February 6, 2007
CHESTNUT HILL This Boston College basketball team may have a whole lot in common with Mark Twain. Reports of the Eagles' death may have been greatly exaggerated, too.
All but given up for dead by many after Sean Williams and Akida McLain were kicked off the team in January, BC managed to keep itself in strong NCAA Tournament position with three wins in four games after getting blown out at Clemson in its first game without the two booted players.
The Eagles won at Florida State, beat Virginia at home, lost at Duke but then hammered Hartford (setting a program record with 14 three-pointers) and No. 23 Virginia Tech to reach 16 wins.
After the rout of Hartford, ACC player of the year candidate Jared Dudley said he thought the Eagles needed four more wins to make the tournament. His math made sense. A 4-4 finish would see the Eagles end the regular season with 19 wins and a 10-6 ACC record, before any possible wins in the ACC Tournament. It certainly seems unlikely that a 10-6 ACC team with several good victories would be left out of the tournament.
Just remember that there will be two things working against BC if it comes down to a bubble situation. One is that the Eagles lost at home to both Vermont and Duquesne. The other is that the committee could look at the resume and believe that BC is less worthy with Williams gone, that the Eagles aren't the same team they were before the blossoming big man was dumped.
But if this team was going to disappear from the NCAA radar screen, it wasn't going to do it easily. Dudley, the heart and soul of this group, wasn't going to let it happen without a fight.
Days after being called the most versatile player in the country by Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, Dudley went out and went 8-for-8 from the field, 3-for-3 from three-point range, and had 21 points, eight rebounds and six assists in the win over Hartford. Then, despite first-half foul trouble against Virginia Tech, Dudley had 30 points, 13 rebounds and four assists. He was 11-for-15 from the floor, 4-for-5 from three-point range and had his eighth double-double of the year, the 22nd of his career.
The two-game shooting totals? How about 19-for-23, 7-for-8 from three-point land. He also had 21 rebounds, 10 assists and only four turnovers. That's nothing unusual for one of the best players in BC history, a guy who continues to raise his national stock on an almost-nightly basis.
When Tech left town, the Eagles were 7-2 in the conference, with winnable road games coming against Miami and Florida State, two teams BC already has beaten this season.
BC fans were chanting "We Want Duke" in the latter stages of the Virginia Tech win, and they'll get Duke on Feb. 14. Suddenly, that didn't seem so bad, as the Eagles hoped to avenge the 14-point loss suffered in Durham on Jan. 28. Williams and McLain were gone, but the gloom and doom that followed their departures also seemed to be gone.
In short, if BC coach Al Skinner can pull this off, you'd have to say it would be one of his greatest accomplishments with the Eagles.
Think about it. He loses Craig Smith to the NBA and veteran point guard Louis Hinnant to graduation (and pro ball in Europe). He loses two top assistants No. 1 man Bill Coen and Ed Cooley to head coaching jobs. Then Skinner opens the season with Williams and McLain suspended, gets a total of six minutes from McLain and some quality play from Williams, and then both are gone. The loss of Williams left a huge hole in the middle.
The losses to Vermont (without Williams and McLain) and Duquesne (without Dudley and McLain) were dreadful, and they appeared to be the thing that eventually could produce an NIT bid. The last time the Eagles made the NIT, in Troy Bell's senior year (2002-03), a loss to Northeastern was seen as the main reason for their NCAA exclusion.
There's a funny thing about Skinner, though. When the players were dismissed, he talked about coaching those he had remaining, and not wondering what could have been. Then, when his team kept winning, he acted as if it was supposed to happen.
When the Eagles beat Virginia Tech, the veteran coach said, "All we did was hold court. It hasn't separated us from anybody. We haven't done anything except we're trying to remain at the top of this league. It's going to be tough, and it's going to be competitive."
BENCH SUPPORT WORTH WATCHING
Before the exits of Williams and McLain, Skinner who usually doesn't play more than eight men had brought junior center Tyrelle Blair into the mix as a potential ninth when all hands were on deck.
Blair, a transfer from Loyola-Chicago who sat out last season, had earned some playing time via his work in practice. Then, just like that, the Eagles were down to seven, with Blair one of the seven, and Skinner even said he expected to go the rest of the way this season without help from anyone else.
But in the games against Hartford and Virginia Tech, freshman Tyler Roche joined the fun, actually contributing. Blair made more marks, too.
Blair had nine points, six rebounds and four blocks at Duke, then six points, seven rebounds and six blocks against Hartford, then four points, six rebounds and three blocks against Tech. Roche, a 6-7 rookie from Hooksett, N.H., scored 12 points and had five rebounds and two assists in 19 minutes against Hartford. He posted five points, five rebounds and a steal in 17 minutes against Tech.
Any added depth certainly would help a roster that was trying to survive. Dudley and sophomore point guard Tyrese Rice are basically 40-minute guys this year, so Skinner would love more options, especially if there is an injury.
FOOTBALL SCHEDULE FUN, DIFFICULT
The BC football team will open its 2007 season, its first under new coach Jeff Jagodzinski, in style, with three straight ACC games.
Wake Forest will come in for the Sept. 1 opener, followed by Tom O'Brien and N.C. State. The Eagles then will go to Georgia Tech, before playing Army in the first non-league game of a very strange schedule.
The series with Notre Dame, coming off a two-year break, will resume in South Bend on Oct. 13. (The schools will alternate for four seasons before the series shuts down again.) Florida State will come calling on Nov. 3 and Miami on Nov. 24.
The attractive seven-game home schedule makes up for the dreary 2006 home slate, which included Maine, Buffalo and Duke among the seven games.
BC also will meet Division I-AA national runner-up Massachusetts as it continues its run of one game per year through the I-AA teams in New England.