When evaluating draft prospects, you'll often hear about a player's ceiling and a player's floor. It's an easy way to frame the range of possible outcomes. Some players have really high upside but similarly high bust potential. Others have solid fundamental games, but their ultimate ceiling is capped by relatively limited physical abilities. If we're applying the same sort of thinking to the Boston College Eagles basketball team, they fall somewhere in the middle.
There's a pretty big range of possibilities for how the BC hoops season turns out. I know that lots of fans are expecting the Eagles to take a big step forward, but that's asking a lot of any team. Let's go through the best and worst case scenarios for the upcoming season....and then think about where I think the team will end up within that range.
Worst Case Scenario:
Whenever people do this kind of exercise it's really easy for the worst case scenario to be just littered with injuries. Let's get the obvious out of the way: if Olivier Hanlan and/or Ryan Anderson suffer any sort of major injuries, this team will be in trouble. Those two guys are going to be the foundation of anything that Steve Donahue tries to do this year and he doesn't have the luxury of having capable backups that can step up and attempt to replicate their production.
To get another obvious potential negative out of the way, let's address the health of Dennis Clifford. Perhaps this belongs in the "best case scenario" section because it's becoming easier to just assume that he won't be able to contribute at this point. Clifford has the potential to really improve the Eagles' defense by protecting the paint, but he's been dealing with knee problems since he stepped on campus. I'd love for Clifford to make it through a season without further setbacks, but that's hard to expect. It's a bummer, but I'm just not confident that he'll be able to stay healthy and contribute on a consistent basis. In the worst case scenario, the Eagles would obviously get very little out of their biggest player and strongest rim protector.
Since the health of Dennis Clifford is seemingly always up in the air, the Eagles are looking to freshman Will Magarity to help hold down the paint. He's 6-foot-11, but size doesn't mean anything if he's overwhelmed by stronger and more experienced competition. It's not uncommon for young big men to just be overwhelmed, especially playing in a league as tough as the ACC. But in this case, the Eagles might not be able to afford for Magarity to suffer those typical freshman struggles. He's one of the few guys on this roster that offers real size and if Clifford can't be counted on, then Magarity has to step up at an important position. I shouldn't have to explain to you how relying on a freshman can end up leading to a worst case scenario.
Given the personnel on this team, the Eagles likely won't be a particularly strong defensive team. The Eagles are more than likely going to have to just outscore opponents this year. They'll be shooting lots of threes and running in transition whenever possible. Now there's a couple problems with that. If BC *really* can't defend against good teams, they'll have a hard time setting up their offense. It's much harder to get out in transition when you're constantly inbounding the ball after made baskets. It's much easier to find open looks from the perimeter when the defense has to run back rather than when the defense has time to jog back and get set up. It's a cliche to say that defense leads to offense, but it's said for a reason. With how I expect the Eagles to play this year, there's a certain passable level of defense that the team needs to play. In the worst case scenario, the Eagles will find themselves in too many games where they just can't get any stops. They might also get in trouble trying to play an up-tempo game against teams with better athletes. Freshman Garland Owens and Eddie Odio are probably the two best athletes on this roster, but there are some teams on BC's schedule that boast superior athleticism throughout their lineup.
Speaking of Eddie Odio, what if last season was a mirage? Or more accurately, what if that's all we get from Eddie Odio going forward? I'm not sure this would qualify as a disaster, but I think there's a relatively good chance that what we see from Odio is what we're going to get. He was something of a revelation last season, providing a spark off the bench, energizing dunks, and some surprising rim protection. But he still played under 20 minutes per game and didn't have a reliable three-point shot (just 22.2% from range). It's not necessarily a problem if Odio does the same thing this season, but it'd be nice if he has expanded his game over the summer. As I said before, Odio is one of the best athletes on this team and the defense would surely benefit from him playing more minutes throughout the season. But the only way that Donahue can justify him playing more is if he represents a more significant threat on offense.
This speaks to a more general point of improvement from everybody on the roster. I'll talk about this more in the next section, but the Eagles' worst case scenario would clearly involve many of these players having plateaued. If only a few guys improve moderately, this Eagles team is going to disappoint.
If there's some combination of these factors, the Eagles could struggle. They won't take the step forward that people are expecting. They could start slow in their out-of-conference schedule and fail to rack up some wins before the ACC schedule starts. If this happens, the Eagles could end up with a middling record and none of the signature wins that are required to do anything significant in the postseason.
But enough of that -- let's talk about the dream situation. This one is all butterflies and rainbows and puppies.
Best Case Scenario:
Let's get more obvious things out of the way: Olivier Hanlan and Ryan Anderson both take big steps forward. They create one of the most dynamic guard-forward combos in the conference and lead the Eagles to a very strong record and an NCAA berth. That'd be ideal. That's what we all want. But there's a few other things that would need to happen for the Eagles to make this dream scenario a reality.
I'll more accurately define what I mean when I say "take big steps forward." For Ryan Anderson, that means having absolute faith in his jump shot. We've heard a lot about how Anderson works on his jumper during the offseason, but it hasn't been a weapon that he can rely on just yet. Maybe his junior season is the year it all comes together. Anderson presents matchup problems for lots of different teams thanks to his crafty work on the boards and impressive mobility for a guy his size. The next step is for him to have a knockdown jump shot. If he can really make defenders pay when they play off of him, it will open up so much more for this offense. It will give Hanlan and Joe Rahon lanes to attack the basket and it give the defense another thing that they have to account for.
For both Hanlan and Anderson, taking big steps forward includes being more consistent. These two guys are the foundation of this team and they need to be there every single night. If we go into every game knowing what we're going to get from Hanlan and Anderson, it's easy to feel good about the season.
Beyond Hanlan and Anderson, the dream situation for this team involves three-pointers. Lots of them. If those two guys provide the foundation, they need the rest of the team to step up and drain threes around them. Defenses will be forced to focus on how Hanlan and Anderson can punish them individually and that should lead to open looks for Lonnie Jackson, Joe Rahon, Patrick Heckmann, and everybody else. There's a reason that virtually everybody Steve Donahue recruits can shoot from behind the arc. This team is going to shoot a *lot* of threes.
I think you can figure out on your own that any best case scenario for the Eagles is going to involve Dennis Clifford staying healthy throughout the entire season, right? I hate to see anybody struggle with injuries, but I particularly feel for Clifford. It's just a constant thing that he hasn't been able to shake. We've never really gotten a chance to see what he can do when he has the time to develop and get comfortable. Maybe this is the year.
Garland Owens and the other freshman can provide a spark. It's weird that this is such a young basketball team, but we aren't really relying on freshman to provide that much. It's not like last year where Hanlan and Rahon were the two primary ball-handlers. Owens, Magarity, and Sam Donahue figure to be role players. And that's fine with me. If they surprise people and become significant contributors, that's just a nice bonus.
One final note is about the three-point shooting and it involves some luck. When you shoot lots of threes, you increase the variance of potential results. In one game of basketball, the three-pointer is the great equalizer. Every March we see underdogs topple big name schools and it's usually because the underdog just made it rain from behind the arc. It doesn't take a genius to realize that three-pointers are lower percentage shots, but the reward for such shots is substantial. Because of that and the expectation that the Eagles are going to take a lot of threes, it's reasonable to expect that BC will have a pretty wide range of possible final scores. Since a single game is such a small sample, it's not uncommon for a team to shoot well above or well below their overall average on any given night. If the shots are falling, BC will be able to pull off some impressive upsets and road victories. If the shots aren't falling, then BC could be in trouble. Since this is the best case scenario we're talking about, let's assume the shots are falling. BC just bombards opponents from deep and has really hot shooting nights when they need them the most. In that case, the Eagles might not simply make the NCAA Tournament, but they could make some legitimate noise once they get there. It's what Donahue did when he was at Cornell. They basically said "we know we might not be as physically gifted as our opponents, so we're going to shoot the lights out in order to close that gap." In his final season at Cornell, that's exactly what his team did. They lead the country in three-point shooting at 43% and made the 4th most three-pointers, despite have the 24th most attempts.
Actual expected scenario:
It's clearly a copout to say that the Eagles will fall somewhere in the middle of these two extreme scenarios. But that's how it works. Some things will be ideal and some things will be the opposite. It is interesting to note, however, that I think the fan base's expectations of this team are closer to the best case scenario than the worst case scenario. That is to say, I think what fans are expecting (a berth in the NCAA tournament and maybe a win or two?) is right up there with the dream situation. That's because there's a lot of projection going on in those expectations. We're expecting a young team to take those steps forward. We're making the assumption that this is a young team with some decent experience under their belt and now is the time for them to break out. I'm not trying to say that this is unreasonable expectation. All that I'm saying is that what we expect from BC hoops this season might be pretty close to their actual ceiling. And the potential floor might be a bit lower than we like to think.