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Curran’s Corner Three: Mason Madsen’s Improvements and a Three Guard Lineup that Could Dominate

NCAA Basketball: Brooklyn Showcase-St. John at Boston College Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

This week, Boston College found their groove in the second half to cruise to an easy home victory over Holy Cross before traveling to Brooklyn and claiming their most impressive win of the year in Barclays Center against Rick Pitino and St. John’s. As non-conference play winds down, let’s take a look at a few takeaways from this week:

1. Prince Aligbe’s Sophomore Struggles

Prince Aligbe is BC’s 5th-highest ranked recruit of all time. He was highly touted coming out of Minnesota, having dominated alongside the likes of Chet Holmgren and he looked like he could make an early impact in college. The hype only increased after a 16-point performance, including the clutch game-winner, against Cornell last year in his first-ever collegiate game.

Over a year later, those 16 points represent a career-high for Aligbe, despite starting all but 3 games over the past two seasons. He has all the raw tools – I’d even say he’s the best athlete on the team – but his athleticism and size have yet to translate into dominance on the court. The issue is he just looks out of place. He’s not a great shooter. We knew this as he was an arriving freshman, and that his stroke would take time to adjust to the collegiate game. After a poor freshman season from beyond the arc, however, shooting 27.8%, it has gotten significantly worse this year – down to 6.7% on 1.4 attempts per game. He has hit one three-pointer out of 15 attempts. On a BC team that needs shooting desperately, Aligbe’s presence allows defenders to clog the paint, making it more difficult for cutters to get to the basket and limiting room for ballhandlers like Zackery, Claudell, or even Post to operate down low. It’s not just his 3-point shot, though – he’s only shooting 40.9% from the floor overall.

Moreover, Aligbe is not a ballhandler. This in itself is not a problem – most guys on BC’s roster are not – but when it is combined with his lack of shooting threat, whether beyond the arc or in the midrange, it means that Aligbe is pretty much entirely one-dimensional on offense – he needs the ball within a few feet of the basket to score. Given his marginal offensive production – 6.8 points, half an assist per game – he’s basically on the floor for his defense. And while he’s a good defender, he can be victim to biting too easily on crossovers or head fakes. Most importantly, however, I don’t think he uses his size enough. Aligbe and McGlockton are very clearly different players, but both are basically 6”7’, around 230-ish pounds. Yet when I see them on the floor, Aligbe is trying to stick with guards or smaller forwards, who have an edge in quick-twitch and sometimes take advantage.

Many though that if BC were to take a major step forward this season, it would be because Aligbe blossomed as a sophomore. That has not happened. BC needs more from him on both ends of the floor, especially when he’s getting 23 minutes per game. Until then, I want to see more of…

2. The Three-Guard Lineup:

Down the stretch against St. John’s – basically from around the 7-minute mark – Earl Grant took a very calculated risk. After coming back from down 10, the Eagles had the momentum but were virtually deadlocked against St. John’s, and then Jaeden Zackery committed his 4th foul and had to take a seat. Rather than turning to Aligbe’s size and athleticism or Madsen’s shooting and defense, Grant went with youth, ball handling and – above all – scoring. He used a lineup of Kelley, Harris, Hand, McGlockton, and Post that ended up virtually sealing the game after a long Kelley 3 put the Eagles up 6 and BC was clinical with their late FTs. I love this lineup. My major question about it was size – with three guards and an undersized 4, would teams bully the lineup in the paint? Joel Soriano and co. could not take advantage, which was huge. Kelley is 6”3’ and Hand is 6”5’, and both are incredibly long and active defenders. Harris is twitchy and can blow up passing lanes. McGlockton is the glue guy, a gritty rebounder, decent rim protector for his size and flying around on the glass. Post is learning to stay vertical, to challenge shots, not foul and live with the results.

If they can survive defensively, which they proved they can, offensively the lineup just clicks – which one major caveat. This lineup features Kelley at the 1, which means for this lineup to work he needs to be taking and making smart shots, taking care of the ball, and not forcing too much. When he does that, like he did against St. John’s, good things happen. Kelley is allowed to orchestrate, but Hand can get a shot from just about anywhere (he’s hitting more 3s, even off pump fakes, and taking more midranges too) and we know Harris will get his. Both offer floor spacing and secondary ballhandling. McGlockton is a ready and willing screener who is a sneaky good finisher at the rack, and he takes just enough 3s to keep defenses honest if he’s spacing the floor. QP links it all together – able to stretch the defense, conduct the offense from the top of the key, or get a touch down low and either score or pass out of a double team. I think this lineup has serious potential, and I want to see more of it – especially with Zackery averaging well over 30 mins per game. This lineup survives and even thrives without him.

3. Mason Madsen’s Renaissance

I have been very critical of Mason Madsen. He was billed last year as “the shooter,” the deep threat who would finally bring some floor spacing with a lethal outside stroke to a team that desperately needs it. Last season he was not able to do that with enough consistency, connecting on only 30.3% despite leading the team in triples attempted (132, the next closest was MAL at 105). Beyond his shooting, he was just an average defender, meaning his impact on the floor was limited.

This season, he just looks freer. He was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that was causing pain, and is now able to treat it and it is actually noticeable on the floor. Yes, his 3-point shooting has drastically increased – up to 45.2%, but the eye test just shows a different player. Last season he took 4 threes a game, forcing shots where he shouldn’t and disrupting the flow of the offense. Now, he’s connecting at a much higher clip because he’s letting the game come to him, taking the shots he should take (2.8 3s per game) and hitting them. He’s averaging almost four less minutes per game and yet he’s averaging more points, boards assists, and steals. He looks more explosive, running the floor in transition and finishing with ease at the rack. He’s dialed defensively, having had some timely steals and harassing his man off the ball. It’s great to see, and I trust him on the floor as a valuable reserve. Let’s hope he keeps it up.