If you're anything like me - and for your sake, I hope the overlap isn't too significant - you might have seen Bowling Green on the Xavier schedule and thought, "Hmm, is Bowling Green any good?" The long answer is below. The short answer is that they should be a nice reacclimation to stateside basketball as Xavier's first game back from the Battle 4 Atlantis. This is not, if my approach was too nuanced above, the most threatening opponent on Xavier's slate this season.
Despite being on the cusp of his seventh season at Bowling Green, head coach Louis Orr has only one winning season under his belt at the school, a stirring 19-14 campaign in 2008-2009. That represented a six-win improvement from the previous year and likely felt like the beginning of a move in the right direction for the Falcon faithful. Sadly, an average of 14 wins per season since then has likely disabused the fans of that notion.
If you were thinking maybe BG was one of those "bad but fun" teams that is at least a good watch, you were wrong. They play at a glacial pace, posting an average of 64.5 possessions per game last year. They also attempt very few three-pointers, probably because they are so bad at them (30.6% from deep). Combining that with poor offensive rebounding and a propensity for turning the ball over like it's covered in hot lard leads to a team that ranked 270th in offensive efficiency last season. Ouch.
Defensively, BG is much better, which is different than saying they're good. They do fall right around national average with a defensive efficiency of 99.4. There's not a lot that flies off the page about their defense except that they're solid in most facets. They are a little below average in terms of 3P% defense, but they were well inside the top 100 in the nation in not letting teams get threes away. Couple that with an above average 2P% defense and you've got a team that doesn't do anything great on that end of the floor but is stable able to reap some solid results.
If you were going to guess at the kind of help a team that went 13-19 last year didn't need, you might start with something along the lines of "losing their top two scorers." That misfortune, however, is exactly what has befallen Bowling Green. Six-foot-seven forward A'uston Calhoun led the team in scoring and rebounding last year on his way to a 15.1/7.1/0.8 game line on .444/.356/.782 shooting. He was second on the team in minutes and usage rate as well as being their best three-point shooter by percentage. They're going to miss him, is what I'm saying.
Guard Jordon Crawford liked to have the ball. He led the team in minutes, usage rate, assists, field goal attempts, three-point attempts, steals, and turnovers. He was second in points. He was not a very efficient player, putting up 15.0/2.6/4.3 on a fairly poor .392/.318/.756 shooting line, but he sure had his finger in a lot of pies (as it were). Rounding out the meaningful departures is Luke Kraus, a 6'1" guard who got 4.1/2.2/1.6 per game but needed a .303/.256/.700 shooting line to get there. He was second on the team in assists and steals, but his 88.7 ORtg shouldn't be too difficult to replace.
The top returning scorer is rising junior guard Chauncey Orr, who is notable not only for his game but also for being the coach's kid. He was actually more efficient in scoring than his more heralded teammates, putting up a 56.3% true shooting percentage (or a shooting line of .448/.353/.815, if you prefer) on his way to 7.5/3.7/1.6 plus a steal per game. His usage rate was only 15.9% last year; watch for a potential big explosion in his numbers this season.
The Falcons' best returning post man is Orr's classmate Richaun Holmes, a 6'8", 214-pound forward. He went for 6.5/5.0/0.2 per game last year on .633/.000/.620 shooting and added 2.3 blocks per game for good measure. Most impressively, it took him only 18.8 minutes per game to post those relatively gaudy totals. He was called for 4.4 fouls per 40 minutes of game time, which is something he'll have to keep an eye to take the step up he seems capable of.
Beyond those two, nobody coming back for the Falcons scored more than 3.5 points per game last year, the total posted by 6'1" guard Anthony Henderson. Rising senior Cameron Black, a 6'10" forward, grabbed 4.3 boards and 1.0 blocks in just under 20 minutes per game but shot just 28.6% from the line. None of the rest of the returnees seem poised to make a bid for minutes on the basis of anything other than default.
Garrett Mayleben is a 6'9", 220-pound face-up 4 from Milford, Ohio. He is athletic but slightly unrefined and is at his best in the open court. His best work is done at the defensive end at this point, but the potential for him to develop into a very good player at the MAC level seems evident. J.D. Tisdale is a 6'5", 190-pound wing who is billed as a shooting guard but plays more like a small forward at this point. His ability to put the ball on the deck and finish at the rim is currently his calling card, but he is also already something of a threat on the defensive end. He is good at cheating into the passing lanes, and his on-ball defense will improve when/if he adds strength.
Finally (in alphabetic order by first name) is shooting guard Zach Denny. He has been described by credible sources as the best catch-and-shoot shooter in Ohio and has a quick release and lights-out range from well beyond the arc. With those plaudits, how did he end up at Bowling Green instead of, say, OSU? He's too short at 6'2" to shoot over anyone he wants to and - as is the case with many great catch-and-shoot players - lacks the lateral quickness and secondary skills to create his own shot. He'll develop into a formidable weapon in the MAC, most likely.
BG was bad last year and lost their top two performers from that squad. Despite that, there is reason to hope on this team. Two reasons, actually: Orr and Holmes. Those two players have the skill to step up and cover the holes left by Calhoun and Crawford. Of course, best-case scenario, that leaves the Falcons back to where they were last year. If nobody further down the depth chart can fill the holes left when Orr and Holmes step into bigger roles, it could be an ugly scene. You know what? Maybe forget what I said about hoping on them right now. It could be another long season in Bowling Green.