Featured Story, Men's Basketball

Previewing ACC Opponents for Men’s Basketball

After needing late-game heroics from Eli Carter to scrape past the University of New Hampshire in overtime on Wednesday, Boston College men’s basketball concluded its non-conference schedule in uninspiring fashion. Heading into conference play, the Eagles are tied with Clemson University for the worst record among ACC teams at 7-6. With that in mind, here’s a brief look at the teams BC will encounter over the next two months.

Duke University (11-2): Jan. 2 (Home)
Non-Conference Strength of Schedule (NSOS): 37
Non-Conference Ratings Percentage Index (NRPI): 143
Best Win: 94-74 vs. Indiana
Worst Loss: 77-75 vs. Utah (neutral site)
How BC Fared Last Season: Lost 85-62 (Away)

Duke lacks depth, especially in the frontcourt. After losing center Amile Jefferson to a fractured foot in practice on Dec. 12, senior reserve Marshall Plumlee is the only big man in head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s tight rotation, which is now just six players. Despite this, Duke still brings an explosive offense to Chestnut Hill—with 88.9 points per game, they are ranked third nationally. Led by Grayson Allen and highly-touted freshman wing Brandon Ingram, Duke’s attack is guard-heavy. What Duke lacks in size, it makes up in athleticism. Allen is a nightmare to defend, constantly getting into the paint. As a team, Duke ranks in the top 10 nationally in free throw attempts. Additionally, they always have four 3-point shooters on the court. Duke won’t be a team that can punish BC for its lack of size, but it will certainly test the Eagles’ help and recover ability. Staying attached to Duke’s shooters will be the key to this matchup.

University of Notre Dame (9-3): Jan. 7 (Home), Jan. 23 (Away)
NSOS: 119
NRPI: 176
Best Win: 68-62 vs. Iowa
Worst Loss: 74-73 vs. Alabama (neutral site)
How BC Fared Last Season: Lost 71-63 (Away) and 87-70 (Home)

Last season’s ACC tournament champions lack depth, having lost stars Pat Connaughton and Jerian Grant to the NBA. Only seven teams receive fewer minutes from bench players. Demetrius Jackson has filled the point guard role to take over for Grant. As more of a scoring guard, he isn’t as capable of running the pick and roll-heavy offense that head coach Mike Brey prefers. The Irish have still remained one of the most effective offenses in the country by slowing the pace a bit and playing more through senior center Zach Auguste, who is averaging a career-high 14.3 points and 10.3 rebounds. Defensively, the team has struggled, rarely forcing turnovers and allowing opponents to shoot nearly 39 percent on 3-pointers. For BC to have a chance in these matchups, the team must neutralize Auguste without doubling and conceding open looks from behind the arc, while subsisting on a heavy diet of threes against the Irish defense.

Syracuse University (10-4): Jan. 13 (Away), Feb. 14 (Home)
NSOS: 192
Best Win: 79-76 vs. Connecticut (neutral site)
Worst Loss: 84-72 at St. John’s
How BC Fared Last Season: Lost 69-61 (Away) and 70-56 (Home)

Even in a down season, Syracuse presents a unique challenge. Senior guards Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije lead a team that ranks dead last in minutes played by bench players. Gbinije is one of the most versatile players in the country, drilling three triples, dishing nearly five assists, and nabbing over two steals per game. Freshman forward Tyler Lydon presents a matchup nightmare for opposing frontcourts, blocking over two shots per game while shooting 46 percent from downtown. To beat the Orange, BC must prevent Gbinije from creating looks for others and keep track of Lydon outside the paint. Against Jim Boeheim’s famed 2-3 zone defense, BC needs a total team effort, with ball movement crucial to limiting turnovers, to prevent Syracuse from scoring easy fast break points. The Eagles must also crash the offensive glass—a weakness of zone defenses—and convert their second-chance opportunities.

University of Pittsburgh (11-1): Jan. 16 (Away)
NSOS: 102
NRPI: 15
Best Win: 94-69 vs. Davidson (neutral site)
Worst Loss: 72-59 vs. Purdue
How BC Fared Last Season: Lost 71-65 (Away)

Pittsburgh has made great strides since last season. Head coach Jamie Dixon utilizes one of the nation’s deepest rotations, with 10 players receiving at least 10 minutes of playing time per game. His team ranks sixth nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio and features constant player and ball movement. Point guard James Robinson spearheads this efficient offense, averaging over five assists and fewer than one turnover per game. Junior forward Michael Young adds to the team’s versatility. Used mainly as a center last season, he has played more power forward this season, which allows Pittsburgh to play a bigger lineup to improve its defense. Offensively, he can take small defenders to the post and beat taller defenders on the perimeter. Young should make this matchup a tough one for the Eagles. To have any chance of winning, they must force turnovers and limit Pittsburgh’s ball movement, forcing them into tough isolation plays.

University of Miami (11-1): Jan. 20 (Home)
NSOS: 66
NRPI: 121
Best Win: 85-75 vs. Butler (neutral site)
Worst Loss: 78-77 vs. Northeastern
How BC Fared Last Season: Lost 60-56 (Away) and 89-86 (Home)

Miami is a veteran team with the sixth-best effective field goal percentage in the country. Point guard Angel Rodriguez has raised his shooting numbers by 10 percent this season. Senior 7-footer Tonye Jekiri anchors the defense in the middle, providing a dangerous shot-blocking presence while setting great screens on the offensive end. The Hurricanes have a bevy of wings that can score in a variety of ways, led by Sheldon McClellan, their top scorer. To beat Miami, BC will have to keep the Hurricanes out of the paint. Their wings get to the free-throw line at a high rate and their penetration leads to open threes. Offensively, BC will have to find a way to score effectively at the rim, despite Jekiri’s presence, not content to sit back and launch shots from beyond the arc.

Florida State University (10-2): Jan. 26 (Home)
NSOS: 247
NRPI: 127
Best Win: 73-71 at Florida
Worst Loss: 82-77 vs. Hofstra (neutral site)
How BC Fared Last Season: Lost 69-60 (Away)

Florida State thrives off its defense. The Seminoles limit ball movement well and allow few offensive rebounds. Whether off turnovers or rebounds, FSU loves to push the tempo, with its young, athletic guards seeking easy buckets in transition or early in the shot clock. Freshman Dwayne Bacon has taken on a lead role in the offense and has emerged as a clutch shot maker. Bacon and freshman Malik Beasley have taken a lot of the scoring responsibilities from sophomore point guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes. The Seminoles are one of the most efficient offenses inside the arc, especially in the paint, but their guards can be coerced into settling for threes, an area in which they struggle. To beat this team, BC needs to clamp down on transition defense and identify matchups early in the shot clock. After limiting these opportunities, the Eagles must wall off the paint, forcing Bacon and Rathan-Mayes into contested jumpers.

University of North Carolina (12-2): Jan. 30 (Away), Feb. 9 (Home)
NSOS: 33
NRPI: 29
Best Win: 89-81 vs. Maryland
Worst Loss: 71-67 at Northern Iowa
How BC Fared Last Season: Lost 79-68 (Home) and 81-63 (ACC Tournament Second Round)

The preseason’s No. 1 team has rounded into form lately, showcasing why Ken Pomeroy has the Tar Heels ranked first in offensive efficiency. Marcus Paige, who just returned from ankle surgery, is playing the most efficient basketball of his life, while Joel Berry II has emerged as a quality backcourt mate. The frontcourt trio of Brice Johnson, Isaiah Hicks, and Kennedy Meeks is a nightmare inside. They grab nearly 40 percent of available offensive rebounds, and only two teams score more of their points inside the arc. UNC lives in the paint on offense, battering teams into submission with multiple efforts. The Eagles will likely have no chance at containing the Tar Heels’ size inside. BC’s only chance at a victory is to force UNC into settling for an abnormal amount of threes—its lone offensive weakness—as well as capitalizing on UNC’s shoddy 3-point defense on the other end.

University of Virginia (11-1): Feb. 3 (Away)
NSOS: 89
NRPI: 106
Best Win: 86-75 vs. Villanova
Worst Loss: 73-68 at George Washington
How BC Fared Last Season: Lost 66-51 (Home)

Tony Bennett’s squad has shown its offensive talent this season. Despite playing at the country’s slowest pace, UVA features one of the nation’s top-five offenses. Point guard London Perrantes’ improvement has keyed the team, as he has evolved past being a pass-first guard and now shoots 56 percent on 3-pointers. The Cavaliers rarely turn the ball over and work their offense until an open shot emerges. Since UVA plays at such a slow pace, BC will likely stick around in this game longer than expected against such a talented outfit. To win, they will need to solve Bennett’s famed Pack Line defense. Jim Christian had a good gameplan for that system last season—he exploited the defense’s help scheme to create open threes. The shooting and secondary playmaking of A.J. Turner and Ervins Meznieks will be crucial in this game, as they will have room to operate frequently.

University of Louisville (11-2): Feb. 6 (Away)
NSOS: 116
NRPI: 130
Best Win: 111-63 vs. Grand Canyon
Worst Loss: 75-73 at Kentucky
How BC Fared Last Season: Lost 81-72 (Home)

Beset by offseason scandal, Louisville has been a pleasant surprise this season. Defensively, Rick Pitino’s crew is as stingy as ever, with tremendous frontcourt height keying a defense that forces opponents into shooting under 40 percent inside the arc, the fourth-best mark in the country. Mangok Mathiang and Chinanu Onuaku are menacing shot blockers. They have also been a main reason why the Cardinals have far surpassed offensive expectations. The team leads the nation’s second-best offensive rebounding unit and creates valuable second-chance points. Graduate transfers Damion Lee and Trey Lewis score the majority of the Cardinals’ points, each drilling over two 3-pointers per game. To beat this team, BC will need to rebound as a group, with some players keeping a body on Mathiang and Onuaku while others secure the ball, limiting Louisville to one shot per possession. The Eagles will also need a big game from long range, as scoring inside on Louisville has proven nearly impossible.

Clemson University (7-6): Feb. 17 (Away), Mar. 5 (Home)
NSOS: 314
NRPI: 23
Best Win: 76-58 vs. Rutgers (neutral site)
Worst Loss: 89-83 at Minnesota
How BC Fared Last Season: Lost 64-49 (Away)

Like the Eagles, Clemson has struggled early this season. The Tigers receive very little production from their bench and no rotation guard is shooting better than 42 percent from the floor, with three shooting below 35 percent. Junior forward Jaron Blossomgame leads the offense with over 15 points per game. He plays the role of small-ball power forward, able to take defenders off the dribble and score inside with his strength. Senior center Landry Nnoko is blocking over two shots per game for the third straight year, keying a defense that excels in protecting the paint. These matchups might represent BC’s best chances at conference victories. Stopping Blossomgame will be the key. This could be a matchup in which Garland Owens proves very useful. On offense, BC will need to avoid frequently testing Nnoko, while still collapsing the defense. Carter will need to drive and kick to shooters for that strategy to work.

Wake Forest University (9-3): Feb. 21 (Away)
NSOS: 107
NRPI: 167
Best Win: 82-78 vs. Indiana (neutral site)
Worst Loss: 91-82 vs. Richmond
How BC Fared Last Season: Won 79-61 (Home)

Wake Forest is another ACC team making strides this year. Senior forward Devin Thomas is having a career season, averaging 16.6 points and 10.2 rebounds, while attempting the most free throws per game of any forward in the NCAA. As a team, Wake Forest ranks fourth in free throw rate and collects offensive rebounds very well. The Demon Deacons can be turnover prone, averaging 15 turnovers to just 13 assists per game, though some of that can be attributed to the early absence of senior point guard Codi Miller-McIntyre. Defensively, they block shots and close out on shooters well, but don’t force many turnovers and can sometimes be vulnerable in the paint. BC must contain Thomas to win this game and the foul-prone frontcourt must avoid parading Wake Forest to the line. Otherwise, the game could force BC to utilize its deep frontcourt reserves, turning Thomas loose.

Virginia Tech (8-5): Feb. 23 (Home)
NSOS: 139
NRPI: 248
Best Win: 82-77 vs. UAB (neutral site)
Worst Loss: 85-82 vs. Alabama State
How BC Fared Last Season: Won 66-59 (Away)

Virginia Tech has a fairly one-dimensional offense, ranking in the bottom five percent nationally in 3-point attempts. The Hokies make up for this with the second-highest team free throw rate in the country and by constantly hitting the offensive glass. They get very little offense from the point guard position. Zach LeDay and Chris Clarke give head coach Buzz Williams a versatile and dependable frontcourt, while Justin Bibbs provides virtually all of the team’s three-point shooting, connecting on a whopping 60 percent of his attempts, second in the country. Defensively, Virginia Tech doesn’t force too many turnovers and can be vulnerable to 3-pointers, but defend well without fouling. BC needs to track Bibbs in this matchup, while focusing on sound defense and rebounding. If Virginia Tech’s free throws and second-chance points evaporate, this could be a potential victory for the Eagles—provided their shooters connect on their opportunities.

Georgia Tech (10-3): Feb. 27 (Home)
NSOS: 149
NRPI: 163
Best Win: 77-64 vs. VCU
Worst Loss: 69-68 vs. East Tennessee State
How BC Fared Last Season: Won 64-62 (Away) and 66-65 (ACC Tournament First Round)

The Yellow Jackets boast a highly experienced team, with four seniors and a junior in the starting five. Nick Jacobs and Charles Mitchell, the starting frontcourt, are each at least 6-foot-8 and 260 pounds, making Georgia Tech a top ten offensive rebounding team. Despite their size advantage, they don’t get to the free throw line as much as other top rebounding units. They also play at a slower pace and can be exploited by faster frontcourts. To win the matchup, BC must spread the floor, open driving lanes, and break down a stingy Georgia Tech three point defense. They also need to help Dennis Clifford handle Jacobs and Mitchell on the boards and in the post. The team’s ability to double the post and recover to shooters will be tested in this game.

North Carolina State University (10-3): Mar. 2 (Away)
NSOS: 180
NRPI: 175
Best Win: 83-72 vs. LSU (neutral site)
Worst Loss: 85-68 vs. William & Mary
How BC Fared Last Season: Won 79-63 (Home)

The Eagles conclude their road schedule against NC State. The Wolfpack is led by Anthony “Cat” Barber, who scores 23.1 points per game and is one of just two players in the country to average over 10 free throw attempts per game—not to mention he plays the second-most minutes per game in the country. The hefty trio of Lennard Freeman, Beejay Anya and Abdul-Malik Abu anchor the interior, making NC State one of the nation’s best rebounding teams on both ends of the floor. The offense features quite a bit of isolation play from Barber and is light on three point shooting. Defensively, the Wolfpack allows the eighth-most points from beyond the arcin the country and rarely force turnovers. To win this game, the Eagles must capitalize on the weak 3-point defense, keep Barber out of the paint, and limit NC State to one shot attempt per possession.

*All statistics, records and rankings are as of Jan. 1st

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor


January 2, 2016