Visiting the surprising Cardinals

KSU travels to Ball State Wednesday to play one of two undefeated teams in the MAC.

It’s would have been hard to imagine those words three weeks ago, when Ball State was 4-7. But the Cardinals have beaten Bowling Green, Miami and Western Michigan convincingly to open the MAC season. (The other undefeated team iin the conference s Central Michigan.)

The Cardinals were a surprise team last year, too, when they won four tournament games before losing to Akron in the MAC finals.

Ball State has lost to some good teams — Purdue, Louisville, Duquesne, Pittsburgh, Western Kentucky. Its RPA rating is 153 and schedule strength is 116. (Kent’s RPI is 299, schedule strength 182.)

Ball State is led by junior forward Natalie Fontaine, who just was named MAC West player of the week for the third time this season. She’s averaging 15.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. Sophomore guard Jill Morrison averages 11.4 and senior guard Shelby Justice 10.0.

As a team, Ball State averages 64 points a game and gives up 60. (Kent State averages about 56 and gives up 65.) It has a minus-3.5 rebounding margin and is about even inn turnovers. But in its three MAC victories, the Ball State defense has forced 70 turnovers (23.3 per game).  It forced just 165 turnovers in its 11 non-conference games 15.0 per game).

Kent State beat the Cardinals 60-57 in Kent last year when Ball State missed 16 foul shots. But Ball State beat the Flashes badly in Muncie in the regular season and the MAC tournament. Kent State didn’t score 40 points in either game.

The Flashes will be going for their second conference victory of the season after beating Bowling Green 55-48 Saturday. Cici Shannon led Kent with 16 points and 20 rebounds in 37 minutes, all career highs. Shannon is averaging 9.9 points and 4,2 rebounds per game. She leads the MAC in blocked shots with 33 and is second in field goal percentage.(53 percent)

As a team, the Flashes are fourth in the MAC in field goal percentage at 41 percent, mostly on the strength of the shooting of its forwards and junior guard Melanee Stubbs. But starting guards Larissa Lurken (31 percent), Krista White (37 percent) and Nadia Cross (28 percent) are shooting much worse, and teams have tended to pack a zone defense against Kent State.

Cross, a freshman, has started seven straight games since senior point guard Mikell Chinn suffered a concussion at Kent’s holiday tournament in California. Assistant coach Geoff Lanier said Chinn would be available Saturday, but she didn’t play against Bowling Green. Senior forward Montia Johnson has missed three straight games with a head injury.

The game is at 7 p.m. Audio starts at 6:50 on Golden Flash iHeart Radio. You can get video and Live Stats through the Ball State website. The video costs $7.95.


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