Last week, we began a series of posts reviewing the 2015-16 Men's Basketball season. The first focused on the role of Jim Christian and his staff in what became the first 0-18 regular season in ACC history.
In that post we took a not overly scientific poll of the readership asking if the staff got the maximum out of the talent they had at their disposal. Now this didn't mean that what they had at their disposal was optimal, nor did it mean that the staff didn't recruit well enough to avoid what they went through, just simply, with what the staff had, how did they do.
Of course, I only provided four categories and I am sure some of you who voted may not have quite found the options to your liking, but nevertheless, the results were interesting and I felt honest. An overwhelming 81% of you felt that the coaching staff got out of this team what you were expecting. Now granted, 71 of that 81% percent (myself included) thought that the Eagle should have gotten a win or two in conference , but still, what that poll shows is that our readership felt that based on the groceries the coaches had to turn into meals, they did about the best they could.
Next week, in the final part of this series, we will look at the immediate future of BC basketball and discuss some of that in more detail, but if we look at the coaches as the chefs, we need to look at the players as the groceries and analyze their role and how they performed in this historic season.
As we did with the coaches, let's use the same business retrospective idea.
- What went well?
- What didn't go so well?
- What did we learn?
- What still puzzles us?
What went well?
Dennis Clifford: It is unfortunate, because Clifford will go down as the poster child for a 0-18 ACC campaign yet his efforts and his leadership with this particular group of players cannot go unnoticed. We all know the well worn saga around Clifford's injury history with his knees and how they took two years or more of his Eagle career away, but he continued to work at both his craft and his body and wound up with a solid bounce back season in 2015-16.
It certainly didn't start that way.
Clifford's pension for lacking the strength to finish around the basket as well as protect the ball in the mosh pit that can be the paint area was on display through the Christmas break, but in the close loss at Conte to North Carolina, he came alive, scoring 14 points and grabbing 13 rebounds against the vaunted Heels front court.
This was a trend that Clifford continued throughout the remainder of the season, despite getting virtually no help from anyone around him.
Clifford received one vote for ACC Most Improved Player and although he wound up averaging just 0.8 ppg more as a sixth year senior than he did as a true freshman, he deserves an enormous amount of credit for his dedication to the game, to his team and to Boston College.
Jerome Robinson: Robinson was not supposed to be the key acquisition of the 2015 recruiting class, that was supposed to be AJ Turner, but he certainly played that way. The Raleigh, NC native, was the brightest light in an otherwise dark campaign.
Robinson showed a balance of aggressiveness and composure with the ball. The ability, despite a slender frame that like almost all the Eagles needs strength, to get into the lane, as well as shoot a reasonable percentage from beyond the arc.
He was a willing defender who early on in the season against a bit less competition, bothered smaller guards with his length and showed promise at that end of the floor.
The broken wrist which cost him eight games didn't seem to slow him down much at all, as he averaged just slightly above his season scoring output after he returned to action.
The biggest question with Robinson is whether he is a legitimate all ACC performer and unquestioned star of this team or whether he is a really good, complementary piece to a legit star.
Sammy Barnes-Thompkins: Early in the season, SBT got minimal minutes and looked overly excited, particularly at the offensive end of the floor, where his response to everything was immediately hoisting a shot. As the season progressed, he became more and more comfortable just moving the ball and picking and choosing his shot opportunities. He also showed fight defensively and the ability to handle the ball better than Darryl Hicks and Matt Milon over space, separating himself a bit from them.
Whether he will develop into a solid ACC starter or be bypassed by a recruiting class now or down the road remains to be seen, but his shooting prowess and defensive effort will minimally provide the opportunity to add depth off the Eagle bench.
What didn't go so well?
Eli Carter: As mentioned in part I of the series, it is really hard to blame Carter for this season, but he will be the scapegoat for a great deal of what went wrong in 2015-16. The Rutgers/Florida transfer stepped into a point guard role he was ill equipped for and struggled with. Teams that trapped or extended heavy ball pressure caused Carter problems and the streaky nature of his shooting (mostly horrid with horrid shot selection as the season winded down) frustrated Eagle fans.
The coaching staff not only handed him the keys to the offensive car, but also put the burden on him of defending the opposition's best player, a tough task by any standards. Perhaps it was because he was a senior and they felt the experience would help, but Carter was not the engaged defender that he needed to be considering the assignments he was handed.
Although never singled out by anyone as a cancer or poor teammate and maybe it was just me, but he always seemed like the 5th guy the four friends needed in a pickup game, in that he never quite fit in.
That said, particularly in light of the injuries suffered by the Eagles, it is possible that this season could have actually been worse without his contributions.
Idy Diallo: I had hope, I really did. Diallo has the body for the game, something that BC lacks in general, but after missing a year of basketball, with a limited offensive skill set, a pension to foul and no one else to back up Dennis Clifford, his year was less than stellar.
Diallo did shoot a team high 59% from the field, albeit on only 44 shots, but shot an atrocious 1-14 from the free throw line while delivering only 1.7 ppg and 1.9 rebounds per game in about 10 minutes of action. He seemingly entered the game in foul trouble, committing 65 in his 302 minutes of action, or about 8.6 fouls per 40 minutes of playing time.
For the last 10-15 years at least, the college game has been controlled by guards and there are not a huge number of great big men across the country and those that do shine, can take time to develop.
This off-season is key for Diallo and his development although it is possible he is handed the starting job by default next season as BC is still likely to be short on front court depth.
Ervins Meznieks: Meznieks started 10 games and got almost 20 minutes a contest, but whether it was due to playing out of position at the four or lack of talent and I believe it's a little bit of both, he really struggled. 33% from the field, under 31% from three and only 54% from the free throw line, taking just 22 all season, he looked totally overwhelmed against ACC level competition at both ends of the floor.
If they can find a way to get him more permanently to the three rather than the four, perhaps he can help, but I just don't see a scenario where his minutes will increase in 2016-17.
The rest of the bench: In the Florida State game, announcer Sean McDonough (a Hingham, MA native by the way) relayed a story told to him by Jim Christian around the overall lack of depth within the program. When the starters on an 0-18 ACC team don't feel pushed by those below them for minutes, you know you lack depth.
We touched on a few of those bench players here, the other two to mention are Darryl Hicks and Garland Owens. Owens, perhaps more than anyone else on the roster this year, took a bullet for the team. The defensive assignments he received were at times ones that would challenge all American power forwards, never mind a 6'5 wing player.
Great in transition and with a constantly running motor, Owens belongs coming off the bench at the three spot where he can be most effective. The four out - one in system employed by this staff doesn't seem to play well to his strengths which are that transition game and a more structured, tighter to the basket attack.
Hicks showed rust as well after missing 2014-15, but appeared to move well physically and worked hard defensively. Like SBT, he looked overly excitable on the offensive end but without the stroke required to be that shooting guard and without the handle to be either a point guard or even a more proficient dribble drive player.
To be seen of course, but the upside on Milon and SBT appears to be more than Hicks and I would expect him to get pushed down the stack next season.
What did we learn?
This team lacked physical strength: Not only was this team young, but the young players were not physically mature. You can look at other young teams that either BC played like Florida State or young teams we saw during championship week in other conferences, like Seton Hall, and you can see the physical difference in strength and quickness between those squads and the Eagles.
That lack of strength manifests itself in a number of ways both offensively and defensively.
1) Rebounding. No surprise here, but the Eagles were a -5.5 rebound margin for the year, good for #322 in the country in total rebound rate, second to last among all power five teams. Now part of this was the mini lineup BC was forced to play for a good part of the season, but the physical nature of teams like North Carolina, Virginia, Clemson, Florida State, Miami, were just bad matchups for this crew.
2) Creating your own shot. Other than Eli Carter, BC really had no other player capable of creating their own shot. Even Jerome Robinson, as solid as he was, didn't generally just stare down another player and make it happen. This is something that you see over and over again among the top teams, when it breaks down, those players can get to the rim and get their own shot off. Not only is this due to their skill set, but their strength. Eagle players had trouble in their 4 out - 1 in set getting all the way to the rim, which allowed the defense to stay home more and therefore play more honest on three point shooters.
Boston College finished the season #347 in the country in points from the free throw line and #278 in the country from behind the three point line. The free throw stat is part the lack of a pure post scorer, but with all those guards on the floor, it should create a lot of foul situations on drives and it just didn't because they struggled to get to the rim and draw contact.
3) The inability to keep teams out of the lane. Even though basketball is supposed to be a game of skill and the officials are making the game less physical, it is still a game where teams can impose their will physically. The ability for opposing guards to get into the paint, collapse the Eagle defense which then caused long close outs to three point shooters or free for alls on the offensive glass illustrated these concerns.
It's tough to win without a pure point guard: We got into this in the first part of the season review, but there is no doubt in my mind that BC would have captured at least a few ACC wins had they had a legit point guard on the roster.
This team compares very much to the 2011-12 team which also was heavily reliant on freshman and had a second tier point guard in Jordan Daniels as its starter and went just 4-12 in the ACC.
Had Olivier Hanlan stayed on campus, this was not an NCAA or even NIT team, but there were some wins that an elite player such as Hanlan, with the capability to handle the ball, would have provided.
The four guard lineup failed to create mismatches: Philosophies differ around how you should match up. Are you trying to matchup defensively and make sure you emphasize that end of the court or are you trying to create mismatches offensively, by going with a more offensive or different style lineup?
In this case, the Eagles had limited options due to the roster and went with essentially a four guard lineup most nights. The thought being that besides not having much of a choice, that the guards would be able to expose bigger players on the perimeter, but that didn't happen. Instead, it was the Eagle guards that took a pounding in the post.
This team lacked an edge: As we just touched on, this isn't the first time that BC has rolled out a very young team. The 2011-12 team was one, but so was the 2003-04 team. That '03-04 team started sophomore Louis Hinnant, sophomore Craig Smith and senior Uka Agbai, but featured six freshmen, including forwards Sean Marshall and Jared Dudley and got to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
So that team had both the point guard and a post presence that this one didn't have, but it also had an attitude and an edge. If you recall, even as freshmen, Dudley and Marshall carried themselves with a competitiveness, an edge that no one on this year's roster had.
This team does not have enough ACC caliber talent to be competitive: I will get into this in more detail in part III of the season review, but suffice to say once again that the 81% of you who responded to the poll at the conclusion of part I felt that this team was at or near their ceiling this year and if that ceiling was anywhere near the zero wins they got in conference, that isn't good enough. I think the masses made this point without me saying anything further.
What still puzzles us?
AJ Turner: For whatever reason, the play or lack of play, of the Eagles only 2015 - 4 star recruit, went unchallenged this season. Turner, not Robinson, was originally thought the cornerstone of the class and the first piece of the foundation that the coaching staff would build from. But at least from my point of view, Turner was like a lost child on a milk carton, as we rarely saw anything tangible from him,
The coaches touted his defensive effort, but as the Eagles were so poor defensively, there didn't seem to be much to point at on that end of the floor while offensively Turner struggled mightily.
Like most on this squad, at this point, Turner lacks the physical strength required to assert himself as a defender, rebounder and driver at this level. But what puzzles me most is his lack of assertiveness on the floor. Clearly, both Eli Carter and Jerome Robinson are assertive offensive player, seeking shot opportunities. Carter perhaps too much and Robinson I believe in proper balance to getting others involved, but it appeared that the only time Turner looked to do that was at the end of games already lost.
He averaged just under six field goal attempts per game, which just doesn't seem like enough for a player of his stature.
Granted he missed four games, and was the team's fourth leading scorer, but 5.9 ppg is simply not enough from a player looked at as a key go forward component. That average placed him 75th in the ACC overall, in other words he would be the last of 15 teams, 5th leading scorer.
Turner shot just 33.8% from the field, 26% from three and 68.6% from the stripe.
Is this who AJ Turner is or is there a lot more to warrant the Eagles first Rivals 150 recruit since Rakim Sanders in 2007?
Matt Milon: Perhaps none of the freshman had more of an up and down campaign than Milon. He played in 30 of 31 games, but some nights got virtually no run at all.
There is no question about what Milon is as a player at this point. An excellent player vs the zone, he has great shot preparation and as pure a stroke as we've seen here in many, many years. He also is good when defenders close out long to him and can take those 2-3 dribbles to get to the rim.
We also know though that the staff didn't have a lot of faith in him in situations where there was heavy ball pressure applied and he struggled with lateral quickness defensively.
Will Milon develop into more than just a zone buster?
Johncarlos Reyes: Outside the point guard position, nowhere were the Eagles more deficient than post play. Forcing players like Garland Owens and at times even guards like SBT and Darryl Hicks to cover posts giving up 6 inches or more was a recipe for disaster, but there wasn't much the staff could do with the limited depth and skill set they had at their disposal.
The one player who seemingly could make a difference there is Reyes. Although once again a player lacking physical strength and definitely another block to block post player as opposed to an inside/outside four man, he must step up next year to either supplant Idy Diallo at the five or at least share minutes.
Getting into only seven games this year before suffering his injury, I am assuming he will be granted a medical redshirt and come back as a freshman, which can only help.
The jury is still out, but this was a reasonably highly recruited player who more than a few power five programs could help on the defensive end of the floor immediately and hopefully will develop his offensive game.
Next: Part III - The Future