BOWLING GREEN - Asked to issue his team a grade midway through the Mid-American Conference season, coach Curt Miller struggled to come up with an answer.
Miller loved the way Bowling Green State University played in non-conference, but lately the Falcons have submitted merely average work. Miller ultimately settled for "Incomplete."
The next eight games will reveal much more.
BG (16-6, 5-3) could quite possibly be the best team in the MAC, which it indicated on several occasions early in the conference season. After a week off from their last game, the Falcons hope they have returned to their form from early January. They play host to Northern Illinois at 2 o'clock today. BG has been idle since last Saturday when it snapped a three-game skid with a 71-41 win at Toledo.
"It's always good to get to the bye week and kind of regroup and talk to your kids that you have eight games left in the regular season," Miller said. "It's the last chance, I believe, to add things as you're getting ready for the stretch run."
Miller said improvement on defense was emphasized this week. Although the Falcons lead the MAC in scoring defense, they struggled to get stops in pivotal moments of home losses to Miami and Western Michigan.
"We believe at this time of the year, the cliche is correct that defense and rebounding wins championships," Miller said. "The focus is continuing to get better defensively and continuing to have some wrinkles defensively to keep opponents off balance as much as possible."
The three-time defending MAC champions are tied with three teams for second place in the conference. BG and Miami trail Ohio by a game in the East.
The Falcons have won the last five meetings with Northern Illinois. The Huskies (8-13, 4-4) saw their three game win streak end Sunday at Akron. Kylie York leads the Huskies in scoring with 10.9 points per game. Jessie Wilcox and Whitney Lowe are a close second and third at 10.6 and 10 points per game, respectively. Northern is the only MAC team that allows fewer rebounds a game than BG.
"The thing that stands out when you start to prepare for Northern is they are enormous," Miller said. "They have great size. They have great athleticism. They're just enormous."
In that case, it's certainly a good thing that center Tara Breske has healed from a mouth injury she suffered against Toledo. Stitches were not needed even though Breske's teeth penetrated her lip.
"She's a warrior," Miller said. "Without putting pressure on her, when Tara Breske's been good this year, we've been tough to beat. When she's been in foul trouble, or had an off night, we've been beaten. I think that shows how much we depend on a post presence in order to be successful."
- Ryan Autullo