We’re about two and a half weeks away from the start of Boston College basketball’s Jim Christian era. The program has opened up practices to the media as the Eagles get ready for New Hampshire on Nov. 14 and the rest of the 2014-15 season. Here are some notes and observations from the preseason so far.
All of the talk about junior center Dennis Clifford’s progress is legitimate. He’s easily the best player on the floor behind Olivier Hanlan. Clifford is moving well both in drills and live-action. The big man has been able to throw down dunks and defend high pick-and-rolls even better than he could as a freshman. Christian and Clifford have both said that they’re monitoring his activity, but he hasn’t missed a day of practice and the few times he’s been held back in drills it’s been precautionary rather than because of issues with his knees.
Clifford also looks like something of a defensive anchor for this team. Christian has had to stop play plenty of times to show guys how they should be positioned defensively, but Clifford rarely makes those mistakes. He’s also been vocal from his post in the paint, helping direct the other players as they get used to Christian’s increased focus on the defensive end.
Hanlan looks reenergized by the new staff and the addition of Aaron Brown and Dimitri Batten. He never appeared this locked in defensively during his first two seasons at BC, and he’s leading the charge from Christian for more communication on the court. He’s occasionally been chided for his defensive positioning—it’s bound to happen with Christian’s staff harping on it so intently—but he’s picking up the system well and his on-ball defense has been solid.
Offensively, Hanlan is placing a greater focus on his midrange game. He wants to be able to stop quickly and pull up for a good, open look. His jumper is still smooth as hell and he balances himself well, making the shot a welcome offensive option for BC.
Christian has dismissed talk of potential starters so far out from opening night—he said he’s more focused on just finding guys who are ready to play on both ends of the court—but it looks likely that Brown, a Southern Miss transfer, will join Hanlan in the backcourt. The players and coaching staff love Brown’s competitiveness and he seems to be getting the most out of Hanlan, as the two have gone at each other in practice. Brown is a trustworthy defender who can knock down shots.
The last two spots in the starting lineup—after Hanlan, Brown, and Clifford—are bigger question marks. Christian likes what he’s seen from sophomore Will Magarity, who is battling Eddie Odio for that four spot next to Clifford. It looks like Magarity has the advantage. Either Patrick Heckmann or Garland Owens could start at the three depending on matchups. Both have improved defensively, and Heckmann might have a slight edge if his defense holds up, given his ability to stretch the floor on offense.
No matter who starts in the scrimmage against American International or the opener against UNH, the lineups should shake up quite a bit during games and throughout the season while the coaching staff feels out these players against real opponents. Batten, Alex Dragicevich, Odio, John Cain Carney, and Lonnie Jackson should all get their chances to prove that they deserve time by contributing on both ends.
Injuries And Other Notes
Jackson still hasn’t practiced this preseason, Christian confirmed Monday morning. He’s been out with a calf injury. BC is hoping he can come back soon, but no timetable has been placed on his return. He was jogging and shooting with a trainer during practice last week. KC Caudill has also missed time this preseason.
Freshman big man Idy Diallo missed four practices early in the preseason, but he’s moving around well now. He’s a raw project with a lot of potential, but it may take some time until he’s ready to log solid minutes for this team. Christian has had to stop practice plenty of times to fix his movement and positioning on defense, which is to be expected with a freshman. It will be tough for him to see the floor until he figures those things out. Still, he’s made some incredibly athletic plays that show he was a nice pickup for BC.
Christian said his biggest depth concern is at the point guard position. BC lacks a truly reliable ball-handler behind Hanlan. It’s a problem that was made worse by losing Darryl Hicks for an extended period—likely the whole season—with another ACL tear. Batten, Brown, Heckmann, and Owens can maybe handle the ball for a possession or two, but no one brings the same control that Hanlan does.
Hanlan played in nearly 89 percent of BC’s minutes last year—the fourth highest rate in the ACC, according to KenPom.com—and he had a fairly low turnover rate given his high usage. It’s not the worst place for BC to have a lack of depth, but Hanlan won’t be able to relax on defense this year so finding a second option will be important.
Featured Image by Emily Fahey / Heights Editor