The Big Picture
The Boston College men’s basketball season has been as predictable as 2 plus 2 .
In fact, its resemblance to a sine wave is downright eerie. The Eagles kicked off the 2015-16 campaign with a trio of cupcake wins over mid-major programs, only to drop their next six contests, including a loss to Santa Clara on a neutral court in Anaheim and a particularly numbing defeat against UMass Lowell at home amid the wretched chaos of Chipotlegate.
Then, just as students were packing up to head home for the holidays, BC ripped off five straight victories, giving the fledgling Eagles a little boost of confidence as they prepared to leave the insulated nest of non-conference play.
Cold in ‘Cuse
After its most recent game, a 62-40 drubbing at the hands of Syracuse University in the Carrier Dome, BC dropped to 0-3 in conference play, losing by an average margin of more than 22 points.
In frigid upstate New York, Jim Boeheim’s vaunted zone posed problems early for the young Eagles. In the locker room, BC head coach Jim Christian realized that the best way to attack Syracuse’s 2-3 setup is to, well, not let them get set up in the first place.
Christian’s team pushed the ball out in transition, and it paid immediate dividends. With 14 minutes remaining in the game, BC had trimmed the deficit to seven.
Then, the whole thing unraveled, as BC failed to produce a single point in more than five minutes of action during the second half. The Orange balanced their floor on offense so that they could retreat into their zone without ceding easy runout buckets. In the halfcourt, Syracuse’s length and athleticism stifled the Eagles’ penetration and coaxed the inexperienced crew into some costly turnovers, including one shot clock violation.
Fifth-year senior center Dennis Clifford, BC’s steadiest Eddie throughout the season, coughed up five turnovers on a night when he didn’t make a single shot from the field. Freshman guard Matt Milon, whose role has expanded in the last two games thanks to his stellar 48.8 percent marksmanship from beyond the 3-point arc this season, struggled to protect the ball too, burping away the rock twice in the second half.
Opportunity in Pittsburgh
The Eagles’ sinusoidal season appears to have reached the base of its second trough. The rigid rules of trigonometry dictate that they’re due to crest once more, but the basketball gods, mathematical infallibility be damned, are doing everything in their power to keep them right where they are.
Christian and his team are traveling for a weekend visit to the University of Pittsburgh to take on Jamie Dixon’s No. 20 Panthers, who’ll be seeking to avenge a humiliating 59-41 loss in Louisville on Thursday.
Pitt enters the game with the sixth-most efficient offense in the nation, and BC, which has given up 115.2 points per 100 possessions in its first three games of ACC action, will have to button up on the defensive end if it wants to keep the game close.
Defensive Key to Victory
Above all, the undersized Eagles must finish possessions on defense by boxing out and grabbing the loose ball on missed shots. After excelling on the defensive glass in non-conference play––granted, the teams they were playing didn’t boast the tallest lineups––BC has dropped from 41st to 67th in the country in defensive rebounding percentage.
But since ACC play started, they’ve only snagged 65.7 percent of their opponents’ bricks, a rate that would put them in the lowest decile of all NCAA teams, sandwiched between such hoops powerhouses as Morgan State University and the Broncos from the University of Texas Pan-American.
Dixon has recruited positional hulks for years, and this season is no different. His 6-foot-9 starting forward Michael Young munches boards, and Pittsburgh feasts on second-chance buckets, snatching away extra possessions via the offensive glass at the 12th-highest clip in the country.
The BC guards must remain disciplined on the perimeter and help Clifford retrieve the ball when shots go up. Clifford, for his part, needs to be smart about his fouls––BC’s rebounding withers when he sits.
Offensive Key to Victory
On offense, the Eagles should leverage their small roster by rushing the ball up the floor in transition at every opportunity, something they’ve only done in focused spurts throughout the season.
Playing with pace should be a staple of this iteration of BC basketball, but it hasn’t been so far––the Eagles average a middling 69.2 possessions per game, and, though their low offensive rebounding rate deflates that number, it should still be much, much higher.
They have the tools to take flight in transition, but a few things need to change for that to happen: First, the Eagles must––must––secure defensive rebounds. Second, Eli Carter, who sometimes gets tunnel vision bringing the ball up the court, has got to pass the ball up the floor more quickly to his sprinting teammates flanked out wide. Third, everyone (except Milon, who has been brilliant from downtown) needs step it up from 3-point range. Once Turner, Robinson, and Meznieks prove they can knock down those shots––like they do so self-assuredly in practice––it’ll force defenses to send hard closeouts, opening up driving lanes for those dunks we saw earlier in the season.
BC has some nice young talent, and Christian has his crew scrapping hard on defense, even if, at times, the young guys tend to get lost in the confusion of quick rotations.
The schedule won’t get any easier over the next week, but a sine wave only dips so low.
Or does it?
Featured Image by Robert Franklin / AP Photo