ACC Team Previews: Boston CollegePosted by KCarpenter on October 26th, 2011
Usually, replacing the winningest coach in a program’s history is a thankless task. Yet somehow, Steve Donahue came out of the 2010-11 season smelling like roses. Taking over for longtime head coach and flex offense enthusiast Al Skinner, Donahue led Boston College to a 21-13 season and 9-7 conference record, a significant improvement over the 2009-10 season. Donahue was lucky to inherit a veteran team, stocked full of seniors and a first round NBA draft caliber talent in Reggie Jackson. Still, while that season was an improvement over the previous one, it too ended in disappointment: a second-round ACC Tournament exit against Clemson and a March spent watching other teams play basketball.
As for the summer turnover, well, it was near-complete. The downside of a team of mostly seniors is that seniors have this habit of graduating. The starting lineup was completely wiped out and the bench was decimated. Calling this year a rebuilding year is an understatement. Donahue is bringing in nine freshmen and two transfers to totally re-fashion a team that barely has anything in common with last year’s team. As for the newcomers? Well, the recruiting services didn’t think too highly of them. Despite bringing in so many players, Rivals rates BC’s 2011 crop as only the 9th best in the ACC. However, Donahue thinks that this is deceiving, considering the recruiting services focus more on raw athletic talent. Donahue got his kind of guys: Guys who can shoot, pass, and dribble even if they aren’t as naturally physically gifted as some of their peers. Years recruiting at Cornell means that Donahue has the potential to be a more wily recruiter than you might expect: Luring a player to a program without the ability to offer athletic scholarships has a tendency to hone recruiting skills. Similarly, the scholarship restriction in the Ivies drove Donahue further abroad, giving him a chance to extensively network and now he has a chance to snag players that might not even be on the radar of other ACC schools. Much has been made out of the heavy California contingent in BC’s freshmen class, but Donahue’s explanation as why he recruits so heavily from the Golden State is cogent and well-thought out. Using Euroleague style ball as his model, it seems clear that the coach is assembling a team that will thrive on open perimeter shots generated by fast and frequent ball movement.
Of the newcomers, the most talented seem to be Ryan Anderson and Eddie Odio, who are athletic forwards with legitimate scoring touches from every part of the court. In a similar vein, Patrick Heckmann is a relatively seasoned veteran of international play with different divisions of Germany’s national team as well as a stint playing against professional teams in Germany. If his game can translate to the ACC, he could be a big factor for the Eagles. Similarly, Matt Humphrey, a transfer who played limited and not very spectacular minutes at Oregon, has the potential to thrive in a new role in Chestnut Hill.
Aside from talented scorers, for the first time in a while, BC has some serious size on the roster. Dennis Clifford is a legitimate 7-footer who also has real basketball talent. Similarly, the 6’10″, 280-pound K.C. Caudill presents a seriously physical presence in the low post and a legitimate set of basketball tools as well. Last year, Boston College really struggled against opponents with bigger, physical frontcourts like North Carolina, Duke, and Florida State. This season, Clifford and Caudill give the Eagles a legitimate chance to match up against the other big boys in the conference.
Still, despite the promising players that BC is bringing in, there remain two big questions. The first is the point guard position. The only true point guard on the roster is Jordan Daniels who offers incredible speed on what might be an otherwise plodding team. The downside of Daniels? He’s 5’8″ and barely 150 pounds. So, imagine a player with speed in the neighborhood of Ty Lawson who is a couple of inches shorter and about fifty pounds lighter. Freshman point guards almost always have a tough time, but unless Daniels is really good with steals, he could end up being a defensive liability against bigger guards. Donahue has mentioned that some of the other guards on the roster are capable of handling duties at the point as well, but the only thing tougher than being a freshman point guard is being a freshman point guard who has never played the position before.
The second big question is Donahue himself. While the coach has shown himself to be a gifted offensive guru, supercharging Boston College’s offense to the second best in the ACC (and, really one of the top offenses in the country as a whole), he has a big task ahead of him. Is there any coach who faces a tougher challenge than Donahue this year? Taking eleven new rawer-than-raw players and preparing them to do battle against fierce and unrelenting ACC foes is an unenviable task. Wake Forest put together one of the worst seasons by a power conference team in recent memory last year and yet Boston College was still the clear preseason pick to finish last in the ACC this time around. As good a coach as Donahue seems to be and as much potential as the new recruits have, it’s difficult to disagree.
And yet, looking at the Eagles’ schedule, I think there may be hope. Boston College has about as soft a nonconference schedule as could reasonably be expected. While it’s not hard to conjure up the memory of Boston College losing to Yale last year, one can only hope that BC can hold it together against this year’s batch of cupcakes. A probable match against Villanova, Penn State, and a very good Harvard team that beat the Eagles last year present some of the tougher challenges in nonconference play, but the real obstacle this season is the ACC schedule. There are some small blessings for Boston College in its league slate: the Eagles only play North Carolina, Duke, and Florida State once. Unless you are a Blue Devils fan who loves the sight of a massacre, it’s probably a stroke of good luck that no one will be subjected to watching this young, unproven team playing in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The conference schedule even offers Donahue’s team two shots apiece at Wake Forest and Georgia Tech. Unfortunately for Boston College, wins are difficult to come by in the ACC no matter who you’re playing. I think the Eagles will manage around thirteen total wins and four conference wins. However, the way this team is constructed and the way Donahue coaches, I will not be surprised when this team beats at least one team it has no right to beat. The program has a ways to go, but for a start-from-scratch year, this is a good year for laying the foundation for years to come.