A third of the way through ACC play, Boston College men’s basketball has already eclipsed the 10-win mark for the first time in three years, totaled more conference victories than it had in the two previous seasons, and currently ranks seventh in the league. To put that in perspective, the Eagles haven’t finished outside of the ACC’s bottom three in half a decade. All in all, BC (13-6, 3-3 Atlantic Coast) is off to its best start since the 2010-11 season—the last time the Eagles were on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
Can Ky Bowman and Jerome Robinson lead BC to the coveted 20-win mark, just like Reggie Jackson and Joe Trapani did seven years ago? Let’s take a look at just how similar these two Eagles teams really are.
As far as scoring is concerned, BC is in the middle of the pack of the ACC. Averaging 76.3 points, the Eagles are outscoring their opponents by a margin of 5.9 points per game. Back in 2010-11, then-head coach Steve Donahue’s team (21-13, 9-7) was only posting a shade under 72 points per contest. Even so, that was good for 85th in the country—45 spots higher than this year’s Eagles team. The discrepancy just goes to show how much the game has shifted toward the run and gun style of the NBA. With Jackson at the point, BC’s average possession lasted 18.7 seconds—2.3 ticks longer than the Bowman-led Eagles—and it paid off: In those days, BC’s offense was the 14th-most efficient in the nation, according to KenPom.com, whereas the Eagles are hovering around the mid-70s this year.
Just like the 2010-11 campaign, BC has three different players racking up 12 or more points on a nightly basis—except this season, the production stems from the Eagles’ trio of guards. Bowman, Robinson, and Jordan Chatman account for 62.8 percent of BC’s scoring. The 2010-11 squad stands in stark contrast—Jackson was the only guard that put up more than 10.5 points per game. The biggest difference between the two groups’ scoring breakdowns has to be their bench output. In both seasons, BC has been under the national average in terms of bench minutes, but this year’s team has reached a new level. Head coach Jim Christian’s reserves play a combined 20.6 percent of the team’s minutes—9.2 percent less than the 2010-11 group and the fourth-fewest of any team in the country.
This season, BC has often been labeled a 3-point shooting team. But it doesn’t pale in comparison to its 2010-11 counterpart. Not only did those Eagles convert a higher percentage of their longe-range attempts—38.2 percent as opposed to 37.0 percent—but they also spotted up from downtown more often than the likes of Bowman, Robinson, and Chatman. BC was jacking up 23.6 triples a game—an average that cracked the nation’s top 15. What was even crazier was the fact that the Eagles scored 37.6 percent of their points off outside shots. Only seven other teams in the country were more dependent on the deep ball. Still, for the most part, both BC teams resemble squads that take a ride-or-die approach to perimeter shooting. While it may not be the most consistent game plan, it gives teams the chance to upset any opponent, regardless of its pedigree. For instance, the Eagles swept a 22-win Virginia Tech team in 2010-11 and dethroned top-ranked Duke this year. On the flip side, they also lost to North Carolina by 30-plus points in both seasons.
People tend to get caught up in the Eagles’ top-heavy offensive numbers, but their stars’ playmaking ability has always been there—their stingy defense, on the other hand, has not. Last year, BC allowed opponents to shoot 47 percent from the field and pour on 78.4 points per game. There’d be games where their “Big Three” would go off against the best of the ACC, but, in the end, their offensive showcases went to waste. Rarely did they ever string together stops, ultimately setting themselves up for failure. In the offseason, Christian talked about how his team had enough talent to up the ante on defense in 2015-16—he attributed BC’s shortcomings to execution, or lack thereof. So, the Eagles went back to the drawing board, focusing on pulling perimeter shooters off the 3-point line and denying inside scorers access to the paint. To say it’s worked would be an understatement.
The Eagles are only giving up 70.4 points per game on 41.4 percent shooting—marks that are significantly better than both those of last year and the 2010-11 season. Although that BC team conceded a tad under 70 points per game, its field goal defense showed just how weak the unit really was, especially considering the Eagles’ below-average pace of play on the offensive end of the court. Opponents were converting 44.5 percent of their shots, including 35.3 percent of their 3-point attempts, against BC, nearly condemning the Eagles to the bottom third of the nation in defense.
While BC features an adequate-sized frontcourt, a drastic improvement from last year’s graduate transfer tandem of Connar Tava (6-foot-6) and Mo Jeffers (6-foot-9), it once again lacks a 7-footer—a commodity that most teams in the ACC possess. That said, the Eagles are still the 25th-tallest team in the country, but their height has nothing do with their erinched rebounding game. Most of BC’s big men warm the bench: five of its seven players standing 6-foot-7 or taller average 15 minutes or less. Typically, Nik Popovic and Steffon Mitchell run the show. They, along with the rest of the starting five, hardly tower over anyone, particularly in conference play. The Eagles’ work on the glass is effort-intensive. Bowman is a prime example—the sophomore is the only player in the country, who is 6-foot-1 or shorter, averaging at least 7.1 rebounds per game. On both ends of the floor, Christian makes a point of his guys attacking the backboard. So far, he has to be pleased with what he’s seeing. The Eagles are logging 38.6 rebounds (+2.5 margin) per contest—3.6 more than they averaged last season.
Seven years ago, rebounding was one of BC’s biggest flaws. The Eagles pulled in around 32.1 boards per game, about 0.7 less than their opponents. Overall, BC was much smaller than it is in 2017-18. Yet its starting lineup mirrored today’s: At the center, power forward, and guard position, the two teams line up pretty evenly, with each playing a 6-foot-10 big man down low, a 6-foot-8 stretch four, and a 6-foot-1 guard. Sometimes, it just comes down to heart.
In the grand scheme of the things, turnovers haven’t haunted the Eagles like they did a season ago. Last year, BC coughed up the ball 14.6 times per game. Above-average turnover numbers often come with a transition offense, but because of the Eagles’ defensive deficiencies, poor ball security proved more costly than usual. This season, BC hasn’t been nearly as careless with its possessions and, at times, has looked as disciplined as any team in the conference. But it’s still averaging upwards of 12.5 turnovers per game and has the third-worst turnover margin in the ACC. Part of the reason why the Eagles had one of the most efficient offenses in the country in 2010-11 was due to the fact that they only lost the ball 11.1 times per contest, ranking 38th in the nation in that department. Aside from Jackson—the team’s primary ball handler—no one else on the team averaged two or more turnovers.
Featured Image by Anna Tierney / Heights Editor
Graphics by Nicole Chan / Heights Editor