The 2009 Boston College Eagles, as inconsistent as they may be, have been fairly predictable. Any fan having delusions of grandeur that they would snare a conference title would surely be disappointed but to those who closely follow this program, it has proved to be a year where the workmanlike, gritty performances that define head coach Al Skinner’s era (along with a head-scratching loss or two) have yielded overall success yet again.
Predicted to finish 11th in ACC play by some publications and coming off their worst season since 1999 the Eagles look to return to postseason play led by First Team All-ACC guard Tyrese Rice, one of the deadliest scorers in the entire conference, if not the country.
Add to that a slew of returning players including athletic sophomore Rakim Sanders as well as ACC rookies Joe Trapani and Reggie Jackson and BC is on the verge of being where they want to be come March. Here is a breakdown of what you should expect to see from the Eagles as March Madness gets under way:
The aforementioned Rice is the No. 1 focus of any opposing team. While his points-per-game number is down slightly from a year ago, Rice is still averaging 17.5 per game and his shooting percentages are right on pace, including 37 percent from beyond the arc, good for sixth in the ACC.
This is a result of getting other players more involved such as Joe Trapani, a University of Vermont transfer, who has exceeded everyone’s expectations with 14 points and a team-leading 6.6 rebounds per contest, not to mention his all-out effort during every single game this year. Trapani’s transition from America East to the ACC has been fairly remarkable and will likely earn him a newcomer award come season’s end.
Rakim Sanders has shown improvement from his freshman campaign and continues to wow onlookers with his sheer athleticism most evident in his dominating 22-point, six-rebound effort, including four three-pointers, at Chapel Hill in the upset of the then-No. 1 Tar Heels.
Overall, BC is a solid-shooting team placing in the top five in the ACC in FG percentage, FT percentage, and three-point field goal percentage. But, it’s been their ability to scrap after the loose balls that has made the difference in a few games this year and shows up on the stat sheet placing third in the league in rebounds per game.
Sophomore Corey Raji and freshman Reggie Jackson have contributed greatly in these roles, with the rookie pouring in 15 points in a key win over then-No. 6 Duke just two weeks ago.
As much as one would try to convince themselves that the Eagles’ youth will be great building blocks, the lack of experience reared its ugly head in one fell swoop.
BC’s biggest win of the year occurred on Jan. 4 at then-No. 1 North Carolina and was followed up three days later by a loss to none other than Harvard University, a team that is 11-13 and has fallen to 3-7 in the Ivy League. They went on to lose another three straight and looked to be in serious trouble of spiraling out of NCAA contention before righting the ship and winning five straight.
Rice can score in bunches and often does, leaving us to wonder why he seemingly doesn’t put entire games together. Unfortunately, Rice is also the only player on the roster with any real postseason experience as he and contributing junior forward Tyler Roche are the only upperclassmen—seven sophomores and three freshmen fill out the rest.
The Eagles inside presence leaves a bit to be desired as the serviceable Josh Southern and backup Courtney Dunn often man the middle leading to some mismatches against the upper echelon of the league. BC will often go small to create quickness mismatches in their favor on the offensive end but, in the long run, this may hurt them against some of the better, well-balanced teams that have size.
With only two games remaining on the slate, BC will still need another win to seal its tournament fate, if not two, including a game in the ACC tourney. With two winnable games next week against struggling NC St and cellar-dweller Georgia Tech, their fate rests in their own hands, which is all most teams would ask for at this stage of the season.
Snapshot as of Feb. 27:
Record: 20-9, 8-6 in ACC
Key Wins: @ UNC, Duke, FSU
Key Losses: Harvard, @ St.Louis
Those bookend wins over UNC and Duke are likely to put them into the Big Dance but you can never leave the decision in the committee’s hands when you have a chance to put it away on the court.
BC fans learned this the hard way when they were NIT-bound in 2003 while still a member of the Big East, even though they had won a share of a division title at 10-6. Those 50-plus numbers in SOS and RPI should not instill confidence and require at least one more victory.
Run to Detroit
Now, being the schizophrenic team that they are, this is an absurd prediction to even attempt, but when you have superior guard play from a veteran like Tyrese Rice, a physical force like Rakim Sanders who has yet to even scratch the surface of his potential, and a consistently improving Reggie Jackson, well, then you have yourself a dangerous tournament team.
Rice is the known commodity here, whereas Sanders, Jackson and especially Joe Trapani will be the real difference makers in the postseason.
On the flip side, if they drew a very big physical team early on in the tourney, especially one with experience, it is likely that they would get pushed around and right out of the dance. So, pulling an 8 or 9 seed and facing a Blake Griffin (even a concussed one) in round two would not be ideal.
So, considering that Boston College currently holds the dubious distinction of the most NCAA tournament wins without a Final Four appearance, "success" for the Eagles’ fan base is relative. Making the tournament this year with this roster is a nice accomplishment, but, with some breaks, the Sweet 16 is not out of the discussion and where any BC fan would be thrilled to end up.