Nobody said the Atlantic Coast Conference would be a cakewalk this year.
You’ve got the undefeated Syracuse Orange at 7-1 to win the NCAA Tournament. You’ve got the Duke Blue Devils (12/1) and Jabari Parker, who might be the best player in college basketball. And you’ve got a pair of strong March Madness contenders in the Pittsburgh Panthers (40-1) and the Virginia Cavaliers (75-1). That’s a tough road to travel.
Still, the Boston College Eagles were supposed to fly higher than this. Improvements were expected in Year 4 of head coach Steve Donahue’s program. Instead, injuries and some shockingly poor defensive play have banished the Eagles to the ACC basement at 5-14 straight up and 4-13 against the spread. That’s the worst ATS record (minimum 12 games) in Division I.
It begins with those expectations. Two years ago, the cupboard was left bare in Chestnut Hill after guard Reggie Jackson (now with the Oklahoma City Thunder) left for the NBA, and forward Corey Raji (now playing in Luxembourg) graduated along with several other quality seniors. The fledgling Eagles were widely projected to finish last in the ACC in 2011-12, which they did. Then they were picked last again in 2012-13. But Boston College played some competitive basketball and finished eighth out of 12 teams with a 16-17 record and 15-12-2 ATS.
Things were looking up this year, with the Eagles bringing back nearly all their rotation players. However, right off the bat, they lost the one player they couldn’t afford to lose: center Dennis Clifford. The 7-foot-1 giant had an excellent freshman season in 2011-12 (13.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.4 blocks per 40 minutes) but developed arthritis in his knees and had his minutes cut in half last year. Clifford then sat out the entire non-conference slate before returning in January, and he played two games before being ruled out for the remainder of the season.
This is a very unfortunate development for a team that already wasn’t built to smother opponents. Donahue was hired in 2010 after taking the Cornell Big Red all the way to the Sweet Sixteen with the No. 4-ranked offense on Ken Pomeroy’s Division I efficiency charts. That Big Red team was ranked No. 174 in defense. The gulf is even wider with this year’s Eagles, who sit at No. 179 overall with the No. 58 offense and the No. 308 defense.
The good news for BC is that Wednesday’s game is against the Virginia Tech Hokies, the only ACC team below the Eagles on the Pomeroy charts at No. 181 overall (No. 242 offense, No. 131 defense). The Hokies are also the only ACC team that Boston College has beaten this year. The bad news: it was in Clifford’s last game. He had six points and six rebounds in 21 minutes off the bench as the Eagles won 62-59, covering in a pick-‘em situation on the road. They’ll have to do better at Conte Forum after opening as a 6-point favorite. Tip-off is at 7 p.m.
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