One season's worth of work comes down to one game for the Boston College Eagles men's basketball team as they match wits with one of the best in the country, the No. 5/4 ranked Duke Blue Devils, at 6:00 p.m. EDT on Sunday night at Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, MA (TV/Radio: ESPNU/WRKO).
Boston College will not be playing for conference seeding or to boost NCAA Tournament hopes -- the Eagles enter Sunday's game with an 8-18 record (3-9 ACC) -- but are instead playing to gauge their growth. Under the direction of second-year head coach Steve Donahue, this young Eagles squad has mad marked improvements all season long.
On Sunday, that improvement will be put to the test. Duke, of course, is one of the nation's most storied college basketball programs under legendary head coach Mike Krzyzewski. This season has offered no deviation from that plan, as the Blue Devils enter the game with an impressive 22-4 overall record and a 9-2 mark in conference play.
The Eagles and Blue Devils have clashed 15 times in the past, with Duke claiming 13 victories. BC joined the ACC in the 2005-06 season, and ever since, the Blue Devils have unsurprisingly dominated the Eagles, going 9-1. During that stretch, the Eagles' lone victory came on February 15, 2009, when BC prevailed over then No. 6 Duke, 80-74. BC has played Duke very closely at Conte Forum, as their last three losses to the Blue Devils at home have been by an average of 4.3 points.
Duke is riding a three-game winning streak into Sunday's tilt and has won eight of ten games since January 15. Winning streak aside, the Blue Devils suffered a major scare when unranked ACC foe N.C. State took a 20-point lead, but Duke recovered and capture a 78-73 win on Feb. 16 at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C.
"I'm tired of doing this, to tell you the truth," said Duke freshman guard Austin Rivers, the son of Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers, after the close victory (via ESPN). "This is a great win, but we're exhausted, man. This is a weird win for us. I'm so proud and everybody's so proud, but at the same time, we need to stop doing this."
Rivers, the Blue Devils' leading scorer (15.0 PPG) finished with 16 points in 33 minutes while Seth Curry, who is Duke's second-leading scorer (13.4 PPG) and the team's assists leader (2.5 APG), had a game-high 26 points and four rebounds. Mason Plumlee had nine points and 10 boards while his brother, Miles Plumlee, had four points and six rebounds. Andre Dawkins added nine points and both Ryan Kelly and Josh Hairston had six points off the bench. Duke won despite making only 25-of-69 field goals (36.2 percent shooting) and 8-of-29 three-pointers (27.6 percent).
What makes the Blue Devils so dangerous is their depth and ability to dominate on both sides of the ball. Rivers and Curry are a dangerous combo in the backcourt, and both can take over any given game with their offense. The Plumlee brothers are a force under the basket, but are more dangerous on the defensive side of the ball. Mason averages slightly better numbers with 11.5 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks while Miles averages 6.4 points and 6.4 boards. Off the bench, Kelly is a pest for opposing defenses, averaging 12.2 points on a team-leading 41.0 percent shooting from three-point range. Top through bottom, the Blue Devils are overflowing with talent, hence their high ranking.
Boston College, meanwhile, had been stuck in a rut until overcoming the then No. 15/17 ranked Florida St. Seminoles to gain a 64-60 upset win at Conte Forum. Since then, the Eagles are 0-2, dropping contests to the Virginia Tech Hokies -- a game that they led 65-59 with 1:43 remaining -- and the Maryland Terrapins.
Ryan Anderson finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds in the Eagles' 81-65 loss to the Terrapins on Thursday. Lonnie Jackson added 19 points and Dennis Clifford was the only other Eagle who reached double digits in scoring with 11 points. Matt Humphrey, who has been playing better in the second half of the season, had five points in 37 minutes.
After a slow start, Anderson has emerged as the Eagles' premier freshman talent. He leads the team in scoring (10.4 PPG) and rebounding (6.9 RPG) and is shooting 40.9 percent from the floor. Humphrey is averaging 10.2 points, the only other player on the roster to average 10 or more points, and Clifford is averaging 9.1 points and 4.8 rebounds.
The record does not indicate the actual product for Boston College. Several bad losses in the first half of the season have given way to close conference games, and Donahue's team has slowly but surely been gaining experience and confidence. Win or lose, the game against Duke will be a huge stepping stone for the Eagles.
Are they ready to face the best of the best in the ACC? We'll see come Sunday night.