Is BC basketball getting better?

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.

  11 comments for “Is BC basketball getting better?

  1. MaroonNGold
    December 14, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    Some valid points by Kevin Kelly, with two notable exceptions:

    Once Al began coaching, he did not suffer the large # of defections that Stevie Wonder has had.

    Also, Al brought in some excellent players.

    Afraid taht our future is bleak.


    The Remedy: Start at the top.Give us new leadership: a president who can distinguish a basketball from a snowball.

  2. Fukowi
    December 13, 2012 at 5:25 pm

    Bruce Pearl, a BC alum, will be available to coach again at the end of 2014. He will have served his punishment and a key tenet of Catholicism is forgiveness. Pearl is nothing short of a brilliant recruiter and floor coach. He would have Conte sold out in one year, a winning record in two years and a final four appearance in five to six years. The AD gets paid plenty of money to keep him under control and within the rules.

  3. Kevin Kelly
    December 12, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    The timetable for measuring the progress that needs to be made was demonstrated by the previous coach. The state of the program when Donahue was hired mirrored the state of the program when Skinner was hired. Both inherited a veteran team of mainly seniors, the entire incoming recruiting class went elsewhere. Both had mediocre(mediocre means average, look it up) first seasons followed by poor records in their second seasons- 6 wins for Skinner, 9 for Donahue, some improvement in year three and, for Skinner, a tournament team that lost an absolute classic Round of 32 game to USC in year 4.
    So, it would seem to be fair to hold Donahue to the same standard. Make the tournament next year, or get close. Otherwise, you are Seth Greenberg, and it really doesn’t make any sense to go from a coach who went to the tourney 7 out of his last 10 years and won tourney 7 games in the tournament to one who can’t get there.

  4. MaroonNGold
    December 11, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    The “we’re still young” excuse has exhausted its shelf life.

    Face it: nice guy though he may be, the incumbent coach can’t match the recruiting talent Al Skinner and his staff showed through his years here.

    Both Al and Jimmy O’Brien brought in players who became first round NBA draft choices.

    See anyone of that caliber on the past or current radar under the new regime?


    Believe me, I do not think this is all Donohue’s fault. The stupid decisions of Leahy/DeFilippo have put BC in a perception default that’s likely to last a while. Donohue is crippled with that, and I feel sorry for him.

    The puff piece in the current alumni magazine is just that: nonsense. We are going nowhere upward for years to come.

    Don’t be fooled if they win the 4 games before ACC play starts. They will founder again in that league, and a losing record seems a certainty.

  5. Kevin
    December 11, 2012 at 10:12 am

    You’re still incredibly young. (see here: )

    Not much reason to panic about BC bball, he will be fine.

  6. Rick B
    December 11, 2012 at 8:42 am

    My biggest fear is that Donahue is not bringing in enough talent. He plays too many walk ons and the team just doesn’t seem to be improving.

  7. Jason
    December 11, 2012 at 4:10 am

    Al Skinner seemed to be able to find “under the radar” guys from other parts of the country who didn’t have any other big time offers but had excellent college careers. Guys like Troy Bell, Craig Smith, Ryan Sidney, and Jared Dudley were not, if memory serves, highly acclaimed, top rated recruits coming out of HS. Donahue has to find a way to replicate finding those unheralded diamonds in the rough. If he can’t do it, this might be a short tenure.

  8. Joe Crum
    December 10, 2012 at 7:21 pm

    The team isn’t improving, they may be worse this year. The recruiting has not improved over what Al was bringing in. I’d suggest Bates get rid of the Don but after his Frank Addazio hire I’m affraid who he might bring in.

    • Dennis
      December 10, 2012 at 10:04 pm

      Easy Ed Cooley would be my guy….

      • Ben Dover
        December 11, 2012 at 12:55 pm

        Can he recruit any players that are actually eligible?

  9. Rex
    December 10, 2012 at 6:50 pm

    “Auburn and St. Francis of New York, both regarded as second-tier teams in the ACC…”

    Auburn is in the SEC? Also, you did not answer the question posited in your title. I do agree with your premise that Donahue needs to be cut some slack though. He was left nothing. If the team hasn’t measurably improved by next year, then he needs to be placed on the hot seat.

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