Over the past couple of weeks, we have been working our way through a retrospective of the 2016-17 Men's Basketball season. In part I, we looked at areas that went right for the program, in part II, those areas that didn't go so well.
Today in part III, let's look at areas that still puzzle us. Now this is not to say that they will puzzle all of you, or even that I don't have an opinion on where these pieces sit today, but at this point, for all of these, I am not 100% convinced one way or the other, where things stand.
For each of these areas, I will add a "level of certainty" showing how close to 100% I am sure about these points.
What Still Puzzles Us?
Nik Popovic and Johncarlos Reyes
In part I of the series, I called out Popovic and Reyes as a possible positive point. As far as an upside is concerned, no current player on the roster appears to have more than Popovic. Solid footwork, a skill set both with his back to the basket and a face up game. He definitely has limitations with foot speed, strength and defensive understanding, but showed flashes of what might be.
Comments in that part I post looked to compare him to Wake Forest's John Collins and hoped he could take that kind of step in his sophomore year. I believe that's asking for an awful lot. When we evaluate players, it is a natural tendency to look at the best example, but for every Collins, there are 10-20 players who don't make that type of improvement. I would take steady improvement over what is really the exception and not the rule.
Reyes is another player who can tantalize you with potential. Injuries and lack of physical strength made this somewhat of a lost year, but he is the one player on the roster who could become a rim protector, something the Eagles desperately need.
Can this duo flourish in 2017-18?
Level of Certainty that both take off in 2017-18: 30%
What Exactly Do We Have with AJ Turner?
So much was made of AJ Turner being Jim Christian's highest rated recruit and the best at BC in many a year, but two years into his career, it appears that Turner is more role player than dominant player.
Don't get me wrong, Turner does some things very well, including taking care of the basketball while involving other players (2nd on the team in assists just behind Ky Bowman and over a 2:1 Assist to turnover ratio, by far the best on the team), as well as a decent three point shooter and defacto top defender, but it's like going to what you think is a great restaurant and asking afterwards if it was really what you thought it was before you got there.
For this team to take a step forward, Turner needs to take his game forward on all levels. Like most of the Eagles he needs to add strength, but he also needs to be more assertive on the offensive end, add a drive game to the rim which he simply doesn't have at this point, rebound more consistently and compete as that primary defender with much more consistency.
Is Turner really the third star on this team or just a decent role player?
Level of Certainty that although he may improve, this is who AJ Turner is: 80%
Will The Future Bring Consistency To Jerome Robinson's Game?
Robinson did take a step forward in 2016-17, increasing his scoring seven points per game, as well as upping his FT% into the low 70s, however he dipped or didn't improve in a lot of other areas (down in FG%, 3FG%, assists, turnovers) and for the most part, was either on or very much off.
At times Robinson looked like the second coming and at other times, had a bit of AJ Turner to his game, just not getting involved in the offense or going through shooting slumps that devastated a team that needed to rely on he and Ky Bowman for points.
As he did last year, Robinson was able to get minutes at the point backing up Bowman, although I am sure the staff would have rather kept Ty Graves in that role. That has to help his ball handling in the future, but it didn't help this season where the words that kept popping into my were lazy and careless.
Streaky isn't necessarily a problem, but it streaky is easier to handle when there are more options around.
Level of certainty that Robinson's game becomes more consistent in 2017-18: 60%
Can Jim Christian Recruit Effectively?
This could just as easily be named, can Jim Christian keeps the talent he recruits, but in reality, both questions are worth asking.
According to 24/7 sports basketball recruiting rankings, here is how BC has done in Christian's four seasons.
- 2014 - 15th ACC, 127th Nationally - Idy Diallo
- 2015 - 11th ACC, 69th Nationally - Matt Milon, AJ Turner, Johncarlos Reyes, Jerome Robinson, Sammy Barnes-Thompkins
- 2016 - 12th ACC, 83rd Nationally - Ty Graves, Nik Popovic, Ky Bowman, Mike Sagay
- 2017 - 15th ACC, 151st Nationally - Luka Kraljevic
Level of certainty that this is the level of recruiting we will continue to see: 85%
Can Jim Christian Develop The Talent He Gets?
Of all the areas that puzzle me, this one has gone to the top. So much of what Coach Christian has either recruited or in some cases inherited has departed the program prior to really understanding how he fares in this category.
The list of players to depart Chestnut Hill early or for greener pastures is long indeed. Some of those players, like Ryan Anderson (Arizona) and Joe Rahon (St Mary's) thrived. Some faded off, like Lonnie Jackson (Boise State). Others at this point, we aren't sure of (Idy Diallo and Matt Milon), but through it all, I am finding it hard to take a look at the players who have remained and whether in season, or between seasons, have developed on the court.
This truly surprises me considering the talent on this coaching staff. Now one can make that argument that Jerome Robinson took a step forward this year, but while I see it in terms of scoring, I don't really see it in other areas and the few other players remaining from the 2015-16 team pretty much vanished (Ervins Meznieks, Garland Owens and Johncarlos Reyes).
Certainly have to keep them around to develop them and that more than anything else, puts this question at the top of the list.
Level of certainty that Christian can develop the talent he gets: 60%
Does This Program Have An On Court Identity?
Watching the NCAA tournament this becomes even more clear, teams that win have real on the court identities. Teams that lose, well they either don't have identities or are just branded as losing teams.
Looking at BC teams through the years, whether it was Tom Davis and Gary Williams with the 1-2-1-1 press, 1-2-2 zone, flex offense, fast break basketball and whole lot of bounce passes, all the way through to Al Skinner who ran his version of the flex and played a more power game with great guard play, winning teams at BC have had a real identity.
Look at teams like South Carolina getting to the Final Four, is there any question what the focus of Frank Martin is for that crew. Attitude and defense are their calling cards (although having Sindarius Thornwell doesn't hurt!).
BC runs their four out, one in set, pushes the ball in transition and mixes up their defenses at times, but maybe because it didn't translate into wins and maybe because it doesn't appear as if there is anything they are really passionate about doing, this teams lacks an identity.
Knowing that you need bricks to build structures and players to build programs, players want to go to places where you win first and foremost, but also understand how you play and passionately ride that system.
I am of the belief that what we are seeing is what we will continue to see. Whether you want to view it as an identity and then tie that to whether a team wins or loses, that is up to you.
Level of certainty that what you see from an on the court identity is what you get: 90%
What Is Jim Christian's Future At BC?
2017-18 will be Coach Christian's fourth in Chestnut Hill and although there is no question that he inherited a mess from Steve Donahue, we are getting to the point where Christian needs to own the results of the product he is putting on the floor.
Following this season, Christian's record at BC stands at 29-67 .302 overall and 6-48 .111 in the ACC, which gives him the lowest overall winning percentage by any coach in Eagle history. Since 2011-12, the program has experienced the number 1, 2 and 3 most losses in a season, with two of those coming under Christian's watch.
Although only a dozen years into the ACC, the Eagles now own the worst winning percentage for league games in history at .347, of course not all of that can be attributed to Coach Christian.
The program has now missed the NCAA tournament in eight consecutive seasons, the 2nd longest streak since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 (9 years being the longest).
So some of this definitely isn't his mess, but more and more of it gets there everyday. As I discussed during the football season, to me this is more about the overall direction of the program and whether there is a belief that this can be turned around.
BC has a history of success and a history of failure in basketball. In my lifetime, I have seen the Eagles pack the Boston Garden with predominantly BC fans for games and also draw 1,000 or so for ACC contests. It is most definitely a niche market and one that rewards only success, and with the challenges we have discussed in recruiting, creating a program identity and developing the players in the program, will not be easy to alter.
But there are some building blocks in place as well and the administration has been patient and with the pending change of Athletic Directors, I can say with nearly 100% certainty, that Coach Christian will be in place for the 2017-18 season, but will most definitely be on the clock.
What defines success in 2017-18, we will look at that in the last part of the retrospective, but for the first time in his tenure at BC, Christian will be under the weight of significant pressure to produce and at least show tangible steps forward in recruiting, player development and on court results.
Level of certainty that Jim Christian returns in 2017-18: >99%
I am sure that the masses have definite opinions on this and many other potentially "puzzling" topics. As always interested in your take. In part four (work always pending!!) we will look at what we learned this year.