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It is indisputable that this year’s edition of Boston College men's basketball is far better than the team it was a year ago; one that, in its 2015-16 campaign, did not win a conference game and trailed a terrible Wake Forest team 41-14 after 20 minutes. This team is more talented, more exciting, and more balanced than last year’s squad. However, despite two conference wins against storied programs Syracuse and NC State, the Eagles have yet to record a true signature win. It seems as though a victory validating the program's improvement is close, yet out of reach because of the same repeated mistakes.
BC is currently 0-3 against ranked opponents, and 0-4 on the road in the ACC. Head Coach Jim Christian and company have been painfully close in many of these contests. On the road at Duke, in Chapel Hill against UNC, and most recently at Miami, the Eags have been within two possessions or closer with less than two minutes left in the game.
The Eagles' biggest obstacle in recording that signature win has been ball handling. While the scoring of BC’s backcourt is without question the team’s biggest strength, the combination of Jerome Robinson and Ky Bowman has demonstrated youthfulness in some big moments.
The two combined for seven turnovers against Miami Wednesday night, including Robinson’s fumbled dribble handoff with AJ Turner, following an Eagles timeout. Despite pouring in 33 points vs UNC, Bowman too had his share of freshman moments against the Tar Heels, traveling multiple times by picking up his dribble at the half court line without a plan. The worst of it came against Duke, where Bowman and Robinson accounted for 10 of the team’s 21 turnovers. Unforced turnovers can't happen if BC is going to upset one of the conference's elite.
Additionally, BC is detrimental in the paint when it comes to rebounding. A strong performance on the glass is what gave BC a chance in Durham, but the Eagles were beat on the glass by the Canes, and dominated by the Tar Heels, who out-rebounded BC by grabbing 16 of the Eags' boards on the offensive end. Bigger teams like UNC can give BC trouble if the Eagles don’t commit to using some of their backcourt athleticism and length.
Foul shooting has also plagued the maroon and gold. For one of the better shooting teams in the conference, ranking sixth in three point percentage, the Eagles cannot maintain any form of consistency from the charity stripe. BC is dead last in the league in free throw percentage, shooting a dreadful 67.3 percent. These free throw woes may well have cost BC a victory Wednesday night when they lost to Miami by a single point.
Solving BC’s biggest issue, however, may be a larger task than anything described above: The depth of Christian's program is simply not there. Most recently against Miami, BC only played seven men. Ty Graves’ departure from the program certainly hurts the backcourt strength, but that doesn’t mean other players couldn’t contribute some solid minutes.
Garland Owens, who started and played significant minutes a season ago, has seen his playing time almost disappear. His defense and rebounding in the first half against UNC were main reasons the Eagles stayed in the game. Yet, in Coral Gables two nights ago, Owens didn’t step on the floor. The senior doesn’t help the ball handling or shooting ability of the Eagles’ lineup, but he may be one of the best pure athletes in the ACC, and he is one of the fiercest competitors on the team.
Ervins Meznieks—a sophomore who saw significant minutes and the occasional start his rookie season— almost never takes off his warm-ups these days. Any player who can enter a game without being a total liability would be of use to maintain the team's stamina. By letting some of the main cogs in Christian’s offense stay rested, BC would avoid fatigue-causing mistakes against teams that are sure to capitalize on them.
The Eagles will have no shortage of opportunities remaining this season to prove to the rest of the league that the program has had a revival. On the schedule are two games with a very talented Buzz Williams' Virginia Tech, two games with rival No. 14 Notre Dame, a road meeting with No. 6 Florida State, and a weekend showdown with No. 13 Louisville. A win or two in any of these game will require some changes, but it would surely validate that this is a program that has turned the corner and is headed in the right direction.