Sunday, February 15, 2009

Meet the Eagles

Boston College comes in as probably the most mercurial team in the ACC so far (or, at the very least, the simultaneous owner of the conference's best win - @UNC - and the conference's worst loss - at home against Harvard). Aside from the UNC game, though, they've struggled against the conference's better teams - two losses to Wake by a combined 37 points, a loss to Clemson at home by 10, etc.

BC's struggles, as is typical with an Al Skinner team, have come on the defensive side of the ball. BC's defensive rating in ACC play is 111.19 (last, after the NCSU-GT game yesterday). They're last in defensive rebounding, last in forcing turnovers, and 7th in opponent field goal percentage. Opponents have collectively taken about 40 more field goals and 40 more free throws, meaning that they've had roughly 6 more chances to score than the Eagles have. For a team that's been outscored by just 19 on the ACC season, it's clear that those 6 extra chances have really cost them.

Also typical for Al Skinner's teams, BC's offense is strong. They've been the second most efficient team in conference play, trailing only the Heels, and have posted offensive ratings over 100 in 8 of 10 ACC games, including over 110 in each of the last 6. They're not standouts in any particular category, but solid across the board - 6th in shooting, 3rd in offensive rebounding, 6th in avoiding turnovers, and fourth in getting to the line. Over the last 6 games, the shooting has picked up, particularly inside - 52% from 2.

BC's led on offense by senior point guard Tyrese Rice. He uses over 30% of the Eagles possessions, plays 36 minutes a game, and is pretty high efficiency for such a high use player, posting a 109 offensive rating. His three point shooting is somewhat improved, but his inside scoring is a little down this year, and he's been more turnover prone than usual. Rice is most successful off the dribble, where he can create both for himself and his teammates (he assists on about 30% of his teammates' scores). Joining Rice in the starting backcourt is sophomore Rakim Sanders. Sanders was high usage last year as a freshman, and has continued to be so this year, using 23% of the possessions and taking 26% of the shots. However, he's improved his efficiency greatly; last year he was a black hole who couldn't shoot well and turned it over a ton, while this season he has a 117 offensive rating, doesn't turn it over (just 15.7% of his possessions) and makes over 50% of his 2s and over 40% of his 3s. He's also big for a 2 guard, at about 6'5", 225, and rebounds well out of the backcourt, getting about 8% of available offensive rebounds.

On the front line are Corey Raji, Joe Trapani, and Josh Southern. Raji has done nothing since arriving on campus last year but be extremely efficient. He's not a focal point of the offense, using only 16.5% of possessions, but he leads the team in offensive rating (120.25) on the back of never turning the ball over and pounding the offensive glass. Raji is just about 6'6", and he's in the top 6 in the conference in offensive rebounding. Someone needs to focus all day long on putting a body on him once the shot goes up. Trapani, a transfer from Vermont, has a nice inside outside game that has taken scoring pressure off of Rice and Sanders. He takes almost half his shots from 3, hitting 36% on the season. He's also the Eagles' best defensive rebounder, collecting nearly 20% of opponent misses. On the inside, Josh Southern has struggled somewhat. He's athletic, but a little undersized, and hasn't been able to score or rebound with a lot of success. He's also the most turnover prone Eagle besides Rice.

Skinner goes 4 deep off the bench, with the most effective contributor being Reggie Jackson. He's actually the team's 4th-leading scorer in ACC play, and gets over 20 minutes a game. He's been a much better shooter inside (27-46, 58.7%) than outside (3-22, 13.6%). Biko Paris is the backup point guard, and has on several occasions only gotten minutes when Rice sits. He's been more highly used recently, to good effect. He is mostly an assist man - 22 assists and just 26 field goal attempts - but he's shown a surprising propensity to get to the line, with a free throw rate of 88.5. Tyler Roche, a wing, plays about 10 minutes a game and does little more than shoot threes. He's been mostly ineffective on the season thus far. My personal bench player for the Eagles, though, is Cortney Dunn, who makes Dave McClure look like a high use player. Dunn has averaged 16 minutes a game in ACC play, and scored just 16 points. Total. And a full 8 of those came this week against Clemson. He uses a miniscule 5.15% of possessions, which is last in the conference by a healthy margin. The sum total of his offensive contribution is 11 field goal attempts, 9 free throw attempts, 9 offensive rebounds, and 2 turnovers. Put another way, I don't think we need to pay too much attention to him when he's in the game.

Duke matches up very well with BC, with the exception of Paulus on Rice. But that's been a matchup problem for three years now, and has yet to hurt the Devils. This is a game that I think Brian Zoubek can have a positive impact on - neither Southern nor Dunn are used much on offense, and both are significantly smaller than he is. Having the big guy patrolling the lane may frustrate some of Rice's drives. On the rest of the perimeter, Scheyer and Henderson match up very well with Sanders and Raji, and Singler and McClure can easily chase Trapani around the perimeter. When it comes down to it, I don't think this BC team can play defense well enough to beat Duke (particularly if the Devils carry over some of the downhill offense that worked so well against UNC).

1 comment:

Douglas said...

i make a conscious effort to stay away from most sports-related so i don't know what folks are saying. but i can't be the only duke fan out there getting the very sinking feeling that we've seen this story before, several times, in recent years...

duke gets out to a rip-roaring start on the season, riding a couple of huge wins over highly touted non-conference opponents to an outstanding record through mid-january, ascending to the top or near-top of the national polls. the calendar turns to mid-january and a couple of heart-breaking conference losses ensue, followed by a couple of inexplicably poor performances against teams duke should be handling with relative ease. the team limps into the post-season with a 7 or 8 man rotation that lacks swagger and simply looks worn down, only to bow out prematurely leaving a whole lot of us wondering what went wrong...

has this not been the script at least every year since the year JJ/Shelden were seniors? and if so, what is the problem? the season too long? coach K lost his touch? this group of players (the recruiting class of greg paulus et al.)? karma?

i've kept the faith at this point each of the last 4-5 seasons, but find myself having a hard time justifying that now. a hallmark of duke in the 90's and early 00's was that it was almost always at its best in march, when the games mattered most. seeing the reverse happen before our eyes so consistently and so dramatically over the last few seasons has gotten very difficult to watch...