Team preview: Ball State

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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)

If there is a hot seat in the MAC, then Ball State's Tim Buckley might be sitting on it. After all, this is Indiana, and mediocre basketball isn't tolerated for too long. After back-to-back losing seasons, the Cardinals did get back on the plus side of the ledger last season. But being the ninth-seeded team in the MAC Tournament and losing at Bowling Green in the first round was not exactly March Madness in Muncie.

Ball State is one of the MAC's traditional powers and Buckley understands all too well the expectation for a consistent winner. Under contract through 2008-09, Buckley also realizes that a big year would quiet the critics. With an all-time MAC Tournament record of 35-18 and seven championships, BSU's 2001 Maui Invitational performance is still fresh enough in people's minds to fuel talk shows and chat rooms. That's when the Cardinals knocked off third-ranked Kansas and fourth-ranked UCLA in a 24-hour period.

In recent years, Buckley has harped on the Cardinals being able to "finish" games. Not counting an overtime loss at Miami (Ohio), Ball State was 3-5 in games decided by five points or less last season. All five of those losses came in the last month of the season, including the league tournament game.

From 1985 through 2003, Ball State had at least one first- or second-team All-MAC player on its roster, including 11 straight years (1988-98) with at least one first-team pick. The Cards were blanked last season. In 2004-05, Ball State opponents blocked more shots and had more steals than the Cardinals. That is a telling statistic for a program that seemingly always had a conference leader in either blocked shots or steals.

Injuries contributed to Ball State's 15-13 mark last season. Center Charles Bass sat out the entire year rehabbing a torn Achilles tendon in each leg. Team rebound leader Terrance Chapman (sprained shoulder) and All-MAC selection Dennis Trammell (knee) were not completely healthy the second half of the season. The final blow came when 6-1 junior point guard Peyton Stovall suffered a torn ACL in the MAC Tournament game and had to undergo knee surgery on March 30.

Buckley was pleased with Stovall's rehab in the off-season.

Because the Cardinals lost their second- and third-leading scorers, Buckley may move Stovall (16.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.5 apg, .389 3PT) from point to shooting guard. Stovall ranked fifth in the MAC in scoring a year ago but was not among the league's top 20 players when the All-MAC team was selected. How do you reconcile that?