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Boston College Basketball: Donahue Talks Non-Conference Scheduling Missteps

This is a mess.

Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Boston College men's basketball coach Steve Donahue took to the Boston Globe to talk about his missteps in constructing the Eagles' 2013-14 non-conference schedule. The end result is an excuse-laden piece reminiscent of those last, bitter days of the Spaz era of Boston College football.

Let's break this down.

Maybe it wasn't the right time for BC to play five nonleague games away from home, resulting in losses to Providence of the Big East (in overtime), to Purdue in an ACC/Big Ten Challenge contest, to Southern Cal of the Pac-12, to Auburn of the Southeastern Conference, and to Harvard, the reigning Ivy League champion.

So ... when IS the right time to play Providence, a program it has played every season but once since, like, the start of the program? Is BC supposed to duck Harvard simply because they are the reigning Ivy League champion? Which team is the power conference program in this scenario?

Drawing a road game at Purdue is pure luck of the draw. There are three ACC programs that would have gladly traded places with the Eagles for the opportunity to play in this year's Challenge. USC is an even 10-10 overall and 1-6 in Pac-12 play. Auburn is even worse ... 8-9 overall and 0-6 in SEC play. Not exactly a murderer's row of opponents here, regardless of where the games are played.

Mired in the Atlantic Coast Conference cellar at 1-5 after a 68-60 loss to Georgia Tech Jan. 21 at Conte Forum, the Eagles (5-14 overall) face an uphill climb, needing to win 11 of their last 12 games to finish the regular season above .500.

Nitpicky, but BC wasn't technically in the cellar heading into last night's game against Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech was. Also not sure about the arbitrary goal of getting back to .500, which at this point seems completely out of reach.

In his fourth season at the Heights, Donahue acknowledged his miscalculated move to punch up the nonconference schedule to bolster the Eagles' chances of earning an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Asked if he bit off more than his team was capable of handling, Donahue sighed and said, "Yeah, I did. This group, I didn't do them any favors by doing that. I probably had the right reason at heart. I said, ‘You know what, if we're going to get to the NCAA Tournament, we're going to need to have a really good nonconference schedule.' "

Donahue "did all the math with the RPIs'' - a statistical metric used by the NCAA Selection Committee in determining the field of 68 teams, which values nonconference road games more than nonconference home games - and gambled on the fact the Eagles returned 96.3 percent of their scoring from last season, best in the ACC.

"I kind of knew that I was pushing the envelope just a little bit,'' said Donahue, whose Eagles take on Virginia Tech at Conte Forum Wednesday night.

In my opinion, the flaw is in thinking that the Eagles needed to strengthen the non-conference portion of the schedule to somehow game its way into an NCAA Tournament berth. In reality, the ACC schedule is more than difficult enough to carry teams into the postseason. Don't believe me? Check out the non-conference strength of schedule of the six ACC teams likely to earn NCAA Tournament berths:

Duke - 82
Florida State - 87
North Carolina - 126
Virginia - 143
Syracuse - 221
Pittsburgh - 285

Boston College - 21

"But there were a couple of things that happened that made the schedule a little more difficult."

Go on. Tell me more.

The first was the incorrect assumption that the ACC/Big Ten Challenge contest would be a home game. But BC was shipped to Purdue Dec. 4, prolonging the outbound portion of the trip to USC, with that game Dec. 8. "It made that a bear of a trip,'' Donahue said.

Arrrghasdflkjasdflksdjafla;sdfkjdls; / smashes keyboard on forehead

Are you serious? I realize that BC went on the road for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge in 2012 but it's not a hard-and-fast rule to alternate between home and away games every year. The Eagles even enjoyed back-to-back home games in the Challenge as recently as 2010-11. The Challenge was changing a bit anyway as the league welcomed Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the league so the rotation was bound to change this year.

The extra travel speaks nothing of the fact that BC should have played Purdue about even. Both teams had similar campaigns last season and the point spread at tip was Purdue -1. The Eagles got run out of the gym before half.

BC also drew Toledo, the top team in the Mid-American Conference, for a 2K Sports Classic first-round home game Nov. 14. The Eagles led by 12 with three minutes to play, but lost, 95-92.

"Toledo is a really good team, so that's two things that really changed the dynamic of it,'' Donahue said. "Then you lose an overtime game at Providence [in the season opener, 82-78], you lose a close one against UConn [72-70], and then you don't have Dennis Clifford.

... Toledo? Serious? I can't even muster the strength to debate this point-- no seriously, TOLEDO?

"I thought we could go 8-5 [nonconference], and going into the ACC league play I thought that would be pretty good. But there were other factors that turned the tables on us.''

And what would those other factors be, pray tell?

Clifford's protracted absence this season destabilized BC's roster. The 7-foot-1-inch junior center from Bridgewater missed the first 14 games nursing an arthritic condition in his knees, which required offseason surgery.

Clifford debuted in a 62-60 home loss to Clemson Jan. 4, grabbing 3 rebounds in 12 scoreless minutes. He followed up with 6 points and 6 rebounds in 21 minutes in BC's only ACC victory, 62-59 at Virginia Tech.

But Clifford tweaked his ankle during warm-ups Jan. 13 against Syracuse (a 69-59 loss). On the eve of BC's next game, at North Carolina Jan. 18, Clifford decided to shut it down for the season and seek a medical redshirt.

Without Clifford in the paint, 6-8 junior Ryan Anderson, who is more of a natural forward, has been forced to man the post. Donahue cited the glaring disparity between BC's efficiency on both ends as an example of how the team is affected by Clifford's absence.


As a fan base, can we collective agree to put the "the season would have been fundamentally different if Dennis Clifford was healthy" excuse to rest? Please? What proof do folks have that this would have been any different had Clifford been healthy? He's a solid player and, when healthy, definitely makes BC better. But he hasn't been 100 percent healthy since his freshman year and has averaged a shade over 2 points and 3 rebounds per game over the last two seasons. Not exactly the game changer that would have swung multiple games this season. Sorry, but he just isn't.

Same can be said even for Darryl Hicks, the true freshman shelved for the year with a torn ACL. There's no indication that this season would have broken another way had they had another true freshman guard coming off the bench in relief of the starters.

"We're No. 41 in the country in offensive efficiency, but 290 on defense,'' Donahue pointed out. "It's pretty apparent that we don't have a lot of resistance at the rim when Dennis isn't in there, so teams are able to get to the basket.

"The other thing is the rebounding aspect of it as well - you're not giving up second shots. I think that has been the big difference with Dennis. I think he would've made us a lot more efficient defensive team and that probably would've won us a lot more games.

"That's why we look forward to having him in our program over the next year and a half."

Would Clifford had made THAT much of a difference on the glass? On the defensive end of the floor? This is a team that has ranked 325, 299 and 325 (2013-14) in total rebounds per game nationally over the last three seasons. 185, 192, 293 (2013-14) in kenpom's AdjD. If you dig a bit further, you'll note that Donahue's teams at both Cornell and BC never did either appreciably well.

I fail to see how one healthy 7-footer swings this here. A lack of defense and conceding the battle on the glass are now systemic to the program. Neither improves significantly when you plug in one additional player.

The nonconference schedule, offering little reprieve from a difficult conference slate, has taken its toll on the Eagles.

"The thing we didn't anticipate was that it has been a mental strain for a team that hasn't experienced great success,'' Donahue said. "The lack of confidence that the group is going through as we build up those losses, that's something I didn't anticipate.''

How has Donahue managed to keep his spirits up?

"I work at it, I really do,'' he said. "I mean, this is what I do. I kind of put myself last and worry about my players and not myself. I just try to think of ways we can figure out how to get better each and every day, individually and collectively, and that's where I try to keep my mind, day by day.

"It's just figuring out ways to get out of this. That's all part of the job. Not that I like this part, but I know that it's a challenge and I'm really looking forward to getting through it, and the team being better for it after we get through it. But it's all part of it.''

Lack of confidence ... wouldn't that fall back on coaching?

Donahue has experienced his fair share of frustrations this season. Late in BC's 82-71 loss at UNC, he drew the first technical of his career for arguing a fifth personal foul against Olivier Hanlan, BC's leading scorer.

"And I didn't even use any [foul] language,'' Donahue pointed out.

Only took a good 10 minutes to get that ceremonial technical foul.

But Donahue has seen glimmers of hope. He viewed the second-half performance the Eagles submitted against Clemson, in which BC rallied from a 14-point deficit to pull within 2, and nearly forced overtime, as a sign of better things to come for his team.

"The thing I've said to them is that I think we're going to benefit from all this adversity, and all those games against good teams,'' said Donahue. "I think these guys are really prepared for everything now.

"Whether it helps us a month from now, I really feel it's something that's going to help the growth of these guys. That's when maybe I'll look back and feel differently than I do now.

"At this point, sure, I feel bad that I beat up the team's confidence, but I do think it's something, if we can stay with it, that we'll look back and think it was a good thing as well.''

Yay moral victories!