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Last updated: Thu. Sep. 04, 2014 - 10:07 am EDT

Cardinal hoops not shying from challenges with schedule

Whitford: We owe it to our players, fans to face good teams

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Ball State men's basketball fans can certainly attest to this after scanning the Cardinals' 2014-15 schedule, which was released Wednesday, second-year coach James Whitford isn't shying from any challenges.

Whitford has constructed a schedule which is balanced in its quest to prepare his team for Mid-American Conference play, while also entertaining the Ball State fans at Worthen Arena.

“If you look at our schedule from last year, we had three Division I home games,” Whitford said. “That's not putting yourself in a position to be successful in the long run. This year we go to five, which I think is great.”

It's “great” if you are a Cardinal fan, because you'll get to see some quality hoops. But for Whitford's team and coaching staff, it'll be a challenge.

“We'll challenge ourselves with San Diego State and Utah,” Whitford said.

That's absolutely true, but the tests are more abundant than just those two games.

Ball State will play IUPUI and Valparaiso on the road, while hosting Indiana State and James Madison in Muncie. And Whitford is perfectly cool with that.

“We're going to play those (types of) games every year, as long they are willing to play us,” Whitford explained. “I look at the Indiana State and Valpo as great intra-state rivalries. Both great programs with great traditions.

“Indiana State and Ball State is one of the longest rivalries in college basketball. (Sycamore coach) Greg Lansing and I both see the importance of that game.”

The Utah road game will fulfill the Cardinals' end of a deal, which will bring the Runnin' Utes back to Muncie next season. That is a philosophy of Whitford's, in which he wants more renowned programs to visit Worthen Arena and reward the Ball State faithful with an entertaining product. But that is often easier said than done.

“The biggest challenge for me is to get significant names to come to Muncie,” Whitford said. “That certainly doesn't happen overnight. You don't see many - quote, unquote, mid-majors – get good teams in their buildings.

“I feel like we owe it to our players and we owe it to our fans to play those kind of games at home.”

Ball State struggled through Whitford's first season, as the Cardinals won just 5 of 30 games last winter. However, there is an abundance of optimism permeating the program following a strong off-season of work.

“We've tried to build on the expectations that we set in the first year,” Whitford said. “But one of the big differences now, the first year, no matter how many seniors, juniors, sophomores or freshman we had in the program, they were all in their first year of doing things the way that I wanted them done. This year, it is significantly different.”

Whitford returns five players, including three (Zavier Turner, Matt Kamienecki, and Franko House) with a good deal of starting experience.

In addition to those three, Whitford brought in six newcomers whom he says “have been a breath of fresh air to the program.”

The most heralded of those is Cincinnati transfer Jeremiah Davis, whom Whitford lauded for his work ethic and leadership.

“Jeremiah has played at a high level and wants to be a great player,” Whitford said.

The former Muncie Central High School player transferred back to his hometown and will have two seasons of eligibility beginning this fall.

“Part of him coming back to Ball State, the primary reason was his family,” Whitford said. “But another part of it was to put himself in position to be a leader of a program. And he, more than anyone, has taken over that leadership role.”

Ball State will open the season in Salt Lake City on Nov. 14 with its first home game Nov. 17 against NAIA squad IU Kokomo.

Ball State set to battle

Fri. Nov. 14 at Utah

Mon. Nov. 17 IU KOKOMO

Sat. Nov. 22 at IUPUI

Mon. Nov. 24 GRAMBLING STATE

Wed. Dec. 3 at Eastern Illinois

Sat. Dec. 6 INDIANA STATE

Sat. Dec. 13 at Valparaiso

Wed. Dec. 17 JAMES MADISON

Sat. Dec. 20 at San Diego State

Sun. Dec. 28 LONGWOOD

Sat. Jan. 3 BETHUNE-COOKMAN

Wed. Jan. 7 at Eastern Michigan*

Sat. Jan. 10 CENTRAL MICHIGAN*

Wed. Jan. 14 at Western Michigan*

Sat. Jan. 17 at Bowling Green*

Wed. Jan. 21 OHIO*

Sat. Jan. 24 KENT STATE*

Tues. Jan. 27 at Akron*

Sat. Jan. 31 at Miami University*

Wed. Feb. 4 BUFFALO*

Sat. Feb. 7 TOLEDO*

Tues. Feb. 10 at Northern Illinois*

Sat. Feb. 14 BOWLING GREEN*

Wed. Feb. 18 at Kent State*

Sat. Feb. 21 at Central Michigan*

Tues. Feb. 24 WESTERN MICHIGAN*

Sat. Feb. 28 at Toledo*

Tues. March 3 EASTERN MICHIGAN*

Fri. March 6 NORTHERN ILLINOIS*

Home games in BOLD CAPS.

*indicates Mid-American Conference game.

Tdavis@news-sentinel.com


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