Sunday, January 13, 2008

Deacon Beating

Well, yesterday may have been the best 40 minutes of BC basketball against a league opponent this decade. The Eagles absolutely positively destroyed Wake Forest at Conte, 112-73, in a game where everyone came to play, and I mean everyone. You could tell the Robert Morris loss must have stuck in their craw all week, because they jumped all over the Deacs from the opening tap, racing to an 11-0 lead and never really looking back. Ty Rice was spectacular, registering a 32 point, 8 assist, 2 steal command performance, but the role players chipped in steller performances as well, particularly John Oates, Rakim Sanders, Biko Paris and Corey Raji. Even whipping boy Tyler Roche woke up to bury three straight treys in the decisive stretch of the second half. This was just a great, great game for BC, one I hope they can build on as surprising Miami comes to town Tuesday night. As I have said in prior posts, if BC can finish 9-7 in conference play and win a game in the ACC tourney, they would be 19-12, and probably on the right side of the Bubble. That means they just have to go .500 the rest of the way, very much doable in a top heavy conference this year.

Looking ahead, BC catches a break with this year's ACC scheduling. At this stage, there appears to be only three elite teams in the league, UNC, Duke and Clemson, but fortunately the Eagles only have to play those three teams four times combined. And if you're going to lose, you might as well lose to the best team in the country, as your Strength of Schedule/RPI skyrockets just by showing up, another factor the NCAA committee looks at closely. So watch BC climb the RPI charts when they play the Tar Heels home and away, win or lose.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Who is Robert Morris?

Well, I was hoping BC would finish their out-of-conference slate relatively unscathed. There is no shame in losing in overtime to a solid Big East team (Providence), losing by three to one of the better teams in the up-and-coming A-10 Conference (UMass), or even getting blown out at home by a Top 5 squad (Kansas), but stubbing your toe against unknown Robert Morris hurts, notwithstanding the fact that the Colonials are actually a pretty decent team (11-5 overall). As I said in my prior post, this game had letdown written all over it coming just two days after playing before a capacity crowd on national television against one of the most storied schools in the land, and letdown the Eagles did.

What's wrong with BC? They have a disjointed and clumsy offense that depends far too much on one player (Ty Rice), they have major, major rebounding problems with a 7'2"center with no hands and an undersigned "power forward," and they are very young, which translates into turnovers. All three of these flaws bit the Eagles in the ass yesterday, and the result was one of the ugliest games in memory. BC just could not get any flow to their offense, with baskets coming by accident more than design, and the ball ending up in the front row more times than the hoop.

What needs to be done? Some changes in the rotation for starters. Al has traditionally had 7-man rotations over the years, and that seems to be the number he is most comfortable managing. I think Al needs to identify those 7 players and tighten his rotation, giving the vast majority of minutes to his best guys. These players, in my view and in order of importance, are the following: (1) Ty Rice, (2) Cory Raji, (3) Rakim Sanders, (4) Shamari Spears, (5) Tyrell Blair, (6) Biko Paris, and (7) John Oates. I would be happy to see any combination of those guys on the floor at one time, though I do not want to see too much of Oates, especially on defense. Note that I have left Tyler Roche out of the discussion, and that's for a reason. As I have said in prior posts, Roche absolutely cannot play at this level, I've seen enough evidence (about 30 starts dating back to last year). He is averaging just 5 points and 2 rebounds in 30 minutes a game this year. That's not gonna do it against the likes of Mercer and Longwood, let alone Duke and UNC. I know I sound like a broken record with him, but enough is enough - he doesn't pass, score, rebound or defend. What else is there? Get him out of there and let the best guys play, the sooner Al does that, the better. However, I am not optimistic. Al has exhibited a penchant over the years for playing good kids, good practice soldiers, talent be damned. I don't expect him to change here.

Circling back to the Robert Morris game, with a young team I expected at least one loss like that this year, maybe two, so I can't say I'm overly surprised or gravely disappointed. I hope that a week to stew about it will mean they come out fired up against a very beatable Wake squad at home this Saturday.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Kansas Clunker

Well, as everyone in Eagle Nation (and the entire Nation) could see, BC is not ready for the prime time when it comes to playing the elite. While yesterday's 85-60 blowout loss to Kansas yesterday was not surprising, it was a disappointment nonetheless. Disappointing in the sense that the Eagles looked passive and intimidated. They laid down.

The thing that really struck me was that the only guy who came to play was Tyrese Rice, the one BC guy who had both the mindset and the ability to run with the Jayhawks. Rice was on fire early and single-handedly kept BC in the game for a while, canning 18 first half points. But he simply could not carry the load alone, and when Kansas clamped down on him midway through the first half, the Jayhawks went on a 27-7 run while everyone on the BC side stood around waiting for Rice to make a play. The big culptis here were Tyler Roche, Shamari Spears and Rakim Sanders - these guys looked scared to death to take a shot or drive to the hoop. When Rice went to the pine with foul trouble early in the second half, I turned to my companion and said this might be just what they need to force someone to step up. Sure enough, Sanders started taking it to the hole, sparking a little BC run and ending up with 21 points.

These are the growing pains for Sanders. He might be the most talented guy on the roster, and absolutely, positively needs to be more assertive, particularly when the offense stalls. It's no secret that Rice has a bullseye on his back, he is one of the best guards in the country. Everyone will be designing their defenses around stopping him, and guys like Sanders have to step in and pick up the offense when they do. If that doesn't happen, BC is gonna get killed, and yesterday was Exhibit A.


1. Rice. I felt sorry for the guy, there was one occasion when the Jayhawks swarmed him with THREE guys at the top of the key, and no teammate made a cut to the basket. Unbelievable. His 20 points were all him, he was hot with the threeball and had a couple of spectacular drives, slicing through double coverage for his signature teardrop.

2. Oates. I run Oates down a lot, but he was absolutely a contributor yesterday, and I applaud him for it. He played with fire, grabbed some boards and chipped in some points (4-4 from the field). If Oates gives this kind of effort every game, he could be a big help in ACC play.


1. Tyler Roche. I should just cut and paste my comments from prior posts, because this is becoming a tired, recurring theme. NOTHING. The guy adds NOTHING to this team. He stands around and watches the offense, then runs down the floor and stands around and watches the defense. Another invisible line from Roche - no field goals, no points, no assists in 20 minutes. OK, he had 2 boards. Hooray. I think the rebounds bounced into his stomach as he was picking his nose at the top of the key. I'm getting angrier and angrier about having to watch this guy play so much. Al, 10 minutes a game, tops, off the bench to give someone else a breather, that's it for this stiff.

2. Tyrelle Blair. Kansas has 10 guards on their roster and only 2 big men, yet Blair had 0 field goals and only 5 rebounds. In contrast, the Jayhawks frontline (Arthur, Jackson) went a combined 19-25 from the floor with 16 rebounds. C'mon. I like Blair, but the inconsistency is infuriating sometimes.

3. Cory Raji and Biko Paris. I love Raji, but he looked scared and intimidated. Same goes for Paris. These guys have to realize they can play with the elite teams, cuz more are surely coming (Duke, UNC).

4. Rebounding. I played the game, and I know rebounding is all effort. Getting creamed on the glass to the tune of 33-21 says it all.

5. Free throw shooting. BC was 9-17 (53%), with guys not named Rice going 5-12. Horrible. Sanders was particulary bad, going 2-6. This is something Sanders really needs to work on if he's going to be a bigtime player, he's shooting under 50% on the season for crissakes. He has a nice stroke, so it's all repetition and concentration for him to improve.

6. Al Skinner. Kansas was killing BC with give and goes, and there were no defensive adjustments that I could see. I would have also gone with some kind of press to wake BC up a little, or packed it in with a tight zone to make them shoot from downtown. Also, I thought Al needed to play Paris with Rice more when Kansas went on it's big run, to give Rice a little break bringing up the ball if for nothing else. Al looked as asleep as his team.

All in all, not a good show for the Eagles, especially since it was a nationally televised game. I don't know what gives here, but it seems like BC gets clobbered every time the national cameras roll into town. Bad for PR and bad for self-esteem.

Going forward, BC has to regroup quickly with solid mid-major Robert Morris coming to Conte Monday. This thing has letdown/trap written all over it, coming off Kansas and right before ACC play resumes. Let's hope the Eagles have the maturity to put this ugly affair behind them and focus on a good rebound.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Kansas Preview

I didn't watch the Longwood game, but I listened to it, and I think it was the perfect tuneup for tomorrow's tilt against Kansas. BC got a little mojo back by thumping a mid-major, just what the doctor ordered heading into their joust with the talented Jayhawks. The only way they knock off KU is if they beeeeelieve they can win, and with a rocking Conte Forum behind them, I think they'll at least have the vibe coming off such a strong showing Wednesday night. That's why I have a weird feeling about this game, a good one, I really think we're in for a pleasant surprise. Moreover, Kansas has played a bunch of creampuffs at home (the exception being an OT win over Arizona), and their 2 road games resulted in a close win at USC and a 5 point survival against average GTech. So the 12-0 Kansas record is a little bloated, which is great for BC. With the Jayhawks traveling some 1500 miles to Boston in the dead of winter, reading their press clippings along the way, I suspect a distracted Kansas squad might start slow. The key is whether the Eagles can jump on them. If BC gets up early and controls the tempo, we could be in for a great game, and maybe even a big upset.

What would a win do for BC? Everything. Looking at the schedule, the Eagles will probably win their last out-of-conference game (Robert Morris) barring a major stumble, and end up 7-9, 8-8 or 9-7 in the ACC. That means 18, 19 or 20 wins (assuming 1 win in the ACC tourney), which puts them squarely on the NCAA Bubble (hey Jay Bilas in his ACC preview is with me there). If you throw in a win over No. 3 Kansas, BC moves from Bubble to Lock in my view. So this game could make or break their bid for the NCAAs. For a season in which few of us had great expectations, that would be incredible. What an opportunity for the Eagles tomorrow.

Go BC!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Sacred Heart Game

I attended the Sacred Heart game last night and I was pleasantly surprised by the turnout, a pretty lively half-full Conte Forum. Considering it conflicted with the bowl game, and took place during school break on a Friday night when plenty of other things are going on in Greater Boston, that's a pretty good showing. Hats off to the fans. As for the game itself, it was pretty uneventful. Sacred Heart came out hot and took an early lead, then BC went on a 22-5 run about midway through the first half to take control (not surprisingly, that took place with Cory Raji on the floor and Tyler Roche on the pine). The Eagles stretched the lead to 17 in the second half on a number of occasions before losing focus. Sacred Heart stroked a few threes and out-hustled BC for some loose balls, and suddenly the lead was down to 3 in the waning moments. But Ty Rice and Shamari Spears stepped up at the stripe to seal the deal, canning 10 of 10 in the final 4 minutes.

All in all, though I criticize BC's effort and inability to put a lesser team away, I was pretty happy with the game. Sacred Heart's late charge made this young team step up in the face of a major choke job, and BC stepped up. I think the more they face game situations like that the better, as more are surely coming down the road, especially in conference play.

A few observation:

1. John Oates had a pretty big game offensively for him, with 12 points on a few follow up dunks and a couple of threes. His big weakness (defense) was a non-factor in this one, as Sacred Heart had no one that presented even a semblance of an offensive challenge in the post. Tyrelle Blair chipped in 12 as well, for the same reason.

2. Speaking of Blair, I've said it before, but he must have the weakest hands in college basketball. Sacred Heart's tiny front line stripped him over and over again as he tried to go up for dunks. Amazing. I'd like to dine with him just to see how many times he drops his fork during a meal.

3. Tyler Roche. The box score says he went 3-4, but again no rebounds and two ugly, very ugly, turnovers that turned into layups the other way. For some reason, Roche seems to have major problems with that tiny bounce pass at the top of the flex, and I'm tired of seeing defenders jump his pass for the steal and easy bucket. I think Al is sick of it too, as he jettisoned Roche to the bench right after the second one, where he remained for most of the night (Roche played only 15 minutes). As for his rebounding - or lack thereof - Roche now has a whopping 2 boards in his last three games (spanning 67 game minutes). What's up with that? The guy is 6'7" for crissakes.

4. Tyrese Rice had a decent game (16 points), though he seemed a little bored. Nevertheless, I love the ball in his hands with the game on the line and the other team needing to foul. He is automatic with the free throws, and was in this one.

NBA Non-Sequitur - old friend Sean Williams submitted a killer line in the Nets' 109-106 win last night over Washington - 14 points, 10 rebounds and 5 blocks. I still find myself daydreaming about what might have been had Williams kept his head down at the Heights.

Turning to football quickly, as is well documented BC won it's best-in-the-nation 8th straight bowl game last night against middling Michigan State. While I applaud BC's preparation and congratulate them on the win, with all due respect I think the streak has a lot more to do with BC going to a lesser bowl and playing an inferior opponent every year than anything else (cue the tired travel rep debate). I think BC has been favored (and in some instances heavily favored) in all these bowl games, with the notable exception of the Music City Bowl tilt against Georgia a number of years ago, which goes down as the only big win in the streak in my view. Until the bowl system is either junked completely or changed to a merit-based one, I fully expect BC's unimpressive streak to continue, replete with more Muffler and Tire Bowl appearances against 6-6 and 7-5 opponents. Hooray.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Skinner and the NBA

With nearly two more years to perfect his play at the point, Ty Rice is looking more and more like an NBA player in my view. If he gets drafted (and I think he will, in the 2nd round next year), that means Al Skinner will have had a future NBA draftee in four straight recruiting classes - Craig Smith, Jared Dudley, Sean Williams (should be a senior this year) and Rice. Going back two classes further, and Troy Bell makes it 5 out of 7. Throw in the fact that a BC player has been Conference Player of the Year in 3 of the last 6 years (Bell in '01 and '03, Dudley in '07), and that's not a bad track record, one I'll bet compares pretty favorably with some of the big programs. I hear a lot of guys bash Al's recruiting, but I think the success these guys have enjoyed at BC and in the pros speaks to Al's ability to develop players. Regardless, it has to be a big selling point on the recruiting trail going forward.

Speaking of the NBA guys, Smith, Dudley and Williams all started for their NBA teams this month, with Smith (36 points against Washinton, 30 points against Milwaukee) and Williams (8 blocks against Sacramento) in particular registering some eye-popping stats.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Narrow Escape

BC pulled out a win against pesky Northeastern, in a game the Huskies controlled most of the way before the Eagles closed with a 13-5 run to steal the game. This one was all about the freshmen, notably Cory Raji (12 points, 6 boards) and Rakim Sanders (20 points), as former BC assistant coach Bill Coen clearly decided Tyrese Rice was NOT going to beat them, throwing a junk box and one D at the proflic guard. In the end though, Rice did beat them, dropping a tear drop with 2.2 seconds left to seal the deal.

The positives I take out of this game are the continued improvement and assertiveness of Sanders and Raji, easily the gems of the freshman class. One big gripe: the confounding minutes Al keeps giving stiffs Tyler Roche and John Oates. Newsflash: these guys just can't play. I'm sure they are good soldiers and nice practice players, but Roche (20 minutes, 1-6, o rebounds) and Oates (20 minutes, 0-2, 2 rebounds) are virtually invisible out there. You have to play Raji and Sanders as much as possible. The plus/minus when they are on the floor together is astounding.