It’s undeniable that playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference is difficult. However, it’s also true that the ACC is not as strong this season as it has been in the past. The leading examples are Virginia and North Carolina, both on losing streaks and in jeopardy of not making the NCAA Tournament. Who could have predicted that?
This is a time when a team such as Boston College could move up.
But it’s still difficult, and, the truth is, BC isn’t equipped to do it.
With home games against Virginia and Georgia Tech last week, the natural projection would have been for BC to be happy with a split, most likely losing to defending national champs and beating Tech.
Surprisingly, the opposite happened, and no doubt most fans were thinking the Eagles would beat Georgia Tech coming off the Virginia victory.
It can be frustrating for BC fans, but there are two reasons for the type of week and season the Eagles have had: injuries and the reliance on freshmen.
Injuries loom over the Eagles’ season like a dark cloud. There’s no escaping it. It’s difficult not to try to envision what it would have been like if big man Nik Popovic (back injury) and point guard Derryck Thornton (sprained ankle) had been available against Georgia Tech. I’m sure there are fans who even wonder what it would have been like had Wynston Tabbs (out for the season with a knee injury) been there, too.
Even coach Jim Christian is hurting after having microfracture surgery on his left ankle. He wears a walking boot, limps on the sideline, and admits he’s in pain. But he refused to make any excuses for the 71-52 loss to Georgia Tech.
“We had five guys,’’ he said. “If you’ve got five guys, you can play. I don’t use it as an excuse or anything else. We’ve got to execute better, regardless of who is on the court. I’ll say that every night.’’
Led by a talented freshman group, the Eagles somehow had enough to beat Virginia, 60-53.
The same group turned offense into an adventure against Georgia Tech and eventually wilted in the second half. It’s what freshmen do sometimes (even the one-and-dones at Duke and Kentucky).
“The freshmen are learning,’’ said Christian. “I was a little disappointed because I don’t think some of our guys played with the same confidence that they did [against Virginia].
“The hardest thing to do in basketball is to be consistent. The mind-set to be consistent every day, work ethic to be consistent every day. The mentality just to do what you do well every single day and night is the hardest thing for a player to figure out, and we’ve got some guys who are still trying to figure that out.’’
The Eagles are 9-7 overall and 3-2 in the ACC heading into Wednesday’s game at Syracuse. There is still time to accomplish something. The next three games are on the road: Syracuse, Wake Forest (Sunday), and Pitt (Jan. 22). All three are beatable, but of course, the opposite is true, too, especially since Popovic and Thornton are not expected to play.
What BC fans should expect is what they’ve seen so far — some wins, some losses. It’s what happens to teams that are ravaged by injuries and have to rely too much on freshmen. It also means there won’t be any postseason basketball.
Here are other observations:
■ Both Virginia’s Tony Bennett and Georgia Tech’s Josh Pastner, unprompted, raved about the job Christian is doing.
■ UMass also relies on first-year players, and theirs was a typical week. The Minutemen did an excellent job beating La Salle at home, but then couldn’t compete against No. 13 Dayton in a game that was over in the first half. Remember, that’s pretty good for this group.
■ Last week was horrible for Northeastern as the Huskies lost close games to William & Mary and Hofstra in the final minutes. It kept coach Bill Coen up to the wee hours of the morning studying video. As always, he remains positive while lamenting the difficult losses, and he scours the tape to see where his team can improve.
“When you know you’re not off by much, a half a click, the sense of urgency in the first half, one play, one rebound, one less foul, one better ball screen coverage,’’ he said. “Anything that can turn the tide. Then that whole momentum starts to grow.
“What I do like about both these losses is the character of this team. We got down in both games and came back and narrowly missed salvaging both games.’’
It doesn’t get any easier as the Huskies have to travel Thursday to play the College of Charleston.
■ As the Crimson wait for the Ivy League to get going, it’s worth noting what a great decade they have had under Tommy Amaker. Their 209 wins were the most in the Ivy League and the state, and resulted in a 76.4 winning percentage. Plus, there were four NCAA berths and seven first-place finishes in the league.
■ There might be an unexpected contender emerging. Princeton started 1-7 but just finished a two-game sweep of Penn, so the Tigers could be getting it together.
■ Ceding America East to Vermont might have been a mistake. The Catamounts lost at home to Stony Brook, 81-77, last Wednesday. Vermont had beaten the Brook seven straight times, but now it appears the Seawolves might contend in Am East.
■ Quinnipiac’s Kevin Marfo, at 6 feet 8 inches, 245 pounds, dwarfs the competition in the MAAC, and it shows. He went into the week tied with Notre Dame’s John Mooney for first in the nation in rebounds per game (13.9). Marfo is not skilled offensively but few can compete with him when there’s a rebound available. He makes a big difference, and the Q is 4-0 in the MAAC for the first time.
■ Clemson won for the first time at North Carolina after losing 59 straight there . . . Baylor won its first game at Kansas after losing 13 straight . . . It took 15 years, but Northern Colorado won its first game at Weber State. Northern Colorado, which beat Boston University this season, is 3-1 in the Big Sky . . . After Purdue beat Michigan State, 71-42, Spartans coach Tom Izzo said, “It was probably the worst beating I’ve taken as a coach.’’
■ The most important local game this week is BU at Colgate Saturday. Colgate is still the favorite to win the Patriot League . . . Merrimack has two key NEC games against Bryant and Robert Morris . . . Seton Hall and Butler meet Wednesday in a key Big East game . . . And the ACC still has good games, including Louisville-Duke Saturday.