donahue

Tough slate, porous defense not doing Boston College any favors

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During the preseason there were more than a few people who believed that Steve Donahue’s Boston College Eagles had the pieces needed to be one of the more improved teams in college basketball. With al five starters back from last season’s 16-17 squad, led by guard Olivier Hanlan and forward Ryan Anderson, there was both talent and experience on the roster. And with a challenging non-conference schedule to navigate before starting ACC play, there would be ample opportunities to pick up quality wins.

But in order to take advantage of those opportunities the Eagles needed to improve defensively. Last season Boston College ranked 11th in the ACC in adjusted defensive efficiency, and in conference play they ranked 11th in defensive efficiency and 12th in effective field goal percentage (rankings per kenpom.com). Clean those areas up, even without the services of injured center Dennis Clifford, and Boston College could very well make a run at an NCAA tournament berth. Fail to do so, however, and the Eagles could enter conference play without much (if any) room for error.

Sure enough it’s the latter scenario that has unfolded, and on Wednesday Boston College dropped to 3-5 after losing at Purdue by the final score of 88-67. Purdue certainly deserves credit for their performance, as Matt Painter’s team executed very well on the offensive end of the floor. The Boilermakers shot 52.2% from the field and 7-for-14 from beyond the arc, with Terone Johnson and younger brother Ronnie leading the way with 18 and 15 points respectively.

As for the Boston College view on this, Wednesday’s defensive effort was the sixth out of eight games in which the opposition averaged more than 1.1 points per possession. BC entered Wednesday ranked last in the ACC in points allowed per possession (1.16), and Purdue finished the game scoring 1.26 points per possession. That didn’t get the job done in West Lafayette, and it certainly won’t help the Eagles in their quest to climb up the ACC pecking order with the conference being stronger than last season’s edition.

Next up for Boston College is a trip west to take on USC Sunday night, which will serve as a homecoming of sorts for the Californians on the roster, and they also have non-conference games against VCU (December 28) and Harvard (January 1) remaining. Offensively Boston College has the talent needed to put points on the board, but it won’t matter if they don’t make significant strides on the other end.

No. 14 West Virginia takes care of No. 15 Baylor

West Virginia forward Devin Williams (41) dunks the ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor, Saturday, Feb, 6, 2016, in Morgantown, W.Va. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson)
AP Photo/Raymond Thompson
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Not exactly noted for their ability to knock down shots from the perimeter, No. 14 West Virginia grabbed sole possession of first place in the Big 12 thanks in part to their perimeter shooting. The Mountaineers shot 7-for-14 from three and 49.1 percent from the field in a 80-69 win over No. 15 Baylor that wasn’t as close as the final margin would lead one to believe.

Bob Huggins’ team led by as much as 19 in the second half, and the way in which they did it is what makes the win so impressive. “Press Virginia” yielded just ten Baylor turnovers, but that low number didn’t matter much thanks to West Virginia’s execution offensively.

They found quality looks against Baylor’s 1-1-3 zone in the first half and made them at a good clip, forcing Scott Drew to switch to man-to-man. That change didn’t do much to slow down West Virginia either, as Daxter Miles Jr. scored 20 points and sixth man Jaysean Paige added 17 off the bench. And with Devin Williams chipping in with 16 points and seven boards in the post, outplaying Baylor’s Rico Gathers Sr. (five points, seven rebounds), West Virginia grabbed control of the game in the first half and did not relinquish it.

The usual formula for West Virginia offensively is to attack the offensive glass, as their offensive rebounding percentage (43 percent) is tops in the country. “Their best offense is a missed shot” is a familiar refrain heard when people discuss the Mountaineers, who entered the game shooting just over 30 percent from three.

They didn’t need to lean on those second chances as heavily as they normally do Saturday night, not only because of the improved accuracy but also the improved work in finding shots. The ball moved against the Baylor defense and so did the players, resulting in an offensive attack that proved tougher for the visiting Bears to stop that one would expect given the statistics entering the game.

West Virginia was already established as a contender in the Big 12, but thanks to their win Saturday night the Mountaineers are the current pace setters. With a showdown at No. 7 Kansas set for Tuesday night, this was a big win for Bob Huggins’ team to get. And with it coming in spite of a low turnover (forced) count, this should only help West Virginia in the confidence department moving forward.

No. 22 Indiana falls at Penn State

Penn State's Shep Garner (33) moves towards the basket during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Indiana in State College, Pa., Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Ralph Wilson)
(AP Photo/Ralph Wilson)
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Brendan Taylor scored 24 points to lead Penn State to a 68-63 upset of No. 22 Indiana on Saturday night.

The Nittany Lions were 2-8 in Big Ten play entering the weekend. Indiana? They were 9-1 and tied for first in the conference. It’s the second loss in four games for the Hoosiers following a 7-0 start to Big Ten play, a fact made all the more concerning by the fact that their league schedule is finally about to get difficult.

The Hoosiers play No. 5 Iowa at home and No. 10 Michigan State in East Lansing next week. The following week they get No. 18 Purdue at home. In the final week of the regular season, Indiana squares off with No. 5 Iowa on the road and close the regular season with a visit from No. 4 Maryland.

That’s a lot of good teams that the Hoosiers to close out the year.

The question has been asked since Indiana’s hot start to league play: Are they for real? Did the Hoosiers really somehow turn things around defensively, or was that winning streak simply a by-product of their schedule?

The truth is that it was probably a combination of both. Calling them a fraud would be unjust — if you watched those games, there wasn’t much fluky about them; Indiana earned the Ws — but it does seem fair to say this is something of a regression to the mean.

They were going to slip up eventually.

And it will totally be forgotten if the Hoosiers can find a way to close the regular season with a winning record in their final seven games.