Ball State is coming off a season in which they crossed the country four times in twelve days, beat the eighth ranked team in the country on a buzzer-beater, stumbled down the stretch in conference play, and ultimately saw their season cut short with a loss in their first game of the conference tournament.
Head coach James Whitford has made it very clear that the team needs to play the best and beat the best in their non-conference slate in order to be competitive by the end of the year. He obviously felt his team was ready for that next step last season when he scheduled national powerhouses Oklahoma Sooners, Oregon Ducks, and Notre Dame Fighting Irish in addition to mid-major monsters Bucknell Bison and Valparaiso Crusaders.
Now heading into 2018, it looks like much of the same. The schedule this season features two nationally ranked programs, a Final Four team from last year, and one of the premier mid-major teams in the country. With the real games ramping up on Tuesday, let us take a look at some of the most important match ups for the upcoming season.
November 6th vs. Indiana State
The Cardinals season opener also happens to be their home opener as they take on the Indiana State Sycamores. They will look to start off the season on a positive note as they take on their in-state rival from down south. The Cardinals won last year’s match up by a score of 93-85. They look to start the season 1-0 before taking on a powerhouse Big Ten opponent.
November 10th @ Purdue
Another in-state opponent, but this one is just a bit bigger. The Purdue Boilermakers come into the season with a national ranking of #24 in the AP Poll. They lost several players to graduation from that incredible tournament team from a year ago, but still return Carsen Edwards who could be the best player in the nation. Could we see another program-altering win like we saw in South Bend a year ago?
November 15th – November 18th – Charleston Classic
Ball State got an invite to one of the premier non-conference tournaments in the country this season and will be heading down to Charleston, SC to take part. Their first round match up will be against the 15th ranked Virginia Tech Hokies with the remainder of the field filling out nicely with Alabama, Northeastern, Purdue, Appalachian State, Wichita State, and Davidson.
December 5th @ Loyola Chicago
The Loyola Chicago Ramblers are coming off an incredible Cinderella story run to the Final Four this past March and appear to be one of the favorites to win the Missouri Valley Conference again this year. James Whitford and company will be looking to overcome the boost from Sister Jean as a win in Chicago could really put this team on the map.
January 4th @ Toledo
The Cardinals will open up the conference season in Ohio this year against the Toledo Rockets. They handled Toledo in both of their match ups a season ago, but this game is far from an easy win. If the Rockets get hot from beyond the arc, like they are more than capable of doing, it could be a long night for the Cardinals.
January 8th vs. Eastern Michigan
The conference home opener is against the only team picked to finish above the Cardinals in the MAC West division. The Eastern Michigan Eagles sport a ridiculous front line of preseason first team Elijah Minnie (6’9”), Grand Canyon transfer Boubacar Toure (6’11”), and reigning conference play of the year James Thompson IV (6’10”).
January 29th @ Buffalo
The MAC championship runs through Buffalo, New York. The Buffalo Bulls have proven that they are the class of the league over the past several years and they only solidified that claim with a first round NCAA Tournament win over Arizona in March. They return almost their entire roster from last year and I would not be shocked if they are ranked by the time Ball State comes into town in January.
March 11th – March 16th – Conference Tournament
As important as the regular season is, the MAC has proven to be a one bid league to the NCAA Tournament over the last several decades. What that means is that Ball State needs to be playing their best basketball by the time March comes around or they will be on the outside looking in come Selection Sunday.
It will not be easy, but the Cardinals have a definite chance to make a tournament bid this upcoming season.