March 21, 2007
CHESTNUT HILL When it was over, Boston College coach Al Skinner looked at the positive. He saluted his two departing seniors, two kids from Southern California, unheralded and unwanted by the other masterminds of college basketball.
That was the positive. The negative was that the two seniors forward Jared Dudley and wing guard Sean Marshall were robbed of what could have been theirs, thanks to the stupid behavior of two young men who got themselves kicked off the BC basketball team.
Anyone who watched the Eagles' season end in Winston-Salem saw Georgetown (led by 7-2 Roy Hibbert) pound BC inside throughout a well-contested 62-55 game. News flash: Hibbert wouldn't have had his way with Sean Williams the way he did with those Skinner threw at him inside, and the Hoyas wouldn't have had a field day under the basket if Williams and athletic forward Akida McLain had been available.
First of all, BC wouldn't have been a No. 7 seed if the two knuckleheads hadn't gotten themselves kicked off the team in January. Perhaps the Eagles wouldn't have won the ACC, but they would have been right there, and they certainly wouldn't have been seeded seventh in the NCAA Tournament.
But that's where they wound up, after some people felt (post-dismissals) that they were headed to the NIT. They limped home at the end of the regular season, managed to beat a tired Miami team in the ACC Tournament, then got run out of the gym by North Carolina. They then beat a pretty good Texas Tech team for their 21st win before it all came to an end against Georgetown, the second straight Big East team to knock BC out of the Big Dance.
The Eagles lost (for the only time this season in the 16 games they led at halftime), in part, because Williams and McLain weren't there. They were 8-8 in the last 16 games, in part, because Williams and McLain weren't there.
Skinner kicked them off the team because he and the athletic department just couldn't take it anymore, and the coach is one who's always believed that you go on with what you have and don't ever feel sorry for yourself.
But this just wasn't the same team, and any coach with any inside presence on his roster knew it. John Thompson III of Georgetown was a coach in the womb. He knew what to do to beat BC, and it still almost didn't happen.
In the Texas Tech game, when the legendary Bob Knight was out-coached by Skinner, BC had all three guns going as Dudley, Marshall and point guard Tyrese Rice scored 67 points. But against Georgetown, Marshall, identified here as the "X Factor" all year long, had one of his off nights. Dudley and Rice played like crazy, but it wasn't enough.
"I could only do so much there," the 6-7 Dudley said of his battle with a tall and talented Georgetown frontcourt. "I'm too small, not tall enough and not athletic enough. But, man, you got to tip your hat to them."
And, if you're a BC fan, you've got to throw darts at Williams and McLain, two guys who could have made a real difference.
As it was, Skinner took his team from Florida knowing that Dudley and Marshall never had to settle for anything less than the NCAA Tournament. Marshall started all 133 of his games at The Heights. Dudley would have, too, had he not missed three with a foot injury this season. Dudley scored more NCAA Tournament points (150) than any player in BC history. Dudley played more minutes than any player ever at the school, Marshall more games.
"They've brought Boston College basketball to a new level," Skinner said. "They've raised the bar here. There's no question about it."
No senior class at BC won more games. (They won 98, compared to 35 losses.) No other senior class went to the NCAA Tournament four years in a row. The Eagles got as far as the Sweet 16 last year, before losing in overtime to Villanova. With a full roster, they might have gone further this time.
"The most important thing they're going to leave behind is how hard they work," Skinner said. "The torch has been passed. From Kenny Harley to Troy Bell to Craig Smith and now Jared Dudley and Sean Marshall to Tyrese Rice. The torch has been passed."
Amazingly, none of the players Skinner mentioned, with the exception of Rice, was wanted by anyone else at the highest level of college hoops. Dudley finished fifth all-time in scoring (2,071) and seventh in rebounding (936) at BC.
Skinner said the veterans taught the young guys "how hard you have to work in order to be successful at Boston College. It's a commitment you make on a daily basis. That's what it's going to take to excel here."
SKINNER PRAISED; TROUBLE AHEAD?
Athletic director Gene DeFilippo said after the season that Skinner's 2006-07 work was "maybe Al's best coaching job in the 10 years he's been here."
"Just look at the success (six NCAA Tournaments in the last seven years) we've had," DeFilippo said. "It just shows how great he is."
Next year doesn't figure to be as bright. Most very early projections for 2007-08 leave the Eagles in the bottom half of the conference.
The BC folks didn't think Williams would have been around anyway, thinking he would have left early for the draft. But McLain could have been a valuable part, and now the losses of Marshall and Dudley loom large.
Rice likely will take over as the main man he averaged 24 points in NCAA play but there's not much else on hand. The five-player incoming class holds some promise, but word keeps floating around that swingman Rakim Sanders, widely seen as the best candidate for an immediate impact, might not make it academically.
Of course, there's always the chance that Skinner will come up with something. BC has come to expect as much.</P