February 21, 2006
CHESTNUT HILL -- The record was strong. The conference standing was solid. But, with two weeks left in the regular season, people still were wondering what kind of long-term potential this Boston College team really has.
The Eagles, in their first year in the ACC, had rallied from an 0-3 start and were sitting in third place in the standings. Still, there were questions about the team's ability to beat a really good opponent.
For one thing, BC's strength of schedule for non-league play in the latest RPI was 279. That means there really wasn't a quality win in the lot. BC lost to Michigan State at Madison Square Garden in the top game on its slate, and this is a down year for Oklahoma State, if you hadn't noticed.
As far as the league is concerned, while BC remained in third place after its Feb. 16 win over Miami, the Eagles' record against the two teams above them -- Duke and N.C. State -- was 0-2. Both of those losses were at home, and the Wolfpack defeat was a blowout that had BC fans booing.
That's not to say that the 21-5 overall record and 8-4 league mark were worthless. After all, BC had won five in a row and 10 of its last 11. The Eagles twice had gone on two-game ACC road trips and swept -- the first at Miami and North Carolina, the second at Virginia Tech and Wake Forest. Eight wins in nine ACC games is impressive at any time, even in a year when the conference is a bit down.
But questions remained.
This BC team gets disinterested at times. That happened from start to finish in a 59-47 home win over America East cellar-dweller Stony Brook on Feb. 13. It happened again when the Eagles scored 22 points -- their low for a half this season -- in the first half against Miami, before a second-half explosion blew the Hurricanes out of Conte Forum. The better team woke up in time to get it done, after sleepwalking through the first 25 minutes.
"We competed, but Boston College is a better team," Miami coach Frank Haith said. "Their personnel is very good and it showed, especially there in the second half. I think they're better."
But better than Miami doesn't translate into a long run in either the ACC or NCAA tournament. BC never has advanced past the second round under coach Al Skinner in the latter event, and this team hopes it is building to something like a Sweet 16. Remember, this is the end of the line for forward Craig Smith, one of the great players in school history.
Asked if he thought BC could beat Duke, Haith, who was about to play the Blue Devils, was non-committal.
"You gotta toss it up," he said. "You gotta play."
PLAYERS KNOW ALL ABOUT BYES
After starting off 0-3 at its new address, it was hard to expect BC to be in solid position for a bye in the ACC Tournament with two weeks left in the regular season.
"We all know how important that bye is," Smith said, after the Feb. 16 victory over Miami moved the Eagles into sole possession of third place in the conference standings.
Third place. After an 0-3 start, the Eagles had ripped off eight wins in nine games in conference play, losing only to Duke and by only two points in that one.
A bye in any 12-team format is a major thing, because it means you have to win "only" three games in three days to win the championship, rather than four in four. In addition, by finishing second or third, BC would have the advantage of not having to face Duke until the final, if at all.
Obviously, all of that remains down the road a bit. The Eagles face a two-game trip to Virginia and N.C. State, plus home games against Wake Forest and Virginia Tech. Only then will they head to Greensboro, hoping to have that bye in tow.
WILLIAMS LEAVING BIG IMPRESSION
If you watched ESPN's highlights on the night of Feb. 16 and into the next day, you saw not one but two highlights of sophomore center Sean Williams.
In one, Williams, who set the school record for blocked shots last year as a freshman, flew through the air to not block, but catch, a shot. (That's at least the second time he's done that at BC.) In the other, the Eagles worked an out-of-bounds play where Williams circled into just past the foul line, and point guard Louis Hinnant lobbed one up. Williams seemed to jump to the ceiling in grabbing the ball with two hands and slamming it.
"I look at the sheet, and he had only two blocks," Haith said. "But he changed so many other shots."
While BC's sometimes-unused ability to hit the three-point shot can take the pressure off Smith and Jared Dudley, a contributing Williams can change things for them inside.
In short, when Williams is playing well, which he hadn't been with any consistency since coming back to school after his off-court trouble, it changes everything for BC on defense. All four other players on the court know they can take chances, because the swatter will be back there. Miami's players, for instance, were just throwing the ball toward the backboard in an attempt to avoid his long arms.
SKINNER RECORD MOST IMPRESSIVE
It didn't get a lot of fanfare, but Skinner recorded his 168th win as BC's coach with the victory over Miami. That tied him with Jim O'Brien in the top spot on the BC coaching wins list. In an odd coincidence, it came the day after O'Brien won his wrongful termination lawsuit against Ohio State.
But Skinner's wins came in a much shorter period of time. The Eagles are in their fifth 20-win season in the last six (the other one produced 19 victories), while O'Brien suffered a long early dry spell that had him on the brink of being fired before he turned things around. Skinner inherited the mess left when O'Brien went to war with the BC admissions director, and the new guy quickly got the program back on the right track.
O'Brien had five losing seasons in his 11 years at The Heights. Skinner was under .500 during his first three years, while rebuilding things, but after the Miami win he stood at 136-49 in the six seasons since.