The 2017-2018 Boston College men’s basketball team undoubtedly exceeded preseason expectations. As voted on by the coaches of the league, the Eagles were picked to finish 14th out of 15 teams before the season began. Before the season, I read one article that, when power ranking the teams of the ACC left Jim Christian’s squad off the list. And I can’t really blame him, because, as is well documented, BC had only won two ACC games in the past two years. This year, however, Ky Bowman, Jerome Robinson, and company flipped the switch. They finished the regular season at 7-11 in league play, earned two wins on top of that in the ACC tournament, and earned a bid to the NIT.
That being said, this should only be the beginning for Jim Christian and his team. BC should be better, deeper, and more versatile next year, but much of that hinges on one thing: will Jerome Robinson be back on the Heights for his senior season? The junior guard burst on to the scene this season, averaging 20.7 points per game, highlighted by a 46 point effort on the road against Notre Dame. In fact, he and NCAA tournament darling UMBC’s Jairus Lyles were the only players all season to hang 25 or more on UVA’s vaunted pack line defense. Whether or not the runner up ACC Player of the Year returns for his senior season will have a major impact on the Eagles’ 2018-2019 basketball season.
If Robinson Returns
Regardless of Robinson’s status for next season, Boston College should be an NCAA tournament team next year. I’m going to say it right now. However, should he return, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Eagles made a run to the round of 32 or even the Sweet 16 next year. Playing in the gauntlet that is the ACC should prepare them to make a run come next March. With a projected rotation of Bowman, Robinson, Jordan Chatman, and Wynston Tabbs in the backcourt with Steffon Mitchell, Nik Popovic, Luka Kraljevic, JC Reyes, and Jairus Hamilton in the frontcourt, and Vin Baker and Jared Hamilton mixed in as necessary, Jim Christian will have plenty of weapons at his disposal to go small, big, for defense, for ball handling, for shooting, and for anything else has heart desires. If BC somehow gets Teddy Hawkins back next year, this team will finish in the top five of the ACC.
Regardless, the Eagles would have arguably the nation’s best backcourt, as stated by Jon Rothstein.
Boston College's back court of Jerome Robinson and Ky Bowman isn't just the best back court in the ACC. It's one of the best in the country. A truly electric duo.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 7, 2018
He’s got a blue check mark next to his name, so what he says, goes. Sorry, I don’t make the rules, I just enforce them. Those two alone would have enough firepower to allow the Eagles to compete with the other teams in the league, but they are most certainly not alone. Unfortunately, this all may be a frustrating hypothetical, as Robinson may not return for his senior season after his breakthrough last year.
If Robinson Heads to the League
After displaying his ability to score at all three levels this year, Robinson saw his draft stock rise immensely this year, to the point where a Sports Illustrated mock draft had him going number 25 overall. I have to think that if he gets a first round guarantee, he’s going to be paid to play next year (not this year, @Arizona), unless getting a degree is of utmost importance to him and his family. Regardless of what he decides to do, BC’s faithful should have nothing but appreciation for the man who took it upon himself to resurrect this program and bring it back to relevance, which he successfully completed on December 9, 2017, when he kindly buried Duke with back to back threes, the second of which he shot from downtown Boston.
With everyone else presumably returning next year, BC should still be deep enough to finish in the top half of the ACC, especially if Bowman, Popovic, and Mitchell all make necessary strides forward. Wynston Tabbs, a top-150 recruit from North Carolina, has all the necessary tools to be a very good combo guard off the bench as an immediate contributor next year. He and fellow commit Jairus Hamilton, who also hails from North Carolina, will be part of the best freshman class BC has had in years, and Hamilton is the belle of the ball. The 6’-8”, 220 lb power forward will be an immediate contributor, with an ability to handle the rock as a three or a four, shoot the three ball, and battle inside for rebounds.
Expect Steffon Mitchell, Luke Kraljevic, and Ky Bowman in particular to make massive strides heading into next season. Mitchell was BC’s best defender this year, showing exemplary timing on his shot blocking, and showed some flashes on his shooting and ball-handling. I expect him to get stronger this offseason, put in more work on his jump-shot, in particular his free throw shooting, and try to get some semblance of a post game to punish teams who put smaller defenders on him. Kraljevic got better as the season went on, but it appeared as though the game was moving too fast for him. Next season, he too will be stronger and better equipped to handle the rigors of playing high-major Division 1 basketball. Ky Bowman was one of the most erratic guards in college basketball season. When he was on, there was no one on any team that could stop him. He carried the Eagles offensively at times, forcing the issue, always putting pressure on opposing defenses, and causing havoc in transition, highlighted by this dunk against Wake Forest.
However, at times, he was too erratic, moved too quickly, and was forced into too many turnovers. Expect Ky, like Kraljevic, to see the game slow down for him and to see increased assists and shooting percentages, but most importantly, decreased turnovers.
Everyone would love to have Jerome back next year, and there’s a very good chance that he is. Unfortunately, there’s also a very good chance that a team takes a chance on a proven scorer with NBA size. Thankfully, Jim Christian has restocked the cupboard for next season and has set his team up for a good season regardless of Jerome’s future.
Goals for Next Season
First and foremost, the Eagles need to be a better defensive team next year. Despite having the number 51 ranked offense in the country, KenPom ranked the Eagles as the number 129 defense in Division 1 this year. Despite being extremely talented offensively, it was the defensive side of the ball that most frequently hurt BC, in particular beyond the three point arc. Too often, the Eagles allowed their opponents to get open three pointers off. It allowed teams like Colgate to stick around in games they had no business winning, and allowed Notre Dame and Matt Farrell to turn what should have been a close game into a blowout. Expect Jim Christian and his assistants to work on that with their team this offseason.
Most importantly, however, is for Jim Christian to keep recruiting. Even if Jerome does not leave this year, he will be gone next year, which is the same as Hawkins and Chatman, and Bowman and Popovic only have two years remaining. It’s great to see success last year, but BC fans will settle for nothing less than success year in and year out and Christian needs to hit the 2019 recruiting trail and lock up some recruits, in particular Joseph Girard, a guard from upstate New York who attends Jimmer Fredette’s alma matter and broke the New York High School scoring record before the end of his junior year.
As far as goals for next season go, the Eagles should trust the system and not settle for anything less than a trip to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. Seeing as Clemson, Syracuse, and Florida State, all teams that BC played with this year, were able to make runs to the Sweet 16 this year, there’s no reason that BC cannot next year.