In his first year on the job, Bowling Green coach Chris Jans, formerly of Wichita State, has his Falcons flying.
Bowling Green hasn’t had a winning season since 2009. It hasn’t had a 20-win season since 2002. The Falcons haven’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1968. So when head coach Chris Jans said the potential for Bowling Green basketball was huge after taking over for Louis Orr last spring, many wondered what he was seeing.
Yet it seems Jans has the rare gift of 20-20 hindsight. The Falcons are 17-7 and in a tie with Kent State atop the MAC’s East division heading into a critical conference matchup against Buffalo on Saturday.
Offensively, the Falcons rank just 206th in adjusted efficiency, despite having a bona fide star in senior forward Richaun Holmes. But on defense, Bowling Green comes in at No. 29 and is holding teams to an effective field goal percentage of 45.1 (with opponents hitting just 29.1% of their three-point tries).
It’s not hard to figure out why Jans has set the tone on that side of the ball when you look at his history. He was a head coach at the junior college level and was an assistant at Illinois State, but effectively did his coaching doctorate under Gregg Marshall at Wichita State from 2007-14. The Shockers won 146 games in his last five years there while finishing in the kenpom.com top 25 four of those five seasons.
When Jans was hired, he spoke to SI.com about the blueprint he was trying to instill at Bowling Green.
“All coaches are thieves,” Jans said. “I’m no different. We’re certainly going to steal, slash, borrow the blueprint we created at Wichita State and try to implement it at BG. Our floor model will be similar to how we played at Wichita State. Our recruiting model will be similar, but not quite the same because I feel like we’re in a location within a four-and-a-half hour radius where you can drive to places like Chicago, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Akron, Detroit, Columbus, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh. Where in Wichita, we weren’t afforded those fertile recruiting grounds. It won’t be completely the same, but we’re going to build the program on rebounding and playing hard.”
If the Falcons get knocked out in next month's conference tournament, the wait for an NCAA bid might be just a bit longer, but it seems like Jans will have the program dancing soon.
The top two teams in the WAC are squaring off Saturday night, and it’d be smart to get a scouting report on New Mexico State while you can because it is in excellent position to reach its sixth NCAA tournament in seven seasons. The Aggies, who gave San Diego State a scare before falling 73-69 in the round of 64 last year, lead the conference by 2 1/2 games over Grand Canyon, which isn't even eligible for the WAC tournament as it continues its tradition to Division I.
Indeed, this is just the second D-I season for the Antelopes, who are coached by former NBA star "Thunder" Dan Majerle. Last year, Grand Canyon finished at .500, and this year it is 16-11 with four regular season games left (the 'Lopes are eligible for a non-NCAA postseason tournament). Taking down the Aggies would be another big step forward.
Player To Watch: Florida Gulf Coast guard Brett Comer
The nation should be already plenty acquainted with Comer thanks to Dunk City’s memorable run to the Sweet 16 in the 2013 NCAA tournament. This year’s version of the Eagles isn’t quite the same, but it’s still veteran-laden and at the top of the Atlantic Sun.
Comer, a senior and a four-year starter, ranks second in the nation in assist rate and is the engine that drives Florida Gulf Coast. He holds the conference’s alltime assists record. The pair of Comer and fellow senior Bernard Thompson helped gain the Eagles national attention, but their final legacy is yet to be cemented.
Stat Of The Week: 7.8
That’s how many assists Louisiana Tech point guard Kenneth Smith averages per game, good for first in the nation. Smith, nicknamed "Speedy," has helped the Bulldogs to their third straight 20-win season and has them in first place in Conference USA as they bid for the school's first NCAA tournament berth in 24 years.
Smith didn’t have a single Division I offer through most of his senior year, but after Louisiana Tech hired Michael White as head coach back in 2011, “Speedy” got the chance he was waiting for. An assistant coach showed White a YouTube clip of Smith, and White went down to visit the St. Petersburg, Fla., native. It didn’t take long for him to be sold.
"Look, we all coach to our personality," White told Sam Vecenie of CBS Sports in December. "I want ultra-competitive people because I think the best programs, organizations and companies have an edge to them and have a certain level of competitiveness. Speedy is the measuring stick. If I had 13 guys as competitive as Speedy, we'd never lose a game. He's as competitive as anyone I've ever coached, and I'll always have that level in my mind when I'm on the July circuit evaluating guys.”