By Seth Orensky, Contributor
Boston College and Boston University on the hardcourt is not something that Commonwealth Avenue fans have been able to watch in a while. Playing for the first time since 2004, these rivals will take to the floor at Conte entering the game in very different directions. Boston College is just 2-5 on the year and has 11 new faces on the roster who are still struggling to mesh on the floor. The Terriers are 3-4 but have won three in a row and easily could be 5-2 or 6-1 if not for some bad breaks. New head coach Joe Jones will look to lead his streaking roster to their first win against his former team since 1974. Here are three things to keep an eye on in Saturday's game.
Who's Going To Stop D.J. Irving For The Eagles? Boston College may have several players who were rated higher by scouts or more highly recruited out of high school, but Irving should be the best player on the floor, as long as teammate Darryl Partin doesn't overshadow him. The sophomore point guard from Chester, Pennsylvania has the ability to blow by almost any player in the country and can leave opponents having nightmares about him for days. Unlike some local speedy, talented point guards in the news, a.k.a. Rajon Rondo, Irving not only can get to the basket and score but is also a decent shooter from the perimeter and was the top free throw shooter in America East last season.
Wednesday, while struggling with some tightness, Irving slowed down the pace and dished out a career-high 11 assists.
Not a small order for an Eagles group that is still struggling to learn to play together on the defensive end. Gabe Moton will probably get a crack at Irving and freshmen Jordan Daniels may get a chance as well off the bench, as he won't be undersized for one of the few times this season. BC head coach Steve Donahue will throw a variety of zones and potential box-and-one defenses on Irving but it may not matter. The good news for the Eagles is that Chaz Williams, the closest player in comparison to Irving in terms of style of play and skills, did not go off for a huge game in UMass' big win over the Eagles. Williams finished with 15 points, five assists and three steals in 30 minutes but still wowed the Conte crowd. Expect more of the same.
Can The Eagles Find Some Offensive Momentum? While Boston College has struggled in almost all areas, their offense certainly jumps out as one of the team's biggest flaws. Boston College ranks among the 20 worst teams in the country in scoring (57.9 PPG), assists per game (9.4 APG) and field goal percentage (37.3 percent). It's not for a lack of talent - Matt Humphrey was touted as a natural scorer who could come in and make an impact and freshmen Patrick Heckmann has shown great signs and was recruited by many elite programs. Center Dennis Clifford and forward Ryan Anderson have proven to be capable secondary scorers, but the freshmen have plenty of room to improve as their game matures.
The team lacks a point guard at this point and has been ice cold from the field thus far, the second of which will likely even out, but need to get more consistent performances from Humphrey and Heckmann. The Oregon transfer is shooting just 28 percent on a team-high 84 attempts; Humphrey's need to take such a high volume of shots can bog down the rest of the offense at times and is likely to stunt the maturation of some of his teammates in the long run,
while keeping the Eagles slightly more competitive in the meanwhile. Heckmann is a much more interesting and likely player to help the team break out with a big game. In his six games this season, Heckmann has scored 19 or more in both of the team's wins and carried the Eagles in each game. The German product is getting to the line almost six times a game, a team-high, and is hitting 43 percent of his shots. The Eagles go as Heckmann has gone thus far and if Boston College is going to come away with a victory Saturday, they'll need another big game from the pride of Mainz.
Which Team Has The Upper Hand? As good as Boston University has played over the past week, the Terriers are still a much easier out for the Eagles than Harvard will be in a few weeks. After losses to Holy Cross and UMass, Boston University is likely to be the Eagles' best (and maybe only chance) to come away with a victory within the state. The contest will likely be the lowest attended of the three BU-BC games over the weekend (the hockey teams play a home-and-home Friday and Saturday nights) but it is still a huge game for both team's psyche and pride.
Steve Donahue's squad has consistently proven sloppy and slow to pick up all the intricacies of his system, but if they're going to compete for a spot in the NCAA Tournament or an ACC Championship down the line, they need to be able to start somewhere in showing signs of turning the corner. On the other side, Joe Jones spent a year on the bench alongside Steve Donahue and despite the men being good friends, would like nothing better to beat his former boss, after getting consistently beaten at Columbia by Donahue's Cornell squad. Jones' team also has a chance to earn themselves a share of the spotlight on one of the biggest sports weekends at Boston University. The Terriers have lost eight in a row against the Eagles and have a chance to peak from under the shadow of their school's hockey team and the basketball team down the street. Both teams will try to down play the significance of the game before and afterwards, but it will be interesting to see how they handle the emotions of the moment with each having plenty on the line.