The top-ranked Hoosiers return home from Brooklyn to face an intrastate foe.
After winning the Legends Classic in Brooklyn with wins over Georgia and Georgetown, the Hoosiers return home to play Ball State. Ball State was Indiana's top mid-major program from the late 1980s until the rise of Butler and Valparaiso in the late 1990s. BSU made five NCAA appearances in ten seasons from 1986 through 1995. Most memorably, the Cardinals beat Pitt at the Hoosier Dome in the first round of the Tournament in 1989, and the next season, even though coach Rick Majerus left for Utah, Ball State upset Gary Payton-led Oregon State in the first round and Louisville in the second round before giving eventual NCAA champion UNLV its only close call of the 1990 tournament. This isn't that Ball State. The Cardinals last played in the NCAA Tournament in 2000, and haven't played in a postseason tournament since the 2002 NIT. As is noted above, IU has a big lead in the overall series between these programs, and the only loss game in 1937-38. The Cardinals' coach in that game was IU alumnus Branch McCracken. When Everett Dean left for Stanford following the 1938 season, IU hired McCracken, and he led IU to its first NCAA title in his second season.
Thus far, the Cardinals are led in scoring by Majok Majok, a junior college transfer from Australia. He also leads the Cards with 10 rebounds per game. Guard Jesse Berry, from Lafayette Jefferson, is scoring 12 points per game and is shooting 38 percent from three point range. Marcus Posley is Ball State's assist leader. Over the years, Taylor's Ball State teams have tended to be better on defense than on offense, and have done a particularly good job forcing turnovers. This season is no exception. Ball State's opponents have turned the ball over on a quarter of their possessions. The Cards also are excelling on the defensive boards so far this season, holding their opponents to 21 percent on offensive rebound opportunities. Unfortunately for Ball State, their three point field goal defense has been a major liability to this point. Ball State's opponents are shooting 40 percent from deep this season, which is barely worse than their excellent 2-point field goal defense total (40.2).
With any game against an in-state foe, I look at the roster and count the native Hoosiers. In Ball State's case, there are seven on the roster. All of them would be quite fired up to be playing in Assembly Hall under any circumstance, let alone against the nation's number one team. That's always a risk, but the Hoosiers should be too much for the Cardinals today.