The truth is in the numbers: BC has no shot
By Michael Sullivan | Sports Editor
12 wins. It doesn’t seem like it should be this unattainable.
And yet, asking for the Boston College men’s basketball team to surpass this mark—a mere 40 percent of the Eagles’ 30-game schedule—makes some burst out in laughter.
It’s hard to blame anyone for doubting BC. The Eagles have earned a berth to the NCAA Tournament just three times since joining the ACC a decade ago, and their last trip six seasons (and two coaches) ago ended in an embarrassing upset by Southern California. After a successful 21-13 first season under Steve Donahue, BC bottomed out, compiling a 33-63 record from the 2011-12 to the 2013-14 season, good for a .344 winning percentage. The final three seasons of the Donahue era saw the Eagles finish twice with single digit win totals, and only a grand total of 16 ACC victories in 56 conference games, a .286 winning percentage.
So you can forgive fans and pundits for their lack of optimism about BC. Still, 12 wins shouldn’t be this far out of the question—unlike in last year’s 8-24 debacle, the Eagles (8-7, 0-3 ACC) came away with several wins in their non-conference schedule, highlighted by exciting victories over regional rivals Providence (13-4, 3-1 Big East) and Harvard (10-4, 1-0 Ivy League).
Take out the Friars and the Crimson from the non-conference schedule and you won’t be as easily fooled. Look at BC’s remaining victories. The Eagles beat an 11-5 New Mexico team that went 0-3 in games against teams in major conferences, the other two being Texas A&M and Southern California. Four of the Eagles’ victories come against the America East, a conference with a combined record of 54-89, third-worst in the NCAA. Two of BC’s wins come against teams with one win (Maine and Marist) and a third, Binghamton, has only two wins. Most importantly, the Eagles’ moderate success in their non-conference schedule pales in comparison to the results of their ACC counterparts—as of today, BC looks up from the bottom of the standings at the remaining 14 teams in the conference.
A glance at the team’s in-game statistics—not including those compiled in Wednesday night’s game against Harvard—seems more predictive of the Eagles’ future performance. On defense, the Eagles show vast improvements, allowing 13.5 less points per game this season (63.8) than they had allowed at this point last year (77.3). Analyst Ken Pomeroy backs up this data, placing the Eagles at 93rd in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency (AdjD), which measures the points a team allows per 100 possessions adjusted to their opponents, with a score of 97. This ranks BC eighth, smack dab in the middle of the 15-team ACC.
Before putting too much stock into the Eagles’ defensive jump, let’s again recall those teams they’ve played already this season. Of the teams in BC’s seven victories, only Providence ranks in the top half of the NCAA’s 351 Division I teams in adjusted offensive efficiency (AdjO), which measures the points a team scores per 100 possessions adjusted to their opponents. In addition, four of the teams (Binghamton, Marist, UMass-Lowell, and Maine) rank in the bottom ten percent in AdjO.
Even considering these modest defensive improvements, BC falls short. According to ESPN, the Eagles slot in at second-to-last in the ACC in both points per game (65.9, leading only Clemson) and rebounds per game (33.6, ahead of Virginia Tech). Pomeroy’s advanced stats run in line with these basic numbers: BC ranks at 178th in offensive efficiency at 100.5, last in the conference.
Now turn back to the schedule. Going forward, the Eagles will only play teams with winning records, including five remaining games against ranked opponents: No. 2 Virginia, No. 6 Louisville, No. 15 North Carolina, and two against No. 12 Notre Dame.
In addition, the ACC looks even deeper beyond the ranked teams. If No. 2 Duke, who crushed the Eagles 85-62 last week, can lose back-to-back games against conference rivals Miami and North Carolina State, how can BC expect to compete?
In looking at both the basic and advanced stats, five teams in the ACC seem beatable for BC: Clemson, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Florida State, and Wake Forest. To reach that 12-win mark, BC would have to beat four of the five. Unfortunately for the Eagles, luck is not on their side. According to Pomeroy’s metrics, which measure the difference between a team’s actual winning percentage and what their winning percentage should be based on their points scored and points allowed, BC is the unluckiest team in the ACC, at -.069.
Granted, much of the luck stat comes from, well, luck, as it fluctuates from season-to-season and throughout the year, usually balancing out over time. Remember, however, BC’s losses against Miami and Pittsburgh: the Eagles demonstrated an inability to close out these close games, something that will continue to plague them as their opponents get tougher.
One year, perhaps in the near future, the Eagles will return to their peak around the turn of the century, when they took home three Big East titles and consistently made the tournament. The 2014-15 season, however, is not looking to be that year.
Winning opportunities out there for Eagles
By Jack Stedman | Assoc. Sports Editor
In the stately manor that is the Atlantic Coastal Conference, Virginia, North Carolina, Duke, Notre Dame, and Louisville currently occupy the lavish master bedrooms, antique-filled billiards rooms, and cavernous parlors.
Syracuse is still fighting for its spot in one of the spacious guest rooms, while North Carolina State and Miami are making noise next door after both took down the No. 2 Blue Devils.
A closer examination of ACC estates, however, shows two different worlds, one of which exists far from the perfectly-trimmed green lawns and gold-encrusted ceilings in Chapel Hill, Charlottesville, and South Bend.
We’re talking the attic crawl space, the maids’ chambers, and the utility closets deep within the bowels of the conference where Boston College currently resides.
The top-heavy nature of the ACC hides the fact that the bottom half of the conference is very similar, meaning a not-so-lofty goal for BC this season is to reach 12 wins.
The Eagles stand with a record of 8-7, making the magic number a mere 4 wins. So with that, let’s navigate the long hallways and trap doors of BC’s remaining schedule and find out how and why BC will reach the 12-win mark this year.
THE POWERHOUSES: One-third of BC’s remaining games come against ranked opponents: The Eagles play No. 2 Virginia, No. 6 Louisville, and No. 15 North Carolina once, and then No. 12 Notre Dame twice.
The Eagles are in no way expected to win any of these games. Just last year, however, the Eagles traveled to the Carrier Dome in upstate New York and took down the Orange, who were the top team in the nation and undefeated at the time.
This time around, BC has the luxury of playing four of these games in Conte Forum, and they could very well steal a win from one of these teams. They have already proven that they can at least stick around with a top 25 team—West Virginia—and all they need is one Oliver Hanlan takeover, like in his performance against Providence, to pull off an upset.
After all, college basketball makes its name off of the possibility of an upset happening at any moment—they call it March Madness for a reason. Crazier things have happened.
THE DARK HORSES: Another third of BC’s remaining games from tier two of the ACC, which consists of programs that are always solid and are usually perennial dark horses, if not high seeds, in the NCAA Tournament. Syracuse finds itself in this category because it seems to have fallen off the radar a bit after starting the year 6-4.
These teams have proven that they can play with the best, and they will be a handful for BC. Miami and North Carolina State have each taken down the Blue Devils in the last four days, while the Orange boast a seven game win streak.
The recent game against the Panthers was a Dennis Clifford putback away from a BC victory in regulation—it wasn’t so much as Pitt won the game as it was BC lost it. Pitt’s padded record against weak opponents makes it look a lot better than it is, and the Eagles should take care of business in the rematch.
Miami also recently beat BC in a close game, in which a 21-9 run and comeback by Hanlan and co. fell short. Hidden inside the box score, though, is the fact that Eddie Odio scored a career high 13 points and BC’s bench outscored Miami’s 19-7, both good signs for the Eagles going forward.
Expect BC to come away with a win in at least one, if not two, of these games.
THE BOTTOM FEEDERS: And finally, we arrive in the Eagles’ current nest. The last third of the remaining schedule comes from the teams directly surrounding the Eagles at the bottom of the totem poll.
This is where the Eagles can actually expect to win some ball games. Last year, three out of their four conference wins came against Virginia Tech (twice) and Wake Forest, who are currently 14th and 12th in the ACC, respectively.
Not much separates these teams from BC. They all are programs that have fallen a long way from former glory and are scratching their way back into relevance. So while they will most likely be scrappy and ugly games, a win is a win. To put it simply, two wins should be a given, and three is well within reach, against the likes of Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech, VT, and Wake.
Do the math real quick: one upset + two quality wins out of tier two + 2 gritty W’s against the common folk = a grand total of five wins. Even if that elusive upset doesn’t come, or the Eagles let another slip through their grasp at the hands of Pitt or the U, then pulling off a couple more wins from the lower tier is possible.
While 12 wins in a season will put BC nowhere near the gated community atop the ACC, it will be a significant upgrade from the shack they were living in last year.
And it’s very possible.
Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Graphic