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Toppin Off: Reflections and Predictions for the Upcoming Season

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A long December... and January, and February, and March

NCAA Basketball: Boston College at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Every Boston College Men’s Basketball preseason feels like the same Groundhog Day-esque, déjà vu, perfunctory routine. The freedom of summer and subsequent festivities of football season banish last season’s disappointment to some back corner of my mind. As a result, I simply remember that the prior campaign was disappointing. I forget the specifics of why.

But a new season brings a new crop of promising freshmen, assumed progress for returning players, and many other additions to the roster. So I impose whatever optimism I can muster onto their shoulders. “Surely,” I think as I ignore the gaping positional holes and uncertainties plaguing the roster, “we’ll at least be a little better than last year.”

In a year where everything is different, my feelings for the Eagles stayed the same. The Eagles went 13-19 (7-13 ACC) last year, their worst campaign since the 2016-17 season where they went 9-23. Somehow it felt worse. They lose Nik Popovic, both Hamilton brothers, and short-term-rental point guard Derryck Thornton. Finding replacements won’t be easy, even if all four fell short of fans’ expectations last year.

That said, this team has some talent. Jay Heath and Wynston Tabbs are as promising backcourt as a young Jerome Robinson and Ky Bowman; the addition of Makai Ashton Langford, Demarr Langford, and Rich Kelly (all of whom can contribute solid play from day one) will mean no guard has to play 39 minutes per game (a la Ky Bowman). CJ Felder and Kamari Williams offer athletic, if still raw, options at the forward position, while transfer Frederick Scott looks the quintessential stretch-four. And last but certainly never least, Steffon Mitchell remains the heart and soul of the team.

But this team has so many question marks, far more than average in both quantity and potential impact. Most teams wonder whether or not the freshmen will be as good as promised or if the returning players will have added new skills in the off-season. Boston College’s questions are more extensive than that. How will the Langford brothers gel with the team? Can Tabbs go a season without getting hurt? And even if he puts injuries behind him, can he prove that his scintillating first year was not an aberration? Can you still play like a team with transfers expected to contribute significant minutes? And does a shortened preseason change that answer?

And, in this post-Popovic era, who the hell is going to play center?

For the Eagles to make some noise in the ACC and basketball world, the answers to virtually every single one of those questions needs to break in their favor: Makai and DeMarr would add instant value, Wynston Tabbs would serve as an excellent (and dare I say All-ACC caliber) floor general, the transfers would play 15 seamless minutes off the bench every game, and senior Luka Kraljevic and freshman Justin Vander Baan would adequately platoon the five-spot.

I’ve listed those potential realities in the order of my confidence from most to least; I feel pretty confident in the first two. But it is a damn tall ask for every single one.

Add to this uncertainty the absolute gauntlet the Eagles face to open the shortened season (where the best chance for victory is at home vs. Cal), and the reality sets in that BC will have little time and no glorified scrimmages to figure out any of its problems. And though neither will anyone else, the Eagles needed those games more this year.

Further hanging over the season is the reality that this should be Jim Christian’s last chance at Boston College (I hesitate to declare that it is because of recent history). And while every team making it to a “COVID-Big Dance” would be a hilariously morbid way for the Eagles to end their tournament drought, anything less than an absolute breakout season or another once-in-a-century disaster should end Christian’s tenure. Either way, that adds more distractions to the team.

With all this in mind, I have had to temper my optimism even moreso than usual. Maybe this Charlie Brown finally realizes that Lucy is going to pull the football away as she always does. Maybe the pandemic has made me look more realistically towards basketball. Maybe being out of college has made my memory better (no comment).

Regardless, I cannot project substantial improvement, only a dark winter on the Heights for men’s basketball. A 4-10 or 5-11 record would not surprise me. To be honest, I’d just be happy if we took down a giant on the way.