It’s safe to say that it’s been a long time since fans have seen a season like this one. College basketball has entered an exciting era of parity, with only three teams—Southern Methodist University, Xavier University, and the University of South Carolina—having fewer than two losses almost three months into the season. Conference play, particularly in the highly competitive ACC, has been unpredictable, with typically mediocre teams like Clemson University and Virginia Tech stringing together upsets to climb into the top four in the conference.
To basketball fans in Chestnut Hill, this makes the performance of their Eagles even more depressing. The only ACC squad with fewer than 10 wins, Boston College (7-10, 0-4 Atlantic Coast) seems to be one of the only teams unable to capitalize on this season’s parity.
Wednesday night, BC faces No. 15 University of Miami (13-3, 2-2) in the next game on its brutal trek through the nation’s best conference. Though they lead the all-time series, 24-21, the Eagles haven’t beaten the Hurricanes since 2010 and have suffered ten consecutive defeats in that time period.
Last Time They Played: In a game pushed back a day due to yet another massive snowstorm in New England, Miami beat the Eagles 89-86 in double overtime. BC collapsed late in the game, despite Olivier Hanlan scoring 32 points, showcasing his full offensive arsenal. After blowing a seven-point lead in the second half, the Eagles lost a four-point lead with 24 seconds to play in the first overtime. Aaron Brown twice fouled Miami’s Deandre Burnett, a situation in which fouling was the worst possible option, allowing the Hurricanes to tie the game with little resistance. Sheldon McClellan led Miami with 24 points and center Tonye Jekiri manhandled Dennis Clifford down low, amassing 15 rebounds and four blocked shots. Jekiri also made four straight free throws with less than a minute left in the second overtime, breaking an 82-82 tie and sealing the victory for his team.
Miami Scouting Report: Miami is an athletic and experienced team, with a deep and versatile roster. Senior guards McClellan and Davon Reed are key to this versatility. Both are tall wings that allow head coach Jim Larranaga to play either a traditional frontcourt or a small-ball lineup. McClellan is one of the most efficient scorers in the entire country, shooting 53.6 percent from the floor. That includes 40 percent from 3-point range as well as at least five free throws per game. His athleticism allows him to create his own shot off the dribble frequently and drive to the basket with ease.
Point guard Angel Rodriguez directs the offense, running a lot of pick and rolls, especially with Jekiri. Rodriguez has greatly improved his finishing around the basket this season—after converting a dreadful 41.9 percent of his close range shots last season, he has improved that figure to 56.6 percent this season. The 7-foot Jekiri provides a dominant presence on the boards, as well as a serviceable target on rolls to the basket.
When Miami goes with a traditional frontcourt, Larranaga has multiple options at power forward. Kamari Murphy gives the coach a defensive presence alongside Jekiri, useful against teams that feature two post players, such as Virginia. Ivan Cruz Uceda offers a more offensive-minded option, as the 6-foot-10 Spaniard shoots 50 percent from downtown, stretching the floor for Miami’s wings.
Off the bench, sophomore guard Ja’Quan Newton—who only played two minutes against BC last year—provides instant offense. Newton is particularly adept at driving to the basket and draws the second-most fouls per 40 minutes of any player in the ACC. He averages 11.4 points per game in just over 21 minutes of playing time, which has led some folks around the team to suggest he supplant Rodriguez as the starting point guard.
Three Keys to Victory
1.) Transition Defense: Miami ranks eighth in the country with an effective field goal percentage of 66.2 percent in transition, a mark that reflects their ability to utilize their athleticism for easy looks at both the rim and the three point line during a change in possession. BC’s transition defense has been particularly bad this season. BC opponents have an effective field goal percentage of 58.8 percent in transition, 287th nationally. Some of this stems from the turnovers that result from inexperienced players’ running offensive sets, but the Eagles have also been sloppy at times identifying their matchups in transition. In conference play, the Eagles have turned the ball over on 22.9 percent of their possessions, the worst mark in the ACC. Against the Hurricanes’ athleticism, BC will need to curb these turnovers to limit easy points.
2.) 3-Point Shooting: Coming into conference play, Miami was shooting nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc. During ACC play, that number has dropped to just below 30 percent. Some of their perimeter players, especially Rodriguez and McClellan, can fall in love with their jumpers, hoisting ill-advised threes off the dribble. Despite this, when Miami gets catch and shoot 3-point shots from ball movement, they remain quite deadly. Reed and Cruz Uceda are their main spot-up shooters. In conference games, the Eagles have shown an inability to defend bigger wings and forwards one-on-one. The ensuing double team often leaves an open 3-point look for the opponent, especially since BC’s rotations haven’t been crisp lately. This was seen in BC’s 84-61 drubbing in Pittsburgh on Saturday, where Pitt forward Michael Young racked up nine assists when BC elected to double him. To have any chance at beating Miami, BC must prevent these easy threes, instead forcing Miami to settle for more difficult shots.
3.) Free Throw Shooting: On the season, Miami has made just over 18 free throws per game. In their three losses, the Hurricanes averaged just nine made free throws. Though Miami’s wings, particularly Newton and McClellan, drive to the rim relentlessly, BC needs to avoid fouling them to have a chance at winning. Additionally, though they boast just the 314th best free throw rate in the country, BC will need to get to the line to beat Miami. The Hurricanes have allowed just 11.6 made free throws per game, but allowed 15.6 per game in their three losses.
Featured Image by Richard Shiro / AP Photo