What is BC basketball’s “magic number”?


The Eagles men are smack in the middle of the heart of their schedule for 2010-2011, and to this point, they have compiled a record of 14-6 (4-2). This is perhaps better than most people expected, but lately, Boston College has not seemed all that sharp. The seven-game win streak which BC rode into the Rhode Island game seems like nothing but a distant memory, as the Eagles have been a much more pedestrian 4-3 since that defeat in Kingston. There is no question, however, that the goal of this team remains getting into the field of 68 in March. With a mixed resume, how can the Eagles get there?

First, let’s take a look at the RPI and strength of schedule stats for BC, and break down what they’ve done so far (source: CBS Sportsline, as of Tuesday night):

BC overall RPI: 35
BC overall SOS: 25

RPI top 100 wins: #13 Texas A&M (RPI: 17, SOS: 57); California (RPI: 54, SOS: 7); Maryland (RPI: 79, SOS: 49); South Carolina (RPI: 82; SOS: 94); NC State (RPI: 83, SOS: 70); Bucknell (RPI: 87, SOS: 175)

Bad losses: Harvard (RPI: 50, SOS: 184); Yale (RPI: 142, SOS: 165)

Joe Lunardi: Bracketology still has the Eagles as a potential 9-seed as of January 24.

For one thing, Harvard’s RPI might be good, but there’s no question that losing to the same Ivy League team for the third year in a row is bad news. There is also no question as to which of the two Ivy losses is worse: Yale. Surprisingly, however, neither one of these losses has obliterated the Eagles’ at-large hopes, as Lunardi still has BC in the field as of Monday.

We can see from the list of Top 100 wins that although BC has some nice ones, the best of which is clearly Texas A&M, it is also a little thin. It is also quite possible that several of those teams mentioned above will fall off of the Top 100 by the time March rolls around. Now, let us turn our attention to what the Eagles need to do in order to cement their resume.

Generally speaking, a good number of wins to put yourselves in prime position for an at-large bid is 20. Plenty of 20-win teams miss the NCAA Tournament — we had a few last year; just ask our ACC brethren in Blacksburg, VA — but it is nevertheless a solid mark to establish credibility in the eyes of the Selection Committee. As for some of those 20-win snubs last year, check out their final RPI/SOS rankings: Mississippi State 55/74, Virginia Tech 59/133, Dayton 54/33, and Arizona State 63/80. Boston College is presently in a better situation here than any of those teams at 35/25, which certainly counts for something. The numbers could be better, but they could also be a lot worse. Recall that BC ended the 2009-2010 season with an RPI of 125, so this is quite the improvement so far.

Next, we will look at BC’s remaining regular season schedule of ten games. It is as follows (current RPI/SOS in parenthesis):

1/27: at Duke (11/56)
2/1: North Carolina (23/13)
2/5: Virginia Tech (64/82)
2/8: at Clemson (95/144)
2/12: Maryland (79/49)
2/19: at North Carolina (23/13)
2/23: Miami (49/36)
2/26: at Virginia (122/85)
3/1: at Virginia Tech (64/82)
3/6: Wake Forest (248/124)

The stretch run of the season features its difficult points and its less difficult points, and right off the bat, you can detect at least four games where Boston College should be favored. Four wins, however, would mean 18-12 (8-8), and that would almost certainly not be good enough. It would be made worse by the fact that the Eagles (a) have only one signature win and (b) closed out the season having gone 4-7 in their final 11 regular season games. Also recall that Boston College still needs some resume padding, if for nothing else, to try to mask the foul odor of the Ivy losses.

What about five wins down the stretch? 19-11 (9-7) is better no doubt, and it would mean that BC was probably able to win a crucial road game or two and maybe pick off one of the more competitive teams on the schedule. Keeping in mind that Lunardi still thinks we’re in the field of 68 at this juncture with a little bit of breathing room, I’m still not sure a 5-6 finish to the season would be enough, despite whatever RPI and SOS boosts they’d get from merely playing Duke and UNC (twice), though the Demon Deacons look like a black hole which could negate some of that progress. If it came down to five wins out of the last ten, I’d think BC would need to do some damage in the ACC tournament, which means no less than winning a game (and if you’re mathematically-inclined, you realize that that tourney win would get them to 20 overall).

Finally, let’s consider six. That would be a 6-4 stretch to close out the year, 20-10 (10-6), and most likely another nice win or two in addition to fattening up on some of the middle and bottom of the ACC. Boston College’s RPI and SOS would probably not be too far away from where they are now, and their resume would likely be sturdy enough to warrant a bid. If combined with a representative effort in the ACC tournament (as in, not getting embarrassed in their first game, if not winning the game), this would probably be enough.

To answer the question then, Boston College’s magic number is approximately six. With a minimum of six more wins this year, the Eagles would be in decent enough shape to feel good about their chances on Selection Sunday. Now, the new question is this: is that too tall of an order? Maybe, maybe not. Aside from Duke (and even they’ve had their shaky moments, although brief), every other team in the conference has shown themselves to be beatable, including Boston College. At first glance, the schedule seems like it may be challenging, but with much better play than what we’ve seen over the last few games, it is possible to win six. Will BC play better? I’m not sure, but if they want to make that field of 68, they had better start soon.