If you hadn’t heard it before or had been locked away in a dark cave, ESPN’s Anish Shroff made sure you knew. The Boston College basketball team had gone 644 days without an ACC regular season victory and nearly as long without an ACC win of any sort, the last coming in the opening round of the 2015 tournament when the Eagles knocked off Georgia Tech, 66-65.
The streak has ended..emphatically.
No, I wouldn’t start looking at Bracketology and figuring out who the Eagles might draw in the NCAA tournament just yet. That would be pretty presumptuous, but for the first time in quite sometime, there is and rightly should be, a level of optimism with the program following BC’s 96-81 win over Syracuse at Conte yesterday afternoon.
Let’s look at the goods and questionables (for now we will stay away from calling them bads..can’t do that on a day like today!), that made up this BC win.
Confidence: The Providence game was a really solid win for BC, but that was over a week ago, dog years considering the time off for Christmas, the relative lack of practice time and certainly no games to keep momentum and confidence going. This team didn’t miss a beat and that is a tribute to both the players and the staff. An other worldly 16-26 from beyond the arc including 10-14 in the second half and virtually all in the flow of their offense. The key piece to this confidence....
Ky Bowman: Bowman is the straw that stirs the drink and is rapidly becoming the leader of this team. I know that people want to point to Jerome Robinson for that role, but to me, Robinson may be the better of the two players, but as a leader, Bowman is showing it in spades. Not only does he continue to be in an existential place shooting the ball, which I didn’t see coming, but every part of his game is developing and at a rapid pace.
Jim Christian has consistently pointed to Bowman’s desire to improve, his work ethic and how that has impressed everyone and it continues to be on full display. Bowman is the primary reason the Eagles are moving the ball so well this season. BC registered assists on 28 of their 36 made field goals, a far cry from the Eli Carter days of last season where Carter was a ball stopper rather than facilitator. I also noticed how Bowman is improving in his understanding of when to attack and when to organize and is valuing the ball much better.
Perhaps the thing that strikes me most though is his attitude. He plays with a passion but without bravado, it is not all about Ky Bowman, it is about team first and that bodes incredibly well for both the immediate and the future.
AJ Turner: Now that performance is what I believed we were getting with AJ Turner. 16 points on 6-9 shooting, 6 assists and NO turnovers and a pretty solid job defensively. The light switch has clearly been turned on for Turner. He too showed an aggressiveness and confidence that we didn’t see in his freshman season and only in small amounts so far this year. Turner needs to be the third piece to the puzzle on the offensive end to balance out Bowman and Jerome Robinson and this was a great step in that direction.
Connar Tava: Really nice bounce back game for Tava after looking totally out of place vs Providence. Playing primarily in that high post area vs the Cuse 2-3 zone, Tava confidently handled the basketball and facilitated for himself, the low post presence and back outside to the perimeter for easy looks. That high post spot vs the zone is the key to success and Tava did a really nice job in there and was the primary reason that Nik Popovic contributed 11 points. He also came out immediately fighting on the defensive glass, grabbing a team high 10 rebounds.
Jerome Robinson: Hard to put the efforts of your best player fifth on the list of contributors, but what a great “problem” to have. Robinson was just solid yesterday. He made all the right decisions, was efficient with his shots, attacked smartly and let the game come to him. He was the beneficiary of the play around him and that makes him even more dangerous on a go forward basis.
Attacking the zone: We will touch on this in the “not so goods” too, but this was by far the most confident I have ever seen BC attack the zone. The Eagle attack is not complicated but if you look at the keys to beating the zone, all the check boxes are marked.
- Beat it down the floor before it sets up - a Ky Bowman special, hard attacks of the basket off the dribble as well as kicking the ball ahead to teammates who did the same thing.
- Beat it over the top - huge check mark there making 16 threes, but that came from great ball movement, particularly through the free throw line area collapsing the zone and forcing long close outs
- Dribble penetration - check again. In particular, both Robinson and Bowman were able to get into the lane at will.
- Attack through the free throw line and short corner low - The best I have ever seen BC do through Connar Tava and Nik Popovic. In the past BC has struggled to first find a body to put in that spot who could function and then anyone who could finish in the low post, that was a rare issue yesterday.
- Collapse the zone with ball movement and screening - BC doesn’t often screen the outside of the zone, but the ball movement and dribble penetration provided more free looks than BC has ever gotten vs an SU zone.
Handling pressure: After the PC game, the staff clearly spent time working against full court pressure. Pressure makes things look disjointed at times and although BC turned the ball over a couple of times, they were well organized, posted a receiver to the middle of the floor, got ball reversal and then made solid decisions on when to attack and when to probe and pull back out.
The Questionables: So here comes the bucket of cold water. In this case, more of a reality check as to what we saw yesterday and how it translates moving forward.
How bad is this Syracuse team?: It is great that the Eagles got a win yesterday, it was necessary but this may be the worst Syracuse team I have ever seen. Everything that has given BC fits in the past is lacking with this team.
- Size in the 2-3 zone: Syracuse had some length, but not the physical strength to impose their will on the Eagles. In the past, it was difficult just to get the ball to the high post or to penetrate without getting swallowed up or to put the ball in the corner or in the short corner without the same fate meeting you, but BC had no trouble in this game. In that way, SU reminded me more of recent BC teams than Orange teams who have been able to consistently take time and space away from teams.
- Post scoring presence: Syracuse didn’t have one player on the floor to be able to attack inside with. It made them solely operate from the outside, the free throw line area, off the dribble or in spurts on the offensive glass. This kept the BC big men from really needing to be involved in any part of the game.
- Creative, active guards at both ends of the floor: Love them or hate them, Syracuse has always had a guard or more that can cause havoc at both ends of the floor. Whether it be Pearl Washington, Lawrence Moten, Gerry McNamara, Eric Devendorf, the list goes on and on. They can score, they can create and they can trigger the SU fast break off turnovers in the 2-3 zone. Virtually none of that happened yesterday.
If I were a Syracuse fan what would worry me here, is that this is not something that seems fixable in 2017.
Post play: This was a game where BC wasn’t exposed inside as Syracuse doesn’t have someone to play through in the post. This also allowed BC to stay more connected to the SU perimeter players, in particular Tyler Lydon and limit easy shots outside of Andrew White. It concerns me as to how BC will defend in general when they need to defend the whole floor and not just the perimeter. We will get a look at this tonight when the Eagles face 6’10 Demon Deacon, John Collins.
Defending the dribble: This has been a recurring theme, but although the Eagles held the Orange to 38% from the floor, less than stellar guards were able, pretty much at will, to get to the basket. This will be an issue moving forward as the level of competition increases and those dribble drive opportunities expose big men to fouls in games where they will need to be involved to defend guys who can score.
Rebounding: BC has done very well rebounding this year, although the competition outside of a few notable exceptions, hasn’t been great. The Eagles were a minus 5 on the glass yesterday and although in most years, against Syracuse, you would be pleased, as already mentioned, this isn’t the SU we are used to. BC went in spurts and fits on the defensive backboard in particular and considering the differential in shooting percentage, BC should have had an advantage. This will definitely come back to haunt as the ACC season rolls along.
Free throws: It was not relevant to the outcome of the game, but this continues to be an issue and (damn it all!) cost the Eagles a chance to crack the 100 point mark. 8-17 for the game, puts BC at 62.9 for the season, #320 in the country out of 351.