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Carlos Previews BC!

Be honest here- when you looked at the Duke schedule this fall and saw the Boston College game, did you really expect to see a matchup of two top-25 teams each with only one loss? Coach Al Skinner’s Eagles are one of the surprise stories of this year’s season. Yet despite their 12-1 record, BC can hardly get any love from the coaches out there who have them just barely ranked at 25. One can hardly blame the coaches and writers for having a hard time determining if the Eagles are pretenders or contenders. They started off the season playing absolutely nobody, and I mean nobody by even modest scheduling standards. St. Peter’s, Brown, Marist, Wofford, Holy Cross, and Youngstown State hardly conjure up images of murder’s row.

Before entering Big East play the one victory over a name team on the Eagle’s schedule was an 11 point road win over UMass. BC’s case for legitimacy got a boost when they kicked off league play with a convincing win over UConn.

In some sort of bizarre scheduling policy that the Big East must have adopted to permit play between their 72 schools the Eagles then faced off against Miami twice in the span of 6 days. They emerged with two victories (by 1 at Miami and 9 at home) to offset their only loss in a game against St. John’s that was sandwiched between Hurricanes.

Still, questions linger about the Eagles and wins over an 8-7 Miami team as well as a loss to 9-6 St. John’s haven’t done much to answer the doubters. That win over UConn no longer looks nearly as shiny since the Huskies have demonstrated all the stability of a tech stock in their recent performances. (How does a team beat Arizona and then get taken to the wire against Stony Brook. Yes, that Stony Brook.)

The game against presents one of the best opportunities to impress the RPI computers and the guys on the NCAA selection committee. Ideally the Eagles would like to head back to Boston with a victory. Even a closely played game in Cameron would help the team’s reputation after Duke’s public evisceration of Virginia last Saturday. The Blue Devil’s performance was even more impressive given the events leading up to the game. Coming off a dogfight of a game with NC State, the Devils turned in one of their poorest performances of the year. It was bad enough that Krzyzewski asked all the media to leave the building (as The Brent mentioned during his telecast).

Whether it was Krzyzewski’s doing or the result of the team meeting that night at 10 PM the results were dramatic. Duke played 40 minutes of smothering defense that took the Cavs completely out of the game. How bad was it for Virginia? Well, Matt Christensen and JD Simpson scored as many points for Duke as the Cavs’ Roger Mason and Donald Hand.


If Boston College wants to pull off the big upset they are going to need a major performance out of Troy Bell. Bell is a lot like Duke’s own Jason Williams- they are both sophomore point guards who can score and distribute the ball. Bell is a serious player and was the Big East Rookie of the Year last year when he averaged 18.8 points a game. Bell’s strongest asset is one that he’ll need most in Cameron. He’s calm under pressure and gives the Eagles stability at the point. He’s upped last year’s assist average to 4.7 per game and carries a 2.0 assist-to-turnover ratio. In his game against highly regarded Omar Cook of St. John’s he scored 23 points and dished out 4 assists while limiting his turnovers to just 2. Defensively he’s sound and leads the team in steals at 2.23 per game.

Bell is backed up by freshman Ryan Sidney. If Bell is the cool, calm gunslinger in the Eagle backcourt then Sidney is the hyper-kinetic ball of energy. Bell isn’t much of a shooter- the next three point basket he hits will be his first. But at 6-2 he plays three positions (point guard, shooting guard, and small forward) and aggressively takes the ball to the basket. He’s hitting on almost 60% of his field goal attempts if you throw away his horrendous three point attempts. Sidney’s also averaging 4.4 rebounds a game, half of which come on the offensive glass. His propensity to hit the offensive glass could be a liability of the Eagles when he is at point guard. If the Eagles fail to get good defensive rotation then Duke could get some quick transition baskets when Sidney goes to the glass.

Like Bell, Sidney works well without the ball. Both players are always in motion and present a challenge for the defense. That’s a challenge that Duke point guards Jason Williams and Chris Duhon are going to be looking forward to facing. Since surrendering an embarrassing 34 points to North Carolina A&T’s J.J. Miller the Duke backcourt tandem has made it a priority to step up their defense. The pair got their chance to back up their words after two games where shooting guard Nate James made the defensive statement by harassing high scorers Will Solomon and Anthony Grundy. Williams and Duhon chased Virginia point guard Donald Hand all over the floor, limited his penetration, and kept him off the foul line as they held him to just 5 points in the game. All of which came in late in the second half or about 25 minutes after the game was out of reach.

Williams and Duhon will have to repeat their efforts against Bell if they wish to limit his production. It is especially important to keep him off the line where, like Hand, he is a good free throw shooter. He averages over 86% from the charity stripe and recently went 17-17 against Miami. However, unlike Hand, Bell is a reasonably good shooter from the field and the three point line where he hits on 40% of his attempts.

Duke and Williams will go right at Bell and hope to get him in foul trouble. That may be more difficult that stated since Bell is a pretty sound defender. Although Cook scored 19 points in their matchup he shot 5-14 and Bell only picked up 1 personal foul in the game. Williams will generally provide more of a defensive challenge for point guards than Cook who, while a very good player, doesn’t look to penetrate as much as the Duke point guard. Williams also regained his three point shooting touch which momentarily abandoned him for the NC State game. Against Virginia he hit on 3-5 of his attempts, more in keeping with the pace he had set in recent games.

The defensive pressure on Bell and Sidney won’t let up when Duhon comes into the game. In fact, Duhon may provide better off-the-ball defense than Williams. The 6-3 freshman is a flat out thief who shows a nose for the ball. His strip of Virginia’s Roger Mason in the open court while Mason was driving to the basket was one of the best defensive plays of the game. Duhon’s shooting remains inconsistent but the rest of his game would be enough to get him in the starting lineup in most teams in the top 25.


Kenny Harley could be in for a long night in Cameron. Not from the action on the court where he is the Eagle’s toughest player, but from the other game in Cameron. Harley was arrested in a nightclub altercation earlier this month and from the sounds of things it was pretty ugly. Skinner has opted to wait until the court hears the matter before addressing the issue so the 6-5 senior will be playing which should delight the Cameron Crazies.

Harley can play a multitude of positions on the court and Skinner may use him to handle point responsibilities to allow Bell more freedom to score. Although he’s an improved ballhandler, he’s still not the kind of guy you want bringing the ball upcourt against Duke’s pressure. For the year he has 34 assists but also 32 turnovers.

If he’s not charged with handling the point duties then Harley can be a very effective player inside where he uses his size and strength to his advantage. Although he starts in the backcourt he leads the team in rebounds at 7.2 a game. When he’s in the paint he’ll use a variety of moves including some fade-away jumpers that are difficult to defend. Harley’s also a solid shooter from the outside where he averages 40% from the three point line.

Junior Kenny Walls (6-5/194) mans the other wing spot. Walls has good quickness and the ability to take the ball to the basket but he seems content to settle for mid-range jump shots or three point attempts. BC fans would probably be happier if he would do anything but take three point shots where he’s hit on just 14 of his 44 attempts. He’s not an exceptional rebounder for a forward but he is very conservative with the ball, averaging just over one turnover a night.

Off the bench Skinner will ruin Bob Harris’ evening when he brings in Ludmil Hadjisotirov. At 6-2 Hadjisotirov may be a bit small to play the forward spot but he can handle the two guard and he’s out to prove he’s the exception to that "white guys can’t jump" theory. The native of Bulgaria won the slam dunk contest at this year’s Sofia (Bulgaria) International Tournament which featured some competition from the US. Still, I think Bulgaria and I think Vasco Evtimov. The title of Greatest Bulgarian Leaper doesn’t inspire much after that. Hadjisotirov may see some spot minutes against Duke, but it’s unlikely that Skinner will leave him out there long. He’s not a bad three point shooter although he’s struggling (much like Duhon) at 33% so far this year.

The matchup between Harley and Duke’s Nate James should be enjoyable. Both players are unaccustomed to facing off against defenders of their own size and strength. James, like Harley, is a very good rebounder for his position and he continues to lead the Duke team in offensive boards. James appeared to have regained his form on his three point shot against UVa where he hit on 3-5 attempts.

Walls will have his hands full trying to contain Michael Dunleavy who will enjoy a 4 inch height advantage. Walls’ apparent aversion to the offensive glass (11 offensive rebounds in 13 games) may actually help the Eagles as it may allow him to run with Dunleavy in transition where the Duke forward is most effective in finishing plays. One thing Walls will have to be aware of is Dunleavy’s capacity for playmaking. For the last three games Dunleavy has posted 6 assists per night as he continues to fill the role of a guy who does everything the team needs.

Duke fans (and the team) hope that Reggie Love will be able to see some time in this game as well. Love, who at 6-5 has exceptional leaping ability, may also see some time at the 4 spot defending a bigger opponent. Offensively he can slash to the hoop or score on putbacks but his outside shot is a little too flat to be consistent at this level.


Senior Xavier Singletary, a 6-6 senior returning starter from last year’s squad, is the team’s power forward. Singletary attended legendary high school program Dunbar in Washington, DC and played a stint at Howard University before transferring to BC three years ago. It’s likely that he and Nate James know each other from the DC prep days. Singletary was a big scorer at Howard where he averaged 22.3 ppg before transferring. At BC he’s been a little content to float on the perimeter although with his size he can rebound well. He is the team’s best three point threat at 42%.

Singletary may be able to defend Shane Battier’s perimeter game as effectively as Virginia’s Chris Williams did in last weekend’s game. However, Battier is likely to do the same to Singletary as he did to Williams when he took the smaller defender off the dribble and converted on 4-5 attempts inside the three point arc. For the Eagles, Singletary’s three point shooting will make it tough for Battier to play the help defense near the basket which has anchored the team’s defensive approach. That would be a major problem if it weren’t for…….

…….BC starting center Uka Agbai. At 6-8/245 lbs. the best thing that can be said for Agbai is that he gives the Eagles a physical presence on the inside. For the season Agabai is averaging a respectable 9.3 points a game but keep in mind, much of that production came against a very weak schedule. In Big East play his average has fallen to 5 points a game. Even worse for the Eagles is that Agbai appears to be the Swahili word for "foul." Agbai has fouled out in 2 out of the team’s 4 Big East games and 2 of the games on that weak out of conference schedule. The Cameron crowd may wish to start the "Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh" part of the cheer for this guy during the pre-game warmups.

To complete the picture, Agbai has poor hands and is inconsistent rebounder. For the year he’s pulling in just 3 boards a game from the center spot. Did I mention he was big and gave them a physical presence though?

When Agbai inevitably fouls out the Eagles can turn to 6-7 senior Jonathan Beerbohm which may not be pronounced beer-bomb, but I’m hoping it is. Beerbohm is a serviceable big man, but he lacks the size to contain Carlos Boozer or the quickness to check Battier. Skinner can also go with 6-8 junior Brian Ross for post depth. At 240 lbs. Ross has better size for the pivot but he is very slow which may be the result of off-season back surgery.

Duke center Carlos Boozer should be able to have a big game against BC. At 6-9/270 lbs. Boozer has the physical advantage in both size and quickness over any of the Eagle big men. Don’t be surprised to see Boozer get a lot of good looks in this game, especially squaring up facing the basket from 10 feet out on the wing. He should be able make repeated trips to the foul line as well.

Duke’s backup center is Matt Christensen – no question about it anymore. Christensen continues to give the team exactly what they need when he comes in the game. He’s a big, physical player (6-10, 250) that can screen, defend, and rebound. Unfortunately for Duke, Christensen may be a variation on the Swahili word "Agbai" as he has fouled out of 2 of the last 4 games. That foul difficulty is the only negative on what has been a very positive performance for the team. Christensen’s fouls don’t just impact his playing time. If Duke is to see minutes from him in close games, they have to be assured that he’s not going to contribute too many fouls and get the opponent in the bonus too quickly.

Behind Christensen is 6-11 sophomore Casey Sanders who is has yet to show anything more than glimpses of the talent he has.


The Eagles will need a lot of things to go right if they are to win this game. They have some solid rebounders in their wings and backcourt, but if they send those guys to the offensive glass this game could turn into a track meet with Williams, Duhon, and Dunleavy scoring layup after layup. Defensively they matchup pretty well with Duke on the perimeter with the Bell / Williams matchup being the most competitive.

Bell has played well against most top point guards he’s faced, but he’s not exactly a defensive stopper. Just as important Bell, who’s likely to play 35+ minutes, is going to have to defend Williams and then go to the other end and carry the team’s offense. His 21.8 points per game lead the team and the second leading scorer (Singletary) is scoring just 15 points per game.

As noted earlier, if Harley matches up on James the two could be looking at mirror images of each other. The real problem for the Eagles is how to stop Boozer for whom they have no direct option. When you’re trying to find a way to matchup with a team’s 4th leading scorer you know you have trouble.

Look for Duke to go to Boozer early. If he struggles then Williams will create using dribble penetration to attack Bell and make him work. Other than the two guard spot, Duke enjoys a size advantage at every spot on the floor. Duke should be able to control the boards (a rare occurrence for a Duke team) against a BC squad that has a –5 rebound differential in Big East play. Battier will be able to get his offense in all over the court and could be too much for the BC defense. Look for him to go inside more in this game like he did against UVa.

On defense Duke should return to the press they typically employ rather than the light man pressure they used against Hand. If the Devils can get the ball out of Bell’s hands and force the secondary ballhandlers to break the press they may generate a lot of turnovers. BC is not an especially gifted ballhandling squad with the exception of Bell. They average over 15 turnovers a game and only Bell and Walls have assist-to-turnover ratios of greater than 1.3.

Once Duke gets into the halfcourt set the main challenge will be to stop Bell. The Devils will need big games out of not just Williams and Duhon, but also Boozer to accomplish that. With Singletary keeping Battier honest on the perimeter the help on defense may have to come from Boozer when Bell drives the lane. James will have his hands full keeping Harley off the offensive glass as well.

In the end Duke has a lot of ways they can win this game. Boozer inside, creating turnovers from the Eagle secondary ballhandlers, Battier inside against a smaller defender or outside when they go to one of their reserve big men, containing Bell on the defensive end, and getting out and running in transition. For BC, there are considerably fewer options and they are far less likely to occur.