This week, Boston College went 1-1 with an OT loss to open its ACC slate against NC State, before taking care of an overmatched Central Connecticut State squad. With Holy Cross on Friday before a big clash with Rick Pitino’s St. John’s squad on Sunday, we are quickly a month into the season. There’s are a lot to break down, so let’s get to it:
- Point Guard Play
Take a look at BC’s roster. Much has been written about how deep our backcourt is, with a lot of guys sharing limited minutes. Beyond Zackery and Harris, all of our first three guys off the bench – Hand, Kelley, and Madsen – play in the backcourt. Yet with Harris out against CCSU (precautionary, according to Grant, after suffering a twisted ankle against NC State) it pressed home an interesting wrinkle in this roster’s construction: we lack a true point guard. The name that instantly jumps in response is, of course, Jaeden Zackery. He leads the team in minutes, is averaging a (by far) career-high 4.9 assists per game, and handles a lot of ball handling duties. Yet I don’t really see him as a true floor general, even dating back to last season when Grant let Demarr Langford run the point with Zackery as more of an off-ball scorer. On most possessions, he will dribble the ball up the court but then quickly pass it off as BC sets up the offense to scheme an open man; BC’s offense is more predicated on off-ball movement and screens to get space for a shooter or a guy to attack off the dribble. What you do not see a lot of is Zackery with the ball in his hands, picking apart a defense or threading the needle when he attacks in the half court. Harris is clearly more of a scorer – he will pass, but he is always looking for space to jack a trey or to attack the rim with the defense on its heels. Hand is similar; like I said last week, he wants to shoot and to score. Kelley, I think, is the purest point guard of the group. He is more athletic than Zackery; he can get to the rack off the dribble more consistently (when he wants to). His issue is he just looks so raw, with bad forced shots (see: back-to-back bricked threes as BC tried to take the lead against NC State in the 2nd half) or turnovers. With Harris out, though, Grant opted to start Kelley with his ball handling chops as opposed to Hand’s scoring threat. I think Kelley is BC’s point guard of the future, and I want to see him grow into that role. Until then, BC’s offense will be predicated on its scheme to be able to engineer consistent looks.
- Harris, the Scorer
I wrote last week how Harris seemed to be finding his footing very well within this offense. He rarely forces shots, taking what the defense gets him and scores at all three levels. He was being fed good looks, and whether he was connecting outside, pulling up in the midrange, or getting to the cup, he was making teams pay, and he was making them pay without needing the ball in his hands a lot. To me, however, the NC State game showed me that he can take it to another level. There were multiple possessions where he simply took over. The first possession of the game, with 4 guys spreading the floor, Harris simply attacked his man, got him on his heels, and connected on a step-back midrange. On the second possession, he walked into a triple. At 18:45 in the second half, he simply hit his man with a hesitation dribble and drove straight to the rack, finishing with a sweet touch off the glass. In every scenario, Harris was just going himself. There were no screens, no off-ball cuts, no sets – just Harris going to work. In my eyes, this is huge for BC. I think in close late-game scenarios, it is his ability to create by himself that means he needs the ball in his hands. What will be crucial is how Harris balances these roles – spacing the floor and playing within the offense, versus taking over, demanding the ball and making something happen. Too much of the former, and Harris might be too passive, not getting enough touches in an offense that desperately needs him. Too much of the former, and defenses quickly key in on shutting him down, leading to forced shots and stalled offenses. Balance is key. Harris needs to know when to engage.
- Free Throws!
What to make of the Eagles’ free throw shooting? They were pretty terrible last year, connecting at only a 72.5% rate from the charity stripe. The early returns this season were hugely promising, hitting a perfect 20-20 against CSU, 10-11 against LUC and generally high percentages in these early contests. In fact, Boston College actually led the nation in free throw percentage entering the NC State game – and proceeded to drop a clunker, going 14-26 in a game they lost by 6. It is not as easy as saying if they hit their FTs they win, but down the stretch in the 2nd half BC missed four straight FTs and it was a major reason why they dropped to 0-1 in the ACC. Do I think these Eagles are the best FT-shooting team in the country? Absolutely not. Yet they are better than 14-26, and in bubble games like that, those slim free throw margins need to aid BC, not hurt them.