With the non-conference slate and a handful of ACC games behind them, the Boston College Eagles are finally taking shape as a team (and are finally healthy). Here, I want to dive into areas of weaknesses and strengths from BC’s team so far this season, and from now on I’ll be writing weekly recaps of the direction of the team.
Let’s get the ugly stuff out of the way first. Through 16 games, Boston College sits at 8-8 and 2-3 in ACC play – not bad marks, considering the Eagles finished last season 13-20 overall and 6-14 in the conference. Now, the overall 8-8 record is misleading given the relatively light non-conference schedule, and losses to the likes of UNH and Maine could come back to haunt these Eagles. Despite those bad losses, though, BC had also beaten a ranked Virginia Tech team and handled ACC opponent Notre Dame this week as well – which leads to this squad’s first major weakness...
Similarly to last year’s team, this year the team has been wildly inconsistent. Some of this must be attributed to injuries, as starters Quinten Post and Prince Aligbe both missed significant time, as well as 4-star freshman Donald Hand Jr. tearing his ACL in the second game of the season. Beyond the injuries, however, it seems like we never know which version of BC we are going to get on a given night. Against UNH and Maine, as well as in other tough losses for the Eags, the main culprit has been the lackluster offense.
BC tends to fall into ruts of settling for bad 3s and forcing tough shots, and as a dreadful 3-point team (averaging 26.5% as a team from the floor) this can cause huge scoring droughts in games. In a 88-67 loss to Nebraska, BC went on an almost 10-minute scoreless stretch. In a tough ACC conference, that simply won’t win games. Defensively, too, BC can waver. Against ND, the Eagles suffered from numerous defensive breakdowns and left dangerous shooters wide open. Against squads like Miami or Duke, those breakdowns allow games to quickly grow out of hand (though BC played Duke exceptionally tough on Jan. 7th and arguably deserved a win). Becoming more consistent each game will no doubt help the Eagles going forward.
I mentioned BC’s terrible 3-point shooting earlier, and this is the second-biggest concern on the team for me. There is no one on this team that is a threat from deep. Of four shooters with the most 3-point attempts on the team – Madsen (64), Zackery (46), Penha (42), and Ashton-Langford (40), only Penha is shooting above 30% (and his role is shrinking given Post’s return). Now, Zackery connected at a 47.7% clip last year, so him regaining his stroke and confidence will certainly boost the team, and I think Post is enough of a floor-spacer that he will open up a few more open shots from these guys. But BC needs to win in the paint in order to produce offense; its outside threat is not very threatening.
Lastly – FREE THROWS. They really should not be as much of an issue as they are, but the Eagles cannot hit free throws, and it really hurts them. As a team, BC shoots 67.2% from the charity stripe. For a team that struggles as much as it does on offense, those are free points that for whatever reason BC struggles to collect. Against Maine, BC lost by five and missed eight free throws. Against UNH, BC lost by 3 and missed ten(!) free throws. Against Syracuse, BC trailed by eight with 5 minutes to play and missed six free throws. Now, I’m not saying BC would simply have won any of those games if they had hit their free throws; the sport does not work like that. But without a doubt, BC needs every point they can get and free throws are an easy way to get them.
Alright, the good stuff. Offensively, it is very clear that the most effective way for BC to get points in transition. When this team is at its best, they play strong defense, force turnovers (Ashton-Langford, Zackery, and Bickerstaff are all averaging around a steal and a half per contest), and quickly attack downcourt before the defense can set itself. Ashton-Langford is probably the best at getting to the rim off the dribble, and he’s explosive enough in the open court that he generally can convert in transition. Jaeden Zackery, as of late, has come alive as well. He was huge in the win over ND, and he played very well in the loss to Duke this week as well. When he drives with confidence, this team is far more dangerous.
Defensive, however, is this team’s calling card. This team is built on its defense, and Grant – to his credit – has the whole team bought into the “gritty not pretty” mantra. When these guys are locked in, they can hang with anyone – they were able to hang with Virginia Tech, and they held Duke to a 9-minute stretch without a bucket as well.
Now, another huge positive – at long last, this team is healthy. I cannot say enough about how Post changes the entire team. Offensively, he spreads the floor – he drilled two threes against Duke, and led the team with 16 total points – which creates more space for Ashton-Langford, Zackery, and BC’s other guards. He’s effective in the pick and roll, and creates mismatches when BC goes big and plays with him and one of McGlockton or Bickerstaff on the floor. Now, he needs to get up to speed – he noticeably (yet understandably) was fatigued at the end of the Syracuse, ND, and Duke games – but once he’s capable of handling a regular workload, watch out. Around 4-5 games ago, Grant made the switch to let DeMarr Langford run the offense as the PG, and that move along with Post’s return has seemingly clicked. Zackery and Ashton-Langford can focus on scoring off the ball, Langford Jr. has done a decent job of distributing the rock, and Post has dominated down low. Meanwhile, Aligbe might be the best athlete on the team and is clearly growing while McGlockton has been the surprise of the season so far.
This leads nicely to the next and last positive for this week – this team has depth. In college basketball, it is common for teams to only go 7-8 deep. ND, incredibly, runs basically a 6-man rotation (occasionally 7). BC has been legitimately 8-10 deep this season. Now, with his team finally healthy, Grant is shortening his rotation (only 7 guys played 14+ minutes). I think the settled starting five eventually becomes Langford Jr., Ashton-Langford, Zackery, Aligbe, and Post. But Bickerstaff will play big minutes, Grant likes Madsen in the rotation, McGlockton definitely deserves a continued role, and Penha has shown he can produce in spurts. BC, therefore, can shift its rotation to adjust to different teams, from ND’s miniature rotation to Duke’s supersized one. All in all, there is finally a sense of optimism around BC hoops that has not been here in a while.
Next week: 1/11 @ #12 Miami, 1/14 vs. Wake Forest. Roll Eags!