BY MICK TIDROW | Play-by-Play Voice of Ball State Men’s Basketball on Sports Link Radio on 91.3 WCRD
After one of the most impactful wins in Ball State Men’s Basketball history Tuesday at No. 9 Notre Dame, the Cardinals (5-4) return home to host the Valparaiso Crusaders Saturday at 2 p.m.
This in-state rivalry features a Crusaders (8-1) team that finally took a loss, coming at No. 21 ranked Purdue, 80-50 Thursday.
On the other end, Ball State rides a four-game win streak after the thriller in South Bend and holds a 3-0 record in Worthen this season.
Ball State holds a slim 32-31 lead in the all-time series, but Valparaiso has taken four of the past five matchups.
1. Defensive Powerhouse
Ball State has seen its fair share of stout defense this year, but none statistically compare to how Valparaiso has held opposing offenses. The Crusaders hold opponents to 35.6 percent shooting (third nationally) and just 25.8 percent from three-point range (ninth nationally).
Ball State has not faced an opponent this year who has held status in the top 10 of both of those categories at once this season. Add in the fact Valparaiso has a plus-17 scoring margin (even with the 30-point loss vs. Purdue Thursday) this season. If the Crusaders keep Ball State off the glass and out of transition opportunities, Ball State’s offense will have to work in the half-court offense, where the Crusaders have thrived on defense.
2. We have seen this series before
These two teams have become accustomed to seeing each other in recent memory. The two teams have met in each of the past four seasons, with Valpo winning three of the four. The lone Ball State win in that time frame was in 2015 in Muncie. In a back and forth tilt, the Cardinals sunk their free-throws to ice the game 69-66.
From 1953-1960, the Cardinals and Crusaders squared off 15 times, with Valparaiso winning 13 of them. However, in the span of 14 games from 1970-2007, Ball State took 13 of the games. Recently, Valparaiso has been the victor more often than not, winning six of the last nine games.
3. Ball State’s Shooting percentage
In the past four games alone Ball State is shooting 54 percent from the field, up from the 46 percent average on the season. It all started at the Indiana State game where the Cardinals shot a season-high 61 percent and posted 93 points.
Tayler Persons has led the offensive charge, shooting 50 percent during the Cardinals four-game win streak. In the latest installment of Persons excellence, the junior notched 24 points against Notre Dame in the upset, including the game-winning three with one second left.
4. Height Advantage?
Ball State has incredible athleticism on the interior with Tahjai
Teague, Trey Moses, and Kyle Mallers. However, none of the three posses height over 6’9″.
The same cannot be said for Valparaiso. The Crusaders boast four players with such height or taller. Derrik Smits towers over everyone at 7’2″. The Zionsville, Indiana native shoots a team-high 68 percent from the field on the season. Pair him with fellow 7-footer Jaume Sorolla on the inside and teams have encountered issues scoring. Opponents have posted just 62 points per game against the Crusaders defense.