BC crushed the Wolfpack in Raleigh yesterday in a wire-to-wire thumping that may have been the Eagles' best all-around effort of the season. I know, I know, the Pack is weak this year (picked pre-season to finish last by the ACC coaches), but a road win is a road win, and Al Skinner's charges made it look easy. So easy in fact that I was musing about the naysayers who mocked BC's move to the ACC, claiming the Eagles could not compete in what has been traditionally the best hoop conference in the land. To those naysayers I point out that after last year's 0-3 conference start, BC has won 15 of 18 ACC games (including the ACC tourney), and 2 of the losses were against No. 1 Duke by a combined 4 points. Indeed, I'll bet if you asked the other ACC coaches who the toughest conference opponent to prepare for is, a lot of them would say our nice little group from the Heights.
After the Duquesne loss, I was admittedly a little worried about this team. The defense had been atrocious. But against Yale and NC State, things have picked up. And this is not the first time Skinner has had to make significant defensive adjustments. Early in the 2003 season, I recall BC was getting sliced and diced from the perimiter this badly. After Villanova put up 92 points and pinned BC with a home loss, Skinner made the changes and the Eagles went on a roll all the way to the NCAA tournament. I see the same things happening here. NC State couldn't buy a good look at the hoop.
As I stated in an earlier post, I thought the Dudley injury might be a blessing in disguise. I am now convinced that it was. While no new player emerged (Tyler Roche, you missed your opportunity), a number of players stepped up their game:
1. Sean Marshall. There has been no bigger basher of Marshall than me, but over the last 4 games or so, Marshall has become a big-time scorer, and he is crashing the boards (14 v. NC State). He is even hitting the big shot for once, not just a lot of meaningless buckets early. Yesterday's game very well might have been the best game of his career.
2. Ty Rice. I have always viewed Rice as a tease. He has a lot of talent, but often wastes it gunning for style points, which usually translates into maddening turnovers. But since Dudley went down, he has found his shot from three, his drives are sound decisions and open up the offese, and his handle has greatly improved. Yesterday he had 10 assists and only 1 turnover.
3. John Oates. I have been a mild critic of his game, especially on defense, but his injury showed how valuable he has become to this team. Sean Williams shot-blocking makes up for his defensive deficiencies. Yes, his offense is limited to the occasional put-back and three, but his rebounding has improved markedly (8 boards yesterday).
4. Marquez Haynes. Kind of a quiet game yesterday, but extended minutes during the Dudley absence show that he can play when called upon. He brings speed, sound defense, a little flash offensively, and a decent jumpshot.
5. Shamari Spears. Still a work in progress. I am a little worried he is going to turtle up in ACC play, but as long as he can grab rebounds and give the Eagles a little offense off the bench, he can be a productive rotation guy.
6. Dudley and Williams. What else is there to say? Williams was a little quiet yesterday (4 points, 5 boards, 3 blocks), but they really didn't need him with Marshall taking over and the game well in hand early. Dudley had the most subtle 20 point game I've ever seen, which is further testament to how great a college player he is.
If BC can steal a win at Wake Tuesday, they could be back in the mix for an at-large NCAA bid. With the Vermont and Duquesne losses, I think they need to go at least 10-6 in conference play, and if they can get a win over the Deacs, they would simply have to go .500 or so the rest of the way to get there.
I sense this team can go on a run, and it should be noted that they have not had their full complement of players for a single game this season. The NCAA committee will take note of that if BC can get to 20 wins.