BOWLING GREEN - Let's rip the Band-Aid off quickly.
Bowling Green State University lost two All-MAC players and 68 percent of its scoring when last season ended. The Falcons have seven new players, just two returning starters, and their best player, Steven Wright, has been on the shelf with a broken foot all preseason.
BGSU coach Dan Dakich and his team have been picked to finish last in their division for the first time in his nine-year tenure.
"I don't know if we've ever faced anything like this, where there's just so much going on," Dakich said.
Dakich has built a reputation at BGSU for finding good talent and then restocking it, one of the reasons he's had six winning seasons in eight years. This is not the first time he's been faced with having to replace multiple all-league players. He's confident that his new batch of recruits will contain the star that the Falcons have become used to.
In each year of the past decade, the Falcons have almost always had a player step into the Mid-American Conference spotlight. Antonio Daniels (1997), Anthony Stacey (2000) and Keith McLeod (2002) were MAC players of the year. Along with those players, Josh Almanson (2005) made the All-MAC first-team. John Reimold (2005), Ron Lewis (2004) and Len Matela (2002) were on the second team.
So who's next? Will it be Wright? Martin Samarco? Erik Marschall? Darryl Clements?
Finding out who will undertake that role now or down the road starts tonight as BGSU opens its season against Western Carolina in the NABC Classic in Blacksburg, Va. The Falcons play three games in four days this weekend, also playing Virginia Tech on Saturday and Radford on Sunday.
The games will give the six freshmen and one junior-college transfer, Samarco, even more experience than Dakich initially expected, as Wright will miss the tournament, opening up a lot of playing time. Freshman forward Dusan Radivojevic also will not play because of a fracture in his lower leg.
"I think they're really going to surprise a lot of people, how talented they are," junior guard John Floyd said of the newcomers.
In the preseason, coaches and players say, shooting guard Samarco, guard/forward Clements and power forward Marschall have shown glimpses of developing into forces.
Samarco was a scoring machine in junior college, Clements also could be a prolific offensive player, and Marschall, a coach's son, has size (6-foot-7) and discipline.
"Those three guys, probably more than anybody else, if nothing else are going to get a real chance," Dakich said.
Of course, there's always Wright, too. The leading returning scorer for the Falcons, Wright scored 11 points a game last year and should be in the upper teens this season when he returns from his injury.
Dakich said Wright has adopted leadership as a responsibility from the sidelines and if he takes that onto the court he has a good chance to have a career season.
"He needs to shoot the ball better, much better than he has," Dakich said. "He needs to understand that he can't turn the ball over. If he does those two things, he has all the ability in the world to be a good basketball player."
Earlier this week Dakich listed Matt Lefeld, Perrick Robinson, Floyd, Mawel Soler and either Clements or Samarco as the starting five he has been using in the preseason.
"It's an OK athletic team but it's a team that has pretty good quickness," Dakich said. "We're going to throw the ball down the floor, and try to get to the rim as much as we can."
Floyd and Robinson are both point guards so one of them likely will exit the lineup once Wright returns.
The team should steadily improve solely based on the staggered return of players from injury: Wright by the end of the month and Radivojevic soon after.
The Falcons could have an eighth new player by the end of the first semester, if Brian Moten can get needed test scores. Moten, who was originally recruited by Virginia, practiced with the team during the summer, but sitting out the preseason might hold back his contributions until late January or February.
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