Previewing BC Basketball: What to Expect from Notre Dame

Dennis Clifford dunking

Boston College men’s basketball (7-7, 0-1 Atlantic Coast) enters Thursday’s matchup against the University of Notre Dame searching for its first conference victory. The surging Eagles have been playing some better ball lately, winning four straight before dropping their first ACC matchup at home against No. 15 Duke University by a 81-64 final, a contest that played much tighter than its score. Other than a late first half run by the Blue Devils, the two teams traded buckets for the majority of the game, with BC getting hot and playing a competitive, confidence-building second half against the perennial ACC powerhouse. The Eagles were only outscored 44-40 in the back half of the game.   

Notre Dame (9-4, 0-1), on the other hand, dropped its last contest on the road against No. 5 University of Virginia by a respectable 11 points (77-66), a game in which the Fighting Irish actually outscored the Cavaliers in the second half. But, like BC, Notre Dame lacks a marquee win against a good team. Head coach Mike Brey’s squad can only count a most impressive victory of its 2015-16 campaign coming against a lackluster University of Iowa team.

Thursday’s 7 p.m. meeting at Conte Forum will mark the 26th rendition of the Holy War on Hardwood. Notre Dame leads the all-time series 15-10. The Eagles, however, have not gotten much luck lately—they’ve lost nine of their last 10 against the Fighting Irish.

Last time they played: The Eagles and the Irish met twice last season, with Notre Dame handling BC with relative ease in each contest.

In their first matchup, then-No. 10 Notre Dame put on a show early in South Bend, Ind., opening up a 34-9 lead over the first 15 minutes of the contest. BC’s Olivier Hanlan accounted for almost for almost half of BC’s points, putting up 28 in a losing effort on impressive 11-of-16 shooting. Hanlan drilled four inconsequential 3-pointers with less than four minutes to play in the game, cutting into Notre Dame’s lead but never truly threatening it—the game ended 71-63. Notre Dame distributed its own scoring fairly evenly, with four scorers in double digits, Zach Auguste (16), Jerian Grant (17), Pat Connaughton (11), and Steve Vasturia (17). Of the group, only Auguste and Vasturia have returned for this season.

In their second matchup, this time in Chestnut Hill, Aaron Brown led all scorers with 22 points, Hanlan contributed 19 of his own, and big man Dennis Clifford made his presence known, just missing his career highwater mark with 17 points, notching six boards and four assists along the way. While cruising to its 87-70 victory, Notre Dame continued its varied onslaught, with six scorers hitting double digits, including Auguste and Vasturia, who had 14 and 10, respectively.

Three Keys To the Game:

  1. Youth: The storyline of the 2015-16 Eagles is their young players. With nine freshmen on the roster, and just three upperclassmen playing valuable minutes, what will make or break this game is the youngsters’ ability to put the loss against Duke in the rearview mirror and continue to move forward against teams that are more talented.
  2. Guard play: Notre Dame is led by breakout junior floor general Demetrius Jackson, who leads the Irish with 16.4 points per game. But where the consensus first-round draft pick truly thrives is as a facilitator. Whatever combination of grad student Eli Carter and freshman Jerome Robinson that BC head coach Jim Christian decides to throw at Jackson will have a huge impact on today’s tilt. BC, on the other hand, is living and dying by the production of Eli Carter. Carter uses up just shy of one-third of the Eagle’s possessions, good for 11th in the country, and takes just over one-third of BC’s shots, good for 15th in the country. At 17.3 points per game, Carter is the definition of a volume scorer. When he’s effective, so are the Eagles—he averages almost 19 points in wins, but less than 15.5 in losses. Robinson, on the other hand, could take a leaf out of Carter’s book. The 6-foot-5 freshman guard, averaging 12.4 points per contest, is converting at a higher clip than Carter and has a higher offensive rating, so look for Robinson to be a little more involved in the BC scoring attack both today and as the season progresses.  
  3. Staying out of foul trouble: The Eagles sent Duke to the charity stripe 15 times this past Saturday, compared to only 7 trips themselves. The 8-0 run that Duke went on to pull away at the end of the first half? All free throws. Clifford, the senior big man, needs to avoid bad fouls early. He picked up three quick ones against Duke, and when Christian pulled him from the game, the Blue Devils made their push. Simply put, BC plays better basketball when Clifford is on the floor. Clifford will have his hands full with the 6-foot-10 Irish center Auguste, who is putting up over 13 points a contest and is just a fraction of a rebound shy from averaging a double-double.

Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Editor