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Virginia vs. Boston College Basketball Preview

BC isn’t that good of a team, but they’ve gotten some ACC wins this year already.

NCAA Basketball: Providence at Boston College Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

A year after not winning a single ACC game in either basketball or football, the Boston College Eagles have improved dramatically. The football team won two ACC games and also beat Maryland in a bowl game, while the basketball team has already won two conference games — Syracuse and NC State. Boston college’s losses have been on the road to Wake Forest, Duke and Syracuse. (Yes, they’ve already played ‘Cuse twice among their first five conference games. ACC scheduling!) Outside the conference, BC has also lost to, among others, Nichols St (KenPom #295), Hartford (#322). Both of those were home games.

The last time the Hoos lost to BC was 2013, an infamous game where Jontel Evans dribbled out of bounds as the clock expired with the Hoos trailing by 1. Since then, the Hoos have won by double digits in all three matchups.

What makes this year’s matchup scary is the Eagles’ proclivity from behind the 3 point line. As we’ve seen this year, teams getting hot from outside can beat the Pack Line. (Although let’s be honest, a hot 3 point shooting team will win most games.) Boston College doesn’t do much well on offense. They are ranked 218th in offensive efficiency. They rank 322nd in turnover rate. They are 265th in FT shooting. But they rank 67th in 3 point shooting, and because of that, they rank 103rd in effective FG%.

They don’t really have any one guy who’s particularly deadly from outside, although 6’7” wing A.J. Turner is shooting almost 44% from outside. But they have four guys who shoot over 35% from 3. That starts with Jerome Robinson, who leads the team at just over 20 points per game. He rarely comes off the floor and he’s one of the most ball dominant players in the country, having taken almost twice as many shots as anybody else on the floor. At 6’5” 190, both Devon Hall and Marial Shayok seem to be capable of covering him. Robinson may be quicker than Hall or Shayok, but their length (Shayok) or strength (Hall) will bother him.

In the backcourt with Robinson is freshman Ky Bowman. You’ll recognize him as the guy with bright red hair. Both Bowman and Robinson are combo guards. Both are looking to score first, and pass second. They have similar assist rates, similar efficiencies and similar usage rates. In other words, they are similar players. But Bowman is only 6’1”, so he has more trouble getting his shot off against bigger defenders. Bowman shoots about 37% from 3, and is better at getting to the rack. Robinson has more of a midrange game and shoots almost 39% from 3. Both are also capable defenders, who use quick hands to generate a lot of steals.

Turner, as mentioned, is the sharpshooter. He’s taken more than half his shots from 3. He also leads the team in assists, despite not having the ball in his hands nearly as much as the Robinson/Bowman duo. Behind him is Jordan Chatman, another shooter. Chatman has taken two-thirds of his shots from behind the arc, and has made 38% of them. He’s a transfer from BYU.

The frontcourt is almost entirely made up of newcomers. The starters are Connar Tava and Mo Jeffers, transfers from Western Michigan and Delaware, respectively. Behind them is Nik Popovic, a freshman from Bosnia-Herzegovina (by way of Florida). Those are really the only rotation big men, though 6’10” redshirt freshman Johncarlos Reyes and senior Garland Owens get some minutes here and there.

Popovic is the only real threat offensively. He can score in the post, though he’s likely never faced a physical presence like Jack Salt. In the two matchups against Cuse, he averaged 12 points and 6.5 rebounds. Popovic is a very poor FT shooter, which again seems to point to him struggling against Salt. He’s been getting more and more minutes as the season goes on, but he’s not a very good defender and has had trouble will cheap fouls. Jeffers and Tava get most of their points either in transition or off the boards. Neither are really capable of creating their own shots. Jeffers is basically the only shot blocking presence on the team (Reyes is a good shot blocker, but most of his minutes recently have come in garbage time). Jeffers is also the best BC has on the boards, though Cava actually leads the team in rebounding due to a big advantage in playing time. Popovic is strong on the offensive glass.

BC plays at one of the faster tempos in the country (53rd) and generally has struggled in the slower games. They average about 72 possessions per game, and are 1-4 in games of 70 possessions or fewer. The one win was an 80-70 win over Towson. When they beat Syracuse, they played at 73 possessions and took 63 shots. When they lost to Cuse on Saturday, they played at 62 possessions and took 48 shots. The Hoos, of course, are the slowest team in the nation, at just under 60 possessions per game. The Hoos have not been over 70 possessions in a game this year, including the OT game against Pitt and including matchups against FSU and WVU, two of the faster (good) teams in the nation.

BC is better defensively than they are offensively, but they still aren’t a very good defensive team. They are strong on the defensive glass and they guard tightly on the perimeter. They rank 17th in the nation in 3 point defense, but 249th on 2 point defense. This could be a game where Marial Shayok has success. His ability to put the ball on the floor and create a shot for himself will be tough for BC to stop. He’ll likely have either Turner or Chatman on him, neither of whom are particularly strong defenders. The Hoos have been winning with 3 point shooting. They are currently 4th in the nation at 41% from downtown. Those shots may not be as open against BC as they were in the past couple of games against Clemson and Wake Forest.

In BC’s two good wins (Syracuse and Providence), they shot a combined 27-47 (57%) from downtown. That kind of shooting also opens up things inside, and BC shot 53% from inside the arc in those 2 games. The Pack Line doesn’t always prevent teams from lighting it up from outside, but it has proven very good at keeping teams from shooting well on the interior. For the season, the Hoos are 4th in the nation in 2 point defense (41%), but 97th in 3 point defense (32.9%).

Because BC has depth on the perimeter, and not a lot of inside scoring anyway, expect them the go small with Turner and Chatman both in the game along with the backcourt duo. They’ll try to spread the Hoos defense out, allowing Bowman and Robinson to get into the paint and generate open shots for the shooters. The Hoos, of course, will be ready for this with their own four-guard alignment.

One way that BC generates offense is off turnovers. This isn’t necessarily an element of their team defense, but both Robinson and Bowman are capable of forcing turnovers and turning them into points on the other end. They’ll both look to shoot passing lanes, especially on inbounds plays. The Hoos struggled with this against Clemson, but you’d think Tony Bennett and his staff have been working on this all week.

All in all, BC isn’t a team that typically gives Virginia fits. They don’t have much of an interior game, so their offense comes off of dribble drives. They’ll surround their guards with shooters and let Robinson/Bowman create off the bounce. The key for the Hoos will be making some shots. Because the Hoos also do not have much inside game, they have been relying on outside shooting. But that is the one thing BC’s defense is geared to prevent. Hopefully, this opens up some opportunities for dribble drives from Shayok, Guy and Perrantes. That could create some easy baskets for the Hoos big men and also help open up some open jump shots. Make those jump shots and this game shouldn’t be too much trouble for the Hoos.

Tipoff is Wednesday, January 18 at 8:00 p.m., televised on the ACC Network.