ACC Basketball Tournament: Boston College v Miami (FL)

Boston College could surprise some teams in the ACC next season

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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.

UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman out with a knee injury

UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. shoots against San Diego State during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
(L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
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The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.

The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.

They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.

That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.

So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.

Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me:

VIDEO: Buddy Hield is ‘all money’ on game-winning three vs. No. 24 Texas

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) takes a shot over Oklahoma State forward Chris Oliver during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
(AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
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With a little more than three minutes left on Monday night, No. 24 Texas held a 57-51 lead on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman as Jordan Woodard struggled again and Buddy Hield failed to find the rhythm that he had throughout the first three months of the season.

At that point in the game, Hield was 4-for-14 from the floor with 15 points and four turnovers. He had just missed a pair of wide-open threes

“I couldn’t make a shot,” Hield said after the game. But that changed down the stretch. First, Hield finally got a three to drop. On the next possession, he got all the way to the rim and scored. On the following two possessions, he was fouled on a drive to the rim and hit four free throws. And after missing a pull-up jumper, Hield did this:

“I told coach I wanted the ball,” Hield said, “I saw Lammert coming to bite, so I pulled up.”

“It’s all money.”

Hield is already the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and this performance is only going to help his cause further. Think about it like this: Buddy was not good on Monday night, at least according to his (admittedly lofty) standards. But he still finished with 27 points and shook off a cold shooting night just in time to take over down the stretch.

Now think about this: Hield’s head coach has enough confidence in him to hand him the keys in the final minutes despite the fact that he’s struggling and on a team that has two other players that Lon Kruger trusts on game-winning possessions. Think about it. When Oklahoma beat West Virginia at the buzzer, it was Jordan Woodard that the play was drawn up for. When they beat LSU, it was Isaiah Cousins that got the rock on the final possession while Hield was used as a decoy. .

Want to talk about coaching luxuries?

Kruger has three guards that can shoot, penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick, and one of them is the National Player of the Year that doesn’t mind being used as a decoy.