clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

ACC Preview #14 - Boston College

It’s a crucial year for coach Jim Christian

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Boston College
 Feb 4, 2020; Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, USA; Boston College Eagles guard Derryck Thornton (11) shoots against Duke Blue Devils forward Javin DeLaurier (12) during the second half at Conte Forum.
Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Back in the day, Boston College was an excellent college basketball program. Gary Williams was there from 1982-1986 where he first rose to prominence. Jim O’Brien succeeded him and stayed at his alma mater until 1997 (interestingly, both coaches left BC for Ohio State).

Al Skinner was next and helped the Eagles transition to the ACC. His first year was really good then like most of the Big East teams that joined the ACC, BC struggled to an extent and in 2010, Boston College controversially fired Skinner and hired Steve Donahue.

We thought Donahue would be solid but he too struggled with just one winning season. After going 8-24 in his fourth season, he, too, was let go.

Jim Christian took over and in his time on the Heights, has gone 75-116. He’s had one winning record and one NIT appearance. Typically, he’d have been fired by now but like Wake Forest’s Danny Manning, albeit briefly, the Corona pandemic may have worked in his favor. BC may have been reluctant to fire him in the early stages of a pandemic, not being able to interview replacements or have them see campus in person.

Then there’s not being able to get to know your players and the financial uncertainty would have made a splashy hire very difficult.

BC may simply have decided that it was better keep the devil you know, in this case Christian, than to screw up a coaching search from the beginning. They’ve been wandering in the desert a long time now. What’s one more year compared to 4-5 more with a rushed hire?

That said, Christian demonstrated at both Kent State and Ohio that he can coach. At those stops he won just under 70 percent of his games. TCU was a terrible coaching move that he surely regrets. Boston College, for all the trouble, is at least an ACC program.

It is indeed an ACC school now but BC has some fundamental issues that will be difficult to fix.

First, it is geographically isolated from the rest of the conference. The closest opponent is Syracuse, nearly five hours away and culturally in a very different part of the country. Pittsburgh is almost nine hours away and in a part of Pennsylvania often called Pennsabama.

South Bend is 13 hours away and Miami 21.5 (Obviously the team flies but the road time illustrates the distance nicely). Duke, UNC and State all have issues with each other, but understanding one another is not one of them. Same for Virginia and Virginia Tech: familiarity breeds contempt and rivalries, which in turn breeds brisk ticket sales and pressures to keep up in every way.

Secondly, BC lags behind most of the conference in facilities.

If there’s not much you can do to overcome the geographic isolation, overcoming the facilities issue during a pandemic isn’t much easier.

The odds of a new coach probably went up over the summer when Boston College hired Temple’s Patrick Kraft as its new AD. New guys typically like to put their own stamp on things.

Still, Christian has a season to prove he deserves to keep the job. Can he do it?

Last year was tough. The Eagles finished 11th in the ACC, ahead of 14-19 UNC for once and also Virginia Tech, Pitt and Weak Forest (we’ll probably have to retire that joke soon since it looks like the energetic Steve Forbes has that program on an uptick already).

However, the Eagles finished just 13-19 overall.

Christian should get a bit of a pass because of injuries. He won’t because it’s his sixth year, but he probably should. Injuries decimated his team last season.

Wynston Tabbs missed the entire season, all 32 games. Nic Popovic missed 12. The Hamilton brothers, Jared and Jairus, missed 15 between them. Other players missed eight more games.

He started off with a mediocre roster and then the injuries just compounded things.

Aside from Popovic, BC loses Derryck Thornton, the Hamiltons and Julian Rishwain. The latter two transferred out with Hamilton picking Maryland and Rishwain heading home to the West Coast and San Francisco.

Thornton, as it turned out, was overrated. He started at Duke, transferred to USC and then spent his final season at BC.

He never did much anywhere. He left Duke thinking he was a shooting point guard only to find SC wanted him to be a pass-first guard too. He was wildly inconsistent and probably isn’t much of a loss.

Popovic had his moments too but wasn’t great. The Hamiltons were adequate but not a huge concern for most opponents. Rishwain really didn’t play so he can’t be a huge loss either.

BC returns 6-2/193 Tabbs, 6-3/175 Jay Heath, 6-8/220 Steffon Mitchell and 6-7/230 CJ Felder along with some fairly anonymous reserves. It’s actually a better base than you might think, particularly if Tabbs is healthy.

Tabbs and Heath might not be a great backcourt but they should be a dangerous one. As a freshman two years ago, Tabbs scored nearly 14 ppg before his knee problems. As a freshman last season, Heath put up 13.1. They both rebound and pass well. If they defend well, Boston College has a nice backcourt than can certainly hold its own in the ACC.

Mitchell is all about rebounding and defense and he’s good at both. He’s not much of a scorer but he’s the kind of player coaches love. He’s also unusually durable for a BC player lately.

CJ Felder is probably the most athletic Eagle and came close to averaging double figures in scoring last year. If he can refine his game he has a chance to do very well. We’ve mostly skipped over the reserves but 6-8/200 lb. sophomore Kamari Williams was needed near the end of last season and showed some promise. He might help too.

Christian brings in seven new players, five of them transfers and two freshmen.

The transfers are 6-3 junior Makai Ashton-Langford from Providence, 6-1 grad student Rich Kelly from Quinnipiac, 6-9 senior James Karnik from Lehigh, 6-9 grad student Andre Adams and 6-9 grad student Frederick Scott from Rider.

All of these guys are mature but all of them, except for Ashton-Langford, are stepping up a level and that’s a crapshoot. And even Ashton-Langford didn't exactly burn it up at PC.

You just can’t know how it’ll work out.

The freshmen are 7-0/230 lb. Justin Vander Baan and 6-5/195 lb. DeMarr Langford.

Vander Baan is big, which is useful, but we’ll have to wait and see about his skill level. We could see him redshirting.

Langford is promising and he will join his older brother, Makai, as an Eagle. He’s good enough to win serious minutes, possibly to start.

So the talent should be up although the transfers could be marginal or just depth. Not that depth is bad but can they step up to ACC basketball? It’s not easy.

On he other hand, Christian has demonstrated an eye for underappreciated talent and had the sense to hire former Maryland assistant Scott Spinelli, an ace recruiter himself.

Unfortunately for Christian, who we think is a much better coach than his record would suggest, as George Allen used to say, the future is now: with a new AD and a better understanding of Covid-19, he’s going to need a big year to keep his job.