In a crucial matchup between the Mid-American Conference's division leaders last week, Ball State came up just short against Bowling Green.
But barring a collapse with five games left in the regular season, a second-place finish in the MAC shouldn't be enough to dash the Cardinals' hopes of reaching the NCAA Tournament.
In a season in which mid-majors are getting plenty of time in the spotlight, Ball State should be included among the list of teams from non-BCS conferences gunning for a rare at-large berth. In Charlie Creme's latest Bracketology on Monday, his S-curve had two teams from the Colonial Athletic Association winning at-large berths. The MAC also got an at-large; Ball State got in as a No. 10 seed.
At 18-4, Ball State already has surpassed last season's win total (17), and the Cardinals could notch a new program record for victories in a season (24) if they are successful in the MAC tournament. Either way, Ball State has put together an impressive season that should be catching the eye of members of the women's NCAA selection committee.
Balance -- four starters are averaging double-figures and the fifth is at 9.9 ppg -- and depth -- nine of 10 players on the roster average at least 4.1 points per game -- have driven Ball State to the top of the MAC's West Division. The Cardinals are very multi-dimensional and truly embody the word "team." On any given night, anyone on the roster might step into the starring role. In 22 games this season, six different players have led the team in scoring. Also, six players have established new single-game career highs this season, so taking way one player isn't an effective plan for opposing defenses.
Junior guard Julie DeMuth leads the way in both scoring and rebounding, averaging 14.4 points and 8.1 rebounds while shooting 43 percent from the field. Senior guard Kelsey Corbin, the MAC West Division player of the week, ranks second in scoring at 12 ppg, hits 54 percent of her field-goal attempts and dishes out a team-best 4.4 assists per game. In two games last week, Corbin missed just four of her 19 attempts from the field, scoring a career-high 27 points in the loss to No. 17 Bowling Green. Lisa Rusche ranks fourth on the team in scoring at 11.1 ppg.
In the latest batch of NCAA stats, the Cardinals rank 14th in the country in field-goal percentage (46.2) and 25th with 73.7 points per game. And like all programs from the state of Indiana, Ball State shoots the basketball well from 3-point range, hitting 38 percent from downtown (13th in the nation). Freshman Audrey McDonald leads the charge, ranking 11th in the nation at 43.2 percent from 3-point range, and teammates Porchia Green (43.1 percent, third on the team in scoring at 11.1 ppg) and reserve Tina Bolte (39.8 percent) combine to give Ball State three players who have hit at least 28 3-pointers on the season.
For the first time since the 2000-01 season, Ball State is receiving votes in The Associated Press Top 25 poll. And perhaps, for the first time in program history, Ball State should be invited to the Big Dance.
Nancy Lieberman, an ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. Contact her at www.nancylieberman.com.