CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. – Things are very different at Boston College than a year ago, and that’s about the only thing that is known right now. Quite a bit is not known.
There’s a new coaching staff, as Steve Donahue was let go after a disaster of a season. The Eagles played the fifth-toughest schedule in the country according to Ken Pomeroy, a slate that included ten teams in the RPI top 50. They weren’t ready for it, even though it was a veteran team. Having just four non-conference home games didn’t help.
In Donahue’s place is Jim Christian, most recently the head coach at Ohio University. Christian is familiar with the area, having attended Boston University before finishing up at Rhode Island, but has spent most of his coaching career in the Midwest.
Besides the coaching change, the Eagles have a decidedly different look than one would have figured a year ago at this time. Last season’s team was full of juniors, but Ryan Anderson and Joe Rahon both left after the coaching change. As such, the Eagles have a few more newcomers, notably graduate guards Dimitri Batten and Aaron Brown.
Certainly, one can expect the staff to be able to hang their hat on junior guard Olivier Hanlan, the ACC’s leading returning scorer. His production was perhaps overshadowed by the team’s struggles, but with him the Eagles have someone who can score and pass. Lonnie Jackson, who has yet to practice this fall due to a calf injury, and Patrick Heckmann return for their senior season. Jackson has a good feel for the game and is a proven long range threat, but he is out indefinitely with an injury. Heckmann has always had potential, but has only really shown it in spurts, like the last six games of last season when he averaged 12.5 points per game.
The aforementioned newcomers will certainly boost the perimeter. Brown, a journeyman who started his college career at Temple, can shoot, while Batten gave them a spark off the bench on Thursday.
“Aaron just knows how to play, he knows how to get easy buckets and get guys open shots,” said Hanlan. “Dimitri does a pretty good job just with his intensity. Defensively, he does a pretty good job of pressuring players, and obviously he’s going to get a few easy buckets on the offensive end.”
None of those players is a true point guard, so that could be a concern at times this season. Hanlan can play there and has shown he can distribute, and he’ll probably play there by default. But given his scoring ability, that might not be optimal. If the others help to the point that the Eagles don’t need Hanlan to score as much, that could go a long way towards Hanlan succeeding at the point. Not helping in all of this is that redshirt freshman Darryl Hicks, who missed last season with a torn ACL, doesn’t seem to be improving and might miss this season as well.
Another player who is likely to be a reserve sparkplug is Garland Owens, the best athlete on the team. The well-built sophomore showed potential last year and doesn’t look very different. If Christian wants to go very small, he could play as an undersized power forward, but look for him to play alongside two guards when he’s out there.
The frontcourt appears to have more options, though less in the way of proven production. On Thursday night, BC went big in starting sophomore Will Magarity and junior Dennis Clifford, who stand 6’11” and 7’0″ respectively. Clifford has battled knee issues the last two years, getting a medical redshirt last season, while Magarity showed potential last year. Clifford is highly skilled and can post up or face the basket and pass, giving them some versatility, and he’ll help, but also need to get back into a rhythm as there is still a rust factor.
“On the defensive end, whenever somebody drives, just having a seven-footer right in the key kind of changes everybody’s shot, in terms of opposing guards,” said Hanlan of having Clifford back. “Just having a true five down low helps us a lot.”
Eddie Odio and Alex Dragicevich, the latter of whom started 13 games last season, also return. Odio, who missed Thursday’s exhibition with a viral infection, can make the highlight reel at times as an active forward.
The intriguing prospect on this team is freshman Idy Diallo, a late pickup in the spring. A one-time California commit, he has a good body and some length, and he could help them this season, though his best days are surely to come in the years after this one. He had eight rebounds in Thursday night’s exhibition, tying for team-high honors with Magarity.
The Eagles have more size and length up front, which was a weak spot last season. Anderson often had to play center, a position for which he is greatly undersized. Now they have four who can play that position if you include senior K.C. Caudill, a wide body who knows the game but has struggled to earn consistent minutes over his career and has yet to practice this fall due to injury.
This year’s schedule, while hardly easy, is more manageable. For one thing, they play no true road games in non-conference, as they play UMass at the Boston Garden as part of the Coaches vs. Cancer tripleheader and play in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, opening with New Mexico. Among the home opponents are Providence, USC and Harvard, who has won six straight against the Eagles and will surely be favored to tack on another to that streak.
The Eagles in Christian’s first year at the helm are a tough team to figure right now. There is more energy to the program as Christian and his staff jumped right into the job and already have things looking up long-term. This team is experienced, but have a number of key parts that are either new or weren’t a big part of the team last year. The lack of a backup point guard hurts. If Clifford is the factor they needed someone to be last year before injuries intervened, and Hanlan works out at the point, this team could surpass some expectations. But all the unknowns are part of why we play the games, starting in another week.