Team preview: Ball State
Blue Ribbon Illustrated previews the 2004-05 college basketball season, exclusively on Insider.
The natives are restless in Muncie, where the Cardinals have endured back-to-back losing seasons and fallen short of the Mid-American Conference Tournament semifinals. Spoiled? Probably. Ball State is one of the league's perennial heavyweights, with an all-time MAC Tournament record of 35-16 and seven championships. Factor in Ball State's attention-grabbing performance at the 2001 Maui Invitational, where it knocked off third-ranked Kansas and fourth-ranked UCLA in a 24-hour period, and you get insatiable fans with recent history to back up their contention that the Cardinals can beat anyone.
It has been a roller-coaster ride for Ball State's fifth-year coach Tim Buckley. He had to gut out a 13-17 season in 2002-03 when injured star forward Theron Smith (1,553 career points) played just three games and was lost for the season. Then in what was to be the actual rebuilding season, Ball State finished 14-15 last winter after a 72-67 loss to Miami in a MAC Tournament quarterfinal.
Ball State had the look of a light heavyweight, not a physically imposing team, and in fact Cards' opponents blocked more shots, 91-63. It has usually been the other way around for a program that has had agile 7-footer Lonnie Jones and NBA first-round pick Bonzi Wells among its stars over the last 10 years. Armed with an extension through 2008-09, the 41-year old Buckley may have heard some grumbling, but can focus on the long term.