When Saturday morning dawned, there was no expectation of a Syracuse repeat for Boston College's basketball team. There was no dream of waltzing into the home arena of the top-ranked team in the nation and ending it with a spirited and elated pig-pile at center court. There was only the realistic thought that this would end with a double-digit loss and an Eagle trip home, one more loss piled up in the column.
But that doesn't make it any easier to deal with a 27-point road defeat on ESPN2.
Ask any Boston College fan or analyst about the basketball program, and you're likely to receive several different answers. Some will talk about the inability of the big men to play strong, consistent basketball. Some will talk about guard Eli Carter's shot selection and decision-making process. Some will talk about coaching.
Despite that, it still hurts to lose. BC competed strong for large swaths of their game at the Dean Dome against the Tar Heels, capitalizing as much as possible on a UNC team caught sleepwalking through the game. They shot 44% from the field and hit 10 three-pointers. Three Eagles scored in double figures, including 19 points for Carter and 14 for Garland Owens. Playing without Jerome Robinson, BC badly needed someone to step up, and they found it in that duo, along with AJ Turner's 4-for-9 from the floor.
But BC committed turnover after turnover, giving away points to arguably the best team in the nation. Crippled by that disparity, UNC ran away with the game, scoring 15 unanswered points in the first half and never really looking back.
I can't think of a single person who thought BC would come away from Chapel Hill with a victory. But the fact that they hung around on the Tar Heels in terms of competition should be enough to display some positivity. This is a team that is far from finishing its transition. They have a slew of young, raw athletes that need coaching and patience, something a program starved for winning doesn't usually find a lot of within its fan base.
BC is relying on a bunch of young, raw athletes buoyed by a player who is doing everything he can to stay above water. This is an incredibly hard-working crew of athletes who are simply not good enough to compete with the ACC. That's not to say BC won't develop in the future, but the present is simply too raw to really be successful with consistency. If the Eagles shoot better than they have for the majority of the season, they commit too many turnovers. If they play lockdown defense, their offense suffers. They have tools, but they haven't learned how to put all of those together yet. As the saying goes, they haven't figured out how to win.
On top of it all, they're relying on a player who is providing a stop gap to develop younger guards. Watching Eli Carter throughout the season, I can't help but wonder how much is actually being asked of him. He needs to be the ball handler, the guy calling out the plays, the guy shooting the rock, and the guy anchoring the lineup. Quite honestly, in most games, I've felt there's too much on him, either self imposed or what's trusted of him. He lacks the polish and finish of Olivier Hanlan, and he's maddening to a degree.
But what other option is there? BC could play the young guys, but they're quite honestly not ready. Carter is the best option to run the offense, and he's the guy the coaches rely on when they lose two players to injury, including their second leading scorer. Until the next man up shows who it is, Carter has to be the man. And he's not a player that probably can play at that high of a level—not in the ACC and certainly not when he's running with the Brice Johnsons and Grayson Allens of the world.
Think of the teams they've played to this point. Within ACC play, BC's played a projected #1 seed (UNC), a projected #2 seed (Duke), two teams projected as middle seeds (Notre Dame and Miami), and two teams currently on the bubble (Syracuse and Florida State). That's a murderer's row for a team trending closer to the beginning of a very long, very deep rebuilding process.
This is going to be a long process, a much longer process than anticipated. The cupboard was pretty bare when Jim Christian began assembling his first real class of athletes. He has 10 players on the roster who are either freshmen, redshirt freshmen, or sophomores. Playing in a league where the majority of teams have NBA-ready freshmen or players bound for the next level in some capacity, that's asking way too much of a team to step in and be able to compete right away. It's not an excuse for losing; it's simply the fact.
In BC's starting five against UNC, there was a junior who hasn't averaged 20 minutes per game in a season (Owens), a fifth-year senior who's endured more than one knee injury (Dennis Clifford), two freshmen (Sammy Barnes-Thompkins and AJ Turner), and Carter. They went up against the best team in the nation. Regardless of any good day, BC isn't going to win that game. Not yet.
Still, it's disheartening to lose. Nobody really wants to lose, and with each mounting defeat, there's a growing black cloud. Like I've said all year, there's a major gap between BC and the rest of the ACC. There's no way we can rightfully pick the Eagles to win a game yet. That's not a reflection of the effort that these athletes are giving every night. Jim Christian is getting everything he can from this team. But it's only the beginning of a very long, very deep rebuilding process. BC will get better. It's just really hard to deal with that today.