Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Next Up: Ball State Preview

So, in the late game BG will face the Ball State Cardinals at the Q.  Interestingly, because the MAC doesn't re-seed, BG is playing the lowest seed still in the tournament, which is #11 Ball State.

Ball State had a very rough year.  They were picked to be among the top teams in the West, they entered the MAC season with a top 100 Kenpom and they would appear to have talent on the team.  However, that did not work out.  It was a rough year for them.

Just as an example, when BG beat them by 1 at the Stroh earlier in the year, your first thought was how helpful that would come in tiebreaker season, not that BG would finish six games ahead of them.

Before we get into the preview, let me just say that if BG brings the game they brought against Kent State or others, this is a game they should win.  If BG brings the game it brought against Akron, then Ball State will advance.  In other words, winning or losing is in BG's hands.

Ball State does not enter the tournament playing well.  They have lost five of their last seven.  They made it this far by beating EMU on Monday in Ypsi, an 18-point thumping featuring the two most mercurial teams in the MAC...even the game was that way.  Ball State scored 23 points in the first half and played like a team that would have preferred to be doing anything else, but then in the second half it turned out EMU wanted it even less, scoring 14 points, and 2 in the first 10 minutes of the half.

The first time the two teams played it came right down to the wire.  If you recall, BG had to struggle to get the ball in and Persons hit a buzzer beater to cut the lead to was more of a 4-point difference.  We were very happy to win that game at the time.  

Here's how it went down.  The odd thing is, BG shot terrible.  It was the worst BG shot in a win all year.  The next worst was 47%.  BG saved the game with offensive rebounding and FTs.  BG was 29-33 at the line (an uncharacteristic success rate) and +10 at the line.  Turner scored 26 and Plowden 20 and Wiggins had 15 boards.  For Ball State, Persons had 28 (his MAC season high) and Teague 19.  Trey Moses was held to 3 points.

So, it's been a while, but let's catch up on the Cardinals.  They are more like Akron than other teams.  They are a poor offensive team  (11th in MAC) in one that shouldn't shoot like you see above, but they are very good on defense (3rd).  So, it's a test of who wins out, the team that can score or the team that can't.  Now, look, BSU is underwater--they allow more than they score, which is what you get with an 11th place team...and BG is right side up.  If BG plays anything near its average defensive game, they should be able to win this one.

So, what's the deal with their scoring?  BSU is poor across the board.  They are 11th in shooting, 9th in turnovers and 9th in offensive rebounds.  They are last in the MAC in terms of trying 3FGs and last in terms of making them.  They are better at 2FG, ranked 3rd, so BG needs to defend the paint very effectively.  BG is 9th in the MAC right now in defending the 2FG.

They are also not great at the FT line.  They are 7th in getting to the line and 10th in FT shooting.

Flipping it around, their defensive success is mostly built on stopping the shot, the most important factor.  They are 3rd in the MAC in defending the shot.  They are 2nd defending the 2FG and 4th defending the 3FG.  You'd hope BG gets some stops and gets into transition.  Little hint, if you see BG get frustrated and start jacking 3FGs up, then you can start wondering how Ball State will do in the semi.  The Cards are just typical at the other things...6th against turnovers, 7th on the defensive boards and 6th in allowing FTs.

Ball State has some very solid players.  Their highest profile player is probably overrated.  Tayler Persons leads the team in scoring at 16 PPG.  However, he shoots 42% and 28%.  He leads the MAC in the percentage of his team's shots he takes.  What about assists you ask?  He's only 6th in the MAC with an essentially 1:1 A/T ratio.

Tahjai Teague is a really solid player.  He's scoring 12.9 PPG on 50% and 24% shooting.  He averages 8 RPG, which is 4th in the MAC.  Even tempo-free (the BSU defense does create a lot of missed shots) he's top ten on the defensive end.  He's also 13th in steals and 8th in blocked shots.  He's a good player.

Their other double figure scorer is KJ Walton, who shoots 12.3 PPG.  He shoots 49% and essentially never tries a 3.  He's third in steals and first in steal rate.

The surprise guy is Trey Moses.  He was third team all-MAC last year, but scores only 8 a game on 46% shooting to go with 7.6 RPG this year.  He was injured for a couple games.

So, the second season begins.  By seeding, BG should be set to advance.  Having said that, if BG doesn't play well, the Cardinals are capable of closing BG out in a game that would likely be very low scoring.

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