February 12, 2008
CHESTNUT HILL The dates were Jan. 12 through Feb. 15, 2000. The Boston College basketball team dropped 12 games in a row, en route to finishing 11-19. It was Al Skinner's third year as the Eagles' coach, and it came on the heels of a 6-21 season.
BC was led that year by a smallish guard who didn't have a whole lot of help. Sound familiar?
Through a Feb. 9 loss at No. 2 Duke, this BC team had dropped six in a row, with a smallish guard as its only true threat.
It was Troy Bell back then, Tyrese Rice now.
Skinner's Eagles never lost more than two games in a row the year after that 12-gamer, or the year after that. They never lost more than four in a row in 2002-03, more than three in 2003-04, one in 2004-05, two in 2005-06, three in 2006-07.
BC was 164-64 since that 11-19 season. Skinner had taken six teams to the NCAA Tournament, five to the NIT. Barring a basketball miracle, this will not be an NCAA year. This is a rebuilding year.
This could have been Sean Williams' senior season at The Heights. It's not that the coaches expected Williams to be around, anyway. They always thought he'd be gone by now. But think about it: If Williams were a senior and playing with Rice, things would be a lot different.
But that isn't the case. So a tough bend in the schedule saw this young team go south, and we're not talking just about in geography.
Things should be better next year, when the freshmen are a year older, when transfer Joe Trapani becomes eligible, when the new class arrives. But for now, it's just about getting as good as this group can get, and hope to get enough wins to play in the NIT.
"We're getting close," Skinner said after his team led Duke by eight in the first half and played a decent game in Durham. "You've got to be able to compete in this environment if you are going to have any success. We're getting better."
The Eagles won a bunch of games against the weak part of their schedule. They won at Michigan. They won at Maryland when the Terps were struggling badly. They had an overtime game against Providence in their grasp after a great regulation comeback and let it slip away.
But the more they played, the more teams have seen that you really just have to put all the pressure in the world on Rice, and drive him as far from the basket as you can, because there just aren't a lot of options.
BC always has run the flex offense and run it well, but there was always a Craig Smith or a Jared Dudley there to score inside. This team doesn't have that.
The bad times started with a loss to mid-major Robert Morris that came on the heels of a home blowout loss to No. 3 Kansas. Then came two straight very good games, wins over Wake Forest the BC kids ran all over the gym after being stagnant against Robert Morris and an upset of No. 21 Miami. At that point, there was reason for optimism. Twelve wins were already in the bank.
Then came a pair of crossroads games at Virginia and home for Virginia Tech. The Eagles lost both, the latter in overtime. The schedule then became cruel at North Carolina and Clemson, home for a Maryland team that had grown up a lot, and at Duke.
The six straight losses were by an average of 14.1 points. They included back to back 22-pointers at UNC and Clemson, and an 18-pointer at Virginia.
Obviously, life on the road in the ACC can be very, very tough.
"We're a work in progress," Skinner said after the loss at Duke, a statement he had made at least a dozen times in the first 22 games. "We need to be tough enough. We have to be disciplined in order to be successful, and that is something this team is making an effort to do."
Said Rice: "We're coming together. Hopefully, we can get some wins."
The next two dates on the schedule called for home games against N.C. State and Virginia, two teams that were a combined 5-13 in ACC play. Heck, UVa's only win in nine games in the league was against BC.
To make things tougher, Rice, whose inconsistency was a clear result of just getting too much of the focus, sprained an ankle in the first minute of the second half at Duke, after scoring 18 points in the first half.
He wound up with 28 points in the game but again didn't get enough help, with freshman Biko Paris scoring 11 points and sophomore Shamari Spears 10.
There is so much youth on this team, and Skinner is getting freshman big man Josh Southern more involved as the coach looks to the future.
The two seniors on the team, both inside players, just can't provide enough help for Rice. Tyrelle Blair set the program record for blocked shots in a season but really doesn't provide much on the offensive end. John Oates was 5-for-5 from three-point range and scored a career-high 21 points in the home loss to Maryland, then had only nine at Duke.
When it comes right down to it, it is always up to Rice.
There was some talk earlier in the year that Rice might not be around to continue to grow with this team next year. But as the season has gone on, as he has struggled to be consistent, what was a small chance he'd be gone has become even smaller.
SCHEDULE SENDS BC TO NFL
While its senior quarterback has vaulted to the top of the NFL draft picture, the BC football team Matt Ryan is leaving behind also is headed to the NFL. The Eagles will open the 2008 season against Kent State at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Jeff Jagodzinski's second year as the BC head coach then will shift home for games against Georgia Tech, Central Florida and Division I-AA Rhode Island.
The Central Florida game is on the schedule replacing Army, which bought its way out of games with Georgia Tech and Tulsa and postponed its home game with BC as it seeks a way to win more games. Adding UCF gave BC a tougher opponent than Army, but it also gave the Eagles a seventh home game.
The road portion of the BC schedule would appear to be a friendly enough one for a team that will have a new quarterback and a rookie running back. The road games in the ACC are at N.C. State, North Carolina, Florida State and Wake Forest.