For some insight into a team we haven't seen in a while, I threw some questions at Brian Favat, who is the editor of BC Interruption. I appreciate Brian taking the time. The other half of our Q&A will be up at BCI.
BTP: What are your thoughts on Jim Christian's first season? What's Boston College doing differently this season, either for better or worse?
Brian: I'm a bit more patient than some on Christian. I understand that he simply does not have a lot of talent to work with this year. In one game -- can't remember which -- the announcers were praising BC for playing hard and going toe-to-toe with some of the better teams in the league despite having just "Olivier Hanlan, a pair of grad transfers, chewing gum and duct tape" (or something along those lines). Sadly, it's true.
Hanlan is probably the only legit ACC talent left on the roster; one rocked by injury (Lonnie Jackson, Idy Diallo, Darryl Hicks) and transfers (Ryan Anderson, Joe Rahon). A pair of grad transfer guards that Christian brought in -- Aaron Brown and Dimitri Batten -- have been serviceable, but we're asking mid-major stars to morph into ACC starters overnight. No small task. The rest is just pretty meh. Heckmann is wildly inconsistent. Magarity has shown flashes but has sat out of several games now with concussion-like symptoms. Owens is raw and athletic but limited on offense. The bench is so thin that Christian is forced to give non-garbage time minutes to a pair of recruited walk-ons, etc. etc. So, yeah.
Oddly enough, I am somewhat encouraged by what I've seen out of Christian this year. The team hasn't quit on him despite mounting losses, which I think is admirable. The energy and effort put worth is much improved over last year under Donahue (I think he may have lost the locker room early last season). And they play pretty good defense given the talent level, something Donahue didn't really preach. There are some other macro-level things -- namely a quality assistant coaching staff and a slight uptick already in recruiting -- that I'd point to that there may just be light at the end of the tunnel.
BTP: Christian had the good fortune to inherit one of the ACC's best guards, if not much else. Has Olivier Hanlan's game changed at all since we last saw him, and what about his role in Christian's offense?
Brian: It's funny, because there was a stretch right smack in the middle of the non-conference portion of the schedule where Hanlan really wasn't playing all that well on offense -- against teams that you'd expect him to take over against (Maine, Marist, Binghamton, Lowell). Recently, however, he's playing like a man possessed (and potentially auditioning for a first round draft pick?).
Hanlan's scoring at an even higher clip than he was by the time State rolled onto the schedule at the end of last season. His last six games or so, he's simply taken over. BC asks him to do a bit of everything -- he runs the offense as well as serves as BC's main scoring threat. Over the last six games, he's dropped 30+ points on four different occasions -- 30 vs. Carolina, 32 vs. Miami and Florida State and 39 vs. Pitt. The game before that stretch, he scored 28 vs. Notre Dame.
BC runs this high ball screen offense meant to isolate the guards and create opportunities to drive to the hoop. Towards the end of some of these games, it's all Olivier Hanlan. He manages to find a way to the hoop despite getting double- and triple-teamed. He's in the middle of a pretty unprecedented scoring run; at least for BC anyway.
BTP: Outside of Hanlan, are there players on this team that you expect BC to build around in 2015-16 and beyond, or maybe just some guys who have shown signs of becoming good players down the road?
Brian: Not really as most of the contributors this season will be moving on next. Two rent-a-players in grad transfers Aaron Brown and Dimitri Batten. Patrick Heckmann is a senior. So is Eddie Odio and Alex Dragicevich. Lonnie Jackson has requested a transfer to play out his final year of eligibility. And if Hanlan jumps early, BC will be left with a returning roster that includes ... Will Magarity, Dennis Clifford, Garland Owens and ... well, that's it. The rest of the reinforcements are complete unknowns, including a trio of 2015 recruits and guys hopefully returning from injury (Diallo and Hicks).
While we have yet to see him play, I'm most optimistic about Diallo, a 6-foot-11 center from Los Angeles. He was ready to contribute this year before suffering a torn meniscus right before the season started. BC hasn't had a serviceable and formidably 5 in some time now so it will be nice to get back to having a center that's a difference maker, particularly on defense.
BTP: When BC has struggled in games this season, what's most often been the reason?
Brian: BC's been able to hang with most teams on the schedule with few exceptions. Really, this team just runs out of gas. As I mentioned, walk-on John Cain Carney averages 7.8 minutes a game. The bench isn't very deep. BC asks Hanlan to play nearly a full 40 a game and it's clear they'll only go as far as the starting five will take them.
BTP: Is there an individual matchup on Saturday that you feel particularly good or bad about?
Brian: With the way Hanlan's been playing, I'm feeling good about that matchup. That's not meant as a slight to N.C. State's talented guards. Just that Hanlan has been single-handedly taking over in games of late. As for the bad, give me the Wolfpack frontcourt vs. Clifford and Magarity (if he plays). While it sounds like State's offense revolves around the guards, I'd be worried about how BC matches up down low. I'm sure there's absolutely no chance that a guy like Abdul-Malik Abu, despite averaging just 5.8 points a game, will go off for like 20 and 10 in his Boston-homecoming. No, I'm pretty sure that's exactly what's going to happen.