Saturday, June 5, 2010

2009-2010 Year in Review, Part III: Basketball

Of course, while Boston College hockey was en-route to a championship, Boston College basketball was making sure they were nowhere near national prominence. The 2009-2010 men's basketball season was amongst the most frustrating and forgettable in recent memory, and was marked by defeat, change, and some level of chaos.

With the loss of Tyrese Rice coming into the season, many prognosticators and bloggers predicted a down season for Boston College. Many Eagles fans, however, thought there was reason to believe BC would outperform those low expectations. After all, though Rice was a key component, the Eagles had a number of solid contributors such as Joe Trapani, Rakim Sanders, and Reggie Jackson. Surely that core group could make up the difference and get BC back in the tournament for the second-straight year.

The season began as it normally does: with some cupcake opponents and a few wins forthcoming. These are the kind of games that nobody will notice if you win, but God help you if you lose. For the first two games of the year, at least, things were fine on Chestnut Hill.

The first sign that things were getting ready to unravel came in the US Virgin Islands at the 2009 Paradise Jam. Facing a St. Joe's team having what would be a very sub-par season (and they were predicted to do so), the Eagles were defeated. The Hawks killed BC from behind the arc and gave them their first loss of the season. After crushing a sacrificial lamb in the 2nd day of play, the Eagles faced what would later become a Sweet Sixteen team in Northern Iowa. The Panthers showed BC no mercy, shooting a mind-blowing 65% from the floor. These two losses were the first sign of the troubles to come for this Eagles team.

After this, Boston College basketball experienced its first of two brief rebounds. They won three in a row against Michigan, Providence, and Miami. All were considered good at the time, but nothing came of any of their seasons (much like BC). A few days later, disaster struck at home against Harvard and Rhode Island. For the second straight year, the Eagles went limp against the Crimson and the Rams dominated BC at the Conte Forum. These were two more out-of-conference losses and already the Eagles' resume was looking spotty.

Their second of two brief rebounds got BC home wins against Bryant, UMass, and South Carolina. They followed this up, however, with perhaps their worst loss in a generation. On January 2, the first game of the new decade, Boston College lost to Maine at home, 52-51, in a game where they scored one point in the last six minutes and were confounded by a simple defense. BC did not adjust and therefore lost to a team to whom they had not lost in 85 years. This was, in many ways, the killshot to BC's season, even at such an early stage. Though they beat hapless NJIT a few days later, BC soon had to play games that really mattered in the ACC. They opened up the meat of their conference schedule with three straight blowout losses. Faith in this team had been lost.

A comeback win at Miami boosted some spirits, but the eager-to-displease Eagles choked away an imminently-winnable game in Blacksburg four days later. A recurring theme was manifesting itself: BC was having trouble in the second half, and closing out games. Shots were not falling, defense was not doing its job, and there was still no inbounds play.

The Eagles got their one and only win against a ranked team at home against Clemson in late January, but then BC got kicked in the groin four straight times with losses to FSU, Duke, Wake, and FSU again. In the second Florida State game, BC's offensive performance reminded me of football's epic failure at Clemson: BC shot 26% in the second half of that game, and it would have been even less if not for a few garbage-time layups. Boston College went almost 12 minutes in the 2nd without a field goal. This embarrassment pushed BC's overall record below .500 on the year. The team was not playing well, and many of the key performers were having unimpressive seasons, particularly Rakim Sanders.

I'm sure CBS was thrilled to have had BC-UNC as one of their Saturday games. They saw BC beat an uncharacteristically-bad Heels team, followed by one of their better wins of the year: a beatdown of Virginia Tech at home. Nobody had any confidence in the team still, and how the Eagles closed out would provide justification. BC lost to the Yellow Jackets in a game that was not as close as the final score, beat a miserable UVA team (this time at least), and got pounded by lackluster NC State. The only way BC would have any postseason would be to win the ACC title.

BC's first round draw in the ACC Tournament was Virginia. Most people, myself included, expected the Eagles to win. Instead, they did what they had been doing all season long: show a little life early, but play like crap the rest of the way. Thanks in part to Sammy Zeglinski, the Cavaliers bombed BC out of the tournament as quickly as they had gotten there. This loss, as lifeless, dull, and painful as all of the others, was the final straw for 13-year head coach Al Skinner. His dismissal was announced on March 30, nearly three weeks after BC's season ended. About a week later, Cornell coach Steve Donahue was given the job.

With Skinner's departure and Donahue's arrival came a great deal of change in a short amount of time. Gone was Skinner's laid-back, somewhat stubborn style and in came Donahue, a man known for his intensity and good X's and O's coaching. Of course, not all of the players on the team felt this was a fit for them. While some controversy erupted over some players leaving (as in, why), Rakim Sanders and Evan Ravenel bailed out of the program, while recruits Brady Heslip and Papa Samba Ndao backed off. Kevin Noreen, another de-commit, is still officially undecided and may elect to go to BC after all. Adding to the chaos was the fact that there have not been to this point any bodies coming onto the roster to replace the losses for next season.

Boston College came into this season with a long-standing coach and a roster full of players who would (mostly) go on to do not so great things this year. They ended the season with a new coach, a depleted roster, and some level of uncertainty. Whether or not there had been a coaching change, there would have still been uncertainty: we would have had a few new recruits, but there would still be serious questions about how BC planned to rebound in a good ACC when they themselves had regressed.

In my six years following this team, 2009-2010 was the worst season I have witnessed.  I believe they were worse than 2007-2008, my senior year at BC, because even though that team's record was one game worse, at least they went into the ACC Tournament and beat a superior team.  The 09-10 Eagles went into the ACC Tournament and lost to a supposedly-inferior team without its best player.  This team was difficult to watch, and one came to expect losses even against weak opposition.  Their play was, on the whole, lazy, lackluster, and uninspiring.  It seemed like by the second half of just about every game, they had nothing left in the tank.

I do not mean to neglect the accomplishments of some players, or to point out that not everyone on the roster was a black hole.  Reggie Jackson emerged as the leader of the team this year and Dallas Elmore started to look more and more like a dependable role-player.  On the other hand, Rakim Sanders did not step up to the mark (and now that he has left, his BC career will be remembered as a stunning disappointment) and several other key players put on regular disappearing acts at crucial moments. 

Then, of course, there was Coach Skinner.  Some argued that he should have stayed one more year, while others felt now was the time to part ways.  I don't believe another year (or more) would have made a difference for anyone.  Sure, BC would have kept those recruits, but there is still a core of players here that failed miserably together this year.  Game after game was a struggle to keep his team from collapsing late, and the lack of solid in-game coaching was a source of constant frustration.

One thing is abundantly clear: the 2009-2010 basketball season was a tremendous disappointment, and the residual effects of this year could be felt in this program for the next several years.

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