...we could be in for a ride. I've reserved judgment on this year's edition until today, but I've seen enough. Al Skinner has done it again, assembled another group of young'uns for a possible run at an NCAA tourney birth in a so-called rebuilding year. The Eagles took it to Maryland tonight in their house, coming away with a gutsy 3 point win which wasn't really that close (BC led by 10 with a couple of minutes left before the Terps threw them a minor scare).
Every year I get more and more impressed with Skinner, and this year is no exception. It's amazing. He loses 2 guys to the NBA plus a 4-year starter and they don't miss a beat. Right now, they're 7-1 overall, 1-0 in the ACC, with wins over Michigan, Maryland and surprising Rhode Island (check out their RPI). The only loss being to a strong Providence team (RPI 11) in overtime on a neutral floor. If BC can get by Massachusetts and hold serve against the remaining mid-majors on their out-of-conference slate, they could be 12-2 (assuming a loss to Kansas) when conference play resumes in January. If that's the case, I say 7 more ACC wins (doable with FSU, Wake, Virginia, VTech and GTech all losing big players) plus one in the ACC tourney gets them into the Big Dance. Whatta year that would be.
At the de facto quarterpole, here are my evaluations:
Ty Rice: appears to have elevated his game even more. He always had talent, but in the past, especially two seasons ago, he tried to do too much, he forced shots, committed ugly turnovers, was guilty of the occasional hotdogging. No more, he rarely, rarely makes a bad decision. This is one of the premier point guards in the country, and he is starting to look like a possible 2nd round NBA pick.
Shamari Spears: not a big leap in his game from his freshman year, but he is physical and gets tough rebounds. His free-throw shooting looks better and he has a nice touch on the fadeaway. I expect him to be a productive player against everybody except the elite frontcourts. In other words, look for him to be a factor most of the season, but disappear against the likes of UNC, Duke and Kansas.
Rakim Sanders: don't be discouraged, you can tell this kid is the real deal with an NBA-type body and good hops. But he seems to be pressing a little with silly charges and forced shots. That's to be expected with a freshman. I think once he realizes he can't just blow by, through or over people like he did in HS, he will settle down and develop into an ACC star.
Corey Raji: this kid is awesome, the surpise of the year so far. He reminds me of Kenny Walls with the lefty stroke, but has much, much more game than Walls ever did, with rebounding and passing polish. He brings amazing energy off the bench and seems to have a really high BBall IQ. 17 crucial points tonight, and he almost single-handedly beat Providence last weekend. Looks fearless with the treys.
Biko Paris: another solid player in the making who will commit his share of freshman mistakes (a few dumb turnovers tonight). But I think he is an ACC caliber player who will make his mark in the league by the time he's done. I'm hoping he continues to progress to the point where he and Rice are getting the bulk of the backcourt minutes together. If that happens, teams will press us at their peril.
Tyler Roche: he can't play, unfortunately. I said last year that we would know everything we need to know about Roche early this year, and unfortunately it's bad news. He is limited to spot-up shooting wide open threes (and not effectively thus far). Other than that, he is totally useless on the floor. More to the point, when he's on the court, Raji isn't, which is a very bad thing. Al has to send him to the pine and soon.
Tyrelle Blair: Blair may be the best defensive player in the league, and perhaps one of the best in the country. 11 blocks tonight, 8 last game. You could see how fearful the Terps were of him when they went into the lane in the second half, and we all watched their shooting percentage plummet. Sean Williams he is certainly not, but the dropoff isn't as far as you'd think. He also appears to have worked on a couple of offensive moves, which is bonus. Still kind of weak in the rebounding area for a 7-2 guy.
John Oates: same as last year, no defense, but 5 fouls a game and the occasional offensive lift. One area of improvement I've noticed - less crazy threes. Oates is limited and I'm not a big fan (especially defensively), but if he can come off the bench and throw his fouls around judiciously, he can be an asset, albeit a minor one. If he plays more than 10 minutes a game we are in trouble.
Here's what I would like to see: more of Rice, Paris, Sanders and Raji on the floor at the same time, with Blair or Spears filling out the lineup, depending on the size of the opposition. When BC has that combo, they take off.
Hats off to Al - this looks like a great recruiting class already, and once again he has a really nice blend of young talent and accomplished vets.