Where Should BC Basketball’s Development Be Right Now?


Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Articles like these are entirely subjective, but sometimes, you have to be subjective.

Boston College basketball head coach Steve Donahue has said several times that he thinks it will take his team 50 games before they start showing big improvement. The young Eagles team is now through 40, having 31 last season and nine so far this year. A cursory glance would reveal that this group has struggled once again in the non-conference schedule, and it isn’t exactly murderer’s row. There are two relevant questions to assess with regards to Eagles basketball: is there any merit to the “50-game rule,” and is this team showing any progress through its first 40 games?

The overall issue is probably a little more complex than it looks. This is a Boston College team that, before the season started, lost Jordan Daniels off its bench and surrendered other players, such as Matt Humphrey. There have also been injuries to starters such as Ryan Anderson and Dennis Clifford. Adding this all together, it has probably had a reasonable impact on what Donahue and the fans have seen so far.

With that said, Atlantic Coast Conference teams should not be losing games like College of Charleston, Bryant, and Harvard with regularity while playing competitive games with the likes of St. Francis College. It happened last year, and it’s happening again this year. At some point, youth stops being a valid excuse. In light of that, it’s hard to blame BC observers who have been discouraged for two reasons: (1) there are other young teams in college basketball that don’t look this bad (for example, St. John’s starts three sophomores and two freshmen as well, having played a similar schedule, but they’re 7-3) and (2) in the recent past, even bad Boston College basketball teams won outside the conference. In Al Skinner’s final year, the Eagles finished with a sub-.500 record, but still went 9-5 in non-conference play despite some highly questionable losses. The 2007-08 team went 9-4 outside the ACC in spite of going 4-12 inside it. Simply put, a good non-conference showing is a baseline or minimum for Boston College.

The Eagles haven’t gotten to that minimum standard yet. This team may take off in later months if that “50-game rule” is to be believed, but the games in November and December count, too. It was not too much to ask that this team, even without Daniels and Humphrey, amongst other less-notable players, could figure out a way to win a relatively light out-of-conference schedule. They might still with four games to go, and 8-5 would be far more respectable than what they did last year, but if it’s another losing record, one would have to wonder about the trajectory of this program.

Here is a sample of what this website and other fans might have thought is reasonable progress:

Year One: Write it off; anything good is gravy
Year Two: Begin seeing tangible progress; get to approximately .500 (on par with bad BC teams of recent past)
Year Three: Significant improvement from Year One; NCAA Tournament bubble team at worst
Year Four: Top five or six in ACC; make NCAA Tournament

The expected goal of this youthful core has been to make the Tournament in the latter stages of its being here. There is still time for BC to make its goals for Year Two, but ask yourself this: assume the Eagles only win about 10, 11, or 12 games this year. In that case, what do you think the odds are that they jump up to 20 wins and a bubble team next season? Was this team only intended to contend for a tournament bid in its senior year, if it does? It’s highly doubtful that this will just happen out of the blue — there have to be more than faint glimpses of it in the first two years. It should not have to take two full seasons of 20+ losses before things magically turn around, and chances are they’re not going from 9-22 and maybe 12-20 to the bubble or better in Year Three.

We have not yet seen that “tangible progress” referenced in Year Two. It must be stressed again that there is still about two-thirds of the season for Boston College basketball to show us that it is capable of taking that big leap in Year Three. I don’t think it’s just going to turn on like a light-switch after 50 games, and regardless, 40 is more than enough of a sample size to evaluate what we have. There is some good individual talent, but the team as a whole is lacking. BC is highly prone to mental mistakes and frequently derails itself. They don’t yet play wire-to-wire crisp games with regularity. One inescapable conclusion in particular is that the Eagles need a talent upgrade to reach their potential.

At this point, it is not time to run Steve Donahue out. 40 games may be plenty to figure out what kind of team BC has at present, but a season and a third isn’t enough to judge a coaching tenure. Still, as likable and passionate as he is, he is no more a coach-for-life than any of his predecessors, so his team will eventually have to perform at a higher level. The window has absolutely not closed on this group of players, but things seem a little less optimistic than we might have thought by now.