It has been a season of ups and downs for BC men’s basketball thus far. The Eagles have looked like a cohesive, potent unit in big wins against Minnesota and Florida State but have also gone through stretches of offensive incompetence and hapless defense. Despite losing Jerome Robinson after last season, there is no denying that this team has a lot of positive attributes (see: Ky Bowman’s athleticism, Jordan Chatman’s sharpshooting, etc.).
However, it has been difficult for the team to play a complete game and realize its potential. Injuries and stretches of inefficiency have plagued the Eagles, most notably during a five-game losing streak that was snapped Sunday against then-No. 11 Florida State. The Eagles currently sit at 10-7 with 13 games left in the regular season.
So, what's it going to take for this team to take things to the next level for the rest of this season? Boston College men’s basketball has missed the NCAA tournament every year since 2009. Could this team be the one to get the Eagles back to the Big Dance? It would take a great finish to the regular season, but anything is possible in college basketball. As Jim Christian’s squad treks further and further into the battlefield that is the ACC, it's time to take a look at some keys to the rest of the season for BC men’s basketball.
1. Jordan Chatman’s Scoring
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises of the season thus far has been Jordan Chatman’s difficulty shooting the ball. Before the last two games, he had been shooting just 26% beyond the arc. Though the senior has been a streaky sharpshooter for much of his career, he seemed poised to take another step forward this season.
However, better days seem to be on the horizon. Chatman went 6-10 against Louisville and 5-7 on three pointers against Florida State, providing a much-needed scoring spark for the Eagles. BC needs Chatman to continue to step up for the rest of the season.
Ky Bowman cannot carry the entire burden of scoring on his own. After the departure of Jerome Robinson, a number of freshmen—most notably Wynston Tabbs—have stepped up into prominent offensive roles, but the Eagles simply will not be successful against powerful ACC opponents without Chatman as a reliable scoring option. When he is hitting threes, the entire dynamic of BC's offense changes. He forces opposing defenses to stretch out, allowing the Eagles to move the ball efficiently. Chatman moves well without the ball, and he has an ability to get to the bucket and draw fouls. So far this season, his scoring has been streaky. Moving forward, his consistent presence on offense is vital for the Eagles.
2. The Presence of Steffon Mitchell
If I know one thing for sure about the Eagles this year, it’s that they are a different team when Steffon Mitchell is on the floor. Although his contributions don’t show up on the stats sheet like those of Bowman or Tabbs, he is clearly one of the most important players on the court.
He is the team’s best rebounder, and he brings ferocity, energy, and leadership to the defensive side of the ball. Although starting center Nik Popovic has improved tremendously on the offensive end, he is still often overmatched defensively by big opposing men. The Eagles need Mitchell to continue to do the dirty work on the glass to avoid being dominated on the boards, especially in the ACC.
Mitchell is a true catalyst. He has missed time due to injury, and his health will be key the rest of the way for the Eagles. The Eagles are 9-4 with Mitchell in the lineup and just 1-3 when he has been out. He has played somewhat limited minutes in a few other losses as well. It’s possible that the Eagles would have beaten Notre Dame had Mitchell been able to travel to South Bend. Though scoring is not his strong suit, Mitchell needs to be on the floor for Eagles in the big moments.
3. Defensive Consistency
In many of the Eagles’ losses this year, especially recently, they have fallen behind by giving up big scoring runs. They have often played well for long chunks of games but have been dominated during short stretches. This is a byproduct of defensive struggles that have plagued the team in important moments.
Against Louisville, BC played the Cardinals close at the beginning of the game and played well in the second half, but a defensive lapse just before halftime dug a hole that proved too big to climb out of. It looked like the Florida State game would end in a similar fashion, but the Eagles put on an offensive clinic in the second half to erase the deficit they had put themselves in during the first.
In order to remain competitive for the rest of their schedule, BC will have to prove that they can play 40 minutes of consistent half-court defense. This begins with a strong presence on the inside. Too many opposing centers have been able to get to the basket and score easy points. Virginia Tech’s Kerry Blackshear and Notre Dame’s John Mooney are two examples that immediately come to mind. Jim Christian has mixed things up defensively in the last few games, leading to some better performances.
The Eagles will also need to be more disciplined on the perimeter. Opponents have made 144 three-pointers to BC’s 120. Other teams realize that good ball movement can get them open threes against the Eagles. BC will have to tighten up the perimeter defense and start forcing more contested shots in order to lock down the high powered offenses coming up on their schedule, such as Syracuse and No. 2 Duke.
4. Bench Production/Scoring Depth
Ky Bowman is a legitimate All-ACC caliber player. But even he can’t carry the scoring load by himself. For a mid-tier team (meaning any school other than teams like Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, and the other big dogs of the ACC) to succeed in this tough of a conference, having depth is a necessity. Fortunately for the Eagles, when they are healthy and firing on all cylinders, this year’s team is deeper than they have been in previous years.
Tabbs, Jairus Hamilton, and Chris Herren Jr. have all stepped into consistent roles as freshmen. While Tabbs has been the most productive of the three so far, Hamilton—BC’s top recruit from last year’s class—has the potential to make a true difference in the future. If he can stay under control and knock down shots somewhat consistently, he could easily make a big difference in the back half of this season. Jairus' brother, transfer Jared Hamilton, has also provided valuable minutes off the bench. Jared has shown that he can be valuable defensively and has provided some scoring, as well.
Sophomore Luka Kraljevic has also given the Eagles some solid minutes off the bench. Though not a particularly skilled scorer, Kraljevic has filled in nicely for Nik Popovic when called upon. He brings energy and a necessary presence to the inside on defense. As the stars of this team, players like Ky Bowman, Jordan Chatman, and Nik Popovic need to show up and play their roles on a nightly basis. That’s a given. However, strong contributions from role players will go a long way to keep the Eagles competitive during tough games.
None of these keys will make a difference if the top players don’t produce for the Eagles. Luckily for BC, production from the top of their lineup hasn’t been much of an issue this year. Ky Bowman is averaging 20.9 PPG, and Nik Popovic has stepped up his game as well, posting 13.5 PPG.
The road ahead is not an easy one. The rest of the regular season schedule includes games against powerhouses like Duke, North Carolina, NC State, Louisville, and Syracuse. Wake Forest, who sits at 8-9, is the only team on the remaining schedule who is currently below .500. None of the remaining games will be easy. BC will be playing as the underdog in many of them. However, if they stay healthy and play a consistent 40 minutes every time out, there’s no reason the Eagles can’t be competitive in all of the games they have left.
Sunday’s upset victory over No. 11 Florida State was a high point of the season so far. Chatman shot the lights out, Mitchell played a gritty 39 minutes, and Ky Bowman was his usual incredible self as the Eagles toppled a highly-ranked ACC opponent. Hopefully they can ride that momentum and bring more of the same throughout the rest of the regular season.
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