Last year, after several mostly disappointing years under Louis Orr, the Bowling Green Falcons emerged as one of the MAC's most pleasant surprises. Under first-year head coach Chris Jans, the Falcons contended for the MAC's Eastern Division title, reached 20 wins and earned the program's first postseason win in 40 years, when BGSU won at St. Francis (Pa.) in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
Change was inevitable on the roster, as the Falcons were losing four seniors including starters Richaun Holmes and Anthony Henderson. However, unexpected change occurred just days after the end of the season when Jans was fired following an incident at a Bowling Green. BGSU brought home former Falcon star Michael Huger to coach, but two more players transferred.
Now, the Falcons have to figure out a way to replace important production and win games with the uncertainty of a new coach and a roster that includes five newcomers out of 14 players. What can BGSU realistically achieve?
Head Coach: Michael Huger, 1st year (0-0 overall, 0-0 MAC)
Michael Huger concluded his long journey back to Bowling Green last April when he was called home following the sudden departure of former head coach Chris Jans.
Huger, a native of New York City, played for the Falcons under head coach Jim Larranaga from 1989-93. He led BGSU to two NIT appearances, was an All-MAC player twice, and was a runner-up for MAC Player of the Year as a senior. Following his days at Bowling Green, he spent a dozen years playing professional basketball in Europe.
He began his coaching career as an assistant at Longwood University under Mike Gillian, a former BGSU assistant under Larranaga. After two seasons there, he joined Larranaga as an assistant at George Mason and proceeded to spend the next eight seasons learning from his former coach.
He spent four years at George Mason and helped lead the Patriots to four straight postseason appearances, including two NCAA Tournament berths. He then spent four years at the University of Miami. While at "The U", his teams set a school record for wins in 2012-13 (29) and played in the 2015 NIT championship game.
Huger brings a much different personality to the table than his predecessors Jans and Louis Orr, and his history with BGSU basketball adds a very interesting dynamic. He faces some steep challenges in his head coaching debut, but his enthusiasm shines through and provides a strong backdrop to his already strong coaching pedigree.
|Notre Dame College
|Bill Frack Challenge
|vs North Dakota
|Hilton Garden Inn FGCU Classic
|vs Youngstown State
|Hilton Garden Inn FGCU Classic
|at Florida Gulf Coast
|Hilton Garden Inn FGCU Classic
|at SE Missouri State
|at Wright State
|at Cleveland State
|at Eastern Michigan
|BGSU Centennial Game
|at Western Michigan
|at Central Michigan
|at Northern Illinois
|at Kent State
BGSU's non-conference schedule is relatively light, which should benefit the Falcons in gathering some early season wins. The toughest challenge will come in just the second game, when Bowling Green hosts Cincinnati in the Bill Frack Challenge. However, playing three straight December games on the road against Horizon League teams will also be difficult.
In conference play, the Falcons' division crossover home-and-home games are against Western Michigan and Central Michigan. Otherwise, their MAC schedule is very balanced, with no more than two home or road games in a row at any time.
New Coach, New Schemes
Because much of BGSU's talent last season lay with its bigger players, the offense inevitably revolved around its frontcourt. With a new coach in Michael Huger and a smaller roster, the offense will look considerably different. "We're more of a ball-screen team," Huger said. "We'll run a lot of pick-and-rolls, pick-and-pops, we'll run off our break."
Huger says that he would prefer scoring by committee and would like to see three guys in double figures every game. He also says that he is okay with having a different leading scorer every night; he just wants to see consistency in what the team does.
This will put a lot of pressure on Bowling Green's guards. However, a big benefit will be that defenses cannot focus so heavily on one player, as they often would last year with Holmes.
Of the 15 members of last year's roster that played, only eight return to this year's team. The Falcons lost over 50 percent of their production in all but one major statistical category, and sometimes much more. They lost 64 percent of their points, 60 percent of their offensive rebounds, over 60 percent of their three pointers and free throws, and 82 percent of their blocks.
Of the returning players, only Zack Denny, Spencer Parker and David Joseph played over 200 minutes last season. There are two new transfers, three true freshmen and a fourth freshman who redshirted last year.
Beyond the production aspect, what this means is that the Falcons are short on experience, so there will likely be some growing pains, particularly early in the season. On the flip side, the lack of experience means that it should be easier for Huger to implement his system more quickly.
Keep an Eye on These Three Players
Zack Denny, G -- Denny is one of Bowling Green's three returning starters. Last year, he played a key role on the defensive end as he was second on the team with 173 rebounds and ranked third in the MAC with 53 steals. On offense, he led the team by making 50 three-pointers. Huger believes that one of the things Denny needed to improve was his ball-handling, and he says that Denny has made great strides in that area. If he displays that in-season, produces more points and maintains his defensive excellence, he'll arguably be BGSU's most important player whenever he's on the floor.
Rasheed Worrell, F -- Worrell was Bowling Green's only redshirt last year, and he spent that time adding 30 pounds to his 6-8, 215 frame. Nobody is going to step in and immediately replace Holmes, but it will be important for Worrell to contribute minutes and add production on the inside in order to collapse defenses and free up BGSU's guards. If he plays will, the Falcons' potential will be much improved.
Wes Alcegaire, G and Ismail Ali, G -- Alcegaire and Ali are two junior transfers. Alcegaire hails from Miami, Fla. and originally played at Liberty before moving to Daytona State College last season. While there, he averaged 17 points and six rebounds per game and shot 46% from the floor. Ali is from California and played two years of junior college ball at Antelope Valley College. Last season, he averaged 6.3 assists and 8.9 points per game, and he shot 42.1% from beyond the three-point line. One (or both) of these two will likely be a big part of the guard rotation and will need to be part of BGSU's increased backcourt production on offense.
There are a lot of unknowns here, as BGSU begins its centennial season of men's basketball. Who will fill the starting roles vacated by Holmes and Henderson? How will Huger's schemes on offense and defense mesh with the talent that he has on his roster? Do the Falcons have enough to get off to a good start and gain confidence for the conference schedule?
BGSU was picked to finish last in the East when the MAC preseason poll was announced. They faced similar doubt last season and responded with one of their best campaigns in recent memory, but they could lean on Holmes when needed. That luxury doesn't exist this year. This will be a smaller team. The guards, particularly Zack Denny, will need to make much greater contributions on the offensive end, and the Falcons will need to get important contributions from at least one or two of their newcomers.
Huger is hungry and displays the ability to pass that along to his players. BGSU's centennial season would be a great time for the Falcons to rise up and end the school's nearly 50-year NCAA Tournament drought. More likely, however, this will be a rebuilding year of sorts.