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Wake Forest Round Two: Preview

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Evan takes a break from podcasting

NCAA Basketball: Boston College at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Last time BC played Wake Forest, things didn’t go too well. Coming off a dominating performance over Syracuse in which the Eagles hit a school record 16 three pointers, BC simply couldn’t continue to shoot such a high percentage, going just 5-30 from deep en route to a 79-66 defeat. Four weeks later, Boston College is currently in the midst of a five game losing streak—also dropping six of their last seven—and sit at just 2-7 in the ACC. Much of the blame can be put on BC’s sloppy starts. During this five game losing streak, BC is shooting a combined 37% from the field in the 1st half (48-129) and have scored 25 or less in three of their last five first halves. In their past five games, BC’s high for points in a first half is 36—and it took six three-pointers from Jordan Chatman to even hit that number.

Wake Forest, meanwhile, has gone 2-3 since defeating Boston College, with wins coming against Miami and NC State. During these last five games, Wake has averaged 82.6 points per game and has eclipsed 90 points in both of its wins. BC, meanwhile, has hit 80 points just once in its last five games, scoring 82 in a home loss to North Carolina. Second halves, on the other hand, have been a completely different story for Jim Christian’s Eagles. Over its last five second halves, BC is scoring 41.4 points and shooting just under 50%, including a season high 55 points in the second half against Miami. All that scoring, though, hasn’t translated into victories, and the Eagles haven’t had a second half lead in four of their last five games—showing how truly damning the first periods have been. If the Eagles want a chance against Danny Manning and the Demon Deacons Tuesday night, they’re going to need to step it up in the first half, as Wake Forest has proven they have the firepower to reach 90 points on any given night.

Jerome Needs to Get His Groove Back

As good as Jerome has been this season, it’s officially time that we consider him to be in a shooting slump. After hitting 41% (30-73) of his threes before the Wake Forest game, Jerome has shot just 23% (8-35) from deep in his last eight games. Often the focal point of the opponent’s defensive scheme, Jerome has had a tough time getting to the rack as often as he did in non-conference play. As a result of his poor shooting from deep, defenders are more reluctant to closeout on the North Carolinian, choosing instead to give him all the space he could want on the arc.

Luckily for Jerome, Wake is fairly devoid of elite perimeter defenders, with Austin Arians as the lone Deacon between 6-3 and 6-7. As a result, Wake is one of the worst defending teams in the ACC, with opponents shooting an ACC leading 55% from two against the Deacons. If Jerome can establish himself early on the drive, then it wouldn’t be surprising to see Keyshawn Woods or Austin Arians sag off the sophomore in order to prevent him from getting to the rim. Jerome will likely not have a better opportunity to find his stroke from deep, as the Deacons give up a lot of three point attempts (BC attempted 30 in their last matchup), and if he can establish himself from deep in the first half, the Eagles will certainly have a puncher’s chance.

Stop the Turnovers

Turnovers have long been the Achilles heel of Jim Christian’s squad. Just once this season has BC been in single digits in the turnover column, averaging an embarrassing 15.5 turnovers per game. Luckily for BC, their season low in turnovers came against Wake Forest. The most heinous turnovers from BC have come from Ky Bowman, Mo Jeffers, and Connor Tava. With Bowman, who is now averaging 3.9 turnovers per game in conference play, it is a little more understandable. For a true freshmen to be the only point-guard on an ACC team is a massive anomaly, resulting in a lot of travels, sloppy passes, and miscommunications. Excusable they may be, Bowman’s turnovers are more than hurting the Eagles, who give up nearly 20 points per game off of turnovers. For Mo Jeffers, it’s simply catching the ball that needs to be improved, as the big man seems to fumble multiple passes every game. Connor Tava, meanwhile, is now averaging 2.9 turnovers per game in conference play, most of which come off of bad passes. Tava is especially lucky that missed threes don’t count as turnovers, as the big man’s fascination with the long ball has brought down BC’s offense significantly—Tava is currently 6-43 for his career from beyond the arc.

The Battle of the Bigs

Unfortunately for BC, Wake Forest has one of the most efficient players in the country in John Collins. Danny Manning’s squad loves to play four shooters around their 6-10, fundamentally sound, superstar, and Collins is certainly proving that he can hold his own down low. Shooting 62% from the field in ACC play, Collins is highly reminiscent of the old school, back to the basket centers of ACC past. With a 33.7 Player Efficiency Rating while averaging 17.1 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, Collins is a tall task for any opponent. Currently on a four game streak of scoring at least 20 points, including 27 against Miami, Collins is the centerpiece of everything Wake Forest does, and in order for BC to neutralize Wake’s offense, the Eagles will need solid D from Mo Jeffers and Nik Popovic.

Luckily, Mo Jeffers, awkward as he may look on offense, has been on a nice streak of defensive games recently, holding his own against Kennedy Meeks, Kamari Murphy, and Khadim Sy. The most important thing for Jeffers will simply be to stay in the game, as the former Blue Hen played just eight minutes before fouling out at Wake Forest. Nik Popovic, meanwhile, played rather nicely in the last matchup with the Deacons, going 4-5 in 17 minutes before a technical foul saw his night cut short. Popovic, with his 6-11, 250+ frame, will have the size advantage over Collins, so it will be important for Pop to keep his composure and not fall for any ball fakes. Unfortunately, Nik has looked a little lost in his past few games, with the athleticism and speed of opponents Miami and Virginia Tech proving themselves to be problematic for the young Bosnian—who has averaged just 12 minutes and 4 points per game in his last 3 outings. Hopefully, with his legs rejuvenated, Popovic can come into Conte Forum looking for a big game on both ends of the floor.

AJ is the Key

Much like Jerome, AJ has hit a bit of a sophomore slump. Failing to score double digits in four of his last five games and with his usage rating now down to 13.7%, AJ seems to be the odd man out after the rise of Ky Bowman. Shooting just 12-36 from three since scoring 16 points against Syracuse, AJ hasn’t consistently found a way to remain part of the offense. As a result, we have Coach Christian roll with Jordan Chatman to start the second half twice now in the past few games. When AJ is playing well, the offense runs like a well-oiled machine, with the Eagles scoring 124.8 points per 100 possessions with AJ on the floor, the best of any player. When AJ isn’t firing on all cylinders, we tend to see a lot more Ky and Jerome iso’s or *gulp* Tava 3 pointers.

Defensively, though, is where AJ needs to step up, as it seems the forward has come out rather lackadaisically the past few games. The most versatile defensive weapon BC has, AJ Turner can switch onto almost any position and consistently lock down the opponent’s best player. Unfortunately, AJ hasn’t been as finely-tuned on defense as of late, with Justin Jackson, Zach LeDay, Maryal Shayok, and Ty Outlaw all feasting upon BC’s defense as of late. If Jerome is the legs and Ky is the spirit of this BC squad, then AJ is certainly the brain, and the Eagles need their brain back on both sides of the ball if they want to start this three game home stand out with a victory.

-Evan Gray (@Game7Evan)

P.S. If you enjoyed this article, check out Eagle Hour, a BC Men's Basketball podcast available before and after every BC Men's Basketball game!

P.P.S. You can follow me on Twitter, @Game7Evan, for live in-game tweets!