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Coach's Corner: BC Hoops 2015-16: Reviewing The Coaching Staff

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Part I of a multi-part review of the 2015-16 Men's Basketball season looks at the role of the coaching staff

Are Jim Christian and his staff pointing in the right direction?
Are Jim Christian and his staff pointing in the right direction?
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The 2015-16 Boston College Men's Basketball team will leave a legacy that unfortunately few will ever wish to revisit.  While by all accounts this group conducted itself with dignity and class and represented BC as we all hope our sons would given the chance, college athletics has become a bottom line business and the bottom line is that these Eagles will go down as the single worst team in ACC history.

0-18 in the conference in the regular season with the exclamation point added on Tuesday afternoon in the season ending loss to Florida State in the ACC tournament, it is one that will live as the butt of jokes and the answer to far too many trivia questions.

As we begin the autopsy of this team(is there really any other way to put it?), let's start by looking at the guidance provided by the coaching staff, led by Head Coach Jim Christian.  The role of any coaching staff in a given season is to walk away believing that they maximized the talent provided them.  While it is very easy and incredibly snarky to say WTF..are you kidding, when it comes to asking that question of this team, deeper and honest inspection is required.

Pre-season expectations:

Coming into the season, the expectations of this team on the board was significantly better than the vast majority of the so-called experts believed.  Universally, the basketball pre-season magazines and various pundits picked the Eagles to finish at the bottom of the ACC barrel.

Essentially emptying out the program, starting from scratch and then subtract of one of the great players in Eagle history in point guard, Olivier Hanlan, BC was fighting an uphill battle from the start.

I for one, saw this coming, at least to a certain extent:

Anywhere but the cellar is the goal.  Give them 8-9 wins and 1 or 2 in the ACC and a first round exit in the tournament and get to 2016-17.

Of course, I really didn't think they would go winless in conference, although late in the year we posed the question in another thread and at that point, I wasn't uncomfortable saying it could happen.

Why did I think this way?

  • Outside of a questionable (for many reasons) Dennis Clifford, a role player in Garland Owens and a walk-on point guard in Steve Perpiglia, the Eagles were turning over their entire roster.  Whether they had been good or bad in 2014-15 it didn't really matter, this was going to be an issue.
  • All those freshmen.  The class was touted as strong, but none of them were 4 or 5 star recruits, so this wasn't like Duke, BC was building for the future with four year players.  Growing pains were inevitable.
  • The loss of Olivier Hanlan and the lack of an established point guard, even a backup to step into that role.  BC was either going to ride Perpiglia or would need to find someone with no experience at the point to be that player.
  • The lack of depth in the front court.  Clifford and Diallo were both question marks entering the season and only Johncarlos Reyes was there to offer any backup.  BC had no legitimate four man, someone along the lines of Ben Bentil at Providence, so it was going to leave them with a group of centers (five men) and only one could play at a time.
  • The insane depth of the ACC.  While this isn't a vintage year by the standard of great teams in college basketball, the depth of good teams, particularly in the ACC, was a tough thing to overcome.  The top may not have been as strong, but the bottom of the league was so far superior to where BC was, any wins were going to be difficult and the league office did the Eagles no favors with their schedule which didn't let up even slightly, until mid February.
  • Depth in general was going to mean injuries were something BC had no room to tolerate and we know what happened there.  While Clifford stayed healthy, pretty much every other Eagle suffered an injury that took him out of action for varying periods of time.
If this were a business project, which I suppose in many ways it is, we might perform a retrospective and ask the following questions of the coaching staff:

  • What went well?
  • What didn't go so well?
  • What did we learn?
  • What still puzzles us?
What Went Well?:
It's easy to be sarcastic and say that nothing went well.  Tough to be the first ACC team to go winless in conference in nearly 30 years and set the all time record for most conference losses of any program in a single season and yet still try to find a silver lining, but even in the worst of times, there are still positives, however small, that one can look at.  So what went well for the Eagle coaching staff?

Attitude.  Of all the tangibles or intangibles that we can analyze, the one undeniable fact is that the coaching staff and therefore the team, stayed relentlessly positive.  I cannot overstate how difficult that had to be and what a great job this staff did of not completely losing this team based on all they went through.

How this plays out in the off season, will there be players that say enough is enough and bail, that's always a possibility regardless of how well a team does. Based on the hand they were dealt, this staff deserves kudos for keeping this team together and for the most part, playing with maximum effort despite being overwhelmed physically most nights.

Youth is served. It wasn't like there was a choice in the matter, but a lot of young players got a baptism by fire.  We saw great promise out of Jerome Robinson.  The decision to play him at the backup point position will only help in the future as the more players who can handle the ball, the better any offensive team is.

A willingness to adjust. It may not have come out in the way people on the boards wanted it to, but the staff did try to make changes to their offensive and in particular their defensive approach to try to improve this team.  The mixture of the extended 2-3 zone with their man and 1-3-1 quarter court defense at times paid dividends and although the execution left something to be desired, the effort was there.

What didn't go so well?:
The list of course is a lot longer, but rather than look at solely at technical reasons (why didn't they press for instance), let's look at root causes of the problems the coaching staff encountered and why those decisions didn't work out.

Recruiting. By all accounts, Jim Christian has assembled a very talented staff.  Christian has 14 years in as a head coach and been reasonably successful at all his stops.  Stan Heath, took a Kent State program to the Elite Eight in his first head coaching stint, albeit in his first year with inherited players.  Bill Wuczynski has a long history with Christian and has had success mentoring guards, while Massachusetts native Scott Spinelli has been hailed as one of college basketball's great recruiters and the difference maker to move this program forward the way he did at the University of Maryland.

However, in their first two years at Chestnut Hill, recruiting, more than any other single factor, has let the Eagles down.

The way the graduating classes fell, with such a senior laden class in 2015, made it difficult, but to date, the recruiting successes have not been strong and there were key misses to positions that needed to be filled that directly impacted on court success this year, namely point guard and power forward.

The staff had to realize that it was likely that Olivier Hanlan would leave after his junior season, yet they were unable to attract a point guard for two straight classes, which at least partially pushed them to take in Eli Carter and try to convert him into a point guard.  We saw the impact of that vividly yesterday during the Florida State game where the Noles pressure both turned the Eagles over and when they weren't doing that, made it impossible for BC to run their offense.

Christian's first two recruiting classes ranked 15th in the ACC and 127th overall (2014), then 71st overall and 11th in the ACC in 2015 and the incoming class (finally featuring a point guard in Ty Graves) is 83rd nationally and 12th in the ACC.

Now BC is likely never to be Duke, North Carolina, Louisville or Syracuse, when it comes to basketball recruiting, but it is also unlikely that BC can win in the ACC without at least a couple of NBA level prospects on the roster each year.  This isn't football where you can build around 5th year seniors and be successful.

The Eli Carter experiment. Yes, Carter was BC's leading scorer and he did have moments where he carried the squad, but pretty much night in and night out, Carter was a ball stopper offensively, exhibited horrid shot selection, struggled to handle the ball under pressure and was an indifferent defender.  I have trouble putting a lot of this on Carter directly, he needed to be handled differently and held accountable for the decisions he made on the court.

So much of this goes back to the inability to recruit a point guard for two years that could have allowed Carter to operate more efficiently as an off guard.  He simply had the ball in his hands too much for the good of the team.

Inconsistent playing time. This one really confused me and it is made tougher by the lack of local media coverage of BC athletics, but although the Eagles went through more than their share of injuries, the inconsistent use of players was hard to understand.  Yesterday against FSU, Idy Diallo didn't get off the bench and we've seen nights where Matt Milon, Darryl Hicks and early in the season, Sammy Barnes-Thompkins, all sat. Although it's tough to play 9-10 guys every night, there didn't seem to be a real rhyme or reason for those decisions, the staff just didn't seem to get comfortable with their personnel, in particular the bench.

That's it? What?  That's all...come on, there has to be a list of 100 things you can pick on!

Well of course I could.  Boston College struggled to execute at either end of the floor.  We know they were last in the ACC in virtually every category offensively and defensively, but I am going to attribute that to the recruiting issue (which sits in both Jim Christian and Steve Donahue's court at this point) and not point to specific deficiencies but lack of talent vs their competition as primary reasons why.  Tough to bring a butter knife to a gun fight.

If anyone wants to bring up specifics, happy to talk about them.

What have we learned?:

There will probably be a lot of people who will say, "we've learned that Christian stinks and he needs to fired", but the more I thought about it, the more I think, at least on the coaching front, that to date, we've learned very little.

Christian was dealt a pretty difficult deck when he took over the program.  This year was like his first year, rather than a second based on the full turnover of the roster from the 2014-15 season.

Although what the Eagles do offensively and defensively may not be exactly what I would do, that doesn't mean that Christian and his staff aren't good teachers and communicators with a solid philosophy.  People will point out the end of the game situation at NC State (which I did as well in last week's post) and say that should have been handled differently and would have gotten this team a win, but BC wasn't in enough of those late game situations to say that the staff isn't good in game.

If anything, what we have learned is that Eagles won't win until the talent level in the program is drastically raised and then we will be able to more clearly evaluate this staff's ability to coach.

What still puzzles us?:

Can this staff recruit: To me, this is the area where the most questions need to be asked.  All success starts and ends with recruiting.  There is the saying that it's not the Xs and Os but Jimmies and Joes and nowhere is that more applicable than college basketball.

This isn't football where you need 15-20 studs to make a difference, if you can get three stars and a slew of good players, you can go from being bad to good virtually overnight.  Therefore the biggest question mark, the biggest puzzle piece is easy...can this staff recruit? All the rest of it is really irrelevant if you don't have players that can make plays. You could see the athletic mismatch yesterday against Florida State.  It wouldn't have mattered if you had John Wooden coaching the Eagles, the outcome would have been the same against a team that finished 11th in the ACC!  There is just a long way to go to be competitive, never mind win at the highest level.

While the coaching staff will ultimately be held accountable for the success or lack thereof in recruiting, it is said it will take a village to raise a child and it will certainly be the same when it comes to raising the profile of Boston College recruiting.  This will take involvement to the top of the food chain at the university, not just the work of the coaching staff.

Is Jim Christian the right coach for this program going forward? In professional sports finishing 7-25 and setting a record for futility in your league by going winless would get a coach fired immediately.  That trend, that need for immediate gratification, is certainly trickling its way into college athletics, but it is unlikely to cost Christian his job at BC for all the reasons outlined earlier in the article. But it still doesn't answer the question of whether, in the long run, Christian is the right coach to get BC back to not only respectability but to success in terms of NCAA tournament bids and competing for ACC titles.

In part III of the season review we will look at the future, but suffice to say, based on what we know as of this moment, the Eagles lot in life is not likely to drastically change in 2016-17.

If the administration believes that despite what happened this season, Christian is the right person to get this turned around, then regardless of this year's record, he should stay.

Will he get that done?  Well it's under the category of things that still puzzle us for a reason, but if the gun were put to my head and based on the lack of talent that the program has attracted in his three recruiting classes to date, I would have to say that is unlikely.

Next up:  The players