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Coach's Corner: What Does A Point Guard Mean to BC Basketball?

There are a lot of factors plaguing the 2015-16 Eagles, but what does the lack of a true point guard mean?

Eagles off balance without a true point on the floor
Eagles off balance without a true point on the floor
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

That Boston College lost to arguably the #1 team in the country on their home floor by 27 points (dead on the Vegas line BTW), by this point, shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. Had the Tar Heels gotten off to a better start, the final score could well have been worse.

I didn't walk away though mad or depressed, more like a matter of fact acceptance of where the program is at this point in time, lacking the talent, the depth, the skill set and the physical strength to compete with a North Carolina-level program.

The Eagles played hard, despite being down two of their top eight bodies including their second leading scorer, Jerome Robinson, who may well be lost for the majority of what is left of their season. They competed, at least from a total rebound statistic, favorably with the Heels, although the UNC field goal percentage and the turnover differential skew those rebounding stats in terms of total opportunities, just a bit.

To say at this point in the season that BC could change just one thing and solve all their ills would be far too simplistic. BC doesn't do any one thing well at this point. The things they rank highest in nationally are areas they don't actually control, like opponent free throw percentage. Offensively, they rank no higher than #101 in any statistical category (percentage of assists to field goals made—but when you don't make many field goals, that's a bit of a backhanded compliment) and the generally accepted most important offensive stat, offensive efficiency, finds BC at #330 out of 351—dead last among the Power 5 teams.

The Eagles need help in all areas, more big depth, better rebounding, being better connected defensively, shooting, shot selection, but perhaps alongside rebounding, nothing would help this team more than point guard play. Yesterday's game magnified that problem, with UNC converting 23 Eagle turnovers into 30 points, while BC could only manage five points from 11 Heel turnovers; essentially, the margin in the game was points off turnovers.

After losing Olivier Hanlan last season, the Eagles were caught with no scholarship point guards on the roster and were forced to turn to Eli Carter, who, in his stints at both Rutgers and Florida, had been an off guard. The role of backup was handed to Robinson, also with no experience.

If the masses want to point to a deficiency in recruiting, a pretty easy place to begin since finding a point guard is a lot simpler than finding a 6'9-7'0 post presence.

But there are different types of point guards and I think getting into what the position could be can provide deeper insight to what the Eagles are facing.

One of the former coaches who I enjoy listening to discuss point guard play is former Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg. He states, and I concur, that you are better off with two points guards on the floor than with none. Essentially, you can never have too many ball handlers, decision makers, leaders, passers, coach on the floor extensions. These are the various roles a true point guard can play.

Point guards can fill three roles: play starter, play maker, scorer. As we go through the description of each, ask yourself who fills these roles for the Eagles.

Play Starter: this is your generic, don't make a mistake and make sure we get into offense point guard. The ball makes it safely inbound and to the other end of the floor, but this is not a guard looking to score, push the ball in transition or to facilitate for others, but to make sure that the entry pass into your halfcourt offense is executed without error. It is usually what you would think of your backup point guard being as opposed to your starter.

How do the Eagles fare here?

Eli Carter is at best a D here. He is 32nd in the country among all players in number of turnovers committed on the season averaging 3.4 per game. Not what you would want to see out of someone just looking to get your offense started. Carter is being forced to play out of position and at this point in time, between what he is asked to do at the defensive end, covering the opposition's top guard scoring option, his team leading 33 minutes per game, all at the point, and needing to score as well, it is a near impossible task for him to be effective.

Carter is not the extension of the coach on the floor type. Most conversations between Carter and Christian are more the "FTW' type than providing instructions to be communicated out to the team.

North Carolina really exposed this part of Carter's game yesterday, forcing him into seven turnovers of all varieties. Heavy ball pressure, wing denial of his entry pass into offense, all made Carter need to work harder and think more than he has all season. It is something I thought more teams would do to BC during the season, but simply not the way most college teams play anymore.

Some made the point that just surviving as a play starter would have made a substantial difference in the game yesterday and that is hard to argue, although I thought that Carolina did as much as they had to do and would have exerted themselves in other ways had they needed to.

Robinson has done fairly well in this role, but he clearly isn't comfortable yet. Simple things like keeping your dribble alive until you have a pass option available, the ability to back dribble to relieve pressure are areas for improvement there.

Remember, Robinson, Sammie Barnes-Thompkins, Darryl Hicks, and Matt Milon, the other guard types on this year's team, are 2-3 dribble guys max. To handle the ball under pressure for 7-10 dribbles at a time is a far different proposition than 2-3 dribbles to get to the rim.

Play Maker: This is a point guard who not only can get you into an offense, but can make those around them better. It is typically looked at a pass first/shoot second type of player, but it is far more than that. It is someone who understands what everyone else on the floor should be doing, who they are and how to get them shots in positions they are best to not only take them, but make them, as well as who should be getting those shots.

Here it is really tough to give Carter anything better than a D as well. I know that he leads the Eagles in assists, but he has games where he is interested in assists but mostly he is interested in scoring, and it's also challenging to say he is looking to put players in the best position for both them and the team...rather, he passes to open people (when he does pass!) and there is a major difference.

None of the other Eagles, though, even get a D in this category. Robinson and Barnes-Thompkins simply survive in that role, as long as they are the play starters, they are more than happy.

Scorer: Come on down Eli! As if there were any dispute as to where Carter fits in the discussion and for that matter where Robinson, Barnes-Thompkins, Hicks, and even Hanlan fit a year ago, it is in this role. All are "shoot first and ask questions second" point guards, which naturally leads back to the discussion of shot selection, a topic unto itself.

Carter is best in transition (I know some would argue, and accurately so, that in transition he makes more bad decisions than good) as well as when the ball comes back to him in the offense, although he is much more ball stopper at that point than ball mover.

Robinson has the ability to move the ball after the initial pass, while Barnes-Thompkins and Hicks are going to fire it right away, seemingly more out of panic than design.

If you remember a year ago, the whole topic of how Hanlan involved his teammates came up as well, Hanlan was just a better overall player and was surrounded by a more seasoned cast.

The final piece of this and something we've touched on when we talk about leadership is: who do you want to go to war with? Whether it's playing on the playground and needing to win to stay on or in the NCAA tournament, who is the guy his teammates look at and say, "He's a winner. He will get it done"?

Not every team has that type of point guard and that doesn't automatically make those without that type of player a bad team, but I do know that every team I've ever had where my point guard was that leader, that alpha dog, was successful and when that player went against the grain, we struggled.

So where does this leave BC for the rest of the season? Quite honestly and not surprisingly, in a deep mess. The point guard position is one that takes years and years to fully comprehend, to become that balance between play starter, play maker and scorer, and it is not likely that in the last dozen games of the season Carter will suddenly fully realize his potential in that role.  He simply doesn't handle it well enough under heavy pressure and he has no other alternatives to help bail him out.