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MAC Opener Preview: NIU @ Ball State

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NIU (4-8) will begin its MAC Conference schedule tomorrow when they travel to Muncie to face Ball State (6-6).  Both teams will come into the conference opener having won 3 of their last 4 games, though it is important to mention that all of those wins have come against teams that rank no higher than 329 in the Pomeroy Ratings (oh, and Ball State beat division III Manchester College for one of their wins).  

Ball State is led by sophomore forward Jarrod Jones (#45), who leads the team in both scoring (14.1PPG) and rebounding (7.7).  Jones has followed up nicely on his first season at Muncie, when he was named MAC All-Freshman team, by establishing himself as one of the premier post players in the MAC.

Another player to watch in this game is senior Forward Terrence Watson (#2).  Like Xavier Silas, Watson is a transfer from a major conference (Ole Miss) but has yet to make a significant impact on the Cardinals.  A one time starter this season, Watson has been demoted to the bench as of late.  It will be interesting to see if he can turn things around and make a significant contribution for the Cardinals this season.

The remaining of the Cardinals roster is extremely young with only 2 seniors and 1 junior.  Their last starting line up was composed of 4 sophomores and 1 freshman.  Sophomore Randy Davis is the Cardinals leading assist man for the season, averaging 3 per contest.  

Looking at this one closely, this is a very winnable game for the Huskies.  Neither team has had a quality win this season, and looking at the overall numbers, both teams come out even.  Ball State averages less points per game on offense (64-58.7) but also gives up less on defense (61.2 whereas the Huskies give up 69.5 per contest).  

Two key areas where the Huskies have a considerable advantage are 3 pointers made (64 to only 36 by Ball State) and rebounds per game (NIU averages 38.3 per contest as opposed Ball State's 33.9).  

In the end, I see no reason the Huskies can't win this one.  Huskies 60-58 in a close one.

Interesting Note:

Ball State could very much be our ugly men's basketball twin.  Ball State basketball program has struggled much like the Huskies have in the past few years.  Both schools have combined for a 39-159 record in the past 4 seasons (19.6% winning percentage),only one winning season (that would be us in 2005-06), and 5 different head coaches.  Talk about a mess.  Yet with all those accolades, they managed to win two MAC-West division titles during that span.  Just goes to show the quality (or lack of) of basketball that is being played in the MAC West.