March 6, 2007
CHESTNUT HILL As hard as it might have been to believe, the way the team had been playing leading up the game, Boston College actually had a chance to share the ACC regular-season title when it took the floor at Georgia Tech on the final day leading into March Madness.
The Eagles would have needed some help, but the help had to start from themselves, and they didn't give themselves a chance. They were blown out by the sizzling Yellow Jackets and thus limped into the ACC Tournament as the No. 4 seed, hoping for a quick change in fortune.
There was actually a three-way tie for third in the final ACC standings, but Virginia Tech got the No. 3 seed, BC No. 4 and Maryland No. 5 via tie-breaking procedures. Thus, the Terps will have to play a first-round game against No. 12 Miami for the right to meet BC.
The Eagles dropped four of their last five entering the tournament, to fall to 19-10 on the season, 10-6 in the conference. All people who predict such things said that BC was a lock for its fourth straight trip to the NCAA Tournament, but there probably were some doubts floating through the minds of folks connected to the program, after the way the team finished the regular season.
Last year, Florida State was 9-7 in the ACC and didn't make it to the Big Dance. That's why it was thought that 10 was the magic number for any team trying to make it. It was seen as virtually impossible for a team with 10 wins in a conference such as this one to ever get left out. Indeed, it has never happened in the ACC, at least not in the modern era, with no limits on bids per conference.
But there were other factors, and Georgia Tech (seven wins in the last nine) and Maryland (seven straight) were two of them. Even Clemson, given up for dead, had a quick burst at the end. These late charges, along with the ability of an unheralded team to make a run and actually win the conference tournament, are things that have to make a limping team a little bit nervous.
"I'm not happy where we are right now," BC coach Al Skinner said, after a loss at Georgia Tech that featured only six shots from ACC player of the year candidate Jared Dudley, and a whopping 22 BC turnovers. "Of course, you like to be on the other side. But going into the ACC Tournament is a new season."
Skinner clearly wasn't happy with the way the old season ended. The Eagles were at 18 wins with five games to go, and while the schedule was a tough one, most people thought they would have played better than they did in those five games.
Was it bad enough to place them on the bubble? Probably not. A quarterfinal win over Maryland obviously would take care of all of that talk, but looking at the possibility of losing to Maryland, a team BC beat when the Terps were ranked No. 23 in the nation, also was looking at the possibility of falling to 19-11 and losing five of the last six games.
Would that be tournament-worthy? Would it be worthy when you think about the bad finish, something the committee considers? Would it be worthy when you factor in home losses to Vermont and Duquesne? Would it be worthy when you consider the fact that BC just isn't as good as it was supposed to be after center Sean Williams and forward Akida McLain were kicked off the team?
BC is hoping that none of those questions will have to be answered. But the Eagles appear to be a battered group, one that headed to the ACC Tournament searching for answers.
That brings us back to Williams and McLain. Neither played in the loss to Vermont. Both played in the Duquesne defeat, but Dudley didn't. When the pair was ousted, the Eagles looked very much like a team that had a very real chance of winning the ACC. In the first game without them, with talk centering on how many more games BC could win, the Eagles were hammered at Clemson.
Then came a rally, during which Skinner looked as if he was pulling a rabbit out of his hat. BC stayed at or near the top of the conference, beating Florida State, losing at Duke, then reeling off four straight victories. The Eagles were flying and facing the biggest home week in the history of the program.
Duke and North Carolina. Back to back. ESPN. The whole country watching. The place packed and rocking.
BC didn't show up until it was too late against Duke, then played well but lost to UNC. The Eagles then went on the road and got blasted at Virginia Tech, came home and won on Senior Day over Clemson, and was clubbed in Atlanta.
A trademark of Skinner teams has been to play well on the road. And this team, which had taken both ends of a pair of two-game trips within the conference during the season, lost its last two road games at Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech by a total of 31 points.
You just had the feeling that all of the fears that arose when Williams and McLain were kicked off the roster were being realized. Without them, the BC inside game struggled mightily. Good opponents scored too easily without Williams' outstanding shotblocking ability in the middle. The loss of McLain created a dearth of depth and athleticism.
Skinner never deals with what might have been. There was no woe-is-us attitude when the players left. But it doesn't take a basketball genius to realize that this BC team just isn't as good without Williams and McLain as it was and might have become with the two troubled players.
The biggest toll probably was taken on Dudley. The workhorse had to work too hard down the stretch, turning what once had looked like a slam dunk in the ACC player of the year competition into a complicated battle for the award, and perhaps out of it, depending on who was doing the talking.
Dudley did have the endorsement of, among others, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. But the Eagles' painful struggles down the stretch didn't help.
REBUILT FOOTBALL STAFF COMPLETE
New football coach Jeff Jagodzinski completed his coaching staff by hiring Ryan Day as his wide receivers coach.
Day had been at Temple, after working as a graduate assistant at BC. He has a claim to fame with the Eagles. It was Day who suggested to then-special teams coach Jerry Petercuskie that BC run a fake field goal late in the 2004 Continental Tire Bowl win over North Carolina. The play went for a touchdown when the ball was snapped directly to kicker Ryan Ohliger, who ran 21 yards for the clinching score.
In addition to Day, the rebuilt BC staff includes offensive coordinator Steve Logan, defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani, defensive line coach Jeff Comissiong, linebackers coach Bill McGovern, defensive backs coach (and recruiting coordinator) Mike Siravo, running backs coach Ben Sirmans, offensive line coach Jim Turner, and tight ends/special teams coach Don Yanowsky.
Spaziani and McGovern are holdovers from the staff of former BC coach Tom O'Brien, who left for N.C. State. Spaziani and Petercuskie (who followed O'Brien to the Wolfpack) were considered by many the best assistants from the 10-year O'Brien era. McGovern widely was regarded as the Eagles' top recruiter over the last several seasons.
Jagodzinski also announced Jason Loscalzo as the program's new strength and conditioning coach. He had been an assistant strength and conditioning coach at Auburn since 2003.