It won’t be long now, Flyer Faithful. In preparation for the season opening sock hop, I scoured the Midwest for those crazy enough to cover MACtion for a living. What I found was James Snyder, blogger for the SB Nation site “Hustle Belt,” specializing in MAC football and hoops. James was kind enough to share his insight into the Fighting Cardinals, my conversation with him is below:
Sully: How long have you been covering Ball State sports? What made you crazy enough to cover mid-major basketball like us?
JS: I have been the basketball editor at Hustle Belt for 2 years, but I have been following mid-major basketball my whole life. I can watch 2 three year olds on 5 foot nerf basketball rim. I enjoy covering the women just as much, if not more than the men. Competition is competition. What I can’t stand to watch is a blowout because of an over-matched team.
Sully: Few who read this site would ever admit to enjoying the women’s game equally to the men’s, but to each his own James. In your time covering the program, do you have a most memorable/favorite win for Ball State that comes to mind?
JS: Their biggest win since I have been covering them, was when coach James Whitford stayed, even though ESPN reported he took the Duquesne job. He is building something special in Muncie.
Sully: So basically they haven’t had a win of relevance in quite a while, aight. I think you’re right though – keeping Whitford – at least for the time being, was a huge step forward for the program. He’s taking them in the right direction and schools like Ball State are wise to do everything they can to keep someone who believes in building up a smaller program.
So, who’s the biggest rival of the Fighting Cardinals? When was the last time BSU gave them a good ass-kicking?
JS: They are part of the great Indiana basketball tradition, and their main rivals are out conference teams like Butler. Since I have been covering them, I don’t remember a big win. I could look it up, but I wont.
Sully: So basically, they’re the bastard child of Indiana basketball, got it, makes sense.
What’s your expectations for this season? You’re coming off a fairly successful year and returning the bulk of your roster.
JS: My expectations are huge. They lost a great player in Franko House, but return a ton of great players, along with coach Whitford who we already mentioned. Equally, if not more, important than the pieces of the puzzle that return, is how they fit together. Tayler Persons is that proto-type Indiana point guard that can distribute but can also hit the giant three if you run the picket fence for him. Trey Moses is the awkward big man that can and will do everything needed to win games. Then you have Tahjai Teague who has all the talent in the world but hasn’t quite put it altogether.
Sully: So with that said, what players should UD fans care about? (That’s another way of asking “how good is Tayler Persons?”)
JS: Persons is great. Teague is a legit NBA prospect with loads of talent. He’ll have at least one “OMG” type of play. However, my favorite player to watch is Moses. He gives maximum effort on both sides of the floor. He is one of those “too smart” guys that if he ever gets out of his own way, he’ll be fantastic.
Sully: Since the minute the doors opened to UD Arena, star players of opposing teams seem to have their best nights in that building, so I’ll look for Persons to finish with 25-30.
So your expectations are high, you’re drinking the Ball State kool-aid, but what would be considered a “failure” this year for Ball State when considering the season as a whole?
JS: My bold prediction for the season is that BSU and Western Michigan compete for the MAC West and MAC crown, and both will be good enough that the MAC is actually a 2 bid NCAA tournament league this year. While that might be pie in the sky, I do think it’s NIT or bust for this team.
Sully: I think you’re on some of that fine wine if you believe two bids are coming out of the MAC this year, but I guess I will reserve my judgment until at least after non-con play. More than anything James, I appreciate you coming on BBR and reminding our fans that there are mid-major programs who consider the NIT a “successful season” when expectations are high. Bless you sir.
Ok now, no bullshit here, what do you know about UD’s program/team? Anything? Do other people actually know things about us?
JS: I have lived in Columbus my entire life. I know Negele Knight was drafted by the Phoenix Suns and never did quite pan out in the NBA like I expected. He had Iverson type heart. I also know about the bad, like when Dayton would put football players on basketball scholarships to game the system.
Sully: Lived in Columbus your entire life and know virtually nothing about the Flyers, that sounds about right. If you think UD is still scamming the system to improve the football team at the basketball teams expense it really has been a while since you’ve checked in on us. We’ll forgive you, James. Fun fact: 93% of Dayton students in 2017 are unaware UD has a football team.
When you saw UD as the opener in Dayton were you pissed? Excited? Both?
JS: I was like, “Oh cool, a legit team!” Then I looked at the full schedule and saw they the Cardinals play Oklahoma, Oregon, ND, and Valpo. If this BSU squad truly is special, they have the schedule to prove it.
Sully: I think you have to applaud the way Whitford went out and scheduled this year. Even if they pick up 2 of those wins, it has to feel like a success. We’ve said it many times before, but with programs like Ball State, if you want respect you have to go out on the road and earn it against the better known programs. Certainly if Whitford believes this is the year to take a step forward, he’s put the schedule in place to do so.
Sell me on Indiana over Ohio.
JS: Even though I am a Buckeye, they have the movies “Hoosiers” and “Rudy.”
Sully: Accepted, Brink!, Tommy Boy and Little Giants were all set in Ohio, James. No sale.
Give us your prediction for the game on Friday.
JS: It’s the first game of the season. Only a moron predicts the first game of the season, and a true idiot puts any meaning behind it. Words to live by. Ball State wins, and I can’t wait to post the “5 Things Learned” story.
This was the only bad take James had for us today, forgive him.
Thanks again to the guys at the Hustle Belt for giving us a little more insight into our opening night foe. We will surely reconnect with James when UD finds itself in the middle of more MACtion on November 25th against Akron.
Wear Red, Be LOWD, see you Friday.