Heights Hoop Update #3
By Andrew Linnehan
Don’t look now, but our sinking-then-soaring Eagles are over .500 again! BC did not give their audience an encouraging product last Friday as they lost a heartbreaker to Hartford on a last second three. The Eagles could have rolled over in defeat and let the devastating loss influence their upcoming games. However, Jim Christian and his young unit treated the two-game losing streak to Harvard and Hartford as a challenge; a challenge to learn from their mistakes and improve.
A quick turnaround was necessary for BC to get back on the winning track. Just two days after their demoralizing loss to Hartford, Boston College was set to face the Auburn Tigers in the 2016 Under Armour Reunion at the impressive Madison Square Garden. Auburn has certainly been one of the Eagles’ best opponents in their young season. The Tigers were 6-1 going into this matchup and representing the competitive SEC. As the Eagles sat 4-5 going into this one against a legitimate competitor like Auburn, they were forced to put the previous embarrassing home losses behind them and focus on the bright lights of Madison Square.
Along with recovering from the wounds Harvard and Hartford delivered, there were other areas of focus for the Eagles and their fans to keep an eye on. The first and arguably most vital was the recovery of Jerome Robinson. Robinson had a horrific night to his standards against Hartford as he accumulated just 4 points on 2-13 shooting. Robinson has been the primary source of BC’s points for the entire season as, despite his off night versus the Hawks, he still is averaging 20.5 points per game on the season (40th in the nation, 2nd in the ACC behind Michael Young of Pittsburgh). Although Robinson’s scoring was not a factor against Hartford, the team was still nearly able to salvage a win. Yet, against a major conference team like Auburn, there would be no chance of victory if Robinson had a similar performance.
Another thing coaches and fans had to keep an eye on is the growing pains associated with the point guard position. Boston College has two raw freshmen prospects sharing time as the starting point guard in Ky Bowman and Ty Graves. In areas where one struggles, the other thrives. Bowman is the freakishly strong and athletic pass-first point guard who emphasizes penetration and defense, while Graves is the streaky shooter and supplies a more versatile offensive threat. Now the question becomes whether this a strength or weakness going forward? It’s encouraging to know that Jim Christian is able to play matchups with his point guard, as Graves proves more effective against a zone defense where he can shoot while Bowman benefits in a fast-paced game. However, Graves has struggled with his shot lately and Bowman has been a turnover machine. With their differences, they certainly resemble a Yin-and-Yang relationship, or more appropriately Ky-and-Ty. With both of these promising guards struggling as the point guard that is crucial to initiate set offenses, it has been difficult for Christian to identify one as the more reliable than the other. So, until Bowman or Graves proves more consistent than the other, Christian is forced to play them according to their opposing defense, type of offensive scheme, and who is having a more effective outing that day. Jim Christian hoped to have one guard step up as one the offense can truly confide in before conference play got underway.
The Under Armour Reunion quickly became the Turnover Reunion as it seemed the focus of each team wasn’t scoring points but rather getting more turnovers than the other team. Both teams showed strong defensive performances; Auburn through a dual-guard pressure that contributed to BC’s grand total of 22 turnovers (8 by Robinson alone) and the Eagles by strong on-ball pressure enforced by Ky Bowman.
To date, it was Bowman’s strongest performance as he tallied 15 points on an efficient 5-10 shooting and filled the stat sheet with a pair of rebounds, assists, and steals. Most importantly, in a fast-paced game filled with turnovers, Bowman found himself intimating the offense and had just two turnovers which is a tremendous improvement. Bowman has struggled with turnovers due to pushing the ball in games like Harvard, Towson, and Kansas State in which he had 4 turnovers each. Bowman’s rapid improvement became a recurring theme over the last few weeks, but more on that later.
Another component to the Eagles success against Auburn was the resurgence of freshman center Nik Popovic. Popovic had missed multiple games due to injury and was eased back into game action. Popovic adds a unique element to the Eagles’ offense as he is significantly the most polished post offensive player BC has. As graduate-senior Mo Jeffers contributes his blend of experience, defense, and fundamental post offense with flaws and redshirt freshman JC Reyes contributes a lengthy rim-protecting presence with raw offensive ability, Popovic is a perfect complement to his position-mates.
In a back-and-forth battle, BC was able to pull out the impressive victory in MSG 72-71 on a Nik Popovic tip-in with less than a second to spare. Robinson bounced back with 23 points, a game-high 11 rebounds, and 3 steals. AJ Turner maintained his reliable consistency with exactly 13 points for the third straight game with 4 boards and 4 assists. Again, Bowman opened his coach and his teammates’ eyes with his most impressive performance so far.
However, Sir Isaac Newton perfectly captured BC’s frustrating inconsistency with “what goes up must come down”. Following their inspiring victory over a strong Auburn team, the Eagles dropped yet another frustrating loss to an inferior opponent in Fairfield 89-83.
Jerome Robinson continued to get his mojo back with 21 points on 9-16 shooting, but had an unsuspecting teammate take control of the offensive output. Ky Bowman, the man with the most to prove to his coach and teammates, hit the triple crown and led his team in points, rebounds, and assits (33, 8, and 5 respectively; all career highs).
BC’s downfall was their continued malfunction on defensive regarding their ability to rotate and ultimately close out on shooters. Similar to their defeat against Hartford, the Eagles were beat by rapid ball-movement around the perimeter which led to uncontested threes. Only three different Fairfield players even attempted a three point field goal including Tyler Nelson (2-9), Curtis Cobb (4-7), and Jerry Johnson (5-11) off the bench. Because of the lack of distribution among three point field goals, the Eagles also displayed the inability to identify the deep threats to close out on.
The lackadaisical defensive rotation and close-outs on identified shooting threats continue to be areas of necessary improvement going forward. These problems attributed to losses to Hartford and Fairfield; two teams that could have easily been beaten with effective defensive tendencies.
The Eagles had no time to dwell on another disappointing defeat because they had their best opponent yet coming to town in Providence. The Friars were 10-2 going in with their only losses coming from an Ohio State team that is sniffing the AP Top 25 and the 7th ranked team in the country in Virginia. They also boasted impressive wins against teams including Memphis, UMass, and #21 Rhode Island.
It was evident the Eagles addressed their defensive deficiencies as their rotation and close-outs were the strongest they had been all year. Their newfound defensive effort proved to be efficient as it limited Providence to just 40.6% from the field and just 5 of 24 from downtown.
Best part of their performance was the imporvements for Christian’s young squad were not solely specific to just defense. The Eagles offense took flight and shot 52.6% from the field including 11/21 from deep. The scoring was pleasantly distributed as Robinson led the way with 21, Jeffers put up a season-high 13, as Turner and Jordan Chatman tallied 12 and 11 respectively. Ky Bowman continued his hot streak and put up double digit points for the fourth straight game (16 on 7-8 shooting), 8 rebounds, and a pair of steals. Efficiency on both sides of the ball led to BC’s most significant win so far with a 79-67 victory over an elite Providence team.
And with that, the Eagles wrap up their nonconference play. They finish 7-6 with notable wins over Stony Brook, Auburn, and Providence. Their game-to-game inconsistency resembles the beat of a heart palpation as it can contract with great gritty wins over Auburn and turn around with a relaxation with a loss to that of Hartford or Fairfield. On a lighter note, the Eagles have already matched their win total from last year’s historically poor team. Since it was apparent there would be growing pains with a young team, a 7-6 record can be considered mildly successful for this raw team.
It has also been a successful beginning of the season in the sense that roles have been formed and nearly solidified.
Jerome Robinson has certainly resented himself as one of the most prolific and versatile scorers in all of college basketball as he averages 20.5 points on 45.1% shooting. Not only has he taken over the scoring responsibility of Eli Carter from last yer but has done so in a much more efficient manner. He is averaging over 4 points more per game, shooting more than 7% better from the field, and 10% better from three point range while averaging the same amount of field goal attempts per game as Carter. This efficiency has shown to be the foundation of the Eagles’ attack and Robinson is proving to be a candidate for an All-ACC team.
As aforementioned in this article, no point guard had really claimed the starting job a couple weeks ago. However, Ky Bowman has finally proved himself worthy of being the quarterback of this offense. The most encouraging part of Bowman’s resurgence is how he has responded to adversity. He had lost the privilege of being the starting point guard three separate times already this season, but since Ty Graves hadn’t necessarily earned the title either, Bowman was able to reclaim it with his dominance over the last two weeks. Since coming off the bench against Hartford, he has averaged 19 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals in the last four games. Bowman has developed the ability to effectively push the pace of the offense without losing control of himself to lead to turnovers. His offense has evolved from merely a penetrator and distributor to a legitimate scoring threat from anywhere on the court. Ky has earned his job back, and don’t expect him to cough it up again any time soon.
The forwards on this team have molded themselves nicely into complementary players that do the dirty work of rebounding, defending, finding cutters from their position at the hight post, and chipping in necessary buckets as well. AJ Turner has been the prime example as he has been BC’s most consistent source of just about 10 points a night and expanded his range to bring him to a team-best 44.7% from 3. Connar Tava and Garland Owens contribute nicely on the boards as well. However, the most eye-opening part of the forwards’ collective performance is their ability to share the ball. Turner quietly leads the team with 4.1 assists and Tava is third with 2.2 assists per contest. As the Eagles struggled to find their point guard, these forwards stepped up in the duty of distributing the ball efficiently. Turner leads the ACC in assist to turnover ratio at 4.1:1.4; a stat that could not be undervalued when the offense is ranked 331st nationally in turnovers per game.
Some things the Eagles need to continue developing as the season progresses is defensive efficiency and controlling turnovers. Their success when they properly rotate was personified in their dominant win over Providence. With sharpshooting teams awaiting in the near future like Notre Dame, North Carolina, and Virginia Tech, rotation and closing out on shooters will become imperative in their pursuit to compete. Turnovers must be maintained as they simply reduce the amount of possessions BC is able to execute on. As the opponents get stronger, each possession becomes more valuable, especially since elite defensive units like Duke, Louisville, and Virginia will thrive on turnovers leading to transition offense.
The ACC is nothing to sneeze at, and BC takes no time easing into conference play as they open up against Syracuse on January 1st at home. Syracuse has suffered a disappointing season so far as they have surrendered a #23 ranking at one point following their appearance in the Final Four a season ago. The Orange are notorious for their stingy 2-3 zone defense and the Eagles must find where the zone is vulnerable to contend in this matchup. Expect BC to look to take more 3’s as the zone dares them to shoot. If Robinson can maintain his efficiency, role players like Turner and Chatman can knock down open threes, and sparks from the bench from Graves and Owens are on display, the Eagles will be in good shape against Boeheim’s boys.
Syracuse, you’ve officially been put on upset alert.