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Curran’s Corner Three: Boston College Men’s Basketball Thoughts

NCAA Basketball: Hall of Fame Classic - Loyola Chicago at Boston College William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

With 7 games under the Eagles’ belt in the 2023-24 basketball season and the ACC opener against NC State on Saturday, I figure we now have enough of a sample size to start talking about this team and its direction. The weekly column is back, with a new-and-improved name, too. Every week I’ll be taking a look at three trends, players, or anything else BC hoops related. Let’s get to it:

1. The Eagles’ New Offense – For Better and Worse

We all know Earl Grant’s philosophy in building this program by now – the “gritty not pretty” mantra is a constant staple, and his defense-first approach has been the focus of his tenure (now in Year 3). The players have bought into Grant’s philosophy, and although BC is by no means an elite defensive team, their effort is generally very good and when they are locked in (see last year’s UVA game) the results are positive. The issue has been the offense. Grant recognizes that he will not win by recruiting elite offensive talent; BC simply doesn’t have that kind of recruiting pull. I do think that Grant’s defense-first, gritty approach can find success at BC. Yet the offense needs to hold its own. Specifically, the system just did not seem set up to provide consistent success. Too many times last year, the Eagles would go on minutes-long scoreless streaks that often took them out of games. Teams would clog the paint, daring Boston College to beat them from downtown, and the Eagles just could not do it. How many times did the offense degenerate to Makai Ashton-Langford improvising an iso move to try and score? And while Makai gave his all to the program and had more than his fair share of memorable moments (tying 3 against Wake Forest in the 2022 ACC Tournament, game-winner against the Demon Deacons last year, etc.) I strongly believe that the Eagles’ upside was limited with the Langford brothers on the team – in my view, they were excellent athletes but somewhat limited basketball players. Heading into this season, a change was needed.

Grant has implemented a new kind of spread offense. There is much less dribbling, in favor of increased ball movement. Guys are flying around off the ball, attacking the rim or spacing the floor. Grant loves putting Post at the top of the key, emptying the paint and letting him orchestrate, with Zackery and Harris flying around the perimeter, Prince cutting aggressively to the basket, and McGlockton spotting up or crashing the offensive glass. In theory, I think it is a much better scheme to cover BC’s disadvantage in offensive talent. Through 7 games, however, the results have been mixed. The key – as always with this team – is the 3-point shooting. When the offense is in rhythm, BC’s shooters – especially Harris and Post – are spreading the floor and drawing attention, allowing others to find space in the paint or even allowing guys to attack aggressive closeouts. Post especially loves this; he won’t hesitate to put the ball on the floor and get to the rack. The first half of the Vanderbilt game and stretches of the Richmond and Harvard games have seen this system working. Harris especially seems to be key; Zackery is not taking as many 3s and the likes of Donald Hand and Kelley are probably a little too trigger happy. Harris fits the system perfectly. At his best, he doesn’t force anything – he just finds space, is slippery attacking the basket, and has hit some big-time 3s.

When the system is bad, though, BC’s old issues rear their ugly heads. I think roughly the last 10 minutes of the Loyola Chicago game is the best (worst) example of this. The ball stopped moving. The offense degenerated to forced threes and lazy sets. It leads to long scoring droughts, and against Loyola Chicago it cost them the game. The other major issue is the offense’s reliance on Post. With him out of the game, the Eagles either have to go small with McGlockton as the 5 or put a complete non-shooter in Armani Mighty on the floor. Post is their best 3-point shooter and surgical in the paint; he can get a bucket when the Eagles need one. Because he attracts so much attention, it opens up space for perimeter shots. Without him in the game, the offense is pretty awful. Ultimately, I like the shift to the system. I can see a clear identity and I know what the Eagles want to do, something I could not say last year. Now we need to see it work.

2. The Sophomore Guards

Chas Kelley showed flashes as the backup PG last year, averaging 14.7 minutes per contest and running the second unit. I had high hopes for him this year; I think he has a clean shooting stroke (see his 17 point performance against VT, when he made 4-7 threes) and with a little more confidence entering his second year, he’d improve his decision-making and his 3-point shooting percentage. Donald Hand – a rare 4-star to commit to BC out of high school – is coming off his awful ACL injury, and looking to live up to his billing. He was a prolific scorer and effective shooter in high school, and there are hopes he can turn into a go-to bucket-getter.

The early returns have been a bit down on both of them. It has certainly not been all bad – I think both are very effective defenders. Kelley is a hound on the ball, aggressive at the point of attack and always engaged. Hand is incredibly athletic and very long. He stays connected to his man exceedingly well. With Zackery, Harris (who also is lengthy and great at blowing up passing lanes) and either Kelley or Hand on the floor, I think BC has a perimeter defense three-headed monster waiting to be unleashed. The issue is precisely that, however – basically, I feel like Kelley and Hand are sharing minutes. Kelley is averaging only 10.4 minutes on the floor, while Hand is at 15.4. It is tough to make a huge impact in spurts, and so far Grant has been more inclined to ride the hot hand – against the Citadel both saw significant minutes down the stretch, while in games against CSU and Loyola, Prince and Madsen saw more minutes. To me, it looks like both Kelley and Hand just look overeager every time they are on the floor. Kelley had 3 turnovers against LUC and 6 against Fairfield; he just does not look comfortable with the ball in his hands. He’s struggling to create and run the offense. Hand, however, basically shoots everything he touches. He has shown that he can hit from downtown, especially when he’s catching and shooting. The issue is he takes shots he simply should not be taking; he forces drives to the rack instead of finding the open man, or rushes his shots. I think he is significantly better than the 30.3% from the floor and 31.6% from 3 that he is shooting, but he needs to let the game come to him. He will get shots in this offense, he just needs to take the right ones.

Both of these players can improve the Eagles significantly, and they are the future of the Boston College backcourt. I just think they need to calm down their play. In trying to prove themselves, they might be doing a bit too much.

3. McGlockton’s Foul Trouble

McGlockton was my preseason X-factor for this team, because I think he fills so many little roles and does a lot of the dirty work for this team. This team goes as Quentin Post goes (he ranks 22nd in the nation in scoring and is splitting 50/50/90 at the time of writing), but his defense is a concern. He just does not have the defensive footwork or lateral quickness to be a dominant paint defender, and I fear some of the bigger 4s or 5s in the ACC will bully him inside (like Armando Bacot, or the 275-pound DJ Burns that he’ll guard on Saturday). He’s averaging 2.5 blocks, which is a huge testament to the number of minutes he’s playing (31.1 MPG) and the effort he plays with. McGlockton is hugely important to BC’s defensive system, because he has to both help Post as the 4 or guard much bigger 5s when Post and Mighty aren’t in the game. He gives up considerable size in a lot of these scenarios, because he’s only 6”7’. This, combined with his aggressive defense and rebounding, leads to a lot of fouls. He’s had 4+ fouls in four games already, and when he gets into foul trouble BC’s rotation becomes incredibly stretched. There are essentially no other proven bigs behind McGlockton and Post. Mighty played the most minutes of the season against Vanderbilt, but he is definitely raw and Grant seems to have reservations about leaving him in games. Against Harvard, with McGlockton in foul trouble in the second half, it was Elijah Strong who played some huge minutes down the stretch, providing tough interior defense and rebounding. Post, too, is forced to shoulder more of the load when McGlockton is out; he’s played 35+ minutes 3 times. Basically, BC needs McGlockton’s defense and rebounding crucially. Moreover, he’s shown much less hesitancy to shoot from downtown plus some nice paint moves as well. He brings things that few others on the roster can, and when he’s on the bench for extended periods BC’s lack of depth in the frontcourt becomes critical. His ability to stay out of foul trouble is huge for this team.