After beating Virginia Tech in Blacksburg on Thursday night, the Virginia Cavaliers (13-5, 3-2 ACC) return home for an early Saturday afternoon tilt with Boston College (9-9, 1-4 ACC). Will the Wahoos remain unbeaten at home in ACC play or will they fall victim to the Eagles on the quick turnaround? Find out in the Boston College Primer.
1. Team Introduction. Last season, Boston College went 9-21 and finished tied for the ACC cellar with a 4-12 mark before losing to NC State in the ACC Tournament. One of the Eagles’ losses last year was a 66-49 defeat at JPJ in a game that was closer than the final score would imply; BC was only down by 4 with less than 6 minutes remaining.
This season, Boston College was again picked to bring up the rear in the ACC in both the preseason media and coaches’ polls. During the early part of its non-conference schedule, BC started poorly. It came out of the gate 3-5, with two of those losses coming at the hands of Bryant and the College of Charleston. But the Eagles then finished their out of conference slate with five straight wins, including a home victory over Providence. And, while the Eagles are only 1-4 in ACC play, they have been in every game they’ve played. In addition to a road victory over Virginia Tech (86-75), BC has dropped close home games against NC State (78-73) and Miami (60-59) and lost tight road contests at Wake Forest (75-72) and Maryland (64-59).
2. Offense. Boston College coach Steve Donahue runs a shuffle cut offense, with explanatory diagrams being included in last year’s Boston College Primer. This offense typically proceeds with the “4” and the “5” setting screens and handling (and handing off) the ball at the free throw line or top of the key (resulting in frequent pick-and-pop opportunities), different players cutting hard to the basket, and down and back screens to set up penetration or 3-pointers. This year, due to injuries that have limited center Dennis Clifford, Donahue has often employed a four-guard lineup that gives the Eagles more threats from the perimeter but fewer options in the low post. The shuffle cut offense is a precision offense that works best when you have veteran players who have learned to play off of each other. With last season’s freshman-heavy squad becoming a sophomore-heavy squad, BC has improved in adjusted offensive efficiency from an abysmal No. 293 to a respectable No. 71. But, with its four-guard lineup, Boston College is pretty poor on the offensive glass, ranking No. 269 in offensive rebounding percentage.
3. Defense. On the defensive end, we should look for a combination of man-to-man defense and two different zones: a 2-3 zone and/or a 1-3-1 zone. With the way Virginia has been shooting it from downtown recently, it might be more of the former than the latter. BC is a mere No. 196 in adjusted defensive efficiency this season. The reasons for the Eagles’ struggles are two-fold. First, they are outsized in the post. Second, they feature two starting freshmen in their backcourt. This inexperience also explains why Boston College is a mere No. 314 in opponent turnovers per possession. With BC coming in at No. 244 in adjusted tempo, it is unlikely that we will see them heating the ball up too much against the Cavaliers on Saturday.
4. Player Turnover. Swingman Matt Humphrey (10.3 PPG), the only upperclassman to see significant minutes for last season’s BC squad, transferred to West Virginia. Also transferring out of the program was starting point guard Jordan Daniels (a team high 2.6 assist/game), who went to Drake. A third transfer was backup guard Gabe Moton (2.9 points/game). Finally, another backup guard, walk-on John Cahill, who was eighth on last year’s team with 14.2 minutes per game, graduated.
5. Possible Starters. The first five from Boston College …
Point Guard: Oliver Hanlan (No. 21), a 6’4″, 188-pound freshman from Canada, should get the start at the “1.” Hanlan is a big, physical point guard who does most of his damage by driving the lane. He has a good handle and some solid passing skills (2.6 assists/game) although he can be careless with the ball (2.5 turnovers/game). Hanlan doesn’t have much of an outside shot (31% from 3-point land) and isn’t yet a very efficient scorer (40.8% from the floor), but he makes up for it by using his big frame to crash the glass (4.6 rebounds/game). The frosh is also a tough, rangy defender who leads the Eagles with 1.2 steals a game. I really like Halan’s potential, and he’s already turning things up a notch in ACC play, averaging 17.5 points in his last 4 games compared to his season average of 13.9.
Point Guard/Shooting Guard: Hanlan’s backcourt running mate is Joe Rahon (No. 25), a 6’2″, 195-pound freshman. Rahon averages 10.4 points per game, which ranks him third on the team. Unlike Hanlan, Rahon does like to launch it from long range, which is where he attempts about 57% of his shots. This is a problem because so far he’s only connecting on 32.5% of his attempts. In this sense, Rahon hasn’t yet lived up to his high school reputation as a marksman, but he has proven to have terrific court vision. Rahon is dishing 3.8 dimes against 2.3 turnovers per game. But, unlike Hanlan, Rahon has hit a bit of a wall as he’s started ACC play. In his last 4 games, he’s averaging just 5.5 points per game. So far, Rahon has proven to be adequate on the defensive end, but nothing more.
Mike Tobey has fared well this season against smaller line-ups.
Shooting Guard: Lonnie Jackson (No. 20), a 6’3″, 180-pound sophomore, should be in for the opening tip. Usually, when you say that a player hasn’t improved much between his freshman and sophomore years, it is a pretty big insult. For Jackson, it means that he had a pretty decent first year in college. Last season, Jackson shot 39.6% from the field, 39.9% from 3-point range, and 78.8% from the line. This year, his numbers are almost identical: 39.9%, 40%, and 79.5%. And, in 4 more minutes of playing time per game (31.3 vs. 27.3), Jackson is averaging exactly 2 more points per game (10.3 vs. 8.3). In other words, we should expect exactly the same player who scored 7 points against Virginia on 2-of-5 shooting last season. We should also expect to see the same decent defender, with Jackson averaging .9 steals a game both last year and this year.
Shooting Guard/Small Forward: The fourth guard in BC’s four-guard starting lineup should be Patrick Heckmann (No. 33), a 6’5″, 205-pound sophomore. So far, this season has been the converse of last season for Heckmann. Heckmann was a starter early in his freshman campaign before ceding his starting spot after turning the ball over 3 times a game. This season, after coming off the bench for the first 6 games, Heckmann has secured a starting sport by realizing his limitations. While 3.5 of his 5.5 shot attempts as a freshman came from inside the arc, 4.2 of his 6.2 attempts per game this year have been from 3-point range. Heckmann hasn’t been a great 3-point shooter (35.5%), which explains why his points per game have actually dipped from 8.3 to 8.2. But he’s only coughing the ball up 1.4 times a game despite playing three and a half more minutes a game. Defensively, however, Heckmann really has struggled in preventing bigger and taller opponents from getting to the hoop with impunity.
Power Forward: By far the Eagles’ best player is Ryan Anderson (No. 12), a 6’8″, 220-pound sophomore. During his first year, Anderson averaged 11.2 points per game as a face-up “4” who did most of his damage with a pretty midrange jumper, often in pick-and-pop situations. This year, as he has been required to play a good deal of “5,” Anderson has added some nifty low post moves and become more adept at the pick-and-roll. This versatility has allowed him to increase his scoring average to 16.5 points per game with 50% accuracy from the field. Despite often facing off against taller defenders, Anderson has also hit the glass with aplomb; his 9.4 rebounds a game mean that he almost averages a double-double. Anderson has also more than held his own on the defensive end.
6. Key Reserves. Some of the other names to know …
Small Forward: Eddie Odio (No. 4), a 6’7″, 205-pound sophomore, is a long, athletic wing. His minutes per game from last season have more than doubled, from 5.9 to 12.6. In five ACC games, Odio has scored 4 baskets, including 2 layups and a dunk, which tells you what you need to know about his offense. Odio has made better use of his athleticism on the defensive end, but he’s still only averaging .2 steals a game.
Center: Dennis Clifford (No. 24), a 7’0″, 250-pound sophomore, had a terrific freshman year, averaging 8.9 points a game. But, after problems with his ankle over the summer and knee during the season, he has lost a good deal of explosiveness and mobility. As a result, his minutes (19.5 vs. 26.9) and points (4.6 vs. 8.9) per game have dropped, and he has been susceptible to faster and more mobile centers. Unfortunately, Clifford really hasn’t looked good at all his last few games, scoring a total of 2 points in 52 minutes of game time against Wake Forest, Miami, and Maryland.
Others: Andrew Van Nest, a graduate transfer from Harvard, has averaged 12.6 minutes per game as a backup power forward, but he’s played a total of 3 minutes in ACC play. Also, Danny Rubin, a junior swingman, has played a combined 11 minutes in ACC play. Basically, we should see a 7 man rotation on Saturday, with a somewhat gimpy Dennis Clifford being one of those 7.
Given last year’s game and how Boston College has performed in the ACC so far, I don’t anticipate anything other than a relatively close game, especially given the quick turnaround. But I would also say that BC is basically the perfect team to play on short rest. They are young, undersized, and play a finesse game at a slow pace with a short bench.
As always, I focus on offensive rebounding and opponent turnovers to judge how a team will likely perform against a Tony Bennett squad, and, as noted, the Eagles come in at No. 269 and No. 314 in these categories. This makes BC one of the worst teams in the nation in combined offensive rebounding and opponent turnovers, and their combined score of No. 583 is significantly worse than the combined score of any team that has beaten UVa during Tony Bennett’s tenure. I will pick this as a 62-55 Virginia victory, with the Wahoos pulling away late.