Can Boston College Finish Behind Duke as ACC Runner-Up?

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Can Boston College Finish Behind Duke as ACC Runner-Up?
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With a 75-66 win over NC State Tuesday night, Boston College improved to 13-4 overall.  A respectable record, but nothing exceptional for an ACC team at this time of year. 

What should be noted is that the Eagles are now 3-0 in ACC conference play.  After Duke lost to Florida State Wednesday night, North Carolina is now the only other team yet to lose in the conference, and they've only played one game.

Anything can happen, but for the purposes of simplicity, let’s assume that Duke will go on to win the ACC regular season title.

The question then becomes: Can BC stay near the top of this league, perhaps finishing second to Duke in the ACC when the regular season ends?

Based on what we’ve seen from this team so far, the answer should be: Why not?

Start with non-conference play.  Boston College scored wins over Texas A&M, California, Providence and South Carolina.

The Texas A&M win, a Thanksgiving Day grinder that came down to a missed three at the buzzer, might be as good a non-conference win as anyone has in the ACC, including Duke (see struggles of Kansas State and Michigan State).  When other teams in the league failed to flex their muscle in non-conference play, the Eagles stepped up to the challenges they faced.

In addition, this team has shown an ability to win away from Conte Forum, their home arena.  The wins over Texas A&M and Cal came in Orlando, at the Old Spice Classic in November.  They defeated their in-state rival Massachusetts in Amherst.  They beat South Carolina down in Columbia  The most important win of all, however, likely came against Maryland in College Park. 

The strength of this team, three-point shooting, was prominently on display in the game against the Terrapins.  The Eagles knocked down 13-of-29 threes, and they needed every one of them in a hard fought, back and forth game.  They also knocked down 13 threes in beating South Carolina by 15. 

If their success from long range continues, the Eagles may give themselves just enough of an advantage against equally matched teams in the league.

New head coach Steve Donahue was hired by BC after leading Cornell to a NCAA Sweet 16 appearance last year.  He had no problem getting his players to buy into his system, predicated heavily around the three-point shot. 

While Donahue does not have the marksman-like presence of a Ryan Whitman (former Cornell guard) in Boston, he does currently have three different players who are shooting over 40 percent on three-pointers for the season.

Reggie Jackson, a first team All-ACC candidate, leads the team shooting nearly 49 percent.  Biko Paris, who hit 6 threes against the Terps, is just under 42 percent.  Danny Rubin has emerged as the third long-range threat, shooting 47.5 percent.

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Another important element Donahue has brought from Cornell to Boston College is valuing the basketball.  BC is currently averaging just 11 turnovers per game, which leads the ACC (including Duke).  If they can hold onto the ball as well as they did for most of non-conference play, the Eagles could give themselves a great chance to win many of the tight battles that will lie ahead of them throughout ACC play.

In order to finish near the top of the ACC, Boston College will need to win at least a few more games away from home.  At the same time, they will need to protect their home court, something that they have not done well in recent years. 

The Eagles do not hold a definitive home court advantage at Conte Forum, as crowds are generally smaller than those of other ACC arenas (Tuesday’s game drew just over 3,500 fans, likely due in part due to the approaching snowstorm).  Each year, it seems this team seems to lose one or two games at home that they should not; this year’s examples—Yale and Harvard—are teams very familiar with Donahue and his style of play.

The league schedule seems to favor BC.  They only face Duke once, while facing likely bottom-feeders Virginia and Miami twice.  The key stretch for the Eagles will likely be in February, when they face North Carolina twice in the span of five games, surrounding games at Clemson, along with Maryland and Virginia Tech at home.

You could make a fair argument for at least six other teams to finish second to Duke in the ACC this season.  Four are mentioned in the paragraph above. Florida State is coming off a potential season changing win over Duke.

Boston College, however, with strong non-conference wins, an emphasis on efficient three-point shooting, and an ability to win close games, has shown us more than any other team thus far.

 

Player and team statistics from ESPN and STATS LLC

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