UNION, N.J. — The ACC is on its way to becoming the best conference in college basketball.
Duke and North Carolina, pending the status of PJ Hairston, are perennial Final Four favorites, and that’s going to be no different this season. Bring Syracuse into the mix this season gives the league yet another annual title contender, and that’s before you factor in the likes of Virginia, Notre Dame, Pitt and even NC State and Florida State.
But if you’re looking for a sleeper in the league heading into the 2013-2014 season, look no further than Steve Donahue’s Boston College Eagles.
BC finished a paltry 7-11 in ACC play a year ago, going 16-17 on the season and missing out on the NIT. But the Eagles came together down the stretch, winning six of their last 11 regular season league games to say nothing of the one possession losses they took at home against the two best teams in the conference, Duke and Miami.
More importantly, the Eagles essentially bring back their entire roster from a season ago, headlined by three excellent underclassmen in rising junior Ryan Anderson and rising sophomores Olivier Hanlan and Joe Rahon, the team’s three leading scorers. Throw in Notre Dame transfer Alex Dragicevich, who has reportedly looked good in offseason workouts, and a decent recruiting class, and there’s reason to be bullish on the Eagles.
“I think we definitely see ourselves in the tournament,” Anderson told NBCSports.com at the Nike Skills Academy at Kean University last week. “We have a lot of new guys coming in, we have a transfer from Notre Dame that’s really going to help us out and we got a big guy from Sweden [Billy Magarity Jr.] that’s going to help us out in the post, too. I think if me and Olivier become more efficient with the basketball, and all the other guys play their role, I think we’re going to be a very good team.”
Anderson was one of the best young post players in the country a season ago, proving to be a versatile post scorer, and he used his time at the Skills Academy to work on fine-tuning some aspects of his post game.
“Where you catch the ball in the post, whether you want it higher or lower, just to help me get more efficient out there,” Anderson said. “As big guys, we’ve gotta be more efficient with our touches. The little things that I’ve learned at this camp will really help me with that.”
The Eagles can score, there’s no question about that. They were 43rd nationally in offensive efficiency last season, and that will likely improve as some of the team’s younger guys now have a year of experience under their belt. With Anderson in the post and a slew of shooters around the perimeter, it will behoove Donahue’s club for point guard Olivier Hanlan to develop into more than simply being a scorer. While Hanlan led the team in scoring a season ago, he averaged just 2.3 assists as the team’s primary ball-handler.
“I just want to keep on improving as a point guard,” Hanlan said. “Be more vocal, get my assists up a bit more this year. Being aggressive and competing.”
“I just feel like the thing that I’ve gotta work on the most is just ball-handling and, if you saw Kyrie out there, just really loose and all the guards are pretty good with that. I’ve gotta improve at that.”
Going from being a team that finished under .500 to making the NCAA tournament would be an impressive leap, but it’s one that the Eagles very much believe is a possibility.
“Everybody’s goal is to make the tournament and give yourselves a chance for March Madness,” Anderson said. “That’s what everyone’s goal going into the season, so it would be awesome to fill out the bracket and have your name on the list.”
“All the individual accolades come through the team being successful. If we’re efficient with the ball and we’re getting wins, at the end of the season, the individual stuff will take care of itself.”
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.