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Five Quick Takes: Notre Dame 96 BC 85

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Robinson’s 46 can’t mask defensive deficiencies

NCAA Basketball: Boston College at Notre Dame
Robinson immense, Eagle D not so much
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Five quick takes following Boston College’s 96-85 loss to Notre Dame last night at Purcell Pavilion. With the defeat, the Eagles drop to 14-10 overall and 4-7 in the ACC, having lost four of their last five.

For those of you who enjoy the column, I apologize for my absence the past week, but business and life tend to get in the way and such was the case, with travel being the cause this time.

Jerome Robinson not only was fantastic but

He has taken his offensive game to an entirely new level. It’s certainly not as if Robinson wasn’t a good and at sometimes great player, but there were times of trepidation, times where he lacked confidence, particularly from the three point line.

In the first four games of the year, Robinson was just 3-14 from deep and there were legitimate concerns about whether that was a part of his game that would develop. His shot was often flat and short and his shot selection was questionable, particularly considering the results.

His first two years also didn’t offer much in the way of confidence that those things would change. Robinson shot just 33% from three a year ago after a good, but not outstanding 38% as a frosh.

Since those first four games though, he is shooting it at 50.4% from beyond the arc (57-113) and maybe most importantly is also at nearly 85% from the line.

Despite all the shots he put up last night, he has actually taken fewer shots overall this season, to average nearly two points more per game. His efficiency with the ball and the diversity of his game at all four scoring levels (3 point, mid range, paint and free throw line), continues to rise and although his game isn’t identical, the name Troy Bell comes to mind with what he is doing now.

Robinson is on his way to getting a slew of post season accolades and playing himself into an NBA conversation. I for one, am very hopeful that he stays around for his senior season, as he has turned a corner to where he is simply at an advanced level from pretty much everyone he will play against. It’s not as if the light wasn’t turned on before, but right now, it is as bright as it could possibly be and it highlights the clarity that Robinson sees and executes the college game.

But the defense lets the whole thing down

As good as Robinson was though, BC was simply horrid defensively. The 96 points is obvious, a season high, but also the continuation of a trend. The Eagles haven’t held any team to under 70 points since the 59-58 loss at Virginia on December 30.

BC is giving up 79.1 points per game in ACC play and is trending downward. In terms of defensive efficiency, over their last three games, Boston College is among the bottom 30 teams in the country, ahead of only seven Power Five schools (oddly one being Notre Dame who is 11th from the bottom in the same stretch).

People think of BC as an uptempo team, but they aren’t run and gun and stand just in the upper third of all teams in the country in terms of shots per game. That tempo could be considered as a reason that defense suffers, but there is way more to it than that.

Let’s break down four factors that impact BC’s ability to defend, all of which surfaced last night in South Bend.

  • Controlling the dribbler - It doesn’t seem who is covering the ball, but BC can’t get the dribbler stopped on any sort of penetration. The Eagles give up straight line drives, with late help and have no one considered a real rim protector to fear.

The fact that the Eagles switch so many matchups at the 1-4 spots is a problem here too. The strategy suggests that you have equivalent defenders at all those positions and that just isn’t the case. Steffon Mitchell works hard, but I don’t want him guarding a player who wants to get to the basket.

  • Ball pressure - If you can’t control the dribble, you might think it is because you are pressuring the ball too hard and getting beat, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. Ball pressure is essential to any great defense. We think of it in terms of a full court pressure team, but even a Virginia, playing the pack line, starts with getting pressure on the ball. Why is that...well see the next one
  • No line drive passes - The pack line is built on principles of ball pressure, early help defense and using “air time” or moving when the ball is in the air being passed. Line drive passes, due to lack of ball pressure, which breaks down even the best of defensive rotations, destroy this. We were all taught that you can pass the ball faster than you can dribble it, but when a defense causes a pass to have arc on it, great things happen.

Defenders have more time to recover, shooters have less time to not only get shots but assess their next step.

Watch the game tape last night. Line drive pass, after line drive pass, after line drive pass. It’s not always the first pass, but make two to three of those in a possession, cause delays in rotations and close outs and you get the mess you got last night.

21 Irish assists on the night is a key indicator that such was the case.

  • Defend the post - Notre Dame is one of the few teams that BC has played this year that showed a willingness to throw the ball to the post for scores. It’s not that others couldn’t do it or don’t do it, but the idea of making it a real part of your offense as opposed to an occasional part or making the post players get their numbers via offense rebounds, just hasn’t happened a lot.

Last night, with Nik Popovic able to play just 12 minutes due to the abdominal injury, the Eagles were forced to extend minutes for JC Reyes and Luka Kraljevic and for the most part, they looked physically overmatched against the ND front court.

Martinas Geben was an efficient 5-9 from the floor and 6-6 from the line for 16 points and although BC outscored the Irish 32-20 in the paint, the post presence gave Notre Dame an option any time they wanted it and further opened up the perimeter, despite the Eagles not coming to double Geben at all.

A bit of help please

While Robinson was amazing, the rest of the team did next to nothing. Only Ky Bowman scored in double figures and he looked out of sorts all evening. He played hard, but disjointed to the rest of the team, which is tough when you are the point guard.

We laud what he does in other areas, but he still has a lot of times when the role of a point guard escapes him.

Jordan Chatman, the third of the Eagles to play the full 40 last night, was almost totally non existent. He started off well, making an early three and then went the final 25:17 of the game with no made field goals.

Similar things can be said about the other starters and the bench who was further tasked with the loss of Popovic, but as we’ve stated before, it is highly unlikely the Eagles beat anyone in the ACC on the road without the three amigos all having big games.

Last night everyone deferred to Robinson and that hurt their scoring numbers, but there is more to it than that as we touched on in the defensive section.

Winning on the road

At this point, Boston College isn’t built to win on the road and a 1-7 true road record, with the one win coming at Hartford, bears that out. It’s not as if this is shocking as this is still a BC team in growth mode and winning on the road any place is the next step in that ascension..followed by beating good teams on the road.

You want to be good on the road? Do the following:

  • Defend as if your life depended on it.

This is not BC’s forte. The Eagles are an OK defensive team at home, but are in the bottom four Power Five teams in the country on the road in terms of defensive efficiency. Those below them are Kansas State, Ole Miss and Washington State. K-State has had decent success away from Bramlage Coliseum, but neither the Rebels or Cougars have won a single road game all year.

All of the reasons above and others play into that.

The adage you hear in football and is applicable here, is that ‘defense travels’. Well when it doesn’t, you don’t often win away from home.

This is the #1 reason BC has not been able to break through on the road and it’s been even more so lately, with the Eagles giving up more than 50% from the field in three of the last four games.

Unlike offense, this is highly unlikely to turn from a negative to a positive over the final quarter of the season and should BC not qualify for post season, will surface as a strong topic of conversation.

In 2018-19, a year older, a year wiser, a year stronger and with what should be a deeper team, should help, but it comes across as a need for focus that may not exist currently.

  • Don’t turn the ball over

Here BC does fair. They are middle of the pack nationally in turnovers per possession and rate. Last night turnovers were not a major issue, with BC committing only 8, but this was against a non pressure opponent.

That said, BC has lost the turnover battle in 8 of their 10 defeats.

  • Make your free throws

Here, tough to throw stones. The Eagles are a solid 74 percent from the stripe on the season. They have been about 50/50 when it comes to how free throws taken and made have impacted wins and losses.

  • Rebound

While we’ve been concerned all season around the Eagles ability to rebound the ball, based on overall size and lack of depth, it hasn’t come back to haunt them in the way it could or perhaps even should. The game against UNC is a clear outlier, but BC has done well in games they’ve been out rebounded and struggled in games where they have led that category.