If you are a Boston College basketball fan this morning do you have reason to be concerned? Or are you feeling reasonably comfortable, knowing that the Eagles next four games are all in Conte Forum and all look winnable?
If you are Boston College basketball coach Steve Donahue, with a week to prepare your team for the next challenge–Sunday afternoon vs. New Hampshire at Conte Forum–do you use this week off to go back to teaching fundamentals to sophomore and freshmen dominated team?
For the record, Boston College is 4-5, which ties the Eagles with Wake Forest for the worst record in the ACC. For the record, two of the losses–to Bryant University and a 16-point defeat to Harvard–are as hard to accept as they are to understand.
For the record, Boston College IS a member of the ACC, which means you don’t lose to Bryant at home, and while Harvard has proven it can play with almost anyone, Ivy League teams don’t win very often on the road against teams from the big-boy conferences. This year’s version of the Crimson lost to Vermont at home earlier this season.
This is year 3 in Donahue’s reign at BC. In its first season, playing with primarily a team recruited by Al Skinner and dominated by veterans, Donahue’s team finished with a 21-13 record, lost in the second round of the ACC tournament and then lost a second round NIT game. In its second season, using a freshman dominated lineup, Donahue’s team finished with a 9-22 record and lost in the first round of the ACC tournament.
Now, in its third season, with two recruiting classes playing for him, Donahue’s team has played to its profile–a young team, searching for an identity and leadership on the court. The Eagles are again starting a pair of freshmen guards in Joe Rahon and Oliver Hanlan. No one wins games on a consistent basis with freshmen guards and certainly not in the ACC.
At the very least, BC needs to win three of its next four games at home to give itself a booster shot going into the ACC season which will start with a challenge against North Carolina State, the pre-season pick as the ACC champion. That would give BC a 7-6 record and a reasonable chance to better last season’s nine wins.
But having watched the losses to Bryant and Harvard, coupled with the sporadic showings in wins over Auburn and St. Francis of New York, both regarded as second-tier teams in the SEC and Northeast Conference, there seems little reason for optimism at The Heights.
Would anyone be stunned if BC went into the North Carolina State game on January 5 with a 4-9 record? Surprised yes, stunned? Probably not.
Donahue’s credentials as a coach are not in question. He knows how to coach the talent that he has available better than most coaches know how to coach the talent they have when the two teams meet. He finished his run at Cornell with three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, including a Sweet 16 trip in 2010.
But it took six losing seasons and one non-NCAA appearance, winning record for Donahue to get things right at Cornell–against Ivy League competition.
There is little to indicate that a winning season will come for the Eagles this season. And in this age of instant judgments, it would seem highly improbable that new BC Director of Athletics Brad Bates will allow Donahue six consecutive losing seasons at BC.
The question that must be asked is a simple one: Can Donahue recruit the quality of players he needs to win at the ACC level?
For BC, it would be nice if the level of competition in the ACC was going to remain the same. It is not. Syracuse, Pittsburgh Notre Dame and Louisville will be joining Duke, North Carolina, NC State in the next few years. With that core group, plus such teams as Clemson, Florida State, Miami and Georgia Tech all capable of putting together NCAA tournament caliber programs at a faster pace than the Eagles, what is the upside for BC?
A year ago, Donahue did a good enough job of coaching to keep his under talented, under experienced team in games for 30 to 35 minutes against almost everyone the Eagles played. BC also managed a win against Florida State, which won the ACC tournament. This season, BC is still playing competitive basketball in the 30-35 minute range before experiencing lapses involving both maturity and skill.
It wasn’t a good fall for BC, with the football team staggering to a 2-10 finish which cost football coach Frank Spaziani his job. Right now, basketball doesn’t look much more promising. The crowds at Conte Forum have been sparse, if not polite. They are willing to give Donahue more time to recruit and develop players.
But both elements must be present to make it work. If it doesn’t, BC basketball is going to drop down to the level of BC football, if it hasn’t reached that point already.
© 2012, Mark. All rights reserved.