Next up for Duke is the ACC opener with Boston College. The Eagles are currently 5-3 coming off of a bad 88-67 loss at Nebraska in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. We picked BC there out of respect for coach Earl Grant, who seems like a builder. His team buys in to his style and vision but clearly he could use some better players.
And some healthy ones, too.
So far this season, DerMarr Langford, Prince Aligbe and Quentin Post have missed time due to injury while TJ Bickerstaff has played through his. Langford and Prince have missed three games each while Post hasn’t played at all.
Also, Donald Hand Jr., son of Virgina point guard Donald Hand Sr, is out for the year with an ACL.
Injuries are tough for any team - ask snakebit Florida State - but Boston College’s margin for error is pretty thin. It’s just rotten luck.
Grant is, as much as anything, trying to instill a culture at Boston College. He won 13 games in his first season, which was a huge improvement, and despite the injuries is off to a 5-3 start.
And he has some pieces to work with, starting with Jaeden Zackery.
A 6-2 sophomore point guard out of Wisconsin, Zackery had a very promising freshman year, starting every game. He didn’t shoot very well as a freshman but has improved that a lot, particularly his three point shooting which jumped from 37.3 percent then to 46.3 percent now.
That suggests that he’s a gym rat and since he’s a self-made player who has had to work for everything he’s earned, including a make-or-break year at Chipola Junior College that finally got him some interest, that makes sense. He and Grant believe in each other too. For a coach, having your point guard buy in is a big deal.
Other than scoring, which is essentially the same as last year (10.6), Zackery is up in most statistical categories other than fouls, turnovers and free throw percentage.
Makai Ashton-Langford, a 6-3 senior, is the leading scorer at 12.1 ppg. He doesn’t shoot particularly well at 38.3 percent and an ugly 16.7 percent on threes.
Demarr Langford is his younger brother and he’s a 6-5 junior, who’s averaging 6.0 ppg. His free throw percentage is 54.5 percent and has declined sharply throughout his BC career.
CJ Penha, a 6-7 transfer from D-II Trevecca Nazarene, is starting and doing reasonably well. He shot 5-8 against Nebraska.
At 6-9, TJ Bickerstaff is the biggest regular with Post out and he’s putting up 6.5 ppg and 6.9 rpg.
Mason Madsen, a 6-4 transfer from Cincinnati, is getting solid minutes (24 per game) and getting 6.9 ppg and 3.5 boards. Keep an eye on him: he has a 44” vertical.
Devin McGlockton, a 6-7 sophomore, Chas Kelly, a 6-5 freshman out of Houston and Aligbe, a 6-7 freshman out of Minneapolis where the late musical prodigy and 5-2 hoopster Prince also hailed from, round out the rotation. Obviously Aligbe may or may not play. McGlockton, it should be noted, had 20 points in the Nebraska loss.
So the obvious thing is that Duke has a massive size advantage. Bickerstaff is not a great player but he is a competent defender. He’ll get either get either 7-0 Kyle Filipowski or 7-1 Dereck Lively, which means whoever guards the other is probably in for a long night.
BC gets down to 6-7 real fast after Bickerstaff. Armani Mighty is a 6-10 freshman, but he played just three minutes against both Rhode Island and Nebraska.
Once you sort those two out, you still have to defend Mark Mitchell, who is 6-8, and Tyrese Proctor, who is 6-5, not to mention 6-9 Ryan Young and Dariq Whitehead off the bench. Jeremy Roach is no day at the beach, Jacob Grandison is dangerous and Jaylen Blakes is not someone you want to see coming at you on defense.
Realistically, anyone on Duke’s roster, down to Christian Reeves, would probably start for BC.
And yet, as good as the scenario looks for Duke, you never know. Someone - Zackery perhaps - could really heat up from three point range. BC could flip the size difference to their advantage. Just ask yourself: what would Rick Pitino do with this team?
You already know; ruthlessly condition them and press, press, press. If you can turn your bigger opponent over and get layups, size becomes a problem rather than an advantage.
Duke is certainly going to be favored here, and by a lot. Thing is, oddsmakers set expectations. Players actually are the ones who make things happen and it’s impossible to predict when someone is going to have a freakish game - or, for that matter, when someone on the stronger team just doesn’t play well. It’s worth remembering that even with Paolo Banchero, Wendell Moore and Mark Williams, Duke won at BC last year by just nine and the year before, the Eagles lost by just one at Duke.
If the Blue Devils control the game, then it won’t surprise us if Scheyer does what Mike Krzyzewski so often did and treat a dominant performance like a scrimmage. Get guys like Whitehead lots of reps so he can build his confidence. Work on things that need to be reinforced.
If Duke gives Boston College a severe beatdown, there are opportunities to do things that you just can’t simulate in practice.
However, if the Eagles have the Blue Devils in a tight game late and can put game pressure on a much younger team, all bets are off.