With Boston College women’s basketball opening conference play tonight, it’s only fitting to take a look back at the new head coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee’s first 13 games as a head coach. The Eagles are a remarkable 11-2 after winning just seven games in the entirety of the 2017-18 campaign, but the ACC—home to the reigning national champions and four current top-25 teams—is a completely different animal. As new volleyball head coach Jason Kennedy and his revitalized team demonstrated in the fall, conference play can be a brutal stretch that can bring hopes of a winning season crashing down (Kennedy’s bunch won its first nine games but would go on to finish an even 15-15). Here’s five assorted thoughts as Georgia Tech awaits to begin ACC play.
1) If anything is to be said right off the bat, it’s that Bernabei-McNamee has breathed new life into this program. Last season at this point, the Eagles were 5-8 and would go on to lose 10 of their next 11 games under then-head coach Erik Johnson. The arrival of a new coach has prompted a quick turnaround, and the underlying numbers suggest a two-win conference campaign is unlikely to repeat. Bernabei-McNamee’s insistence on being in excellent shape and crashing the boards has resulted in monumental improvements across the board. While schedule strength should be taken with a grain of salt—the only top-100 schools, per herhoopstats.com, have been No. 12 Minnesota (a narrow loss) and Houston—BC has been substantially better.
2) What’s changed for the better? A lot of things. Granted, 13 games is a small sample size, and you can expect some of these numbers to regress, but right now the Eagles are seeing huge jumps in several categories. They’ve gone from one of the worst rebounding teams in the country (319th in rebounding rate) to one of the best (14th) while additionally seeing marked improvements on defense. BC has gone from outside the top 300 in steals and blocks to 50th and 107th, respectively.
3) Senior point guard Taylor Ortlepp was overshadowed in the first few weeks by freshman Marnelle Garraud, with the former cracking 10 points just twice in the first eight games. Since then, though, Ortlepp has surged, averaging 16.4 points the last five games. This has been the result of much improved 3-point shooting, as she’s hit at 47 percent clip over that span. Ortlepp’s usage rate has dipped nearly seven percentage points from last year and that has translated well in her other numbers—she’s averaging a career-high 3.8 assists and is committing one fewer turnover per game.
4) Ortlepp is just one part of a prolific offense for BC thus far. The Eagles averaged just 58.2 points per game in 2017-18 but have seen a 12-point bump through 13 games under Bernabei-McNamee. Emma Guy has been a force inside to the tune of 13.8 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, shaking off last year’s combination of sickness and injury that limited her to 16 games last year. Three other players average double-digits—Garraud, Ortlepp, and Makayla Dickens—and Georgia Pineau is nearly there at 9.4. The BC offense works inside out effectively, with Pineau playing the role of a distributor down low. Sydney Lowery has been strong off the bench as well, part of the reason why the Eagles haven’t had to rely heavily on one player throughout.
5) Let’s talk about Guy. The junior forward entered this season with 29 starts under her belt, averaging 6.8 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. She’s blown those figures out of the water in the early going as one of the most efficient low post scorers in the nation. Guy is especially adept at creating her own shot once she gets the ball down low, and often grabs her own miss and puts it back. She finds herself in the top 10 percent of the country in effective field goal percentage, rebounding percentage, and points per scoring attempt (which looks at shots and free throw trips). As one of the few older players on the team, Guy will need to keep her aforementioned balanced and consistent effort up to keep her underclassmen teammates going when things get tough.
Featured Image by Celine Lim / Heights Editor