No. 25 Utah opens season against Ball State

Nov 14, 2014 - 4:28 PM Salt Lake City, UT ( - The Ball State Cardinals open the 2014-15 season with a tough matchup against the 25th-ranked Utah Utes in a non-conference clash at Jon M. Huntsman Center Friday night.

Ball State, of the Mid-American Conference, finished the 2013-14 season with a dismal 5-25 overall record and a 2-16 mark in league play. The Cardinals lose some key pieces of the puzzle from last year, but gain Youngstown State transfer forward Ryan Weber, who unfortunately won't be able to suit up this season.

Utah, on the other hand, gets plenty of returning players back from a year ago, and should make a serious push toward the top of the Pac-12 Conference. The team blasted Pacific in an exhibition matchup, 98-38, just about a week ago.

Utah leads the all-time series against Ball State with a 2-0 series record. The two teams met last year in Salt Lake City, with the Utes coming away handedly, 88-69, late in November.

The Cardinals finished dead last in the MAC last season thanks to one very large, glaring reason: turnovers. The Cardinals had a turnover margin almost four times worse than any other conference opponent in 2013, and that needs to change immediately if Ball State wants any sort of relevance this season. Then freshman Zavier Turner was thrust into the starting spotlight at point guard, and although he managed to dish out 110 assists, he also turned the ball over 118 times. As a unit, Ball State committed 505 turnovers in 30 games, and registered only 375 assists on the year.

Turner was the second-leading scorer on the Cardinals last year with 12.1 ppg. He's back, but the other three top scorers are gone, including three-point specialist Jesse Berry and leading scorer Chris Bond. Franko House (6.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg) and Mading Thok (2.7 ppg, 2.2 rpg) should see plenty of time in the starting lineup. It's a huge boost for Ball State knowing Jeremiah Davis, a Cincinnati transfer, will not only be immediately eligible, but was granted an extra year to play. There will likely be a development period for the Cardinals this year, and it may just take most of the season.

It was a well above-average season for Utah in 2013-14, as the Utes finished with a 21-12 overall record. The team returns a very healthy number of players from a year ago, including point guard Delon Wright (15.5 ppg, 5.3 apg, 2.5 spg, 1.3 bpg), who finds himself on the Cousy Award Watch List to start the season. It's the first time since the 2000-01 season in which Utah begins the basketball calendar ranked in the nation's Top 25.

Brandon Taylor, Dakarai Tucker and Jordan Loveridge are all returning starters for the Utes, and all had a hand in the team's success last season. Loveridge was the team's second-leading scorer, posting 14.7 ppg with a team-best 7.0 rpg and 2.3 apg. Taylor finished the season with a 10.6 ppg average, adding 3.5 apg and an 80.6 percent shooting clip from the free-throw line. In the team's exhibition game, freshman 7-foot center Jakob Poeltl got the start and nearly had a double-double, finishing with nine points and 11 rebounds. He figures to have a big hand in the team's success underneath the basket.

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