Men’s basketball has been at the forefront of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) for decades, and through the additions the league has made over the past few years, the conference has become even stronger. Boston College will get a taste of that power this season when Rick Pitino’s Louisville and Roy Williams’ North Carolina travel to Conte Forum.
The visit will come in new head coach Jim Christian’s first season in charge of the Eagles, who mustered just four wins in conference play last season-two of which came over conference cellar-dwellers Virginia Tech. This week, the conference rotated its schedule pairings for the next two seasons, though, meaning the Eagles will play different teams on repeat.
Each team is paired with two schools that are considered rivals. Teams are locked to play against those squads for consecutive years in home-and-home series. Additionally, ACC schools play two rotating teams home and away each season. For the Eagles, the locked home-and-home setup will be against the same two teams they were matched with last season: Syracuse and Notre Dame.
The Orange will come to Chestnut Hill with a fully revamped squad that returns just two starters in guard Trevor Cooney and center Rakeem Christmas. Head coach Jim Boeheim will have to rely on inexperienced players at a few positions, as Michael Gbinije and Tyler Roberson will be key to the Orange’s operation. Most likely, Syracuse will operate in a 2-3 zone-as it has for every season since 1996-and Christian and his team will have to adapt to its complexities. After Donahue’s team was able to change on the fly last season against Syracuse, Christian will have to put his team in the position to break it down. Getting two cracks at it could help his side knock off the Orange.
While Notre Dame struggled to keep its head above water in the ACC last season, finishing just above the Eagles, the Fighting Irish expect to return Jerian Grant. The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 19 points per game in an abbreviated 2013 season. Grant’s year was cut short when he was unenrolled from the University “due to an academic manner that [he] did not handle properly,” according to his statement on Notre Dame Athletics’ official website.
The Eagles will play Miami and Pittsburgh both home and away next season, before rotating to play home and homes against Clemson and North Carolina in 2015-16.
In addition to the home-and-home pairings, the Eagles will play five additional home games this season against North Carolina, Wake Forest, North Carolina State, Virginia, and Louisville. Each of those schools plays its own brand of basketball, which Christian noted in his introductory teleconference.
“I think there’s a lot of different ways that basketball is played in the ACC,” Christian said. “There’s not one particular style that’s been winning. There’s some teams who just grind out-defensive teams-who are opportunistic offensively, Virginia this year-it won that way. Syracuse, with the way they play, has been unbelievably successful, but it’s different than most teams. Now, obviously, Louisville with their full court attack, and the way Duke plays and pressures.”
When Louisville comes to BC, Christian’s team will have to adapt to the pace of its game. While the Eagles could get into slow halfcourt battles against a team like Syracuse, Pitino will throw everything in his team’s arsenal at BC for 40 minutes.
Virginia’s stout defense will visit BC as well. Returning Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill, and Justin Anderson, the ‘Hoos will look to build on their success from last season, which saw them secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, after taking the conference’s crown in Greensboro.
Christian has hired two assistant coaches to help him tackle one of the strongest conferences in the game. Maryland assistant coach Scott Spinelli was the first official hire to the staff. After working under the Terps’ head coach Mark Turgeon for eight seasons, Spinelli comes to Chestnut Hill with an array of recruiting experience. The Boston University graduate’s journey has taken him to Wichita State and Texas A&M in addition to the ACC program.
Christian also announced that Bill Wuczynski will join his bench at BC. Wuczynski coached under Christian at both Texas Christian University and Ohio University. A third hire is all but official according to reports and tweets, as University of Rhode Island associate head coach Preston Murphy looks set to return to ACC basketball. Murphy served as BC’s Director of Basketball Operations from 2007-10, until leaving to coach at his alma mater.
The official hires and likely appointee strike a balance between player development and recruiting. Wuczynski is touted for his work with guards, as he worked with 2013 MAC Player of the Year Award winner D.J. Cooper at Ohio. Spinelli and Murphy are known as recruiters. The Maryland assistant was able to bring local talent in Jake Layman and Michigan transfer Evan Smotrycz to College Park. Murphy played a role in developing two NCAA Tournament caliber teams at BC, and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Reggie Jackson was brought in under his watch.
Each appointee has his own strength and the bench is targeted at areas where experts say the previous coaching staff lagged. The new head coach will have quality talent to build on in Olivier Hanlan, and Christian will need to better organize the squad on the defensive end for the Eagles to find success in a versatile conference.