The 2016-17 Men's Basketball season is over and how it ended shouldn't be much of a surprise to anyone. While there was a modest amount of optimism coming into Coach Jim Christian's third year at the Heights, the vast majority of media and basketball experts predicted no more than a small uptick this season and another last place finish in the nation's best conference.
The season started slowly, with a devastating opening night loss to Nicholls State at Conte and then roller coastered through November and December. The Eagles appeared to have turned a corner when Nik Popovic tipped in a rebound of a Ky Bowman layup at the buzzer to stun Auburn in Madison Square Garden. BC ran off four of the next five to actually get to two games over .500 (8-6) for the first time since November 19, 2015, including a solid win over Providence and then the program's signature win, a 96-81 victory at home over Syracuse.
BC then lost two in a row on the road in North Carolina to Wake Forest and Duke. The Wake game was a bit of a disappointment based on how they were playing at the time, the Duke game brought promise as the Eagles fought back from 25 down in the second half at Cameron, to make it a game late.
January 11 BC defeated NC State at home and there was a sense that at 9-8 on the year and 2-2 in the ACC, while they weren't tournament bound, maybe there were 3, 4 or even 5 more conference wins to be had.
BC wouldn't get one.
The Eagles dropped their last 15 in a row, including their last five (and eight of those fifteen) by 14 points or more to finish at 9-23 and 2-16 in the ACC on the year.
I picked BC to win 2 conference games in the preseason and sighted ball handling, free throw shooting and defense as primary reasons why. All three definitely came back to haunt.
Did BC improve from 2015-16? The narrative by the television commentators indicated so and through the December/January time frame, that seemed to be the case, but ultimately, the Eagles wore down, thin with ACC talent to essentially end up in the same spot.
That said, the Eagles do appear to be better positioned heading into 2017-18 than they have been in the past several years.
In the first of a five part series, retrospective style let's investigate the season as a whole starting with - What Went Right?
What Went Right?
If there was one ultra positive to point to in this season, it was the emergence of Ky Bowman. The uber athletic 6'1 freshman simply willed his way into the starting lineup, ultimately pushing a more heralded recruit in Ty Graves clear off campus.
Bowman was voted to the All ACC freshman team after finishing second on the team in both scoring and rebounding, while shooting an astonishing .492 from the floor overall and .449 from the three point line. To put that in perspective, the FG% achieved by Bowman in his freshman campaign is better than any single year put up by Eagle great guards Troy Bell, Dana Barros, Tyrese Rice, John Austin, Olivier Hanlan or Howard Eisley.
For me though, it was Bowman's competitiveness that stood out. He showed no fear, no back down and never played the game at anything less than full throttle.
That said, there is still room for growth in Bowman's game, which should be great news for Eagle fans. Despite the high shooting percentage, his shot selection at times was questionable and with shooting percentage a function of the shots you take, should only improve in the future. He also struggled handling the ball, finishing with just under a 1:1 assist to turnover ratio, far too low for a point guard, but a lot of this can be attributed to a combination of experience, his style of play (one and only one speed, which should be addressed..changing how you move on the basketball floor is valuable) and no real backup to either learn from or share time with.
On the defensive end, Bowman worked hard on the ball, but had trouble, as did many of the Eagles, in help situations.
Hard to ask for much more than what this staff got out of Bowman in 2016-17
In school when they couldn't say anything nice about your grades, some kids at least got good attitude marks, well the same can be said for this team and this staff. It is a real credit to Coach Christian in how he kept this team together, engaged and didn't allow it come anywhere close to imploding on itself as the losses mounted.
I looked back at my retrospective from last year, believing I said the same thing ..low and behold I did, but this is in no way meant to be a backhanded compliment in an otherwise trying season, the truth is the staff did keep this team together and if you think about how frustrated you as a fan can be watching a game and let that out at your TV set, how difficult is it for a staff and players living it?
Coaches of this generation are generally simply better at doing this. They have become far less authoritarian and far more just a part of the puzzle of building a team and realize that effort and attitude need to be the baseline off which to build.
Share The Ball:
So much of what BC does offensively is predicated on people AND ball movement. A year ago, Eli Carter challenged that standard and it caused the Eagle offense to stagnate at times. This season BC started to flip that script.
The Eagles went from 410 assists and 431 turnovers a year ago to 473 assists and 467 turnovers this year. Yes, I know that represents an increase on the turnover side, but it did put BC positive on that ratio this year and represented a 2 assist per game increase from a year ago while raising their pace of play six possessions per game from #301 in the country to #70.
The Emergence of Post Players of the Future?:
OK, this one may be a slight stretch, but there are times when it takes an entire season, even with experienced players for a desired impact to be reached and perhaps, just perhaps, we saw that with the play of Nik Popovic and Johncarlos Reyes in the final few games of the season.
Popovic started the season pretty well and had his big moment in the win at MSG vs Auburn with his buzzer beating tip in, but quickly hit a wall in January which seemed to linger with him through most of the rest of the season. However, he started to turn it around late in the year and has the type of inside/outside game that provided he can gain strength and stay out of foul trouble could have him be the Eagle to improve most in the offseason.
Reyes, got virtually no time during the season, yet found himself actively involved in the ACC tournament loss to Wake, contributing a season high 10 points on 5-6 shooting in 14 minutes vs the Deacons.
Like Popovic, he has strength issues, but he's also got a soft pair of hands and appears to have the capability to finish around the rim and become a shot blocker, which this team sorely needs.
It's somewhat unlikely that both of these players will turn into stars in 2017-18, but if one can become a solid ACC starter and the other give solid minutes off the bench, that would be an excellent outcome.
Yes, Ty Graves left mid-season, but at least initially, it appears that there will be no other significant defections in the off season. There was concern around Johncarlos Reyes, but his more frequent appearances at the end of the year may have put that to rest.
In Jim Christian's first two years, there were mass exoduses following each season, just keeping the group together to grow together is a positive. It is very difficult to continue to start from scratch each season, particularly building cohesion on the defensive end, where this team struggled so mightily.
Jerome Robinson you ask? We'll get there.
Next - What Didn't Go So Well