Sports, Men's Basketball

Who Did the Injury Bug Bite, and Just How Badly Has it Affected BC?

When Boston College men’s basketball upset then-No. 11 Florida State on Jan. 20, it looked as if the Eagles had finally reverted back to their 2017-18 selves: imperfect, but reliably competitive.

“I think once we get more consistent, we’ll develop the identity that we all know we want,” head coach Jim Christian said after the game. “We’re working on establishing who we are. We’re playing the right way.”

It’s been four weeks, and BC has yet to develop the identity that Christian spoke of, in large part because the team looks different just about every time it takes the court. Since the Eagles’ win over FSU—a game that marked the first time BC had a full roster in two months—the injury bug has returned. And this time, it’s arrived in full force.

Over the course of the past six games, the Eagles have rolled out four different starting rotations. And just this past Tuesday, BC found itself without its second, third, and fourth-leading scorers late in the second half against Pittsburgh. All in all, Christian’s team has featured 11 starting lineups this season, a far cry from last year’s shallow, but hardy rotation.

Here’s a look at who the injury bug has bitten and just how detrimental it is has been to the Eagles’ performance this season:

1) Nik Popovic: Groin, Concussion Protocol (2x) | Games Missed: 3

Nik Popovic didn’t miss a single game all of last season—he even returned mid-game after hitting the floor and apparently tweaking a muscle during the second round of the ACC Tournament. This year, on the other hand, he hasn’t been quite as fortunate. The 6-foot-11 junior missed the first game of the Fort Myers Tip-Off with a groin injury, only to be cycled back into the rotation off the bench in the following week. But, just when it looked like Popovic was back to full strength, he reportedly suffered a concussion during practice, sidelining him for BC’s overtime loss to Providence—a game in which the Friars, notably Nate Watson, exploited the Eagles’ depleted interior.  

Since then, however, Popovic has been a mainstay in the Eagles’ lineup, that is, until their Feb. 9 matchup with Syracuse. After reaching double figures in all but one of his games back from the concussion—posting five double-doubles in the process—the Bosnia and Herzegovina native took an accidental hit to the face from Orange center Paschal Chukwu on his way up for a rebound. Popovic laid on the floor for a few minutes before being escorted to the locker room. Undergoing concussion protocol, he sat out the remainder of regulation and didn’t suit up for Tuesday’s game against Pittsburgh.

Luckily for the Eagles, backup centers Luka Kraljevic and Johncarlos Reyes carried their weight in Popovic’s absence, but when up against bigger teams—the Panthers have just two players over the height of 6-foot-7—BC will need the center back in the lineup to hold its own down low. Historically, Kraljevic and Reyes have struggled with turnovers and foul trouble, and neither can crack a zone defense like Popovic.

2) Jordan Chatman: Right Ankle, Lacerated Finger | Games Missed: 3

As soon as Popovic made his way back into the lineup, Jordan Chatman took a seat. The 25-year-old guard rolled his right ankle in practice, leading up to the Eagles’ Dec. 12 game against Columbia, costing him not one but three contests. And once Chatman was back on the court, he wasn’t really himself for another three weeks. Normally one of the best 3-point shooters in the ACC, the veteran marksman couldn’t buy a long-range basket the first four games back. When all was said and done, he shot just 2-of-19 from beyond the arc during that span.

It wasn’t until BC traveled to Louisville that Chatman finally found his stroke again. The senior dialed up six 3-pointers, jumpstarting what was a torrid four-game stretch, one in which he converted 20 of his 37 attempts from distance. As expected, that kind of sharpshooting was hardly sustainable. Even so, prior to Tuesday, Chatman extended his streak of games with multiple 3-pointers—a feat that he failed to accomplish in six of the first eight contests of the season—to six. He would have probably tacked on another game if he wasn’t forced to leave BC’s bout against Pittsburgh early.

With a bit less than 13 minutes remaining in the contest, Chatman lacerated his finger. After taking a seat on the bench, medical trainers wrapped up the wound and, in due time, he checked back in again. Yet his return was short-lived: After launching a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer near the right wing, Chatman shook his head as the ball fell short of the rim and his finger began to bleed through his bandage. Immediately, the BYU transfer left the game and headed for the locker room, leaving Bowman to run the offense in the back half of the period.

3) Wynston Tabbs: Left Knee | Games Missed: 8

Perhaps the most glaring absence during conference play has been that of Wynston Tabbs, the mid-December ACC Rookie of the Week and potential heir to Bowman. Coming into the season, all the buzz surrounded Jairus Hamilton, BC’s first ESPN 100 recruit since Craig Smith in 2002, but Tabbs was the one who got the nod for the season opener against Milwaukee—and by the end of the night, everyone knew why. The freshman kicked off his collegiate career with 16 points and four rebounds on 6-of-11 shooting, essentially filling the void left by Jerome Robinson as a complementary ball handler to Bowman.

But, just as Tabbs was starting to come into his own—he averaged 19.3 points per game from Nov. 26 to Dec. 22 (six games)—everything started to go downhill. Squaring off against Hartford, an American East foe that has now beaten BC in two of the past three years, Tabbs missed three of his first four shots from the field before limping off the court with an apparent left knee injury. The freshman did not return and missed two of the next four games, struggling to get back to where he was at the start of the year. Despite hitting the dagger—an NBA-range 3-pointer with under 30 seconds left—against FSU, Tabbs didn’t dress for the next game, or the  one after that. In fact, since the win over the Seminoles, he’s missed six consecutive contests, even sporting crutches on occasion.

Amid Tabbs’ absence, Christian has told reporters that the freshman’s timetable is unclear. One thing’s for certain: Without him on the floor, the Eagles are not nearly as efficient on the offensive end of the court, especially Bowman, and reasonably so. Acting as the only ball handler on the floor during the aforementioned six-game stretch, the star guard has only connected on 39.6 percent of his shots, 3.6 ticks below his season average.

4) Steffon Mitchell: Right Quadricep | Games Missed: 4

Steffon Mitchell does it all, but the average viewer might not have realized just how valuable he his to the program until he sustained a right quadricep injury, costing him four games—the first of which was a Dec. 16 meeting with Fairfield. Fans got their first glimpse of what life without Mitchell would like last season when he missed BC’s March 3, 2017 matchup at FSU with a concussion, but that one-game blip pales in comparison to the nagging quad injury he has had to deal with this year.

For about a month, the sophomore forward was in and out of the lineup, fighting to get back out on the court as soon as possible. But each game he returned, it was clear that he wasn’t 100 percent, or even close. Of the four games that Mitchell missed, BC lost three, most notably enduring a 27-point defeat to then-No. 4 Virginia—a blowout in which the Eagles were outrebounded, 41-21.

The underclassman glue guy has played in BC’s last eight games and, at times, has appeared to be back to full strength. Overall, though, he hasn’t looked quite the same as he did in 2017-18, and his right quad is surely a factor. Before the injury, Mitchell was averaging 6.8 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. Since? Just 2.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.

Assessing the Damage

There have been other coaches in the ACC that have done more with less this season, but Christian certainly hasn’t had luck on his side during his five-year tenure with the Eagles. Back in 2015-16, 10 players on the roster were diagnosed with norovirus. Just this past year, Illinois State transfer Teddy Hawkins—one of the Eagles’ most dynamic forwards in recent memory—went down with a season-ending knee injury in the ACC/B1G Challenge, just the eighth game of the season for BC. While this year’s injury bug hasn’t dealt a gastrointestinal virus or season-ending blow, and some good has come out of it—like the emergence of Chris Herren Jr. and Jared Hamilton—it has undoubtedly derailed the Eagles’ season. Quite simply, a depleted starting five has negated BC’s newfound depth, relegating the Eagles back to the bottom of the ACC.  

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Senior Staff

February 17, 2019