Notre Dame Basketball: Previewing the Ball State Cardinals

vs Ball State #1
Bonzie Colson will be back in the line up after being ejected from Sunday’s game against St. Francis (Brooklyn). (Source: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports)

SOUTH BEND, IN – The Notre Dame Fighting Irish will not get much of a break before returning to the court Tuesday night, as they will host the Ball State Cardinals of the Mid-American Conference (MAC).

Notre Dame is coming off a 71-53 win over the St. Francis (BKN) Terriers, a game that saw them lose both Bonzie Colson and Head Coach Mike Brey towards the end of the game due to ejections. Colson was ejected for a flagrant two foul, while Brey was thrown out for disagreeing.

It made for an interesting Sunday!

Ball State, on the other hand, is currently 4-4 on the season, and the Cardinals are coming off of a win against the IUPUI Jaguars, 83-64.

Scouting Report

As mentioned by Mike Brey in his post-game presser following their win over the Terriers, the Ball State Cardinals are a “dangerous team” who “can win their division of the MAC”. Brey went on to say that they are, “preparing like it’s NC State“.

While some people may be quick to write off the Cardinals, Mike Brey not being one of them, don’t let their .500 record deceive you.

The Cardinals have had a tough non-conference schedule, with their four losses coming from the Dayton Flyers by a buzzer beater, rising freshman Trae Young and Oklahoma Sooners, the Oregon Ducks, and the Bucknell Bison by four points, who are the favourite to win the Patriot League.

Before the season started, the Cardinals were picked to be among the best in the MAC, which includes schools like the Western Michigan Broncos and the Buffalo Bulls, who represented the Mid-American Conference in last year’s NCAA Tournament.

Led by Tayler Persons, the Cardinals average almost the same number of points, rebounds and assists per game as the Irish, scoring 80.5 per contest, grabbing 34.8 rebounds and dishing out 13.5 assists per game.


Three Players To Watch

1. Tayler Persons

vs Ball State #2
Tayler Persons, Ball State’s leading scorer. (Source Getty Images) 

Tayler Persons will be, without a doubt, the biggest threat to the Fighting Irish on Tuesday night. The 6’3”, 220-pound guard is Ball State’s leading scorer, averaging 15.3 points per game, while chipping in with 2.9 rebounds per game and 4.5 assists per game.

Persons has consistently been averaging double digit figures each year of his college career, dating back to his freshman season at Northern Kentucky, and was named to the pre-season All-MAC team.

The junior has great court sense and is very dangerous on the fast break. He knows where to find his teammates, but can also score himself, as he is shooting 53.4% from the field on average this season.

Notre Dame’s T.J. Gibbs and/or Matt Farrell will have to play tight on Persons, as he is the Cardinals’ go-to-guy.


2. Kyle Mallers

Kyle Mallers is a big piece to the Cardinal offense, improving from his freshman season last year which saw him only average  2.2 points in 11.2 minutes per game.

The sophomore is now averaging 12 points and five rebounds per game so far this season, and has only failed to score in double-digits in two games this year. He has produced good numbers in Ball State’s big games, including a 17-point performance against Oklahoma.

Mallers will likely be guarded by either Rex Pfleuger or Colson.


3. Tahjai Teague

Another player averaging double digit figures, Tahjai Teague is also the Cardinals’ leading rebounder, grabbing 7.6 boards in addition to his 10.9 points per game. Teague is Ball State’s biggest threat in the paint at 6″8, shooting 66% from the field, and will likely be taking on Martinas Geben.


Dark Horse Player

Zach Gubb

The freshman forward has shown flashes of potential this season, dropping double digit scoring figures against Dayton and Bucknell. While he did not record a point in the Cardinals’ last game against IUPUI, he still averages almost seven points per game as well as 3.6 rebounds and one assist per game.


Prediction

Given the depth issues Notre Dame has been struggling with, I see this game being closer than expected. However, Notre Dame is still a very fast, athletic and well coached team that will still be too much for the Cardinals, regardless of the lack of help their bench gives them. The experience and talent of the Fighting Irish starting five will propel them past Ball State.

Notre Dame: 87 
Ball State: 78

-R. Scarfone

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