It's a special hoops Q&A edition! I caught up with the guys at BC Interruption to talk about what's different about the Eagles under Steve Donahue, the excellence of Corey Raji, and the team's continued defensive struggles.
1.) What's different about Boston College in Steve Donahue's first season? Do you like what you've seen from him so far?
Plenty of things are different about this year’s Eagles team under Steve Donahue. For one thing, BC’s bench is much thinner than it has been in past years. As a result of the coaching change, BC lost Rakim Sanders (transfer to Fairfield), Evan Ravenel (transfer to Ohio State) and all three of their recruits from the Class of 2010 – Kevin Noreen, Papa Samba Ndao and Brady Heslip, who joined the team after winter break last season but never saw the floor. In addition, BC lost Tyler Roche to graduation.
In their place, BC got Gabe Moton and Danny Rubin, a Cornell walk-on that walked onto this Eagles team. Rubin has been a pleasant surprise as a three-point specialist, averaging 7.1 points a game and shooting 48.3 percent from beyond the arc.
But beyond Trapani, Jackson, Paris, Rubin, Raji and Southern/Dunn, BC has four non-scholarship players that aren’t of much consequence, and Dallas Elmore and Moton coming off the bench. This team isn’t deep at all, especially in the front court, where after Southern and Dunn, this team has very few options at the 4 and 5 positions.
More importantly, this year’s offensive philosophy has completely been flipped upside down under Donahue. Gone is the Al Skinner tight Flex offense that BC has run for over a decade in favor of an offense that focuses first on the three ball. It’s a pretty jarring distinction from BC team’s past. On most offensive possessions, you’ll see 3 or 4 players hanging out beyond the arc (Jackson, Paris, Rubin, Trapani, even Raji) looking for an open look from three.
The change in offensive philosophy results in some wild swings in team performance. When BC goes cold from the field and doesn’t protect the ball, they can drop some head-scratching games to the likes of Yale and Harvard. But when they put things together, I honestly believe they can hang with anyone in the country, like in BC’s wins over Maryland and (blitzing) South Carolina.
With all the things that are different with BC this year, some things remain unchanged. There hasn’t been an appreciable difference in the effort on defense, and BC is still going to lose a majority of battles in the front court.
2.) Are you surprised that the Eagles are shooting as well as they are from beyond the arc? And what's gotten into Biko Paris?
Donahue brought with him a new and exciting offense that relies almost exclusively on the three-point shot. I think even the most optimistic Superfans didn’t expect the Eagles to be shooting this well this early on. Most figured it would take a few years for Donahue to get his offensive personnel and shape the team how he felt best, but Donahue’s offense has seemed to work with the personnel Skinner recruited to run the Flex.
Yes, Biko Paris’ performance so far has been nothing short of amazing. It’s crazy to see the difference in Biko’s game given a change in offensive philosophy. Apparently, Donahue told all the players to shoot 100 threes a day in the offseason and report back on their progress. Paris really took to the challenge and all his work in the off-season is paying off in spades.
3.) Corey Raji has been an excellent player for a few years now--scores efficiently, grabs lots of offensive boards, rarely turns the ball over, etc. Is he the most underrated player in the ACC? I think there's a case to be made.
Corey Raji has been a solid contributor for a few years now. He’s coming off a huge 22 point, 9 rebound performance against Georgia Tech … and he added a couple of big buckets down the stretch to seal the victory for BC. He started for most of his first three years in Skinner’s offense, but has been sent to the bench this year and has thrived in his role as BC’s sixth man. He’s leading the team in boards and shooting well from the field, and despite coming off the bench, is third on the team in scoring with 12.5 a game, an improvement on last year’s 11.4 average.
I’m not sure I could make a case for Raji being the most underrated player in the ACC, having not paid attention too closely to ACC hoops thus far this season. But Raji is a key piece of the Eagles offense, and if a case were to be made, perhaps it’s something in the gene pool?
4.) At this point it looks like the offense is going to keep you guys in most games, but the defense remains a liability. Why is it that BC struggles so much defensively?
Defense was a big liability under Skinner, which is part of the reason (other than overall record the last few years, natch) that GDF made a change at the top. It hasn’t improved much this year, though I think part of that is adopting a new system under Donahue. BC plays a lot of extended 1-3-1 and some 2-3 zone. Under Skinner, BC almost exclusively employed a man-to-man defense. That’s been an adjustment, as well as a lack of depth and height in the front-court. If opponents work the ball inside, BC seems to have a tough time stopping bigger, more physical players.
Like I said, I think with BC’s offense, they can hang with anyone in the country. The difference is in the defensive execution. A poor night on defense can lead to disastrous results (i.e. multiple, embarrassing losses to Ivies).