Maybe the sting of the season is wearing off and that is a good thing. The number of responses to the post talking about the players generated far less interest than that around the coaches, which I suppose isn't surprising, as coaching talk, like schedule talk in football, is far more interesting at times than the product on the court or field.
But now it's time to look forward and discuss the 2016-17 Eagles and what we should expect. However, I don't think the proper way to do this is either to do another retrospective type piece, nor to just look at the on the court strategy, but rather bump this up to a 10,000 foot view and think big picture.
Over the last week, we've seen a slew of posts and newspaper articles discussing the state of Boston College football and basketball. The Globe, numerous articles posted on BCInterruption (GDF putting BC in a hole, How BC can dig out of the hole) and Brad Bates' letter to season ticket holders, among others.
Everyone seems to have weighed in with their thoughts on the subject and honestly, when it comes back down to the subject of BC Basketball, doesn't any discussion of the future, have to start not on the court, but with off the court leadership?
If the program was in better shape, we could focus far more on recruiting, strategy and tweaks that would allow the Eagles to take the next step forward, but right now, those topics mean far less than the overarching discussion on how from a leadership perspective, BC basketball can improve.
Those who weighed in on those posts assessed varying amounts of blame on senior administration and so on down to the coaching staff. Was this a Board of Trustees problem, a Fr. Leahy problem, a GDF created problem, a Brad Bates problem or does the buck stop at Jim Christian and maybe by extension, Steve Donohue for the current plight of the Eagles.
I for one have always believed that with any business, culture is top down and although people are given more or less autonomy to do their jobs, leadership at the very top is what drives the things that sit below it. When the right leadership empowers the right people to make decisions, success is what you get. When that leadership either meddles, ignores or hires the wrong folks, the reverse happens.
Listening to Sean McDonough, a native Bostonian from Hingham, who is a Syracuse grad, but has as much knowledge of the Boston sports scene as anyone and former Providence College women's basketball player and current college and NBA commentator, Doris Burke, both of whom have lived the BC story in the Big East days, spend a large part of the game, not so much talking about the Eagles performance in the game, but what got them to this point.
The topics are not new to us, but are worth repeating, although I may be missing some here, you will get the gist.
Commitment of the administration to basketball: That in a $200M capital improvement plan the basketball program is essentially ignored, speaks volumes to the overall commitment of Boston College to the sport. The administration can say all they want that it is important, but putting your money where your mouth is for more than just the salary of Jim Christian would be a sign of that.
BC may have a different academic mission than some of its ACC brethren, but the fact remains that by deciding to compete in the ACC, they essentially agreed that athletically their goals, while not identical, are similar and therefore if winning is the the ultimate prize, need to commit at least similar resources across the board to that goal, otherwise, they are just taking the money and running.
Facilities: This ties back to the comments above, but BC still looks at Conte Forum and its amenities as new. In 2017-18, Conte will be the same age (30) as its predecessor, Roberts Center, was when it was torn down. That doesn't mean that Conte has totally outlived its usefulness, but it was built primarily to house the hockey team and as a shared facility, doesn't show the commitment to hoops that recruits find critical.
Power Gym, the practice facility, is another shared resource and with most of the league now in shiny, sport specific palaces for their game and practice areas, shows BC as less engaged than those they compete with.
Public relations: When it comes to BC athletics, we know it is not a chicken or egg thing. If you don't win, they will not come..and even if you do win, they still may not come.
The Eagles need to win and win big to avoid the crash that was their attendance this year, where they came close, if not set, the low water mark for bodies through the turnstile in Conte Forum history. They also need to do this to become relevant with recruits locally...which brings us to the next point...
Recruiting: Since my time on campus in the early to mid 80s, BC has continued to grow as a national brand, both academically and athletically. At that time, the vast majority of students and athletes were from the northeast and the basketball team, mostly from the same area.
At the power five level, that has changed. All the major programs are national programs, some have great local recruiting bases and then augment nationally, some (like a Duke or a Kentucky for instance) just go wherever the players are.
For at least the past 10-15 years, perhaps even longer, Boston College has lost its identity in the community. There are only two players with any sort of local ties on this year's roster (Dennis Clifford - Bridgewater, MA and AJ Turner - who although from Michigan, prepped at New Hampton (NH)).
Boston may not be a wildly fertile basketball recruiting area, but the list that you can make of local products who have gone elsewhere to play on high level Division I teams this season is pretty impressive.
Georges Niang - Iowa State, Wayne Selden - Kansas, Terance Mann - Florida State, Jake Layman - Maryland, Abdul-Malik Abu - NC State, Zach Auguste - Notre Dame, Bonzie Colson - Notre Dame are just a sprinkling of the names who are metro-Boston players who BC for the most part, weren't even involved with.
Notre Dame in particular has made a living in this area for years now. Pat Connaughton, the current players in Auguste and Colson and going back to former Boston Latin star, Torin Francis in the early 2000s, have all matriculated to South Bend.
On top of that there are dozens of players yearly who come from out of state to anyone of the fabulous prep schools in New England allowing the Eagles free viewing, but they don't get a sniff in general.
It is not reasonable to expect BC to land all these players, no region in the country is successful keeping all their top talent at home, but the lack of success the Eagles have had since really Jermaine Watson (Lincoln-Sudbury and Tabor Academy) and maybe even further back in Dana Barros (Xaverian) and Bill Curley (Duxbury) came out of the Bay State needs to change.
Recruiting is the life blood of any program and as Steve Addazio has stated, trying to build a fence (I'll take a dog barricade for a chihuahua at this point) would be a start.
McDonough was the one who relayed the story from Christian regarding the lack of depth on the team this year, as he didn't feel his starters were pushed by the subs..not the recipe for success when the starters went 0-18 in conference.
So where is this headed in 2016-17?
Stylistically: I don't expect to see much of a difference. Under Jim Christian (and make no mistake, there will be no change on the bench this off-season), BC has been consistent in their approach. The four out - one in high ball screen offense with a few quick hitters is likely to stay offensively, while the mix of defenses between man, some 2-3, some 1-3-1 and occasional extended pressure is likely to stay as well.
With Dennis Clifford departing, the load in the post will fall to either Idy Diallo or incoming Serbian power forward, Nik Popovic. Both are true post players and aren't likely to step away from the rim as Clifford did at times. This also begs the question of who will play that four spot as a face up player who defend in the post.
Defensively, we know that Christian would like to play more man, but how much he will be able to do that again next year is questionable. While BC should be deeper at least from an experience perspective, the ability to extend that pressure and expose a foul prone Diallo and an inexperienced Popovic, may lead to more zone than we saw this past year.
One topic I heard bandied about is whether teams like BC should really play like a mid major rather than a power five team and by that I mean, build from the defensive end on out. Shorten games, play at more a Virginia tempo, focus defensively and look to find those four year players. I think it has some merit, but don't think this coaching staff is going that route yet.
Recruiting: While we just mentioned Popovic, perhaps no position on the team will be more improved in 2016-17 than at the point. Just having a pure point guard in 5'11 Ty Graves will make a positive impact, but this should come with a disclaimer in that it is asking an awful lot out of a true and somewhat physically slight freshman with a limited cast around him to be responsible for turning the fortunes of a program around, but BC needs a Graves.
You would imagine that despite Graves scoring prowess and he does possess quite a sweet looking jump shot, he will have more seasoned scoring options around him next year with Jerome Robinson, Matt Milon and an improved AJ Turner. Involving his teammates and getting BC settled offensively, will be the key to his season.
There is also the possibility of defections. For the past several seasons, BC has lost personnel for reasons other than graduation and in the case of Olivier Hanlan, a pro career. The changes in the coaching staff signaled the departure of Ryan Anderson and Joe Rahon and Will Magarity left of Davidson after last season.
Keeping all your bodies (or at least your critical ones) around for next year is big to signal to future recruits that all the talk is just noise.
Who do they pass in the ACC: When I look at next year, I certainly don't see the repeat of this past season. Now I might change my mind if there are some key defections, but no rumblings of that have leaked out at this point. The problem though is the rest of the ACC and who will BC pass to move up the stack.
The Eagles were 0-18 with a bullet. There were only three conference games where BC was within ten points all season and the teams most directly in front of the Eagles are on an ascent (Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Florida State) or have superior talent and size (NC State) or like most of the rest of the league are just so far ahead of where BC is now, or like the Duke's and Carolina's of the world, can recruit right over BC it may not matter.
The one exception to that may be Georgia Tech. Although it took Brian Gregory a while to get it going, the Jackets improved significantly this past season, but GT was a senior laden team, losing their top four scorers to graduation.
Final thoughts: To reiterate, at this time, Boston College basketball faces a larger problem off the court than on it, despite the drismal 2015-16 results. The lack of performance on the court, put the spotlight firmly on to off the court issues, such as lack of overall commitment, facilities, status within the community and historic relationships with key coaches in the New England prep school community.
Despite the best efforts of Coach Jim Christian and his staff, there may be no easy way to overcome the on court issues without improvements off them...however...
2016-17 won't be as bad as 2015-16 was. There I said it.
The Eagles will have more experience, a player in Robinson (and hopefully guys like Turner, Milon, etc) who will continue to develop, some more depth inside in Popovic and Reyes and a pure point in Graves.
They will however struggle to climb the ACC ladder a great deal. It's not fair to expect major steps to be taken forward next year. This team will still be very young and lacks the superstar player that many of the conference teams have to drastically elevate the team's play.
In this year's pre-season predictions, it was anything but the cellar and get to 2016-17, for next year, it's anything but 14th place and get to 2017-18 and when we reconvene and discuss that season, the thoughts of whether post season basketball is a possibility need to be on the table and maybe not for the reasons you think.
Based on all we've stated the Eagles have to fight against off the court, which is both perception and reality, will the coaching staff be able to attract the talent they need to move this forward? Is it possible that although the University won't want to part with Jim Christian that he or critical pieces of his coaching staff move on after next season?
So what say you? Will BC escape the ACC basement in 2016-17?