In this article, our basketball analysts Arthur Bailin and John "Coach" Fidler break down the Eagles' performance at the Wooden Legacy.
Arthur Bailin: Well it has been two weeks since our last basketball banter, and Coach, I don't know about you, but, especially after the Santa Clara game, I have a much different outlook on this team.
John Fidler: I think it's really easy to get caught up in either success or failure Arthur and that is the case with this team. The first few games provided optimism, but it was against really inferior competition and I think we got a dose of reality over the holiday weekend, although it is hard to imagine BC coming home from the tournament 0-3. Each of the games brought out a different set of challenges that the 2015-16 team would face, but the one that is most disturbing is what happened Sunday night against Santa Clara and that is around how competitive this group may or may not be.
AB: The thing is, I was fine with the Michigan State effort. That is a game BC should not have won. Going up against the No. 3 team in the country, along a possible Naismith Award contender in Denzel Valentine, that's a game BC is not going to be particularly competitive in, just given the youth and talent of the team. And that's ok, those things happen. I liked their battle level though. Santa Clara was a completely different story. The team failed to get in any sort of rhythm, they got outbodied and out-boarded by a team that is smaller and is below average in rebounding, and they were pitiful from the field. The worst part of all was that they were absolutely listless. There was absolutely no battle in that game, and that has to be incredibly concerning.
JF: Sometimes people get caught up with the "no effort" concept and that is almost never the case. In basketball, like most other sports though, if your effort level drops 10%, the results drop 50% and that's pretty much what we saw against Santa Clara.
In both the UC Irvine and Santa Clara games, but more so against the Broncos, BC just wasn't a "difficult" team to play against. They didn't attack at either end of the floor and Santa Clara, at 0-7, just played with more urgency and purpose.
It does beg the question though as to where, in particular, the on the court leadership is coming from. You watch Michigan State play and forget the fact that they are good, you can see the leadership on the court, not just from Tom Izzo. This team is disjointed in the way they play and needs a player that can take the bull by the horns and lead. It's easy to say that should fall in Jim Christian's lap, but it isn't that cut and dry. The best teams are those where the players can police and motivate themselves and right now, that is missing and may be missing for a while as there doesn't appear to be any natural leaders out there. Ideally, that would be your point guard, Eli Carter, but there are many times when it appears that Carter is on a different page than everyone else. The good vs the bad Eli Carter...that's something that Christian has to address.
AB: I mean I don't think it was a no effort game, but the battle level absolutely dropped off. The Eagles never really got into a rhythm until late in the second half and by then it was far too late.
One thing I noticed was the play of the bigs, particularly Dennis Clifford. He has become a very frustrating player to watch. I've never seen a player of his size struggle so profoundly against players smaller than him.
JF: What's clear as of this moment, and I know I felt this way coming into the season, is that BC has no ability to score from either the four or five spot on the floor. Johncarlos Reyes doesn't appear to be in the rotation right now, although that may change if the production doesn't improve. Diallo has potential, but he's certainly not polished offensively and enters the game sporting three fouls and as for Clifford, it just isn't there period and I think that costs him in terms of being looked at as a leader when a lot more than this was expected or at least hoped for. If anything, Clifford looks like he has regressed slightly from last season.
There is a way to get these guys going within the flow of the offense and not have them need to make post moves and that is simply more dribble penetration. The four out - one in dribble drive opens up easy dish and layup opps for big men and I think that would help these guys get some confidence. For that to happen though, there has to be a mentality from the wings to attack the rim and not settle for all these jump shots.
AB: This weekend, the Eagles surrendered 40 or more points from inside the paint against Michigan State and against UC Irvine. That's going to happen when your bigs get outbodied on the inside, and it seems that is happening with Clifford on a ridiculous amount of frequency. That has to be concerning.
The thing with Diallo is that he is really raw. I do like his progression over the season so far, he appears to be working out some of his discipline issues. The first half against Michigan State in particular was a good sign. However, he can still be reckless, but that will be fixed with time. The big(ger picture) issue that I see relates back to the overall outlook of the season, that this would be a rebuilding year. Dennis Clifford's biggest role this year is to mentor the younger bigs and help cultivate them into ACC level big men. I honestly don't trust him to teach these guys good habits inside.
JF: Well there is the adage, "those who can do, those who can't coach/teach" and I think that might apply to Clifford. I am not going so far to say that he doesn't understand what he is trying to execute out there, but there is a big difference between being able to talk it and actually do it.
Another part of this though is the guards being able to keep the ball out of the paint defensively. If it's so important for the Eagle guards/wing players to get into the paint and get layups, then it stands to reason it is equally important for BC to keep opponents out of the lane. When guards get beat and big men need to step up and stop the ball, all kinds of chaos can ensue and usually it's related to giving up offensive rebounds. So that needs to improve drastically, but to your point, right now, it's just very easy for a post player to catch the ball on or near the box and score.
The bigs are taught to play behind and make people shoot over the top of them, but that hasn't worked. The guards provide very little help in either keeping their man out of the lane or helping the big get the ball out of the offensive post players hands. The strategy can work when you have a dominant defender in the post, but none of the BC big men fit that role. On top of that, your power forward is a 6'5 inch wing player and really needs help to have a chance to be successful in there. UC Irvine took major advantage of that with Mike Best scoring at will against Garland Owens. I think the coaching staff needs to re-evaluate how their post defense strategy is working out.
AB: I wouldn't add anything to that.
I will say, one thing that concerned me a ton out of the Santa Clara game was the holes in depth. BC had one point from the bench. One point. That's as bad as it sounds, right?
JF: Overall, I think BC has gotten good production off the bench so far this year. Diallo, Milon, Meznieks and Barnes-Thompkins have all gotten 10 or more minutes a game off the bench and in this day and age of college basketball, a rotation of nine is pretty deep and they've gotten around 18 points a game from that quartet. I think it was more symptomatic of the way the game went last night in general, as opposed to looking at it as a sign of things to come. Mama said there'd be days like this, but you do need your bench players to provide energy and a spark and at least from a shooting perspective, it wasn't there last night.
Of note, those four took 11 shots in the game, 8 of those were three pointers and of course, they went 0-8 from three. The answer then is pretty obvious, get to the rim, draw contact, get to the free throw line. When it's not going in, the easiest way to get things kick started are free throws. BC needed to take more than 11 FTs yesterday.
AB: I agree with you, I think it was an example of a "when it rains it pours," type of thing. I really like Matt Milon, and I think he has a ton of potential. Same thing for Meznieks. But, like a lot of things on Sunday, bench points need to improve.
For what it's worth, going back to Eli Carter, I think we can't underestimate the potential of a good Eli Carter. I thought, when he was on, he looked really good.
JF: Right now, the question to be answered is the mental approach. I know we've talked a lot about physical in terms of effort, but the one thing that I know will not happen, that is likely to happen on the message boards is for Christian to lose it on these guys. They are 6 games into a season where in essence, they are starting completely from scratch with virtually an entirely new team. Christian realizes that this is a 2-3 year marathon, not a sprint and there is no way that he's going to risk losing the group by going crazy on them.
We can decide that we don't like the results (no one obviously does), we can decide that we don't like the way they play (there are many ways to skin a cat), but this is an insanely difficult situation that this staff finds itself in and although he may get frustrated at times over the things that goes on, he understands fully what he has gotten himself into and the administration does too.
It will be easy for people to take shots at me saying this, but patience needs to be preached. Remember, there are 10 freshmen in the program, that's a ludicrous number, but it is the position that they find themselves in and one they essentially could do nothing about. I don't expect much this year, except to see them get to the point where they play consistently hard every night. He needs to recruit well, find some size with talent and get lucky with a grad transfer and then progress with a few more wins.
The year for Jim Christian is year four, 2017-18. I know this is a long, long way away, but BC is never going to be in a position to be a destination for five stars recruits. This has to be built from the ground up and when a brick is put in place, it stays in place.
JF: There is a good Eli Carter and a bad Eli Carter. He's good when he either gets on a roll, he is a very streaky shooter, part Vinnie Johnson, from the Detroit Pistons "Bad Boys" days. He is one of the few Eagles who can create his own shot against virtually any defender.
Then there is the bad Eli Carter and more and more, the bad side is starting to show to me. Bad Eli, is the guy who really isn't a pure point guard (not his fault), so he's shoot first, pass second. He's also the guy who stagnates the ball movement in the offense by over dribbling and forcing poor shots.
Part of this is what his game is, but I am sure that part of this is the situation he finds himself in with this team.
At times, doesn't he just look out of place? Like the rest of the team is of one mind set and this guy you pulled in off the street, Don Ovan, shall we say, comes in. No one knows him, he doesn't say much, but he can play.
The chemistry between Carter and the rest of the team and Carter and Christian, I think will be very interesting to watch develop as the year goes on.
AB: I don't disagree with you on the patience issue. I saw a lot of people upset with the Michigan State game, and a lot of those people disagreed with my optimism with their compete level. I don't disagree with the sentiment that a loss by 31 is a bad thing, but I think the important thing to look out for is compete level. Are the players putting in the effort, or are they somewhat lackadaisical like against Santa Clara? I thought the team looked like they were putting the work in and given the current state of the program that's all you can really ask for.
Eli Carter is another example of someone you need patience with. I know there is a lot of frustration with him, but a hot Eli Carter is dangerous from the field. The key is to get him to play a full 40 minutes (by which I mean a complete game, not have him play the whole game). If he does that, the offense can get going. Let's not forget how solid a chemistry Carter had with Jerome Robinson against the St. Francis (Brooklyn) Terriers. Now, granted, like you said, he isn't a point guard by trade, and he's prone to mistakes. But when he's on, he's on.
There are concerns about Carter's leadership. I honestly don't know enough about what happens internally with BC to give a good response to that. What I will say is he has that potential. Whether or not he fulfills that potential is up to him.
I think one thing I will say is that Carter has progressively looked more and more out of place. Then again, the team has looked more and more like it is lacking cohesion, so that might have something to do with it.
Onto the lightning round!
Tom Izzo picked up win #500 against BC on Thanksgiving. Class act, no?
JF: Izzo is one of my favorite coaches period. Coaches his kids hard, but they love him and I have always loved the way they play the game too. They play with fabulous passion and intensity for the game. Total class act on top of that. Guy's done it all.
AB: How about those Monmouth Hawks?
JF: Don't you have to love that too? Not only the wins, but the bench celebrations are classic! They still have Georgetown and Rutgers for big boy games, so we'll see more! Go Hawks!
AB: They have to be the favorite to win the MAAC at this point, no?
JF: I'll make them mine and to boot, one of the first years I worked Jim Boeheim's camp at Syracuse, the camp all stars were led by a local guard named, King Rice, Monmouth's head coach. How time flies!
AB: Wow that's something. Quickly, what do you expect from Penn State?
JF: Pat Chambers will have Penn State playing very hard..I think that's enough to get the Lions a win at Conte..close.
AB: One of two things will happen. BC will come out with something to prove and play its best game of the season, or Penn State will control the game from the beginning. I don't think BC has enough talent to come out with something to prove so I'll go with Penn State.
Enjoy the games everyone!