meeting last season, but totaled 13 points and 11 rebounds against the Cards in the first affair.
Trey Moses is the man for Ball State to guard Maric, and that match-up is going to dictate the outcome in all likelihood. The Cardinals’ success often coincides with Moses’, just like the Huskies often play well when Maric does.
With only six games remaining and a four MAC teams at 6-6 in the standings, this game is very meaningful for both Ball State and Northern Illinois.
Ball State @ Central Michigan, February 18th 4:30pm
|Central Michigan Team Stats||Ball State Team Stats|
|PPG: 89.4||PPG: 78.7|
|PA: 84.4||PA: 74.5|
|FG%: 43%||FG%: 47%|
|3FG%: 37% (318-871)||3FG%: 38% (216-573)|
|FT%: 78% (472-601)||FT%: 72% (372-515)|
|RPG: 40 (Margin: -1.6)||RPG: 37.7 (Margin: +2.9)|
|APG: 12||APG: 15.9|
|TOPG: 11.5||TOPG: 14.9 (Margin: -1.3)|
|SPG: 5.9||SPG: 6.2|
|BPG: 2.7||BPG: 3.6|
Ball State’s second game this week could not be further from the style of the first one. Central Michigan gives up the most points per game in the conference and scores nearly 90 points per contest.
The first meeting in Muncie resulted in a 98-83 Ball State victory. After the nation’s leading scorer Marcus Keene totaled 20 points in the first half, the Cardinals held him to nine and the entire Chippewa team to 40 points in the second frame. A strong defensive second half and its best offensive performance of the season gave Ball State a key conference victory.
Since then, Central Michigan has won five out of its last seven and Keene is averaging 30 points per game. CMU has only lost one conference game at home this season, making the second game a little tougher for Ball State.
If Ball State hopes to win, limiting Keene is important, but shutting down his backcourt partner Braylon Rayson and the rest of his supporting cast is imperative. The one man show of Keene slowly faded throughout the game in Muncie and serves as a blueprint for the Cardinals in Saturday’s game.