The Western Michigan Broncos (10-7, 3-2) will face longtime MAC West division rival Ball State (4-12, 1-4) on Sunday, January 26th in University Arena. Tip-off time is scheduled for 2 p.m.
This will be the 118th meeting between the Broncos and the Cardinals, with Ball State holding a slim 59-58 edge in the all-time series. The Broncos are 37-19 in games played in Kalamazoo, but lost last year's meeting at University Arena.
The Broncos are 13-8 against the Cardinals under head coach Steve Hawkins, including a 9-2 record at home. The Broncos have not defeated the Cardinals, though, since the first round of the 2012 MAC Tournament, when they dispatched them by a score of 69-63 in University
David Brown leads the MAC with an average of 18.8 points per game in overall games this season. Brown's streak of double-digit scoring games has now reached 22 straight dating back to last year.
Tucker Haymond scored a career-high 16 points against Kent State, and is averaging 7.4 points per game in MAC play. The Broncos are 6-0 in games in which Austin Richie scores 10+ points this season, 4-7 in all others.
Ball State enters the game with a 4-12 overall record under first-year head coach James Whitford, who most recently was associate under Sean Miller at Arizona. Ball State recently picked up its first MAC win of the season, defeating Buffalo 71-68 at Worthen Arena on Thursday.
Freshman point guard Zavier Turner leads the Cardinals with an average of 12.4 points per game. Majok Majok is averaging a double-double of 10.8 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, and ranks second in the MAC with seven double-doubles on the season.
It's been a tough first year so far for newly appointed head coach James Whitford. After losing leading scorer Jauwan Scaife to graduation, the Cardinals took another big hit early this season when senior leader Matt Kamieniecki went down with a season-ending wrist injury.
The long-term picture doesn't figure to get any easier on Whitford as Chris Bond, Jesse Berry, and Majok Majok exhaust their college eligibility at the end of this season. To Whitford's credit, he has hit the recruiting trail hard since being hired last April and this could be a dangerous program a couple of years down the road.
Zavier Turner is an early candidate for MAC Freshman of the Year, averaging 12.4 points and 3.6 assists per game. Freshmen Mark Alstork, Franko House, and Quinten Payne are also getting a lot of minutes this season, and figure to be a staple of the Ball State program for the next several season.
There will be a couple of great individual match-ups in this game, but I think WMU has a huge edge at the shooting guard and power forward positions with David Brown and Connar Tava respectively. Ball State has shown some signs in their last two games, but I think the Broncos are more well-rested and in the right frame of mind that they won't overlook this one.
Score Prediction: Western Michigan 78, Ball State 66
WMU has been a bit of a mixed bag in the past few games, but it's hard to see a home loss to Ball State in the cards. The Cardinals have a few good things going for them looking to the future, but this year is a rebuilding effort and the 4-12 record makes that no secret.
That said, the Cardinals did surprise Buffalo in their last outing, so there are signs of forward progress. I just don't see the individual matchups going BSU's way, though. The Cardinals don't really have an answer for David Brown and Shayne Whittington's size advantage inside over an admittedly athletic Majok Majok should still give an edge to the Bronco big man.
WMU of course needs to play better than they did in losing last Sunday to Bowling Green, but given the results last time the Broncos took the floor, it looks like that game may have served as a wakeup call.
Score Prediction: Western Michigan 80, Ball State 62
Though WMU is not where it expected to be after a good start to the MAC season, I still think this team is capable of getting it together and remaining competitive throughout the season. This matchup could be where we see them put things together.
Ball State has been struggling this season and I do not see them turning things around today in Kalamazoo. Shayne Whittington will have his hands full defensively with Majok Majok, which could hinder him in the post. That being said, I see a big game out of Connor Tava in the post and Austin Richie. Richie has been able to find his range as of late and with that shooting touch, he has the ability to take over a game.
Ultimately, I think the Broncos will pull away from the Cardinals and make this a lopsided victory. WMU has been capable of putting up an offensive explosion at home this season and today, boom goes the dynamite.
Score Prediction: Western Michigan 88, Ball State 72