The game will be broadcast on Fox Sports Detroit — kind of a surprise to me when I saw that watching the Pistons lose to Oklahoma City (!) tonight. Here's my column from Friday's Central Michigan Life. I will also update from Rose Arena Saturday, so stay posted.
Simply put, Saturday's game is the most important of the season so far for the men's basketball team. And it comes against an inspired team that has come together.
Ball State, off to its best start in nine years, comes to Rose Arena at 4:30 p.m. without its leading scorer Anthony Newell, who shattered his right leg on Saturday against Eastern Michigan. The Cardinals, just like their football team lost, must face the Mid-American Conference without their best player and face of the program.
And both suffered horrific injuries. Both Newell's leg and receiver Dante Love's neck injuries sent them to the nearest local hospital for emergency surgery.
The six-foot, five-inch senior forward was not only the team's best player, he was also one of the MAC's best. Newell's versatility made him one of the league's most exciting players to watch.
He led the team in points 16.9 points per game and eight rebounds last season and was averaging 15.2 points and 9.4 rebounds this season.
It's unfortunate, but also part of the game. CMU knows all about having to fill the voids left by injured teammates. Two starters - Marko Spica (knee) and Chris Kellermann (ankle) are likely done for the season, leaving the team dangerously thin in the post.
But two losses into its Mid-American Conference schedule, CMU needs to make some changes. Easier said than done, but here are three ways Central can win its first game since Dec. 15:
In CMU's three wins this season, it did not allow opponents to score more than 68 points. CMU is in no state to outscore its opponents, but it can hold down the defensive end of the floor.
"Even if we struggle to score 60-65 points, we still should be able to hold teams to less than 40 percent shooting and less than 60-65 points," said junior guard Jordan Bitzer. "It doesn't really matter what we do offensively, just what we do on defense."
Stay out of foul trouble.
Central cannot afford to sit its most effective players on the bench during the game's crucial situations. This is especially important for senior forward Marcus Van, who has committed at least four fouls in five of his 10 games this season. The Chippewas just don't have the depth to compete when two or more starters are unavailable.
Make free throws.
CMU ranks second-worst in the conference at 60.2 percent. Never was it more glaring, however, than Tuesday's 84-77 double overtime loss to Eastern Michigan. CMU's 20-of-33 effort made the difference between a win and a loss. CMU also missed eight in a nine-point loss to Western Michigan on Saturday.
"It's just a matter of confidence," Van said. "If we go up and miss the first couple, we kind of put our heads down and the we'll just keep missing them and missing them."
A win would alleviate some of the sting from the first two losses to in-state rivals EMU and WMU, but then Central heads on the road for two more against Toledo and Northern Illinois.
But success must start somewhere, and Saturday is as much of an opportune time as ever.