Expectations for Boston College basketball probably haven't been this low in over a decade. First year coach Steve Donahue inherits a team that went just 15-16 in 2009-10, and failed to make the postseason two of the last three seasons (something that had become almost automatic in the early- and mid- 2000s under Al Skinner). Rakim Sanders, Evan Ravenel and the entire 2009 recruiting class have all decided to leave the program. The Eagles were picked to finish 10th in the ACC's preseason media poll, ahead of just Virginia and Wake Forest.
That doesn't mean that there shouldn't be some excitement surrounding this year's edition of Boston College men's basketball. With a severely disappointing football season already underway, Superfans can turn their attention to the hardwood to see how Coach Donahue will fare in the ACC.
There are plenty of reasons to watch the Eagles this year, but here are five reasons I'll be tuning in.
1. One More Go-Around For The Seniors
This has to be one of the strangest BC basketball senior classes in recent memory. The talent is certainly there. Joe Trapani has been receiving a lot of preseason accolades. Hopefully he can elevate his game, along with Corey Raji, Biko Paris, Josh Southern and Cortney Dunn. This was the year that Skinner pointed to in terms of being able to win with seven seniors on the Eagles' roster heading into the 2010-11 season. Rakim Sanders is gone, but this class still has the talent to compete and win games in the ACC.
2. Young Players Stepping Up
The pieces are in place from last year's squad to compete in the ACC. Trapani, Raji, Jackson, Paris, Southern, Dunn and Elmore are all back. But after that, there's not much left on the roster. The Eagles aren't very deep and will need players like freshmen Gabriel Moton and Danny Rubin to step up and contribute right away. Donahue has been pleased with the play of both in practice, but they likely still have a long way to go.
The first three games -- St. Francis (NY), Yale and Holy Cross -- will be key for both Moton and Rubin's development. After that, the schedule gets much tougher, and in a hurry. Hopefully both Moton and Rubin can contribute right away. The Eagles starting five returns plenty of experience, but the bench is extremely thin beyond Trapani, Raji, Jackson, Paris and Southern/Dunn.
3. Coach Donahue's Defensive Philosophy
Many BC fans bemoaned the fact that Skinner's Flex offense was extremely boring and predictable. It's true that the Flex seemed to get away from Skinner in the last few years, but I think that came from the inability to recruit players to fit the system rather than the system itself (when Coen and Cooley left the program, it seemed like BC was trying to fit square pegs -- like Reggie Jackson -- in round holes; the Flex offense).
The reality was that offense was never the problem for BC. Defense was. I'm excited to see what Donahue brings to the table in terms of a new energy and defensive philosophy. Coach D seems to agree with me:
"All the guys are trying on defense. I think that's where our growth has to really happen. We have to fight through and play for 35 seconds each possession. Right now we probably play 20 or 25 seconds and there's a breakdown. That's our focus on defense, playing 35 seconds. I think they're trying, but we're not there yet."
4. Big Non-Conference Games
There isn't that one marquee game on the non-conference schedule this year, but that doesn't mean the Eagles won't be tested in non-conference play. It starts early this season, in just the Eagles' fourth game, against a very good Texas A&M team on Thanksgiving Day in the opening round of the Old Spice Classic.
The Eagles follow that up with a winnable game against the Indiana Hoosiers in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. While beating a team like IU doesn't have the same cache as it used to, that's still a big game for BC and a decent test for this team. The Eagles will be looking to keep their unblemished record in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge in tact when they host the Hoosiers at home.
The Eagles also have solid non-conference games against the usual, local suspects, including UMass in the Boston Tip-Off Classic, Providence and a road trip to the A-10's Rhode Island. Finally, the Eagles make the return trip to South Carolina to play the Gamecocks on New Year's Day.
5. Playing The Role Of Overachiever (Again)
I don't have any delusions of this team winning the ACC or going to the NCAA Tournament, but I firmly believe they are going to surprise some teams this year. I think this team will finish much higher than the preseason expectations (10th in the ACC) and will probably play the role of spoiler to a few unsuspecting ACC programs. Look for the Eagles to knock off a program like Georgia Tech, Maryland, Virginia Tech or N.C. State at home, programs that have high expectations for the season.
I think the Eagles will also hold their own in non-conference play this year, including finally beating Harvard. I don't think there is a fan base that was more happy to see Harvard's Jeremy Lin graduate than BC's.