New coach, new players, newish Arena. Let’s get right into it.
What’s to know? Ball State, like Dayton, has a meaningless exhibition game under its belt (the Cards romped St. Francis (Indiana) 91-67 on Monday night) and comes into tomorrow’s game with as many questions as UD. Ball State is coming off back-to-back twenty game seasons — remember when that meant something? — and was picked to finish second in the MAC West this year. James Whitford’s squad returns three starters from last year’s roster and seems to be poised for a trip to the NCAA tournament this year. Whitford has completely turned around the program, taking the Cardinals from a five win team in 2013-14 to back-to-back 20+ win seasons in just four years at the helm.Whitford’s name will be mentioned in connection to numerous jobs this offseason, take that shit to the bank.
The Cards are an efficient offensive team returning seven of their nine top scorers and 70 percent of its scoring from a year ago. Dayton, as we know, is basically hitting the reset button. Ball State likes to get threes up early and often, over 40% of their shot attempts came from behind the three-point line last season. Their profile reminds me of West Coast Conference squad, they like to sit back and relax a bit on defense and then step it up a notch or two when they get ball offensively. Whitford’s teams don’t beat themselves, they know what they can do and what the can’t. They’re simply a well coached team that can beat you methodically.
Tayler Persons is the Cards main threat. An All-MAC Second Team selection last year, Persons is looking to salt the earth against all the directional schools he faces this season. Persons runs the show for Ball State, a big “usage” player that Dayton will have to stymie all night. He has a gap in his front tooth which is concerning because it indicates his indifference towards the world. I think you can get Invisalign for like $49 now. By not taking the simple step to getting his gap corrected, Persons is telling the world he is a renegade with nothing to lose. I’m afraid LOWD has no affect on a man like this, there’s just no reasoning with him. Francis Kiapway will join Persons in the starting backcourt for Whitford. Kiapway is a solid perimeter shooter, he will likely pass former UD commit Jesse Berry as Ball State’s all-time three-point shooter this season.
Sean Sellers and Kyle Mallers are two medium-sized white guys that look like they jumped off a “Welcome to Indiana” brochure (it’s a good brochure, lots of information on which Speedway convenience stores have drag-race meetups). Sellers is a 6’6″ swingman that shot an impressive 42% from behind the arc last season. 76% of his shots came from three-point land last year, the kid just abhors the paint. Mallers is a soyboy, basically a garbage man at this point of his career. He doesn’t concern me.Tahjai Teague probably gets the nod at the five spot, as Trey Moses is struggling with a hip injury. Teague stuffs the stat sheet, capable of doing just about everything on the court. He racked up a double-double, 13 and 12 in just twenty-two minutes, in Ball State’s exhibition game. Look for the Cards to get him going early.
The aforementioned Moses is a key cog who, according to Whitford, will give it a go against your Flyers. Moses is a defensive stud and, at 6’9″/245, can have his way down low. Let’s hope Moses gets limited minutes. 6’6″ freshman Zach Gunn is someone Ball State seems excited about, which is understandable because I would be pumped if Dayton signed a kid with an absolutely perfect name for gay porn. Gunn can really…shoot. I’d be remiss if I didn’t give some attention to Jontrell Walker, a junior transfer from Incarnate Word. Walker led the nation in free-throw shooting as a sophomore (93% from the stripe), so we know who’s taking the technical foul-shots after Matej Svoboda is caught swigging from a flask during a dead-ball situation in the first half. Walker, like damn near all the Cardinals, can knock down threes as well. Freshman Ishmael El-Amin and senior Jeremie Tyler bolster the Ball State backcourt. Tyler is a steady presence, a shooting guard that can heat up quickly. El-Amin is the oldest son of former UConn standout Khalid El-Amin, which means regular trips to the dialysis clinic is in his future.
- Things I’m looking for against Ball State: (1) John Crosby. As much as we focus on the impact our frontcourt will have, Crosby’s ability to distribute, penetrate and keep turnovers to a minimum will be of vital importance. Is the junior ready? Let’s hope so. (2) Kostas. Okay, I admit it, I’m a sucker too. Although I’m not one of these people who think he’s a potential lottery pick — odds are he isn’t even a future NBA player — I do want to see how he moves and what he brings to the table. (3) Perimeter shooting. The Flyers shot just 27% from behind the arc against Ohio Dominican, converting only six of their twenty-two attempts last Saturday (freshman Jordan Davis put up six heaves all by himself, clearly not a shy guy). UD connected on 38.4% of their shots from three last season, good enough for 35th in the country. Dayton will absolutely need consistently from the arc to be competitive this season.
- Jim Jabir got out just in time. With all the recent news surrounding the touching of dicks and butts, Jabir’s shenanigans would have made great fodder for sports writers looking to enter the fray. Jabir, by the way, was hired to coach the women’s team at Florida Atlantic this season, so maybe he will get his time in the spotlight after all. I want the name of Jabir’s doctor, after stepping down from his perch at Dayton for personal health reasons, and to pursue “more time with his family,” Jabir coached a men’s team in Denmark and then took the job at FAU just seven months later after submitting his resignation. What a miracle worker that physician must be!
- I dug up this little tidbit off the Interweb:
Though it is seldom mentioned in the comic strip or cartoon series, “Garfield” takes place in Muncie. The television special Happy Birthday, Garfield mentions Muncie — where creator Jim Davis went to college — as Garfield and owner Jon Arbuckle’s place of residence.
I find this amazing. A single, middle-aged white dude from Muncie, Indiana that never gets laid and talks to his cat. That’s not a comic strip, that’s a fucking recipe for a mass shooting.
I’m not here to call for an upset on opening night, no one wants to see that. What I will say is this — all the components for an “upset” are present. Ball State has an experienced team, with some depth, that can knock down threes. We still have no clue what we have in store when the Flyers take the floor against the Cardinals. The Flyer backcourt, in some shape or form, appears like it will always be a work in progress. Does this UD team have three consistent scorers on the roster, guys you can rely on to get buckets when absolutely necessary? I don’t know, you don’t know.
Ball State definitely has the talent to take down the Flyers…but do they have the CHEST?!? I don’t think so. The last time Dayton lost a home opener was against Eastern Kentucky in 2005 (does anyone even remember this? I sure didn’t). I’m thinking UD has the enough length and athleticism to affect Ball State’s aerial attack from the perimeter and eeks out a 67-63 victory over the visiting Cardinals. Josh Cunningham leads Dayton in the scoring column, I have a strong suspicion I will l be typing that sentence repeatedly this season.