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Boston University gets better but still has challenges

January 7, 2015 Columns No Comments
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BOSTON – About a month ago, it was hard to imagine Boston University being 2-0 in Patriot League play and with the wins they have – at Holy Cross and a convincing win over Lehigh – to get there. But that’s where the Terriers stand now, and more importantly, they appear to be in a better place.

Even so, there isn’t going to be any rest. This team still has plenty of flaws and plenty of room to improve.

“It’s so early, you really have to keep trying to get better,” said head coach Joe Jones.

It’s easy to explain BU’s 2-0 start in Patriot League play as a product of being prepared through the non-league schedule, one where they took their lumps. It’s not that simple, though, especially because BU at times didn’t appear to be getting better during non-league play. There were times where this team looked like they would struggle once the new year came. They had a lot to figure out at one time, and their 2-0 record doesn’t mean they have done all of that yet.

Offensively, the Terriers seem to be adapting more to life without a true point guard. It’s not that Cedric Hankerson has suddenly become one, as he hasn’t, but it’s not just him. He’s certainly more like a point guard than he was before this season, but he’s also scoring plenty of points for this team. On Saturday, he and Eric Fanning – another wing – combined for 11 assists with just one turnover. That stat won’t jump out at you as much as the shooting numbers for a few of the guards (Hankerson, John Papale and Cheddi Mosely combined to shoot 12-18 from long range), but it’s certainly every bit as important.

What that, as well as the fact that Hankerson’s 17 points and five assists weren’t the biggest numbers, demonstrate is that the team is much better with the ball as a whole now.

“I’m trying to get other guys to have a better feel for what we’re trying to do also, so he’s not the one guy, that we’re looking for him to make all the plays,” said Jones.

Fanning, who came off the bench to score a game-high 21 points on 5-6 shooting to go with six assists, is starting to find himself. He isn’t one of those who has played the game almost since he born, so he’s had a little different learning curve even before he transferred from Wagner and had to sit a year. Talent isn’t something he’s lacking, though, and now it’s showing. It helps that he’s surrounded by other talented players who want to use their teammates’ skills, but had to figure out how best to do it.

“We were all unselfish at first, so I knew eventually our skill was going to take over,” said the sophomore wing. “Everyone is so unselfish, so everyone is willing to give up a good shot for a great shot.”

Although the Terriers have shot well from long range of late, this team still has challenges. Although Nathan Dieudonne is talented enough to be an offensive factor, he has been inconsistent at best there, as well as on the glass. No one else in the frontcourt is going to strike fear into opponents when devising defensive game plans, so this team will still be guard-heavy offensively. In fact, only six Terriers scored on Saturday, two of them being post players Justin Alston and Blaise Mbargorba, the latter of whom is a bit player.

The lack of a true primary ball handler means they have to continue to move the ball to get good shots. For more reasons than one, they also have to be able to get offense off the bounce. Teams are going to guard them differently at the three-point line in light of what they’ve recently done, and their personnel and lack of inside scoring power is all the more reason for teams to do that. There’s also another basic fact of shooting, which is that teams almost never keep up a torrid jump shooting pace for long stretches.

“We’ve got to get better at that in practice,” said Jones. “We need to practice making more two-point field goals. We need to practice and talk with them with more of an emphasis on driving the ball and posting up and cutting through the defense.”

The Terriers are a better defensive team than they were a month ago, and can still improve. Jones hopes they become a better man-to-man team as a big part of that, but the zone is showing some effectiveness right now.

It’s very early, as Jones noted, but the Terriers are playing better. Mainly, they appear to be playing more to their strengths and have a better feel for one another. The next challenge is to make this more than just a good early run that in hindsight winds up being a case of peaking too soon as teams adjust to them.

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