In 2016, the Boston College Eagles had zero ACC wins. Last season, they had seven. They went from ranked 225th on KenPom to ranked 77th last year. That’s quite the improvement for head coach Jim Christian. So far this year, though, they are ranked 104th (though a few weeks ago, they were up to 62nd).
They are 9-4 so far this year, including an 11-point loss to the Hokies on Saturday in their ACC opener. They’ve also lost, at home, to 189th ranked Hartford and 194th IUPUI. Their best win is over Minnesota in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Last year, they beat Duke at home and didn’t lose to anybody outside KenPom’s top 50.
The difference between last year and this year is the loss of Jerome Robinson (13th overall pick to the Clippers). Robinson was their leading scorer, and quite simply, their best player. Their best player this years is PG Ky Bowman. Bowman is 2nd in the ACC in scoring, 3rd in assists, and 9th in rebounds. He’s also tied for 13th in steals and 23rd in blocks. That’s pretty amazing, but even more so for a guy who’s listed at 6’1, 188. He almost never comes off the floor, and he’s dangerous both in the half court and in the open floor. Bowman is shooting just under 43% for the season, but part of that is a lot of contested threes he ends up with. He’s just a 33% shooter from deep this year, but he’s 38% for his career. When he’s open and his feet are set, he’s a very good shooter.
Bowman is kind of a poor-man’s Russell Westbrook. Here’s an example. Ky gets the rebound on the defensive end, and pushes up court with pace. He’s in the lane before the defense is set. He gets the bucket and a foul.
That simply isn’t going to happen against Virginia. This is a great opportunity for Kihei Clark. Clark has shut down the better PGs he’s faced, but Bowman could be the best of the bunch. If Clark and Co. can shut down Bowman, and Boston College doesn’t have a chance.
The Eagles play pretty quick pace, led by Bowman’s quickness. His main running mate is Jordan Chatman. The 6’5 senior missed three games with an ankle injury, but averages over 35 minutes per game. Chatman is a 38% career shooter from deep, but he’s made just 14-of-50 (28%) this year. Is that a fluke? Is it related to the ankle injury? Who knows.
The Virginia Cavaliers, of course, are 13-0 and coming of a dismantling of then No. 9 Florida State at JPJ. Virginia has won true road games at both Maryland and South Carolina, and also went 9-0 on the road in conference last year. So going on the road is nothing new. And they’ve also won two in a row at Boston College.
Bosnian big man Nik Popovic is the final upperclassman on the Eagles’ roster. At 6’11, 253, he’s a tough interior player who can rebound and score inside. He’s not really much of a defender, though he will block some shots. Popovic has trouble staying on the court because of foul trouble at times, having fouled out three times already this year. He averages 28 minutes per game, which is in part due to foul trouble and in part due to the style BC wants to play.
Pretty much the rest of the Eagles rotation is young. Starting up front next to Popovic is 6’8 sophomore Steffon Mitchell. Mitchell did not score in 38 minutes in last year’s matchup, though he did have eight rebounds. Mitchell isn’t going to get those kind of minutes this year, because freshman Jairus Hamilton has been playing well. The lefty had 13 points on 4-for-6 shooting from three against the Hokies. He’s not much of a defender, but he’s big and he can shoot it from outside. Mitchell is a much better defender and rebounder. Hamilton may get more run because he can help spread out of the Pack Line. He’s made just 31% of his attempts so far this year, but he isn’t afraid to hoist one up.
Fellow freshman Wynston Tabbs missed the VT game with a leg injury. His status for this game is unknown. He’s also a shooter, and is actually the second leading scorer on the team. He’s another guy who wants to run with Bowman. He’s athletic and can get up and down the floor, but isn’t a great on-ball defender.
Currently, the Eagles rank 293rd nationally in 3PT% (30.6%). That’s, um, not good. They still take over 38% of their shots come from behind the arc (for comparison, Virginia takes a slightly higher percentage of shots from outside, but ranks 16th nationally in 3PT% at 39.3%). Only one BC player is making over 35% from downtown, and that’s freshman Chris Herren. Herren’s minutes are trending up in a big way, presumably because Christian realized he needed somebody on the floor who could actually make a jump shot. He’s actually started the past five games, after averaging just nine minutes over the first eight games. Herren, despite his reputation as a shooter, has made just 7-of-15 (47%) from the FT line and is under 40% from the field. Tabbs is a 34% shooter,
In BC’s non-conference finale against Hartford, they started 6’1 Bowman, 6’2 Tabbs and 6’3 Herren. That’s an awfully small lineup. That would allow Tony to use his best lineup, with Clark, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy. Add in DeAndre Hunter and one of the big men and Virginia has advantages on both ends of the floor. To combat that, BC will play a lot of zone. They did last year and frustrated the Hoos, holding them to under 1 point per possession. That’s despite the Hoos making 9-for-23 (39%) from three. Virginia was able to beat the zone for some easy buckets, but overall struggled to get things going inside. They were 14-for-35 (40%) overall, but that included 7-of-9 from Salt and Isaiah Wilkins.
Here’s how Salt and Wilkins were able to hurt the zone.
The zone sometimes loses players in the paint when the players get too focused on the perimeter weapons. Zones also have sometimes struggle with offensive rebounders. That 9-for-23 from deep was largely Ty, shooting 6-for-9 including these two late daggers on back to back possessions.
But Virginia’s offensive struggles weren’t the reason BC nearly pulled off the upset. That was because Robinson and Chatman went off for 47 points on 17-for-29 shooting. With Robinson gone, that’s not likely to happen again. The reason they ultimately didn’t pull of the upset was Isaiah Wilkins.
With BC’s struggles from outside the arc, they won’t be able to extend the Pack Line enough, and because Virginia is so good at getting back on defense, Bowman’s one-man fast break opportunities aren’t going to be there. That’s going to make it tough for BC to score.
That game was also before De’Andre Hunter was a real part of the rotation. He did not score in six minutes of action. Hunter proved last year that he can be a huge weapon against the zone by setting up in the high post. Braxton Key would also be very good in that role. BC doesn’t really have the size to handle either of them around the foul line. If Popovic or Mitchell step up, Hunter and Key can go by them. If Bowman or Chatman drop down, Hunter and Key can shoot over them. It’d also leave Jerome and Guy open on the outside.
BC doesn’t match up particularly well with Virginia. FSU didn’t either, and we saw how that turned out. Of course, winning a conference game on the road is never easy. As previously mentioned, BC knocked off Duke last year in Chestnut Hill. But as also previously mentioned, this BC team isn’t as good as last year’s. And this Virginia team seems to be on a mission.