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The Other Top 25 preseason rankings: No. 25 Bowling Green Falcons

The Falcons have Huger goals in mind with Justin Turner and a veteran team.

NCAA Basketball: MAC Conference Tournament - Buffalo vs Bowling Green Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

2018-19 Record: 22-12 (12-6 MAC), No postseason
Key Returning Players: Justin Turner (G, Rs. Jr.), Dylan Frye (G, Sr.), Michael Laster (G, Sr.), Daeqwon Plowden (F, Jr.), Caleb Fields (G, So.), Marlon Sierra (F, Sr.)
Key Losses: Demajeo Wiggins, Antown Lillard
Key Newcomers: Dylan Swingle (C, Rs. Fr.), Trey Diggs (G/F, Jr.), Davin Zeigler (G, Fr.), Chandler Turner (G/F, Fr.).

Bowling Green sure didn’t conform to expectations last season.

After being picked last in the preseason MAC poll, the Falcons surged to their best season in 16 years and nearly carried the league’s banner in the NCAA Tournament. BGSU won 22 games, which included a 10-game winning streak and was punctuated by knocking off then-No. 18 Buffalo in front of a record home crowd on Feb. 1. While the Falcons faltered slightly down the stretch — losing four of their last five regular season games — they advanced to the MAC Tournament championship, where they fell to Buffalo in a game that was tight until the final four minutes.

BGSU ultimately decided to not accept a bid to the CBI or CIT, but took a big step forward in Michael Huger’s fourth season in charge. They produced the MAC’s second-most efficient offense behind the high-powered Bulls, and featured one of the better mid-major duos in the country in All-MAC first team guard Justin Turner (18.2 PPG) and interior force Demajeo Wiggins (12.5 PPG, 10.6 RPG).

Key Non-Conference Games

The Falcons get a crack at somewhat-rebuilding, somewhat-reeling LSU during opening weekend, a time when experienced, quality mid-majors can especially rattle bigger name opponents. They also get a premier matchup with Charles Bassey and the Hilltoppers in the Virgin Islands, with the promise of another quality game (Cincinnati/Illinois State) with a win.

Nov. 8 at LSU
Nov. 22 vs. Western Kentucky (Paradise Jam)
Nov. 30 vs. Dartmouth
Dec. 7 vs. Oakland

Three Things to Watch

Can Justin Turner continue to carry the load?

Turner was the engine that powered the Falcons offense last year — more jet engine roar than steam engine hiss — and the same will be expected if BGSU is going to live up to the suddenly-flipped preseason expectations. The redshirt junior guard is a tremendous isolation scorer that thrives in the mid-range and can keep defenses honest from distance (37.8 3P%). He also hardly turned the ball over considering his high usage, and had big games in big spots last year, which included 22 points in the spotlight win over Buffalo, and 30-plus point outings in road wins at Central Michigan and Northern Illinois.

Turner went through the NBA draft process and returned to school with the feedback all perimeter players likely get: keep honing that three-point shot. However he gets his points in 2019-2020, Turner will yet again be the focal point of BGSU and likely one of the single most important players to his team in mid-major college basketball.

How will the Falcons replace Demajeo Wiggins’ production?

The senior forward was a force on the glass for the Falcons last year, posting a double figure rebounding total (10.6 RPG) and the sixth-best defensive rebounding rate in the country. But perhaps as importantly, Wiggins was a consistent complement to Turner on the offensive end, with the second-most free throw attempts in the MAC.

With that reliable low-post outlet gone, the Falcons may need to evolve as much as replace Wiggins. Duquesne transfer Dylan Swingle brings size down low, but Huger also added a number of shooters to the roster — notably, JuCo wing Trey Diggs, who shot over 40 percent from three at Northwest Florida State. Defensively, the Falcons will likely rely on Swingle and senior Marlon Sierra to eat up the quality minutes Wiggins gave them a year ago.

How will the Falcons deal with playing from the front foot?

BGSU is facing a very different year-over-year reality heading in 2019-2020. This year, they’ll likely be seen as a MAC favorite in a league that suddenly seems ripe for the picking with Buffalo entering its post-Nate Oats era. Will that change anything for a team that surged in an underdog role a year ago?

Despite the loss of Wiggins and Antwon Lillard, the Falcons are still a veteran-laden team that shouldn’t wilt with the pressure of expectations. That starts with Turner, but the backcourt is in equally reliable hands with senior combo guard Dylan Frye, who has started 78 games over three seasons at BGSU. That duo is augmented by senior point guard Michael Laster — who jumped in as a JuCo transfer to play a big role last season — and sophomore guard Caleb Fields, who got heavy experience as a freshman.

All in all, the Falcons took great care of the ball last season and with experienced ballhandlers all over the roster, they should be a safe bet to play consistently effective basketball yet again.

X Factor

Dylan Frye

As mentioned above, Frye has been a mainstay under Huger since arriving on campus before the 2016-17 season, so the “X-factor” may not seem a natural fit. He’s been a reliable scorer his entire career and with a Trae Young-like, range-less flair to his game — he’s attempted nearly 500 three’s — and is a player defenses always have to keep in mind.

He and Turner already pose a daunting task, and Frye gave a glimpse into what he’s capable of in the MAC Tournament, as he propelled the Falcons to the title game by averaging 22.5 points and shooting 54 percent from three in wins over Ball State (with its great defense) and Northern Illinois. As he enters his senior year, a slight step forward or uptick in efficiency would give the Falcons a backcourt duo that teams in the MAC, and elsewhere, will be hard-pressed to contain on a nightly basis.