Few cover ACC basketball better than Patrick Stevens. Patrick, who worked for the Washington Times until it eliminated its sports department at the start of the year, now runs D1scourse, a Mid-Atlantic college sports blog with a Maryland and ACC focus.
On Wednesday, Patrick headed down to Charlotte to participate in the ACC Operation Basketball Media Day, and on Saturday, he's headed to
Golden Temple, err, Chestnut Hill to take in BC's game with the Terrapins. We wanted to get his first impressions on this year's BC hoops team as well as get his thoughts on this weekend's football pillow fight between BC and Maryland.
BC Interruption: I'd say that first impressions will be very important to BC's new coach Steve Donahue. What were your impressions of how he handled Operation Basketball / Media Day? Did you get to rub elbows with any other BC players? Any juicy gossip to share? C'mon. Spill it.
D1scourse: I came away quite impressed with Donahue. He doesn't seem like a particularly flashy guy (that's nothing new for a BC basketball coach), but he also appears to be well-aware of his surroundings. When the topic of how he was received when he was hired, he noted that he wouldn't have had nearly the same credibility with players if he hadn't taken Cornell to the regional semifinals. That realistic approach was good to hear.
I actually talked to both Reggie Jackson and Joe Trapani. Jackson, in particular, was incredibly candid and thoughtful about the impact of the coaching change on the Eagles --- moreso than I ever could have expected. Trapani offered some good analysis as well of the situation and said the target for this year is to finish in the top half of the conference and make it back to the NCAA tournament. That won't be easy, but at least the stated goal wasn't blatantly impossible.
BC Interruption: Many fans doubt whether Donahue can be successful in the ACC, claiming that he won't be able to recruit with the other name-brand coaches in the conference. Some have compared him to Georgetown's John Thompson III, who made a similar move from the Ivys to the Big East and has found success with the Hoyas. Do you think those comparisons to JTIII are fair? What are your longer-term expectations for Donahue at BC and in the ACC?
D1scourse: I'm not sure the comparison is completely applicable. I wouldn't say Thompson couldn't have succeeded as a major-college coach; remember, his 2007 Final Four team had a point guard that was ticketed to go to Princeton until Thompson switched jobs. But there's no question his name and his family history at Georgetown helped matters immensely. That's not criticizing the guy at all, but he was more than some guy who had a little success in the Ivy League when he wound up with the Hoyas. He was the heir to the throne of a program that made a small school with little history of great athletic success a household name under his dad.
I actually think a better comparison is the Virginia/Tony Bennett combination --- a really good school with some basketball tradition that brings in a cerebral, system-oriented coach to turn things around. I think, given time, Bennett can produce a Sendekian run at Virginia, i.e. plenty of 20-win seasons, NCAA tournament berths and maybe a Sweet 16 run every three or four years.
The same could be true of Donahue. At the least, he'll invest more time in recruiting than his predecessor (full disclosure: I thought for the most part, Al Skinner was a decent coach, even if his teams played that almost unwatchable high school flex offense. But recruiting was clearly never his thing, and it showed once some of his veteran assistants moved on). I don't think he's reaching a Final Four at BC, but I'm not sure too many people could pull that off. If there's some patience, though, he could have some interesting teams.
BC Interruption: BC basketball was selected 10th in the preseason men's basketball poll. The Eagles have to break in a new head coach but still return a bunch of talented players like Reggie Jackson, Joe Trapani and Corey Raji. What are your expectations for BC this year? Higher or lower than 10th in the conference?
D1scourse: That's about right. There seems like a well-defined bottom third of the league entering the season, though injuries could certainly change that as things progress. I wouldn't put it past the Eagles to get up around eighth or so if things break right, but a first-division finish seems less probable than a last-place finish.
The conference schedule isn't all that favorable. Boston College has home-and-homes with Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Maryland, and Miami could be sneaky good (Virginia, on the other hand, probably won't be). On the bright side, three of the first five league games are at home. The Eagles might need to get while the getting's good.
BC Interruption: Forward Joe Trapani has been garnering a lot of early preseason praise. Do you feel the praise is justified? Is Trapani even the best player on BC's roster in your opinion?
D1scourse: The praise for Trapani is interesting; quite honestly, his inclusion on the preseason Wooden Award top 50 took me aback a little. I like his game and I think he's a really solid piece, certainly a guy who could help just about anyone as a great No. 2 option and someone I expect to be better than last year. But I'm not sure I ever thought of him as an elite guy.
One of the things I asked Donahue about was how Reggie Jackson was the sort of guy who could thrive in any system, and he agreed with that assessment. Jackson can score, rebound and generally avoid turnovers while making smart decisions. He isn't the greatest perimeter shooter, but he's got a really good all-around game otherwise and might be the last superb Al Skinner diamond in the rough. If he wasn't already the best player on the roster, I think Jackson winds up earning that title before this season's out. And if he wasn't the most underappreciated player in the ACC last year, he was certainly in the running.
BC Interruption: Speaking of Trapani, he basically threw Conte Forum's basketball atmosphere under the bus. (He has made the road trip to Miami now, hasn't he?) Is BC's home court advantage truly the worst in the conference?
D1scourse: It's 11th or 12th, depending on how good the Eagles are. My last trip to Chestnut Hill (when Maryland visited in January) was a complete debacle for BC; terrible doesn't begin to describe how poorly BC played, and if Terp fans didn't outnumber home-team supporter, they were surely three times as loud. It was effectively a neutral-site game for Maryland.
But that was unusually bad. I think BC gets helped by the acoustics of Conte Forum (I'd love to see a hockey game there), so even a smaller crowd can make plenty of noise. Remember, though, that BC is the only school in the league where basketball is arguably second fiddle during the winter. Toss in the whole pro-town thing, and it isn't the greatest situation.
That said, Miami has similar struggles, and if the Hurricanes are down there's virtually no interest in their exploits. Florida State plays in an utter dump of a building, but there are enough particularly hostile fans to make it a more unpleasant experience than either BC or Miami.
BC Interruption: Last one. You'll be headed up to Boston this weekend to watch Maryland take on BC. Prediction time. Who ya got in this one? What's the final score?
D1scourse: I've got me getting to the Golden Temple around 8 p.m. or so.
But beyond that, it really is a vital game for both teams. Maryland hasn't won a true road game in more than two years, and a win gets them within a victory of bowl eligibility. Boston College still has a friendly November schedule, but it sure gets tougher to envision the Eagles making a bowl game with a loss.
I've had the chance to watch extended bits, either on replay or live, of BC's games against Virginia Tech and N.C. State. The common theme from both games was an opposing defense put a ton of pressure on a reshuffled line and Uncle Dave could do nothing but fall to the ground as defenders quickly converged on him.
Maryland loves to pressure, and it is much better at stopping the run than its stats indicate. I know Chase Rettig isn't Shinskie, but at the same time he's not exactly far along in his development. The Terps follow a formula BC struggles with.
I have my doubts Boston College can do much of anything offensively, and it's not really tied to an opponent. Here's the Eagles' scoring drives during their four-game skid (plays-yards-result, *-off turnover):
Nearly half of BC's points in that span (22 of 49) came off turnovers with negligible help from the offense. Another TD was in complete garbage time at N.C. State. So that's 20 meaningful points in four games the offensive effectively earned for itself.
That said, Maryland isn't the most tested commodity, either, so this shouldn't be a rout. I'm leaning toward the Terps in fairly unremarkable fashion --- something like 20-13 --- but a close BC victory also wouldn't be a surprise. But unless the BC defense scores or makes it near-impossible for the Eagles' offense to accomplish anything, it's difficult to envision a rout for the home team.