Coming off a disappointing yet encouraging home loss to North Carolina, Boston College men’s basketball looks to regroup and capture its first ACC conference win. After playing four ranked teams in a row, the Eagles (7-17, 0-11 Atlantic Coast) will finally get a break, if only a small one, when Syracuse (17-8, 7-5) comes to Conte Forum on Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m.
Due to an NCAA investigation, Syracuse preemptively imposed a one-year ban on itself from participating in March Madness last season. The Orange is eligible for postseason play once again this year. According to all of the major bracket prognosticators, it currently finds itself on the right side of the bubble, projected by most to be an 11-seed at this point. A loss at BC, the last-place team in the ACC, would certainly damage any team’s resume, especially one as precariously placed in the tournament picture as Syracuse is.
Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney, two senior guards, lead the Orange offensively. Gbinije is the center-point of the offense, leading the team in both points and assists, with averages of 17 and four per game, respectively. Cooney has seemingly been playing in upstate New York forever and averages 13 points per game. While Cooney is shooting just 36 percent from beyond the arc this season, he is a huge 3-point threat and can do serious damage from there.
The team’s second leading scorer, a freshman from New Jersey, Malachi Richardson has been coming on in the team’s last five games. Richardson looks like a prototype for the Jim Boeheim 2-3 zone defense scheme because he is extremely long, quick, and adept at scoring. He will be a headache for years to come for Jim Christian, should he stay in school.
BC will most definitely have its work cut out against Syracuse. The two freshmen who have shown great flashes this season, A.J. Turner and Jerome Robinson, will both be sidelined in this one. The weight of those losses will fall on Eli Carter’s shoulders. Carter (16.5 ppg) almost carried the Eagles to a win over North Carolina on Tuesday night, but he just did not have enough help. The absence of Turner and Robinson creates a scoring gap that Christian will be looking for someone from his bench to step into. Maybe it will be Garland Owens who had 9 against UNC, including an alley-oop that was featured on SportsCenter. Perhaps it will be Matt Milon or Ervin Meznieks, two freshmen who can shoot the lights out. If BC wants to knock off Syracuse and get its first win of 2016, it will have to be one of these sources who supplies the scoring.
Last Time they Played: While most students were still at home over winter break, BC visited the Carrier Dome on Jan. 13 and lost to ’Cuse by a score of 62-40. That’s the low mark for scoring for the entire season for the Eagles. A fact that is probably attributable to the unique 2-3 zone that the Orange plays on defense. By halftime, BC was down by 15 points, and the game was out of reach from that point. Carter led the Eagles with 13, and no other Eagles scored in double digits. Syracuse had balanced scoring with four starters in double digits, led by Richardson with 15.
Three Keys to the Game:
- Who is going to help Carter?: Already a young, inexperienced team, the Eagles have been killed by injuries to top players to this point. Robinson is out for a while longer with a broken wrist suffered on a dunk, and Turner is out with a sprained ankle suffered against UNC. The Eagles desperately need someone to step up. Those two freshmen have averaged a combined 17 points this season, and BC struggled to score the ball down the stretch of the UNC game with both of them sitting on the bench. Sammy Barnes-Thompkins and Darryl Hicks both played down the stretch of the UNC game, and you have to assume that Christian is expecting bigger contributions from them in this game to fill the void left by Robinson and Turner.
- Beating the Zone: The last time these two teams met, Syracuse’s zone was a big factor in BC’s season-low scoring output. The Eagles lack interior scoring threats, so that will not be a way to take the zone down. Milon and Meznieks are two outside scoring threats that the Eagles could use, along with Carter to stretch the defense. This is probably going to be the main way that the Eagles attack the zone, and they will likely shoot it better than the 23 percent they mustered last game. Improved 3-point shooting will be a key to beating the zone, the hallmark of Syracuse basketball.
- Combatting Syracuse’s Size: The Orange attempted 19 free throws, ten more than BC, and outrebounded the Eagles 35-27. This is a huge sign of the size advantage that ’Cuse has over BC. As a team, the Eagles need to commit to playing defense without fouling, hopefully limiting the number of free throws that the Orange gets on plays around the basket. In addition, the Eagles need to make rebounding a team effort because they are much smaller. Dennis Clifford and Idy Diallo will not be able to anchor the team’s defense or rebounding effort, but the Eagles need to play as a team to take down the Orange.
Featured Image by Heather Ainsworth / AP Photo