CLEVELAND - Every game, the motivation grows for teams going up against Bowling Green State University.
Defending champions picked in the preseason to repeat. An undefeated Mid-American Conference season, one of only five teams to do it. The past month spent in the top 25 coaches' poll and an entrance this week into the Associated Press poll at No. 24.
The Falcons begin defense of their MAC tournament title today with the realization it would make most of their league opponents' seasons to beat them.
"We're still the team that's going to be hunted and we know a lot of teams are gunning for us," BGSU coach Curt Miller said. "We will not be the popular team there, let's put it that way."
BGSU and Northern Illinois play a quarterfinal game at 5:30 p.m. at Quicken Loans Arena. The Falcons defeated the Huskies 66-58 on Feb. 8 at Anderson Arena in their only regular-season meeting.
"The Huskies pound the ball inside, they dribble-penetrate, they get to the foul line because of their physical play," Miller said. "You've got to be able to battle with them physically but keep them off the foul line, because they can have nights where they go to the foul line 30-plus times."
If any part of the Falcons' conference season could be considered a rough stretch, it was four games at the end of January and the beginning of February against West division teams. Each win was decided by single digits, and the NIU game came down to the final minute.
"I think we're playing a lot better since we played Northern," sophomore guard Kate Achter said.
Talk about the MAC tournament is a much more welcome topic at this point for the Falcons than about the NCAA tournament. BGSU's 25-2 record puts the team in serious contention for an at-large bid should the Falcons fall in the conference tournament.
"We're excited about the year we're having and we're going to try to finish it off," Miller said. "Our focus is one game at a time. We don't talk about the NIT, the NCAA tournament, all we're talking about is the MAC tournament."
Places in both polls and an RPI of 40 also state the Falcons' case to the selection committee, but they would rather focus on what they can control.
"Unfortunately I don't get to make the decision on the value of that," Miller said.
- Maureen Fulton