Q. Which college basketball team has more NCAA Tournament wins than any other team without advancing to the Final Four?
A. Boston College.
The historical success of the Boston College Eagles basketball program can likely be summarized by that one irrefutable fact. They are regularly competitive and have been since the inception of the Big East through their transition to the ACC.
They have notched a couple of Big East tourney titles and some solid runs in the Big Dance to the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, but never has the spotlight fallen on them for very long—certainly not during the biggest moment of the sport’s season, the Final Four.
As a side effect to that reality, the fanbase, frankly, is not terribly invested. As an alumnus and Eagles hoops fan for going on 20 years, I find it disconcerting, but to borrow a line, “it is what it is.” Unfortunately, "it" is generally apathy and a home court advantage that is far from daunting to opponents.
I decided to dig a little deeper into Conte Forum at the BC-Clemson matchup last Tuesday night, Jan. 26.
Officially named Silvio O. Conte Forum after the former U.S. Representative and BC alum, it opened in October 1988 and is a fairly generic multi-purpose arena—home of the Eagles' men's and women's basketball and hockey teams. The arena seats 8,606 for men’s basketball, and sellouts are fairly common during the season, though as we will examine, that does not always mean a full house.
Unfortunately, that "multi-purpose" aspect also does not leave much room on or near the floor for student seating outside of some bleacher-style risers behind the baskets.
One area of improvement in recent years has been a nod to history, and I would credit that change to Athletic Director Gene DiFilippo—he has made an effort to button up certain details that reflect the image of a big-time athletic program.
In Conte, you can find “Eagles in the Pros” displays in each corner of the arena, an homage to any and all players that have played professionally in the various sports housed in the arena. Additionally, small banners are draped across the concourses honoring famous players (Troy Bell, Craig Smith) or milestone victories (a thrilling double-OT victory over Alonzo Mourning’s Georgetown team way back in 1992).
As far as the large banners that hang over the court honoring the more significant accomplishments, basketball takes a back seat to hockey in a big way. I counted 21 different banners honoring hockey (including three national titles) versus only 10 for men’s and women’s basketball combined.
This is not a suggestion to even things out, but for the men’s hoops program to have their accomplishments dwarfed in their own building is thorny—head coach Al Skinner and the Eagles need to make their own history, I suppose.
When BC is playing a conference game against the No. 21-ranked Clemson Tigers and the arena is approximately 30 percent full at tip-off, I’d say it’s a bad sign. Even the student sections were not full, remaining partially empty throughout the game, and this is the first home game back from winter break.
The arena filled up during the first half, probably reaching about 75 percent capacity 10 minutes into the contest, but never more than 80 percent at any point of the night—again, this is a league game against a ranked opponent.
There are a few earnest attempts by students to differentiate themselves as fervent supporters—a maroon and gold bodysuit tandem, and “Reggie’s Veggies” is another costumed duo—but by and large this fanbase gets going when the Eagles do.
The sound of the Dropkick Murphys' “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” blared from the pep band consistently through the game and has clearly become the go-to song at BC athletic events.
BC got off to a slow start on this night, but the tenor of the game changed immediately when sophomore guard Reggie Jackson entered the game at 14:53 with BC trailing 8-4. The most talented player on the team, Jackson is well liked by fans and provides an instant spark off the bench, especially this night, as BC got off to an 8-0 run, sparking a Clemson timeout at 12:22 with the crowd really getting into it for the first time.
The remainder of the first half was all BC with a few highlight steal-to-breakaway dunks for both junior forwards Rakim Sanders and Corey Raji igniting the crowd as Clemson continued to unravel into a 42-25 BC halftime edge.
The second half opened with a 13-3 Clemson run that saw Clemson forward Trevor Booker finally getting involved in the action, a player for which BC has no answer. Clemson continued to claw its way back into the game, forcing Skinner to take some timeouts to stem the tide, but ultimately never got closer than six points.
Jackson hit six clutch free throws down the stretch, and Cortney Dunn had a huge putback at the 1:40 mark to seal the victory—a very good win for this struggling Eagles team.
Having watched many games on TV and in person over the years, my expectations were pretty low, so maybe that’s why I was surprised by the energy that the fans brought...once they showed up. There are myriad excuses from “getting to Chestnut Hill by 7 pm isn’t easy” to “this team doesn’t have it this year” to heck if I know.
It is simply not the home court advantage it should be for a team that has had success over the last decade; it never really has been, to be honest. Rumors of tickets being given away to fill the no-show ticket holders of the high-profile seats are also troublesome, but the act is seemingly necessary.
The ardent BC hoop supporters are frustrated by the inability to land high-profile, highly-regarded recruits, but not one of them would disagree with the characterization of Conte Forum as an average arena with below average fans—even if it’s on a beautiful campus. An ACC basketball school is as big-time as it gets, so it would not be hard to figure out how a recruit can be won over by the atmosphere at a conference or geographic rival.
None of the things I saw last Tuesday would ever keep me from attending a game—I simply enjoy watching the team too much—but my hope is that more and more alumni, students, and local fans continue to passionately back the team to make it a better experience for everyone involved.
Maybe Reggie’s Veggies will become an entire garden...