Column: Eagles Are Growing Fast Despite Early Record
Published: Monday, November 19, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
After last year’s nine-win season, the Boston College men’s basketball team was picked to finish last in the 12-team ACC by both the media and the league’s coaches.
No one expected the Eagles to have much of a chance to win in the conference, despite the team returning three starters, including leading scorer Ryan Anderson.
But following their first stretch of the season, where despite a 1-3 record they’ve shown considerable promise, it’s clear the Eagles have the ability to strongly compete.
Head coach Steve Donahue brought in two freshman guards—Olivier Hanlan and Joe Rahon— to start alongside the returning Anderson, Lonnie Jackson, and Dennis Clifford, with Patrick Heckmann as an elite sub.
The way they’ve been able to direct the offense has been a revelation.
On most possessions last year, the Eagles guards would idly pass the ball back and forth, with most plays ending in a contested three. Many times, the Eagles couldn’t even get a shot off, as there were countless shot clock violations or attempts from the field that had no chance of going in.
This wasn’t much fault of the players, though. Donahue often said that the team wasn’t able to run the offense the way he would have liked last season. Reasons for that included having so many young players learning a new system, and the strength and stamina of those freshmen not yet being up to speed with the NCAA’s standards.
Both of those have changed substantially this season. The sophomores have had an entire offseason to develop their bodies into NCAA shape. Last year, even Anderson would get winded at times, which decreased his offensive efficiency and ability to lead on the court.
More importantly though, Rahon and Hanlan are running Donahue’s offense—and running it well. There’s finally some direction to BC’s possessions this year. Both guards have shown a propensity to drive to the lane, something that was quite rare to see last season.
A huge problem for the 2011-12 squad was its inevitable fade when the game was close late. A mini-run by the opposing team would either bring them close to BC or put a few points of separation between the teams, and the Eagles would tighten up, stop getting off good shots, and be susceptible to easy baskets on the defensive end.
They’ve been in that situation this year and have shown much more poise. Against FIU, the Eagles jumped out to a double-digit lead, and a 49-33 halftime advantage led many to think the game was over.
In a similar situation last season, the Eagles would have folded under the pressure of trying to close out a win after holding such a big lead. Not this year, though: they closed out the game on a 21-7 run.
A realistic expectation for the Eagles this season should be around a .500 record in ACC play. They were able to beat a few teams in the league last year, most notably Florida State, when they got hot from the three-point line. The Eagles beat the then ranked No. 15 Seminoles with a dominating performance from beyond the arc, including hitting five of five possessions at one point in the game.
BC mainly has the same personnel to catch fire from the three-point-line at times this season. But unlike last year’s offense, they have so many more options than just the three to beat teams. Whether it’s driving and dishing by the guards, the interior presence of the big men, or just sheer willpower by a much-improved Anderson, this Eagles team will compete in some big games this season.
Some in the media are already starting to take notice of BC’s potential. At the end of the game on Thursday, ESPN color commentator Jay Williams—a former All-American at Duke—said, “BC is going to upset some big time program in the ACC this year.” He also stated a number of times that the Eagles will not finish last in the conference.
Seth Davis, who most people probably know from CBS’s March Madness coverage, also writes for Sports Illustrated. Following BC’s first win against FIU, he gave the team and Anderson some praise in his “Hoop Thoughts” column.
BC doesn’t have to make the tournament this season to have a successful year. As Davis notes, the young freshmen and sophomores BC has “are good enough to be effective, but not enough to turn pro early.”
But if their first few games are any indication, they’re better than most people thought coming into the year. And if that leads to some upsets and a shot at the big stage, the Eagles will have arrived early, a year or two