During his introductory teleconference last Thursday, Jim Christian gave little indication of the type of basketball he’ll be bringing to Chestnut Hill. The new Boston College head coach-who will be replacing Steve Donahue after a two-year stint at Ohio University-said he doesn’t see just one way to win in the ACC. Instead, he preached defense and versatility.
“I think that there are a lot of different ways that basketball’s played in the ACC,” Christian said. “There’s not one particular style that’s been winning. There are some teams who just grind out-defensive teams who are opportunistic offensively. Virginia this year, they won that way.
“Everybody’s got their own niche, but I think you have to be versatile. One thing that happens is, to be good you have to be able to guard. I think that’s the one thing my teams have been pretty consistent at. We’ve always been physically tough, we’ve always been able to guard, and I think-looking at the current roster-I think that’s one area we have to improve in, is on the defensive end of the floor.”
Christian’s comments show he at least knows his new team decently well. The Eagles finished the season with the 297th-ranked defense last year (out of about 350 teams), posting an adjusted defensive efficiency of more than 111 points per 100 possessions, according to KenPom.com.
So, is Christian a defensively minded coach? Does he run more man or zone? What is his offense like? And, most notably, can his success in the MAC transfer over to the ACC? After some film review of his team at Ohio and looking back on his 12 years as a head coach, a better look at Christian has started to take shape.
Christian’s team have recorded an average adjusted defensive efficiency of 99 points per 100 possessions during his career. The statistic, compiled by KenPom.com, is an estimate of how a defense would do against an average Division-I offense. He has primarily stuck to a man defense, but, like he said last week, versatility is important. In the regular-season finale against Miami (Ohio), Christian had his team come out in a zone to better match up with the Red Hawks, and it worked.
The Eagles have been atrocious when running a zone defense the past few years, mainly because they’ve had serious issues with rotations and communication, allowing teams to shoot a high percentage from behind the arc and at the rim. Whereas teams shot nearly 38 percent on 3-pointers the past two years against BC, a mark that ranked 317th and 316th in the country, Christian’s teams have a career average of holding opponents below 34 percent. That’s not an incredible total, but it’s good and it’s consistent. Besides his last season at TCU, in 2011-12, and one season at Kent State, Christian’s teams have never allowed opponents to shoot better than 35 percent from deep. During that one down year at Kent State, teams shot 35.2 percent.
The biggest strength of Christian’s teams has been their ability to force turnovers. At Kent State, the Golden Flashes never finished outside of the top-50 in forced turnover percentage, measuring the amount of an opponent’s possessions that end in turnovers. The Bobcats had a top-10 ranking two years ago, but then dipped to 172nd last year. The turnovers mainly come off of very solid, team defense-taking away good shots from opponents until they make mistakes, rather than taking hyper-aggressive risks like long lunges into passing lanes or swipes at the ball-handler that would put a defender out of position.
Christian’s teams have a tendency to move the ball very well in the half court. At Ohio last year, the Bobcats assisted on 58.9 percent of their baskets, and that mark was at 66.8 percent the year before, which ranked third in the country. There was a lot of cutting and sure movement by Ohio under Christian last year, with a healthy mix of post touches, pick-and-rolls, and swinging the ball around the perimeter. The offensive possessions worked less like set plays and more like a constant, yet effective, motion that put pressure on different parts of the court and different matchups, looking for the best possible shot. Ohio ranked in the top-50 in effective field goal percentage both years under Christian, shooting better than 52 percent.
There isn’t much consistency to the tempo of Christian’s teams throughout his career. His teams have never been particularly high in the tempo-rankings, according to KenPom.com, but they instead fluctuate between middle of the pack and slow. This, again, shows that Christian will look to mix things up both offensively and defensively to best fit the current opponent and his current roster.
One consistency, though, has been a lack of priority on offensive rebounding. Christian’s team’s have an average ranking of lower than 224th in offensive rebounding percentage. Last year at Ohio, it was more intentional than a result of poor execution. If a forward or center was near the rim when a shot went up, he’d go for the ball, but everyone else would run back in transition on defense.
Personnel and transition to ACC
It’s important to remember that pretty much all of Christian’s success came in the MAC conference-which is significantly below the talent level he’ll face in the ACC-and that at Ohio he was primarily working with talent compiled by the very successful John Groce, who took the Bobcats to the Sweet 16 the year before Christian took over.
Christian was primarily working with Groce’s players during his first season in Athens when the team went 24-10 and got blown out by Akron in the conference tournament championship game, missing out on an NCAA Tournament bid. Last season at Ohio, the team was led by senior guard Nick Kellog, one of Groce’s recruits, but Christian brought in two very effective JUCO transfers in Maurice N’dour and Javarez Willis, and freshman Antonio Campbell, who Christian recruited, had a decent season.
The biggest knock on Christian, and the most worrisome thing for his ability to rebuild in Chestnut Hill, is his time spent at TCU. Christian brought in JUCO transfer Zvonko Buljan and freshman recruit Ronnie Moss heading into his first season. That duo as well as incumbent senior Kevin Lanford led the team. By Christian’s second season with the Horned Frogs, he was primarily rolling with his players, and things didn’t go well. Playing in the Mountain West-all four years of Christian’s tenure came before TCU’s move to the Big-12-he had a career record of 56-73, with only one winning season. Pretty much everything Christian’s teams did well at Kent State and Ohio took a statistical nosedive while he was at TCU.
That was Christian’s only real rebuilding project, and he couldn’t get it to work. When he’s introduced officially on campus tomorrow, he’ll get his second start at a rebuild. He’ll have to keep this team intact and prevent any transfers while hoping for a delay in Olivier Hanlan’s departure for the NBA Draft to improve on last year’s 8-24 season. If they stay, he’ll get a year under his belt with a talented, but underachieving, roster before heading into a full rebuild, losing six scholarship seniors. If he can’t get the core of this team to stick around, that dramatic rebuild may begin even earlier.