COLUMN: Eagles Make Strides On The Court Despite A Tough Conference Schedule
Published: Monday, January 28, 2013
Updated: Monday, January 28, 2013 00:01
At 9-10 (1-5), the Boston College men’s basketball team has dipped back under .500 for the first time since December 8th. A team that won five in a row to close out December has clearly taken a step backward, losing five of six since the start of January. At a quick glance, it appears that BC has not established any growth since last year.
Once again, the team is on track for another disappointing performance in ACC play. Yet a closer review of the results and stats paints a different picture. In the Eagles five ACC losses, they have only fallen to their opponent by an average of 5.6 points. Last year, the team’s first five ACC losses were by an average of 18.2 points. Obviously, BC has been far more competitive.
BC lost to the first-place Miami Hurricanes by only a point. They lost to third-place NC State by just five. What does this mean for the Eagles? Right now, it appears that these close losses signify that BC is a half step away from being a top-five ACC team after one month of league play. Many BC fans take frustration away from these “moral victories.” With two very winnable home games this week for BC, however, I view this team as one that is currently playing a waiting game with the Conte faithful. Each year, another piece to the puzzle of assembling a team falls into place.
This year, it is clear that the physical pieces are certainly in place. After a unanimous All-ACC freshman year, Ryan Anderson has avoided a sophomore slump, averaging 16.5 points per game and 9.4 rebounds per game. Freshman point guards Joe Rahon and Olivier Hanlan have been named ACC Rookie of the Week a comined four times already. Hanlan is also the team’s second leading scorer with 13.9 points per game. Moving away from only those who have earned All-ACC accolades, Lonnie Jackson has proven that he can knock down big 3-point shots when needed, and Patrick Heckmann has started to flourish in his sophomore year with an especially strong performance before the new year against Holy Cross (19 points, five blocks, and four steals).
Where these young players have given the Eagles opportunities to win, its inconsistencies that have prevented them from holding onto a record that is above .500.
Two words that every fan was uttering after the loss to Miami were free throws. With the team playing so many close games, the difference between a win or loss appears to be left on the free throw line. In both the Miami and the NC State games, the Eagles’ opponent had a better free throw percentage both times. As a young team that is still learning how to compete for a full 40 minutes against some of the best teams in the country, the Eagles need to control what they can control. At this point in time, hitting free throws is a simple way to turn one, three, or five-point losses into victories.
In addition to missing shots at the line, the Eagles currently average 12 turnovers per game as a team. I understand that they, as a young team, may turn the ball over more frequently. However, when they put together a strong 40 minutes on the court, the ability to eliminate one or two turnovers again may be the difference between close wins and close losses.
Two years ago, head coach Steve Donahue found himself in quite a predicament. After just one season, all of his starters graduated, left for the NBA, or transferred. Last year, Donahue started five freshmen and the team’s record reflected such. It wasn’t a lack of talent that hindered the Eagles, but rather a lack of experience.
After losing to Virginia, it scares me that many BC fans may look at the program and sigh, concerned that this year is just more of the same. Yet this team has made great strides. Over the past two years, Donahue has proven that he can recruit great talent. His strong recruiting has put all of the physical pieces needed for victory in place. Now it is time for the mental piece of the puzzle to fall into place. This aspect will come from difficult losses and well-played victories. It will come through experience playing in hostile environments like Cameron Indoor Stadium. Simply put, it will come over time. Unfortunately, this places the most fervent BC fans in a frustrating position, a position that will force them to wait.
I’m optimistic that this team has many more ACC wins ahead of them this season. Until the Eagles start winning on a consistent basis, however, their fans will have to play a waiting game, one that is filled with close losses and moral victories.