January 9, 2007
CHESTNUT HILL Even though it was still very early in the conference schedule, one thing was clear for Boston College as it ventured into mid-January. The Eagles' early troubles made their NCAA picture a bit cloudy.
Hit by injuries and suspensions, BC lost four non-league games, three that had to be considered wins going in. Well, at least two. There's no way any BC fan could have envisioned this team losing to Vermont or Duquesne, both at home. Even the loss at Providence had to come as a bit of a surprise, although the Friars played well into the new year.
You never expect a win at Kansas, but the undermanned BC performance that day hardly made the Eagles look like an NCAA team.
They headed for Raleigh during the first week of January with a 9-4 record, 1-0 in the ACC. There were 16 games remaining, and quick math said they had put themselves in the position of having to win at least nine games in the conference to really have a chance of making the NCAA Tournament. That's barring, of course, a significant run in the league tournament, something BC was able to pull off last year, its first in the ACC.
Then, Jan. 6, playing against a young and shorthanded N.C. State team, and playing with the school's recently departed football coach watching at his new place of employment, the Eagles, getting forward Jared Dudley back from the first absence (three games) of his BC career, manhandled the Wolfpack.
"This was a very important game for us, for a number of different reasons," BC coach Al Skinner said, after seniors Dudley and Sean Marshall and sophomore Tyrese Rice had huge games for the win. "We hadn't played very well on the road, and I think that we were really mentally focused on what we needed to do."
That's something that had been missing in the earlier games. Even in victory, there were times when the kids seemed aloof, didn't play with any sense of urgency. In the 98-93 overtime loss to Duquesne, hardly a national power, the defense was non-existent. Sure, there was no Dudley, and two other players were missing, but there's no way that loss ever should have happened.
But the win at State, in the first of a two-game North Carolina swing (Wake Forest was next), made the record 10-4, upped the ACC mark to 2-0 (the Eagles beat No. 23 Maryland at home in December), and things were looking better.
This was a puzzling team to try to figure out entering the season. The Eagles, picked third in the ACC in the preseason poll, were tabbed No. 15 in the opening AP poll. Both projections probably were a bit high for a team that had lost All-American forward Craig Smith to the NBA and senior point guard Louis Hinnant to graduation. BC beat New Hampshire the opening week and moved to No. 14 but has disappeared from the AP radar since.
But Skinner knows how to make his teams win. He also knew or at least hoped that his bunch was about to get healthier and really be a full group for the first time this season, barring, of course, further injury or suspensions.
The Eagles showed last year that the road rigors of the ACC don't really scare them. They reflect the demeanor of their coach on the floor, which allows them to come through in tight spots. That's why they had 114 wins in the last five years entering this season.
Looking down the road, the Eagles have to play at Duke (Jan. 28), and they have Duke and UNC at home back-to-back. They also have two games against Clemson, still undefeated in mid-January. It's not going to be easy, but the Eagles are about to get healthy, so they shouldn't be counted out of anything.
By the way, the win at N.C. State was so convincing that the locals had little to cheer about at the RBC Center. They finally resorted to chants of "Tom O'Brien" to salvage something from the afternoon.
Also: It flew under the radar, perhaps because it didn't take very long, but junior center Sean Williams took just 11 games to tie his own school record for blocked shots in a season. He then added three blocks at State to break the mark in just 12 games.
Williams, suspended for the first two games of the season for his latest violation of team rules (this one believed to be academic), had 66 blocks in his first 12 games of the season. That was amid real signs that this could be his last year of college basketball.
The pace he's on 5.5 blocks per game left him on track to finish the regular season with 149 blocks. That pace, of course, figured to be a bit more difficult in ACC play, but Williams was right there with 10 blocks in the first two league games, just under his season average.
Williams even had a triple-double 19 points, 13 blocks and 10 rebounds against Duquesne, the first BC triple-double since Duane Woodward had 16 points, 12 assists and 10 boards at Rutgers in 1998.
JAGODZINSKI IS WELL-COORDINATED
New BC football coach Jeff Jagodzinski announced the hiring of six members of his new staff, a group that includes holdovers Frank Spaziani (defensive coordinator and interim head coach for the bowl win over Navy) and Bill McGovern (linebackers and a key recruiter). They were considered two of the top aides from Tom O'Brien's well-respected lineup.
Former East Carolina coach Steve Logan, a candidate for the head job at BC when O'Brien was hired, was brought in as the offensive coordinator. Jagodzinski and Logan worked together at ECU for eight years, four with Bill Lewis as the head coach and four more after Logan took over.
"Steve is the best teacher of quarterback play I have been around," Jagodzinski said of Logan, who worked in NFL Europe for the past three years. "His offenses will be both dynamic and exciting to watch. Get ready."
One of the few legitimate knocks on the O'Brien era, which had been led through the glory bowl years by Dana Bible (now at N.C. State with O'Brien), was its predictability, its lack of spark and ingenuity, even though Bible's play-calling was respected in the coaching community. Still, it often lacked excitement, and now the BC offense will have a brand-new look.
Logan's proven ability to work with QBs he tutored future NFL starters Jeff Blake and David Garrard while at ECU has to be great news for BC senior-to-be Matt Ryan. O'Brien saw Ryan as a first-round draft pick, and having Logan around can't hurt.
It won't hurt backup Chris Crane (two years left), either. And, remember, there's another Flutie Doug's nephew Bill with four years of eligibility ahead in Chestnut Hill. The kid does a lot of things, including kick and punt, but he considers himself a quarterback first.
Jagodzinski also brought in a pair of ex-BC players Jim Turner (Delaware) as offensive line coach and Mike Siravo (Temple) as recruiting coordinator and running backs coach and named Don Yanowsky (ECU) to work with tight ends and special teams.