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In the few seasons since Boston College joined the ACC, the Eagles have made a definite impression on the rest of the conference as a team which does things differently, but which just finds a way to win consistently. This season will be their toughest to date, as B.C. is very young, but give Coach Al Skinner a ton of credit for finding ways to compete, and don't be surprised if he manages to do it again. But it won't be easy.B.C. looked set to fall apart last season after booting Sean Williams and Akida McClean off the team. They lost badly at then #16 Clemson, 74-54, with a seven-man rotation. At 13-5, things weren't looking good.
Yet they managed to remain competitive and made the NCAA field again. It was a tremendous response to a difficult situation, and a masterful job by Skinner, who rebuilt his team from one which had a dominant center to one which was smaller and much less imposing.
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Take Shelden Williams off of Duke in Shelden's senior season and you have some rough approximation of what B.C. did, and they didn't have a freaky scorer like J.J. Redick in the mix.
Sean Marshall stepped up, as did Tyrese Rice, but no one did more than Jared Dudley, the sometimes awkward-looking forward who just basically knew how to play and how to win.
Like Williams, Marshall and Dudley are gone this season, and a young B.C. will have to build around the mercurial talents of Tyrese Rice.
Rice has shown himself to be a first-rate guard in the ACC, and he can be very explosive. He averaged 18 ppg as a soph and though he'll be everyone's target this season, he could do better than that this year, partly out of improvement, and partly out of necessity.
Big men John Oates and Tyrelle Blair are the only seniors, and while Oates is a competent offensive player, and Blair a better than average shotblocker, neither has set the league on fire previously. Rice is the only junior, and Skinner has four sophomores to fall back on, including Shamari Spears, who hails from Salisbury.
At 6-6 and 238, Spears is a undersized power player, but that's not the problem it used to be in college basketball, since big men have become somewhat rarer. He'll have a chance to seize a prominent role on this team.
6-7 Tyler Roche had a minimal impact as a freshman and unless he shows something surprising, looks likely to be a role player for his career.
Daye Kaba, a 6-4 guard originally from France, hasn't yet really made an impact on his team. 6-8 Joe Trapani is a transfer from Vermont, where he was a reasonable presence, but the America East isn't the ACC. 6-0 Brennan Bennett is a walk-on.
So that's the sophomore class, and it's not exactly overwhelming.
Among the freshman, B.C. adds three perimiter players, and any of them might turn out to be pretty good. 6-1 Biko Paris is a Katrina refugee from New Orleans who might end up starting at point guard, which would free Rice up to shoot more. Paris originally committed to Tim Floyd's USC program, but had second thoughts, and when B.C. had him visit, he fell for the school and for the ACC.
His coaches say he's a very smart point guard and a guy who really understands the game and who can pass very, very well, traits which should serve him well at B.C.
At 6-5, Corey Raji brings a knack for defense and rebounding, both things Skinner appreciates. But he began to be a tremendous offensive presence in AAU basketball as well, and Virginia, among other schools, really wanted him. He really came on late in his career and could continue to improve sharply.
And 6-4 Rakim Sanders is one of those kids you read about who you really pull for to succeed not just in basketball, but in a personal way.
On his B.C. profile, he lists family thusly: "Rakim is the brother of Nyisha Conry; has four more brothers and sisters."
His sister was forced to take responsibility for her siblings at a very young age, as their mother died when Rakim was 11. He obviously thinks the world of her, and she is a heroic young woman who has held her family together in the face of great odds. Rakim went to a Catholic high school, which gave him structure and direction, and will find many similar things at B.C. Continuity probably hasn't been the greatest force in his life, so that may turn out to be a blessing. It's hard to tell from here, but he seems to be a guy who realizes basketball is his way out and is determined to take it.
At 6-9 and 240, Josh Southern brings a big body to the B.C. roster. Skinner says he likes his versatility, his rebounding and his ability to handle the ball. Southern told MLive.com that "I like the way Boston uses its big people. They let their big guys shoot from the outside and run the floor and handle the ball. Those are all my strengths. It's a great fit."
The final freshman is Corney Dunn. At 6-8 and 215, Skinner likes his defensive focus, and he could step up if either of the senior big men, or Spears, can't get it done.
It's an impressive class, and for B.C., it needs to be. Skinner says Raji is the most advanced currently, but as everyone knows, some guys look great before the season start and some never seem to get there.
But B.C. has pretty much specialized in finding guys who get there, who fit the flex offense perfectly, and they have won consistently, in two different conferences, for over a decade with this formula.
It could be a rough transition, but the talent at Chestnut Hill is more obvious now than it usually is. Like Gary Williams, Skinner is masterful when it comes to finding underrated guys who fit his system. This time around, most of his recruits were recognized by other schools early as well but ended up at B.C. It's a bit of a change, but no doubt welcome.
Our guess is that Raji, Paris, and Southern will be the young players who get the most minutes. B.C. will to an extent rise and fall depending on how fast Skinner can incorporate them into the program. But the talent is there, the freshmen are all used to winning, and some of them have had life experiences which make basketball seem relatively uncomplicated. Look for this bunch to round into a recognizably B.C.-ish team by the middle or end of January at the latest.