For the first time in nearly nine years, a pair of Indiana mid-major men’s basketball teams will compete Wednesday.
Ball State (21-12) will visit Fort Wayne (19-12) tonight at 7 p.m. at the Gates Sports Center (it will be broadcast on Facebook live) in the opening round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament (CIT).
Here are a number of factors to watch for in this matchup between two comparable programs.
Whether it is a lower-tier football bowl game or a non-NCAA Tournament basketball game, what often dictates the outcome isn’t necessarily ability or execution, but “want to.”
These two teams are very equal in talent and coaching, so it should be a game decided in the final minutes. If one team races out to an early double-digit lead that is a sign of the other not being fully invested in its postseason, which happens more often than fans think.
The team that is “bought in” to trying to compete and win the CIT will hold an advantage in this game. My guess is both teams will play well and be fully immersed in this challenge.
No “promised land” for Moses
Ball State sophomore center Trey Moses will not play in tonight’s game after injuring his knee in a recent game against Akron. That will hurt the Cardinals’ depth up front and would have provided an interesting story line due to Moses having selected Ball State over Fort Wayne during his recruitment.
The Mastodons have fifth-year senior center Brent Calhoun to do battle with first-time starter Tahjai Teague.
Calhoun is playing the best basketball of his career this season and will provide a definite issue for the Cardinals to contain.
“Calhoun is a big, physical guy,” Omaha forward Tre’Shawn Thurman said following the Mastodons’ last outing against the Mavericks in the Summit League Tournament. “He can get anywhere that he wants to in the post. He has great post moves. He’s physical and he’s quick. His quickness is underrated.”
The 6-foot-9, 260-pound Indianapolis native can score on the block (he averages nearly 10 points per game) and also provides a defensive presence (he has 89 blocks in the past two seasons combined).
In addition, Fort Wayne can utilize redshirt junior center Xzavier Taylor, who is a very adequate back-up.
The Mastodons will look to Calhoun early offensively against Teague and he’ll get his.
Defending the “Fort”
Fort Wayne was one of the best offensive teams in the Summit League this season, but that often came at the expense of its defense.
The Mastodons ranked seventh in the nine-team league in field goal percentage defense and dead last in defending the three.
They blew late leads in their last three games, two of which were defeats (at IUPUI and against Omaha). However, Fort Wayne did do a good job of forcing opponents into turnovers, which could be a problem for Ball State.
The Cardinals were by far the worst team in the Mid-American Conference in taking care of the ball. If Ball State doesn’t do that well, it will only fuel the maddening offensive pace that Fort Wayne wants to play, particularly at the Gates Center.
If Fort Wayne is adequate defensively, particularly late in the game, which has been a problem for the Mastodons, as well as forces Ball State to get loose with the ball, it will be difficult for the Cardinals to overcome that on the road.
This is a matchup made in hell for Ball State defensively. Not only does it have a young guy trying to guard an experienced, skilled, big in Teague vs. Calhoun on the block, but what the Cardinals are bad at defensively (guarding against 3-pointers), Fort Wayne is phenomenal at (shooting 3-pointers).
“They can really shoot that thing,” Omaha coach Derrin Hansen said of Fort Wayne. “They average 10 or 11 (actually 10.7 per game) per game, which is really high in the country.”
The Mastodons shot a league-best 176 3-pointers in conference play, while the Cardinals were the worst in their league at allowing over 38 percent from long range by its opposition.
Particularly at home, if Fort Wayne gets hot from three, Ball State is in trouble.
Prediction: Ball State has to guard well both inside and out, as well as take care of the ball. If the Cardinals do those two things, then they have a shot. But if Calhoun can exploit the lack of experience and size of Teague (218 pounds) and forward Franko House (6-foot-4), and the Mastodons can generate offense from its defense via turnovers, this game could get ugly.
I am betting on the front line of John Konchar and Calhoun, as well as the offensive ability of the Fort Wayne guards being at the Gates Center and believe the Mastodons win this game by seven.