But surely you can’t write a preview 7 games into the season? I wouldn’t have thought so either and yet here we are.
This is going to have to be broken into several parts as its ended up being a book.
Part I – Rich Rod East: From the Flex to the Motion
Coming into this season, my biggest fear was that Boston College had just hired Rich Rodriguez. A good coach, but so completely mismatched for the program that he was inheriting that there was a chance he’d sink the program before ever getting the chance to remodel it in his image. At Michigan, you can take this chance, because in the end you are Michigan, the talent is always there and if Rich Rod fails you just bring in Jim Harbaugh. Boston College is not Michigan, most young kids don’t dream of playing for Boston College, so if RichRod fails at BC, recruits may write it off completely and it could take a generation to become relevent again.
So back to Rich Rod, Al Skinner ran a tight flex offense that emphasized screens and interior scoring. Outside shooting was secondary, generally 3s were the result of a player acting outside of the offense or a breakdown in the offense that required a 3 as the shot clock winded down. Here are the 2009 – 2010 3pt shooting percentages for relevant returning players:
- Biko Paris (Sr.): 27%
- Reggie Jackson (Jr.): 29%
- Joe Trapani (Sr.): 35% (I was shocked it was this high)
- Corey Raji (Sr.): 0%, 0-3 for the season.
- Dallas Elmore (Jr.): 0%, 0-7 for the season.
Steve Donahue brings in a motion offense that is heavily reliant on the 3, ideally all 5 players on the Court should be able to shoot it. Boston College has 1 person on the entire roster who appears to be a legitimate 3 point threat, and I’m certain that if broke down Trapani’s three point shooting against better competition, you’d see that it was well below 35%. Not exactly a good fit for the Donahue system. In fact, let’s take a look at percentages against stronger ACC competition:
- Paris: 18%
- Jackson: 28%
- Trapani: 32%
- Raji: 0%
- Elmore: 0%
Would these players be able to adapt to Donahue’s system or would Donahue be able to adapt to him? Pre-season, it was clear that Donahue would not be adapting his methods. He stated that Corey Raji would be expected to shoot the three as he remembered him as a good 3 pt shooter in high school. Paris was also expected to be a key cog. He also brought in a 6-7 Freshman, Danny Rubin who was known as a 3pt threat but who’s only previous “offer” had been as a preferred walk-on at Colgate. Jackson and Paris both stated that Donahue had been working with them on their shooting form all pre-season.
I remain a skeptic as we move into the ACC schedule, especially with Raji who has seemed the most gun shy on open 3s of the big 5. But so far, you cannot argue with the results. BC is shooting 22 threes a game, compared with 15 a game under Skinner. And everyone except for Trapani is shooting at a higher percentage. Its also important to note that the 3pt shooting has actually improved as they’ve faced better competition.
- Paris: 31%
- Jackson: 39%
- Trapani: 26%
- Raji: 33%
- Rubin: 52%
How do you explain the year over year improvement? I point to four factors. The first and most obvious is tactical, the 3 is now a focal point in the offense. Players are shooting threes in rhythm, plays are designed to spring open, uncontested 3s, fewer 3s are desparation shots at the end of the shot clock. As a result the players are taking more shots with their feet set and without a defender closing on them (We have also removed Rakim Sanders who didn’t see a guarded, pull up three pointer with 30 seconds on the shot clock that he didn’t like.) Naturally, taking “good shots” ought to improve shooting percentage.
The second is teaching. I can’t find the quotes, but several times during the offseason Jackson mentioned that Donahue and the staff spent significant time with them improving their form on long range shooting. Frankly, I thought this was going to be a disaster as players started to “think” about their shot rather than just putting it up. So far, I’m way off. The change has been most apparent with Biko Paris. Paris came to BC with an awkward, twisting over the right shoulder shot that just looked terrible. This year he has a quicker, more conventional straightaway shot. I wish I could find video to show the difference, but its striking. I hardly recognized him. Jackson also takes far more shots with his feet set and body squared to the basket. Even Trapani looks good despite his struggles. I agree in part with Bill Rafferty who stated that his problems had to be mental because his form looked great. I’ll cover this more later, but Rafferty misses the fact that Trapani has the hardest transition of any player with this coaching change and player attrition. He’s asked to do so much that its wearing him out. Anyway, if Donahue has some spare time he could spend with Rajon Rondo he’d make me a very happy man.
The third element is vocal encouragement from Donahue. Donahue may be the most positive coach I have ever run across and players have pointed to this over an over again. The most noticeable has been Jackson who stated that under the old staff, if your shot wasn’t falling you were told not to shoot, while Donahue demands that you keep putting it up. I think this makes a huge difference in players confidence in shooting the 3 ball.
Finally, Danny Rubin. The kid has been insanely clutch. On two occassions he hit dagger 3s against Indiana after they had brought the score within 1 point. Shooting and confidence can be contagious. Most critically, he does not need to be a part of the offense to heat up. Indiana did a great job making sure to keep an eye on him for about 25 minutes, he hardly saw the ball when he was in the game and immediately gave it up when he did. Then the defense lapsed on two plays and he made them pay. As long as we can cover for his defensive and rebounding liabilities, I think he’ll continue to rub off on the rest of the team.
Going forward, I am very skeptical if they’ll be able to keep this up against the better defenses in the ACC. Like Michigan against Indiana, everything looks great against weaker competition. But, my concern is that Wisconsin provides a window into how BC will play against a disciplined defensive team that closes out effectively on the three point line. BC shot 29% in that game from three and many of the makes were after Wisco had put the game out of reach with a 20 something – 0 run. An athletic AND disciplined team will completely shut them down.
Further, I don’t think that Rubin will be able to play consistently in ACC play. He is a huge rebounding liability. He consistently has rebounds ripped away from him, or larger players steal rebounds even when he is in position. He’s not strong enough to play consistently against the big boys and Donahue will be forced to sit him more as we move into the harder portion of the schedule.
I don’t think the Rich Rod scenario is completely off the table yet. I think Texas A&M took us too lightly, Cal is overrated and Wisco ran us out of the building. So Maryland will be our first real test, they won’t take us lightly, its on their court, and they’ll be prepared for our offense. It gets even more difficult if Corey Raji’s head injury lingers longer (he’s out for the UMass game).
Let’s hope I’m wrong.
What’s that you say? This isn’t nearly enough speculative Boston College coverage. Don’t fear:
Next Up will be a three-parter:
Compulsive Substitution, Depth and Joe Trapani
I also hope to discuss the defense, BC recruiting past/present,