College Basketball Nation: Boston College Eagles
The Boston College point-shaving scandal was a sensational story that went as viral as it could in the early 1980s. It had all the sexy storylines: the mob, a rat, gambling and athletes on the take. Hollywood great Martin Scorsese framed his 1990 classic "Goodfellas" on the gangsters involved. But, 35 years later, some still wonder who was really in on the fix.
Joe Lavine, an award-winning documentarian and director of "Playing for the Mob," first learned of the Boston College scandal from a Sports Illustrated cover story exposing the scheme in February 1981. It fascinated the young filmmaker, who had grown up in Trenton, New Jersey, reading about one of the players implicated, a star high school athlete named Jim Sweeney.
To read the entire story, click here.
However, the only thing that increased was disappointment in the league’s overall showing.
Expanding to 15 teams did little to affect the ACC’s reach in the NCAA tournament. Six teams received bids -- and that likely would have been just five until NC State’s late push (including its upset of Syracuse in the ACC tournament).
North Carolina and Duke both failed to advance into the NCAA tournament’s second weekend for the first time since 1979. The Blue Devils were upset by Mercer in the second round. The Tar Heels lost to Iowa State in the third round. The ACC has long depended on the bluebloods to carry the league’s baton, and this season did little to change that narrative.
Only Virginia, which earned a No. 1 seed by winning the league title, advanced to the Sweet 16. The Cavaliers were then eliminated by Michigan State.
The league should improve next postseason thanks in part to Carolina's and Duke's potential to have powerhouse squads.
Freshmen Tyler Ennis (Syracuse) and Jabari Parker (Duke) proved to be not only among the best players in the conference, but in the nation -- regardless of class.
Many ACC teams had outstanding individual talents -- NC State’s T.J. Warren (won the league’s player of the year award), Duke’s Rodney Hood, North Carolina’s Marcus Paige, Clemson’s K.J. McDaniels to name a few -- but those teams were heavily flawed. Opponents who stopped Lamar Patterson essentially stopped Pittsburgh. Syracuse had trouble scoring. Duke had a thin frontcourt. Carolina was limited by its shooting from the perimeter.
Syracuse started the season strong -- winning its first 25 games -- but faded down the stretch losing six of its last nine games, as its offense went on hiatus. The Orange did provide two classics sure to be talked about in ACC lore. Their first meeting with Duke was a thrilling 91-89 overtime win in the Carrier Dome and their 66-60 loss at Duke featured Jim Boeheim’s first ejection in a regular-season game.
As has long been a problem since the league expanded to 12 teams, the ACC failed to develop a strong second tier of added depth. The conference continued to be top-heavy as Florida State, Maryland, Clemson and Notre Dame never quite became teams to fear.
Three of the bottom four teams in the standings played poorly enough to end the season with their coaches being fired. Boston College arguably had the most disappointing seasons of them all relative to its talent level. The Eagles pulled it together long enough to hand Syracuse its first loss, which was the highlight of their season.
What we expect to see next season: More of the nation’s top freshmen. Duke’s recruiting class is considered tops in the land and is led by center Jahlil Okafor, who is ranked No. 1 overall in the ESPN 100, and Tyus Jones, the No. 1 point guard who is fourth overall. North Carolina also snagged two top-10 recruits in Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson and is ranked third as a class by ESPN.com.
Newcomers are great and all, but let’s also appreciate what we won’t see in the ACC for the first time in its existence. Maryland, a charter member of the conference started in 1953, will begin competing in the Big Ten. Let’s pause to remember the good times.
Long enough? OK.
Louisville obviously doesn’t compare to the tradition Maryland had within the league, but it could be considered an upgrade otherwise. With three national titles and a Hall of Fame coach currently on its sideline, the Cardinals fit the league’s basketball pedigree.
Their addition, plus Virginia’s returning most of its ACC title squad, should help the league become closer to the juggernaut many of its coaches expected this past season.
For all the hand-wringing over a change of guard in the ACC, the Blue Devils and Tar Heels look primed to re-establish their stranglehold on the top of the league standings. Regardless of how Parker’s NBA draft decision falls on Wednesday, Duke will have a good blend of experience (Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson) and young talent (Okafor, Jones, Justise Winslow, Grayson Allen) at Mike Krzyzewski’s disposal.
Carolina returns the likely front-runner for preseason player of the year in Paige. Forward Brice Johnson and center Kennedy Meeks give the Heels an inside offensive scoring punch that will be hard to contain.
Because of those teams at the top, a trio of new coaches could face a harsh inaugural season in the league. Buzz Williams shocked many by leaving Marquette to take the reins at Virginia Tech, replacing James Johnson. Jim Christian (after a stint at Ohio) takes over Boston College, replacing Steve Donahue. And Danny Manning returns home to Tobacco Road to rebuild Wake Forest, replacing Jeff Bzdelik.
It could all add up and help the ACC live up to its own expectations as the best basketball conference in the nation.
Player unions and paying players are issues that touch all of college athletics, including basketball, and they will continue to be talked about during the summer. The 2014-15 season won't be a time to usher in rule changes, like this past season's emphasis on freedom of movement. But here are a few things to keep in mind as college hoops begins its offseason:
Coaching moves: With Boston College hiring Jim Christian and Wake Forest selecting Danny Manning, California remains the lone major conference school with an opening. That means filling it (Xavier’s Chris Mack is reportedly the lead candidate) would potentially make for only a small ripple effect in the offseason. Then again, keep in mind that last year Brad Stevens didn’t leave Butler for the Boston Celtics until July. So until NBA jobs are filled, college coaches like Kentucky’s John Calipari, Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg and even Connecticut’s newly crowned national champion Kevin Ollie could appear on the short list of candidates to fill those slots. Shortly after the national championship game, Calipari issued denials that he’s interested in the Los Angeles Lakers. But nothing can stop the rumor mill until the hiring and firing is completed, and that could go into the summer.
Transfer status: Maybe the blame belongs on the high school and AAU culture, where players jump around until they find a good fit. Or maybe kids have just wised up and realized that rather than ride the bench for four years, some coach at some school will value them more. Regardless of how it got to this point, the smoldering over transfers has been growing among coaches to the point that it’s about to be a fire. Some even feel that the rules are being outright exploited. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim lamented during ACC media days last October about the transfer who leaves a school due to a sick family member, but then never sees the family after the transfer is completed. Some players have followed the model set forth by coaches themselves by playing for a lower-level school long enough to make a name and then transferring to a bigger stage. Toss in the graduate student waiver, and the culture of transfers seems like the college equivalent of free agency. Until the rules are changed, there are plenty of good players available. Over the next two months players will find new homes, and fan bases will find new reasons to be hopeful about their futures.
Silver lining: The earliest either side can opt out of the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement isn’t until June 2017, so any talk about increasing the league’s age limit is just talk. For now. But as one-and-done players trickle into the league each year -- there could be about 10 taken in the first round of this year’s draft -- the discussion perks up again. It’s an issue that is gaining momentum from the highest office in the NBA. New commissioner Adam Silver has made it known that he supports raising the age limit from 19 to 20. On Thursday he told ESPN.com that he’d also consider providing a subsidy to college players that would include a complete insurance plan. At the very least, Silver has indicated that he’s open to dialogue with the NCAA and the NBA players’ union. And that is a start in bringing a little more stability to the college game.
Connecticut’s national title as a No. 7 seed provided the conclusive evidence of what we knew early on in the 2013-14 men’s college basketball season. There was no dominant team. Arizona settled down the revolving door of No. 1 teams -- the Wildcats were the third to hold the mantle just six weeks into the polls, and their eight weeks atop the Associated Press poll was the longest of the five teams (Kentucky, Michigan State, Syracuse, Florida) to be ranked No. 1. With the odds of winning the Billion Dollar Bracket already outrageous, parity in college basketball made it downright impossible.
With the book finally written on the season, here are the chapters we’ll remember most:
Freedom of movement: Officials were quick to say this season they weren’t creating new rules, they were enforcing the old ones. College basketball had become too defensive, the critics said. Physical play was ruining the game. The season started with an emphasis on allowing freedom of movement and handchecking was called to the point of being a “touch foul.” Players, coaches and officials alike never came to a consensus of understanding how a block/charge would be called. While scoring on the whole increased slightly, there was no denying that foul calls and free throws had a substantial spike.
Champions Classic: Teams were allowed to begin practice two weeks before the traditional Oct. 15 start date, which in a practical sense meant earlier than ever. It resulted in a November filled with high-quality games beginning with a special night in Chicago. The Champions Classic doubleheader featured Michigan State’s win over Kentucky and Kansas beating Duke and ushered in the season with big-name matchups with budding superstars to get college hoops buzzing even in the midst of the BCS race and the NFL, the overlord of American sports, in the middle of its season.
Senior spotlight: Plenty of seniors weren’t going to let the young guys hog all the spotlight and reminded us of the value of staying four years. No way UConn’s Shabazz Napier was mature enough in his previous three seasons to lead a team to the national title the way he did this season. Creighton’s Doug McDermott returned to school -- as a walk-on no less -- and finished as the fifth leading scorer in Division I history. He was also the first player since Wayman Tisdale (1983-85) and just the sixth ever to have three consecutive seasons scoring 800 points or more. Louisville’s Russ Smith returned and ranked No. 1 in offensive efficiency by kenpom.com for a second straight season.
Conference realignment: With the dust finally settled (we think), and teams shuffled into new leagues, we saw the good and the bad from the new configurations. A record crowd of 35,000-plus at the Carrier Dome watched Syracuse’s 91-89 overtime win against Duke become an instant classic in their first meeting as ACC foes. The future of ACC basketball, which adds Louisville next season, is partly why Maryland’s season-long swan song as a former ACC charter member was overshadowed. Creighton excelled in its new locale, finishing second in the new Big East, even though its move from the Missouri Valley hurt Wichita State. (More on that below.) The brand-spanking new American Athletic Conference truly reflected the nation with its huge disparity between the haves at the top of the league and the have-nots at the bottom. In the end, the national championship trophy resides in the rookie league.
Shockers chase perfection: Wichita State became the first team since St. Joseph’s in 2004 to finish the regular season undefeated. Instead of drawing praise, it drew some skepticism from those who pointed to a weakened Missouri Valley schedule. Still the Shockers plugged along reaching 35-0 -- one game better than the 1990-91 UNLV squad that went 34-1 and lost to Duke in the Final Four -- and grabbing a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Their season ended against eventual national runners-up and 8-seed Kentucky in the round of 32.
Coaches behaving badly: The season provided Internet trolls a seemingly endless supply of memes and GIFs to loop. The list was long, including Iowa’s Fran McCaffery slamming chairs against Michigan State, Nebraska’s Tim Miles ending the Cornhuskers’ most memorable season in decades with an NCAA tournament ejection and Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson’s postgame rant that included that his wife, not his players, knows to, “at least shot-fake one time.” But a few stand out. Who can forget the sight of Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim nearly losing his jacket while running on the Cameron Indoor Stadium floor to protest a charge with 10 seconds left in a loss at Duke? Boeheim joked after the game that his first trip to Tobacco Road, which resulted in his first regular-season ejection, would be a memorable one. Then there was Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski (insert sarcasm font here) who will certainly think twice before throwing a pen toward his bench. Krzyzewski got a technical foul for doing so in the ACC tournament final against Virginia.
Safety issues: There were the things out of man’s control like the postponement of Iowa’s game at Indiana due to a pane of the ceiling crashing into the stands. North Carolina and Duke postponed their first meeting when a snow storm left the Blue Devils’ bus unable to safely travel eight miles to Chapel Hill. It was the Tar Heels’ first postponed game since the Gulf War. Court storming continued to be a topic when a fight broke out at the end of Utah Valley’s win over New Mexico State. The incident started when an agitated K.C. Ross-Miller of NMSU hurled the ball at Holton Hunsaker as time expired. Two Aggies were suspended for their roles in the altercation. Thankfully no one was hurt when an alcohol-fused adrenaline rush sent a UC-Santa Barbara student running onto the court during the first half of a game against Hawaii; the fan got close enough to confront Hawaii coach Gib Arnold before players pushed him away and he was escorted out.
Those were the top highlights from the season. Just missing the cut were: how teams turned around their seasons (including Virginia, Wisconsin, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee); the impact of transfers (from the spectacular, including Duke’s Rodney Hood; to the cautionary, including Georgetown’s Josh Smith); the Carolina blues (potential All-American P.J. Hairston sat out the first nine games before the school announced it would not seek his reinstatement); and basketball as an emotional outlet (cellar dweller Boston College handed Syracuse its first loss after the passing of longtime BC media relations director Dick Kelley, and Georgia coach Mike Fox winning at Missouri after attending his father’s memorial service).
Three months and one day ago, St. Francis (N.Y.), a tiny Northeast Conference school from Brooklyn, arrived in Syracuse guaranteed to lose.
The Terriers couldn't play with the Orange. Come on. Not in the Carrier Dome, not anywhere. We actually call these guarantee games for a reason: a well-heeled high-major flies in a boot-strapping patsy for a polite pulverization and an $80,000 check. Bills are paid. Budget goals are met. Schedules are filled. The world keeps on spinning.
Except this game was never a guarantee. The Orange were sluggish and out of rhythm and shot 18-of-51 from the field. St. Francis led for huge portions of the second half. The score was tied at 50-50 with one minute left to play. It wasn't until Jerami Grant and Michael Gbinije made back-to-back steals in the final minute that Syracuse sealed a 56-50 win.
That's what people will say about Syracuse in the coming days: That it was bound to lose eventually. And that's right, to a point: There are only so many times you can bet on red and expect to hit.
In the past week alone, Syracuse barely got past NC State, 56-55, thanks to a late steal and go-ahead bucket in the final moments. Last week, Pittsburgh had a huge home win in hand four seconds before Tyler Ennis made the 35-foot buzzer-beating shot of the season. On Feb. 3, two days after a thrilling 91-89 overtime win against Duke, the Orange needed 33 points (on 9-of-12 from 3) from Trevor Cooney to squeak past Notre Dame 61-55.
There are plenty of other examples: The first Pittsburgh game, on Jan. 18, a 59-54 win very much in doubt until the buzzer sounded. Or Jan. 4's ugly 49-44 win over Miami. Or on Dec. 15, when Syracuse flirted with St. John's at the Garden just a little too long. Much of Syracuse's 25-0 start was built on solid, obvious victories -- on simply being better than the other team. But nearly as often, Jim Boeheim's team has had to figure out a dramatic method in the final moments. Until Wednesday, it always did.
None of which should serve to obscure just how surprising Wednesday night was.
Yeah, sure, Syracuse lets people hang around in its own gym, but Boston College? Six-and-17 Boston College? Before Wednesday, Steve Donahue's team ranked No. 324 in the country in points allowed per possession (adjusted for competition, per kenpom.com). That ranked them among the High Points and Tennessee States and Furmans and Abilene Christians of the world, teams that accept guarantee sums to go on the road and take ritual beatings for the first two months of their season. The Eagles are allowing 1.16 points per possession in conference play. BC opponents shoot 37.9 percent from 3 and 49.7 percent from 2. The Eagles have played more than competently on the offensive end this season, but they've been so, so bad on defense that no one has taken the time to notice. And why would they?
On Wednesday night, the same team described in the previous paragraph held Syracuse to 62 points in 63 possessions. C.J. Fair shot 7-of-22 from the field. Cooney was 1-of-6 from 3-point territory. Syracuse turned BC over on 27 percent of the Eagles' possessions -- 27 percent! -- and Boston College still did enough on both ends of the floor for all 45 minutes to upset the unbeaten No. 1 team in the country. That is incredibly surprising. It would be a mistake to think otherwise.
It would likewise be mistaken to draw too many conclusions from just one game. It doesn't mean Syracuse is "in trouble" in some vague sense, that you should suddenly downgrade them in your early bracket projections. After all, the Orange were 25-0 and ranked No. 1 in the first place precisely because they've been so good in close games. Fair is a minutes-devouring workhorse of a forward, and Ennis has been the most efficient player in the country in close and late situations. If anything, this habit should help Syracuse in the tournament, when these kinds of games against inferior opponents hang whole seasons in the balance.
Nor is it time to assume that Syracuse won't still be a No. 1 seed when the bracket is unveiled on Selection Sunday. There is much to determine before then, not least of which what Wichita State -- the last unbeaten team in basketball -- does with its final handful of regular-season and Missouri Valley tournament games. Top-seed contender Florida needed a miracle to get by Auburn at home on Wednesday night. Arizona is still figuring things out without injured forward Brandon Ashley. And so on.
No, the only real conclusion to draw from Boston College's cathartic win in the Carrier Dome is that you can't live on the proverbial edge forever. You can't assume you'll make a steal in the final moments and win the game every time you play. You can't count on 35-foot shots from your precocious freshman point guard. Luck eventually expires.
Syracuse placed its first bet, and made its first escape, three months and one day ago. Since then, they've been on the hot streak of a lifetime. On Wednesday, the wheel finally spun to black.
The job is thankless more often than not, a daily grind of duties both assigned and unassigned, of gathering information as fast as it can be gathered, of chasing down athletes for interviews who’d rather not be caught, and most difficult, appeasing the often unappeasable: busy coaches who have no time for the media and aggravated media who want more time with coaches.
The good sports information directors are ghosts in the background, blending in with their school-logoed backdrops, doing their jobs so well and effortlessly you never know they are there.
You always knew Dick Kelley was there. Not because he craved the limelight but because he was just so darned decent and good. He was a caretaker, of players, of coaches, of the curmudgeonly media and most of all, of his beloved Boston College, where he worked since 1983.
Kelley, who died last Thursday, put in one more day of work, it would seem, on Wednesday night, cajoling Saint Peter into lifting Kelley’s forlorn Eagles to the most improbable of scores in a season full of improbabilities:
The Boston College Eagles, they of the two ACC wins, both against fellow basement-dwelling Virginia Tech, 62.
The Syracuse Orange, they of the undefeated record and heart-attack victories, 59.
In the grand scheme of things the loss figures bigger than the win -- it left Wichita State alone on the quest for perfection, and took some, if not all, of the air out of the big Syracuse-Duke rematch on Saturday -- but in the small window of the world that is Boston College, the win meant an awful lot, too.
Kelley was the heart if not the face of the school’s athletic department, universally adored and respected, a man you couldn’t help but like. When he was diagnosed with ALS in 2011, the school went to extraordinary efforts to help him, a story detailed here (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/college-basketball/news/dick-kelley/#all) by my friend Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated.
But ALS sadly remains undefeated and last week Kelley’s beautiful and brilliant mind finally gave way to the ravages the disease had wrought on his body.
His funeral was held Tuesday.
For a BC basketball team reeling this season, it was easily the most painful blow.
Just how much of an impact did Kelley have on the BC community? When the game ended and ESPN’s LaPhonso Ellis found coach Steve Donahue for a postgame interview, the first thing the BC coach mentioned was Kelley’s passing.
"It’s been an emotional week for us at BC," he said. "We lost one of our colleagues in Dick Kelley and the emotion of this game, I’m just speechless. I’m so happy for our guys."
The former Cornell coach has been searching hard for happy moments since coming to Chestnut Hill, Mass. He took the Boston College job on the wings of the Big Red’s NCAA tournament success, a hot commodity deemed a home run hire for the school.
But success has been hard to come by. BC has struggled in its ACC fit for years and with the league expanding, the job is only getting harder.
This year has been just a continuation of a string of frustrating seasons. The Eagles had managed only six wins before Syracuse. They’ve been close -- seven of their 19 losses decided by five points or fewer -- but that hadn’t done much to placate the fans waiting for Donahue to work his Cornell magic.
The Carrier Dome would seem the least likely place to turn things around, not just because of Syracuse’s run of success in comparison to BC’s line of disappointments, but because the building itself has hardly been kind to Donahue.
Even when his Cornell team was at its best -- in 2009-10 -- the Big Red couldn’t beat their big in-state brothers. Adding insult to injury, it was in the Dome that Cornell’s NCAA run came to an end that year, against Kentucky in the Sweet 16.
And yet there was Lonnie Jackson, a 56 percent free throw shooter, calmly sinking four free throws in the waning seconds of overtime to seal the win, and there was the mini court storming by players and the tiny pocket of faithful fans celebrating in Syracuse.
"Toward the end of the game, it was like, 'We can’t be denied,'" Ryan Anderson said after the game. "DK is looking down on us. He’s got us."
He always did.
No. 4 had to play overtime to beat an opponent with a losing record in the Pac-12, and a team with a 17-game win streak had to play overtime to beat a 2-9 conference opponent.
Oh, and Wichita State just kept winning while Doug McDermott just kept scoring.
It was that kind of night in college basketball -- arguably the wildest of the entire season.
Feels like March tonight.— Myron Medcalf (@MedcalfByESPN) February 20, 2014
It did indeed. And our team of writers and reporters was all over it -- starting with the collectively stunned reaction to Syracuse’s 62-59 overtime loss to Boston College at the Carrier Dome.
Boston College, the worst high-major defense in college basketball by a huge margin, just beat 25-0 Syracuse at home. I don't know.— Eamonn Brennan (@eamonnbrennan) February 20, 2014
I am STUNNED over Cuse losing. @ home to BC !WOW - congrats to Eagles 4 laying their hearts out— Dick Vitale (@DickieV) February 20, 2014
Wow. Can't believe what I just saw. #BCvsCUSE— Jeannine Edwards (@jeanninee12) February 20, 2014
A shocking upset no doubt -- one of the biggest in years -- but the drama certainly wasn't anything new to the Orange, who have been living on the edge for a while now (including two wins by a combined three points in the past week).
Syracuse is the Flying Wallendas of college basketball. Forever on a tightrope.— Myron Medcalf (@MedcalfByESPN) February 20, 2014
I put it to you that Syracuse games are somewhat entertaining.— John Gasaway (@JohnGasaway) February 20, 2014
Some had a theory. Was it the throwback unis that finally did in SU? Why mess with success, right?
Commence uniform burning in Syracuse.— Dana O'Neil (@ESPNDanaOneil) February 20, 2014
That's the danger of letting Joe Namath design your new uniforms.— Myron Medcalf (@MedcalfByESPN) February 20, 2014
But hey, Boston College had something to do with it as well. Full credit to the hard-luck Eagles, whose miserable season included the death of longtime SID Dick Kelley last week.
Wow... Dick Kelley with the win. No doubt on that one.— Dana O'Neil (@ESPNDanaOneil) February 20, 2014
Cool to see Boston College hoops win one at undefeated Syracuse for longtime SID Dick Kelley. Teamwork— Lance Armstrong (@lancearmstrong) February 20, 2014
The BC players never quit this season, despite blowing leads in a number of games.— Andy Katz (@ESPNAndyKatz) February 20, 2014
Just how big of an upset was this? Our good friends at ESPN Stats & Information put it in some perspective.
Boston College: 1st sub-.500 team to win road game vs #1 team since Georgia Tech in 1955 over Kentucky #BCvsCUSE— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 20, 2014
Boston College entered the game with a .240 win pct...the worst EVER by team to defeat AP No. 1 team in February or later #BCvsCUSE— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 20, 2014
Boston College joins Villanova (1990) as the only teams to beat a top-ranked Syracuse team on its home floor— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 20, 2014
How unlikely was Boston College's win over Syracuse? ESPN's Basketball Power Index gave the Eagles a 1.2% chance of pulling the upset.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 20, 2014
And then there was one. Despite the craziness elsewhere, the Shockers of Wichita State just kept doing what they do -- win basketball games. WSU went on the road and defeated Loyola 88-74 to improve to 28-0, the first team to reach that mark since Illinois in 2005.
And we are down to one unbeaten on the men's side of hoops. Wichita State Shockers— Jimmy Dykes (@JimmyDykesLive) February 20, 2014
Wichita State lone unbeaten left at 28-0. Tremendous accomplishment, but I'm still not ready to give the Shockers a No. 1 seed.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) February 20, 2014
Wichita State was 6 Auburn points away from likely being #1.— Carter Blackburn (@carterespn) February 20, 2014
Might the Shockers still be No. 1 next week? Florida entered Wednesday on a 17-game win streak, but Auburn (at just 4-8 in the mediocre SEC) went into Gainesville and almost knocked off the Gators -- falling after a very untimely foul in the closing seconds of a 71-66 UF victory.
The storyline that will get lost after tonight? .... Florida needed (and received) a miracle to beat Auburn at home.— Myron Medcalf (@MedcalfByESPN) February 20, 2014
Florida will win. Auburn will continue to be Auburn.— Dana O'Neil (@ESPNDanaOneil) February 20, 2014
Who had Florida-Auburn in the office pool as the game of the year in SEC hoops?— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) February 20, 2014
Even always-steady Saint Louis got caught up in the mid-evening madness around college basketball. Like Florida, the 10th-ranked Billikens were also on a 17-game win streak but needed a free throw with less than a second remaining just to force overtime against the Atlantic 10's last-place team, George Mason. The Billikens escaped with an 89-85 victory.
Saint Louis went through the same thing Florida and Syracuse did and had to go to OT to survive at George Mason.— Andy Katz (@ESPNAndyKatz) February 20, 2014
Fourth-ranked Arizona didn't escape the madness either, squeaking out a 67-63 win at Utah in overtime.
Arizona survives wild day of hoops, escapes Utah with a win.— Dana O'Neil (@ESPNDanaOneil) February 20, 2014
Then there was this guy, who just continues to do what he does -- in this case during Creighton's 85-70 win at Marquette.
Doug McDermott has now passed Tyler Hansbrough and Elvin Hayes on the all-time scoring list, moving from 13th to 11th.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 20, 2014
Speaking of Hansbrough, that brings us full circle to a stat from an ESPN researcher that should at least somewhat comfort Syracuse fans on this bleak night in Central New York.
Cheer up, @Cuse fans... last time Boston College beat #1 team in the nation was over UNC in 2009... the Heels went on to win the title.— Jason McCallum (@ESPNJMac) February 20, 2014
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- The numbers hinted at a rout.
Boston College was 2-16 all-time against Duke, losing seven straight matchups and nine of the past 10 against the Blue Devils. Mike Krzyzewski's team came into Saturday night's game against the Eagles ranked No. 11 in both polls, averaging 81.9 points per game (18th nationally, first in the ACC) and boasting potential No. 1 pick Jabari Parker.
But in the first 20 minutes Saturday night, the Eagles seemed determined to prove that sometimes numbers do lie.
Despite being outscored 11-2 on second-chance points, 10-1 on bench points and 6-0 on points off turnovers, Olivier Hanlan led all scorers with 14 points (on 4-for-8 shooting from the floor and 5-for-6 shooting on free throws) and BC shot 50 percent on 3s to trail by only four at the half.
"I thought their whole team played well in the first half," Krzyzewski said. "They could've been winning at the halftime."
"The way we started the second half was outstanding," Coach K said. "We got those runs and Jabari was really difficult to handle."
Parker brought a capacity crowd with him to Conte Forum on Saturday night -- Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge was courtside, one of 21 NBA folks to request credentials for the game -- and he didn't disappoint.
The 6-foot-8, 235-pound Chicago native demonstrated slick post skills, a serviceable jumper and a nose for the ball on the glass. He nearly had a double-double at the half, with 10 points and seven rebounds.
He was even better in the second half, taking eight shots and hitting seven of them as the Blue Devils pulled away for the 89-68 rout the numbers originally suggested.
"I think the thing you don't realize on tape or until you see him in a game is he has an extra pop," BC coach Steve Donahue said of Parker. "It's 6-8, 235, but it's an extra quickness that you don't see even in this league. The extra explosiveness. The thing I think he did well tonight, he didn't settle. He's settled a lot this year, he's only shooting 47 percent because he's settling.
"He didn't settle tonight, he made sure he got to the rim."
Parker opened the second half with a baseline drive for a two-handed dunk, then turned a BC turnover on the next possession into an and-1 when Ryan Anderson tried to foul to prevent the layup and managed only the first part of that.
A few minutes later, Parker teamed up with Rasheed Sulaimon to provide the highlight of the night.
The rugged forward ripped down a defensive rebound, whipped it up ahead to Sulaimon and then chased the play upcourt. Sulaimon made like he was going to drive to the basket, then stopped on a dime and left a bounce pass for Parker, who steamed through the catch and powered home another two-handed flush.
"I feel like we're just not getting stops," Hanlan said of the Eagles' second-half struggles. "We obviously played pretty good defense in the first half ... Whenever a team like Duke gets hot and makes a run, it can get ugly."
After Joe Rahon hit a 3 to make it 53-44 with 13:28 to go, Duke scored the next 18 points to put the game away -- starting, of course, with an and-1 by Parker off a feed from Sulaimon.
"Jabari was a monster today," Krzyzewski said. "He wasn't rewarded sometimes on his aggressiveness on the offensive boards, with the finishes, otherwise it could've been a 35- or 36-point night. He was sensational tonight.
"He played more like a veteran tonight. He was playing so hard and usually we have to sub him, just because you get tired. This was really the first game that I've seen him that he was playing so well, he played through the tired. That's something a really good player has to learn to do, you have to keep performing when you're tired. And he did."
According to ESPN Stats & Information's Jeremy Lundblad, Parker became the first player to have 29 points, 16 rebounds and 3 blocks in an ACC game since Tim Duncan did it in 1997.
"He's a great player," Anderson said of Parker. "To be so young as a freshman and just be so physically gifted as he is ... a lot of the things that he does is mental, as well. He just reads the game very well. He just made a lot of good plays for them tonight. He was very efficient."
Parker finished 12-for-17 from the floor and set new career highs for points (29) and rebounds (16).
In truth, to beat a team like Duke the Eagles need just about everything to go right.
They need to shoot well -- they shot just 40.7 percent in the second half, to finish at 46.0 percent. They need to rebound well -- they got outrebounded by 10 in the second half, and Duke finished with a 37-23 edge on the boards. And they need to defend well -- Duke shot 69.2 percent in the second half and finished at 56.1 percent for the game.
And they need a star freshman like Parker to have a freshman-like outing, maybe look ahead to the next game -- Duke plays at North Carolina next -- and underestimate the Eagles' talent.
None of that happened Saturday night, and instead Parker put on a show worthy of the billing.
"Whenever he gets it going," Hanlan said, "it can be scary."
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- With about 16 minutes left in the game Monday night, Conte Forum was as loud as it’s been for a basketball game in a long while.
Ryan Anderson muscled up a layup, got the whistle, punched the air and screamed “Let’s go!” after the ball fell through the net. The and-1 put Boston College up by six over No. 2 Syracuse, and sensing an improbable upset, the 8,606 in attendance had the Eagles’ arena rocking.
When Anderson added a dunk off an Olivier Hanlan feed two possessions later to give BC its largest lead at eight, the crowd exploded again and Orange coach Jim Boeheim called time.
“It was awesome in Conte tonight,” BC sharpshooter Lonnie Jackson said. “I was just having fun out there, locked into the game and the competitiveness of the game. At one point we were up by eight, and then we kind of slowed down a little bit.
“But having that fan support and that noise really helped us.”
On paper, this game seemed about as big a mismatch as you could draw up.
Then they threw the ball up and something surprising happened: a certain rout by the visitors turned into a close game.
Though the Eagles turned the ball over 10 times in the first half and 16 times for the game, leading to 19 Orange points -- including six on three breakaway dunks by Trevor Cooney in one sequence late in the first half -- BC made up for the miscues by hitting 9-for-21 on 3-pointers.
Jackson had a big hand in that. The junior hit the game-winning 3 at Virginia Tech on Saturday and didn’t lose the hot hand on the trip home, hitting big shot after big shot from behind the arc Monday.
“We knew from the last game that the guy could shoot the ball and we just didn’t find him,” Boeheim said of Jackson. “And part of it was we were trapping and we had good traps and they made two great plays to get out of traps, and not only get out of the traps but get him the ball with a cross-court pressure pass, and he stuck it.”
On one play, Joe Rahon was trapped on the left side of the court and threw a wild cross-court pass to Jackson in front of the BC bench. The 6-foot-3, 178-pounder leapt to catch the pass and when he landed, his heels were nearly on the sideline.
No matter. Jackson launched again and swished his sixth 3 of the night, putting BC up 50-44.
The Eagles were riding high with 11:57 left to play, but little did they know that would be their last field goal until 44 seconds remained in the game. Syracuse used increased defensive pressure and big plays from Tyler Ennis, C.J. Fair and Cooney to take control of the game and escape Chestnut Hill with a 69-59 win.
“I was real proud of our effort,” Donahue said. “I thought we really followed the game plan. I thought we fought, we competed. Obviously we had bad spurts and that’s a credit to Syracuse and what they bring to the table every game. And a couple of those spurts just really hurt us.”
The loss dropped BC to 5-12 (1-3 ACC), but may prove a boost to the Eagles’ once-sagging confidence.
“We know we’re a really good team,” Jackson said. “We’re just trying to build off each game. It was kind of rough early on in the season. But we just know we’re confident in ourselves and we can play with anybody in this league.
“So we’re just trying to stay in that mindset and stay together.”
If the Eagles can produce more runs like the good spurts against the Orange on Monday night, and fewer of the bad ones, chances are they will have Conte Forum rocking again this season. And next time, they may just keep the noise going ’til the very end.
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.
When you have it, anything is possible. When you don't have it, it seems like everything is impossible.
The difference was on stark display Wednesday afternoon, when Boston College bused across town to play Harvard in Cambridge for the first time since 1991.
An issue with the shot clock just after the tip led to a disjointed beginning, and while the Crimson found the range rather quickly, the Eagles struggled for most of the first half. Harvard's defense, a hallmark of Tommy Amaker's program, certainly had something to do with that.
But while BC shot just 4-for-12 on 3-pointers in the first half, coach Steve Donahue said he didn't have a problem with the outside shot selection. He had a problem with what he thought was a tentative start by his Eagles.
"That's kind of our issue right now," Donahue said. "With 10 losses, our confidence is what it is. And when you get in situations like that, you're not confident."
The low point for the Eagles came with about three minutes left in the first half, after Olivier Hanlan missed a 3. Siyani Chambers pushed the ball upcourt, used a pick from Steve Moundou-Missi and then delivered a pass to the diving big man from Yaounde, Cameroon. Moundou-Missi converted the layup, got a whistle and drained the free throw after a timeout to put the Crimson up 20.
The play brought a scream and a fist pump from Chambers and a roar from the capacity crowd at Lavietes Pavilion, with the hosts in complete control against their ACC foes.
But BC finished the half with a 12-6 run -- capped by a Joe Rahon buzzer-beater over Chambers -- showing signs of waking for the first time in the first game of the new year.
"We had a sensational start to the game and they ended the half very well, and then from the second half on they were clawing their way back in it," Amaker said. "Give a lot of credit to Steve and his program to battle the way they did. I thought we had to come up with some big-time defensive plays to maintain that cushion."
Playing with more energy and shooting a much better percentage after the half, the Eagles steadily chipped away at the Crimson lead. When Ryan Anderson made a layup with about 7:30 to go, BC was down just five -- the closest it had been since trailing 6-1 early in the first half.
After Wesley Saunders answered with a layup for two of his game-high 21 points and Jonah Travis hit two free throws to push the lead back to nine, BC went back to Anderson on the block.
The 6-foot-9, 216-pounder backed down Travis and then tried to spin back to the middle for a layup. But Kyle Casey came over from the weak side and swatted the shot attempt away, the ball ending up at the other end in the hands of Chambers, who drilled a wide-open transition 3.
BC never got back to within single digits, and Harvard won 73-58, its sixth straight win in the series and eighth straight win this season.
"It was pretty important," Travis said of Casey's block. "We always feed off our defense, that's where we look to draw energy. We always say that some people, their plays mean more than just the stat itself. So a block from him means a lot of momentum and a lot of energy for all of us. So we kind of look to feed off plays like that to get us going."
Again, it comes back to confidence.
"A lot of the [problems], I think, is just not feeling good about themselves and indecision in critical times in the game," said Donahue, whose Eagles fell to 4-10 with the loss. "Today, I thought we did a good job in the second half of persevering and getting some shots to fall and then getting some stops."
Maybe if Anderson was feeling a little more confident, he tries to dunk that attempt, not lay it up. Maybe Casey still blocks it -- he already had one spectacular block on an Anderson dunk attempt in the first half -- but maybe he doesn't, maybe he fouls Anderson and gives the Eagles big man an and-1 attempt.
And who knows what could've happened after that?
But it didn't happen that way Wednesday, because one team is supremely confident right now and the other is not.
"When the game has gotten tight, whether we've been on the road or at home, we've had confidence," said Amaker, who got career win No. 300 as his team improved to 12-1. "That's a big part of this whole process, is to really believe -- believe in our system, believe in our philosophy, and for them to believe in themselves, believe in their teammates.
"They've shown that, and they've come through for us many, many times."
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- It’s still too early in the season to call a game a must-win, but it’s safe to say both Boston College and Maryland viewed Thursday night’s game as an important one.
Both the Eagles and the Terps came into the night on two-game losing streaks. Both teams desperately wanted to start ACC play with a W and not an L.
Early it seemed only Mark Turgeon’s team came to play, as the Terps used a 16-5 run to sprint out to a 12-point lead early in the first half. But just when things could’ve gotten completely out of hand, a Maryland native brought BC back.
That energy was evident when the 6-foot-5, 202-pounder gave BC its first highlight-reel play of the night shortly after checking in.
Olivier Hanlan pulled down a rebound on a Maryland missed 3-pointer and pushed hard upcourt. Owens ran with him, and Hanlan saw his teammate streaking down the right side and lobbed up an alley-oop that Owens easily slammed home with two hands.
Then Owens, not known as a marksman, hit a pair of 3s later in the half, chipping away at the Terrapins’ lead as BC struggled back into the game to be down just six at the half. And with Maryland up seven nearing the halfway point of the second half, Owens struck again.
Joe Rahon skipped a pass across court to an open Owens in front of the BC bench, and the freshman drilled another 3. Maryland turned the ball over on the next possession, and when Hanlan couldn’t find an entry angle he liked to get the ball to Ryan Anderson in the post he gave it instead to Owens at the top of the key and the freshman swished another from long range to get BC within one.
A couple of Hanlan free throws later, the Eagles had their first lead of the game at 57-56 with 10:20 to go.
After coming into the game averaging 2.9 points a game, with only three made 3s (on eight attempts) all season, Owens had 16 points on 4-for-5 shooting from 3 and it looked like he might be the difference in a key comeback win for BC.
But the good times were not to last. BC led by as many as four with fewer than seven minutes to go, but Maryland junior Dez Wells took over on offense from there and helped the Terps battle back, retake the lead and close out an 88-80 win.
“Dez Wells kinda put us on his back,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “You could sense it, he was just bigger and stronger than them and he played downhill all night. For him to have a night like this, I’m really happy for him, because he takes losing harder than anyone.”
The defense, or lack thereof, was a major problem for BC. The Eagles allowed Maryland to shoot 55.2 percent for the game, led by Wells’ 12-for-18 performance for a game-high 33 points. Wells scored 22 of those points in the second half.
“They were playing pretty simple, Dez Wells was gonna drive it,” Donahue said. “Dez Wells gets no assists. He’s not someone who finds guys.
“What I tried to stress to the guys was, Dez Wells isn’t a passer. He’s a heck of a driver.”
But even though they knew what was coming, the Eagles couldn’t stop the 6-5, 215-pounder on Thursday.
“It just comes down to the team effort, getting to the ball,” Hanlan said. “He was starting the ball from his hoop and just going straight down there. It’s obviously hard, he’s obviously a great player but we could’ve done a better job on that side.”
If the Eagles are going to right their disappointing season, they need to start doing a better job consistently and quickly. Thursday night’s loss dropped Donahue & Co. to 3-7 on the young season.
“We’re really close in a lot of ways,” Donahue said. “As I’ve said, I have great faith in this group, and we’re gonna chip away at it and we’re gonna be a good team.”
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.
Here are five quick thoughts from No. 18 Connecticut’s 72-70 win over Boston College on Thursday evening at Madison Square Garden:
X factor: When people talk about UConn, they usually start with the talented backcourt of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. But DeAndre Daniels is the player who can turn this team from good into great.
The 6-foot-9, 195-pound junior scored just 19 points in the Huskies’ first three games, including a goose egg against Yale. But in the team’s past two games, he’s exploded for 24 against Boston University and 23 versus Boston College.
Daniels is a matchup nightmare -- he can shoot the 3 or take it to the rim and has some crafty moves in the paint. If he turns into a reliable offensive threat, watch out.
The other end: Napier and Boatright didn’t have great games offensively. Napier did score 20 but shot just 6-for-17 from the field with only two assists; Boatright scored nine. But they did an excellent job on defense, blanketing Boston College star guard Olivier Hanlan.
Hanlan, last year’s ACC Rookie of the Year, came in averaging 24.5 points per game and went off for 38 in BC’s last game, a win over Florida Atlantic. But Napier and Boatright shadowed Hanlan everywhere he went Thursday night.
Hanlan still managed to score 19 points, but he had to work awfully hard to get them.
Contenders: We’re only five games into the season, but we’ve seen enough to say this Connecticut team is capable of making a run to the Final Four.
Four different players are capable of scoring 20-plus on any given night -- sophomore guard Omar Calhoun has that potential, too. They have capable, if somewhat raw, bigs. And they have experience, despite being ineligible for the postseason last year.
Speaking of Hanlan: Yes, he finished under his scoring average. But he was impressive nonetheless.
The best part about Hanlan’s night was he didn’t force the issue. Most big-time scorers would feel the need to hoist up shots regardless of the defense. Hanlan played under control (5-for-14 from the field, 7-for-8 from the foul line), scoring when he could and trying to create for teammates when he couldn’t.
Many teams BC will face this season won’t have guards as quick as Napier and Boatright. Hanlan will have plenty of big games.
Eagles forecast: Boston College did a very nice job hanging around against a more talented opponent. The Eagles could have wilted twice -- when they fell behind by 11 in the first half and when they again fell behind by 11 in the second half. But they bounced back both times to remain within striking distance.
They even had a 3-point shot attempt from near midcourt at the final buzzer that would have won the game, but Boatright blocked Lonnie Jackson’s attempt.
On a hot shooting night, Boston College could beat just about any team in the country. But the Eagles shot just 8-for-25 from beyond the arc Thursday night. That wasn’t quite good enough to take out UConn.
PUERTO RICO TIP-OFF (Bayamon, Puerto Rico)
Charlotte vs. Kansas State, 10:30 a.m. ET (ESPNU)
Northeastern vs. Georgetown, approx. 12:30 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Long Beach State vs. Michigan, 5 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Florida State vs. VCU, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Michigan is still getting forward Mitch McGary's back healthy after last weekend's tough loss at Iowa State. But a bigger concern might be the play of wingman Glenn Robinson III, who is scoring more frequently but less efficiently this season, particularly in the half court, where he's shooting just 36 percent.
Kansas State is defending and rebounding, which is hardly a surprise, but the Wildcats still need to get their offense on track.
Oh, and save the irrepressible freshmen, Georgetown's Joshua Smith was the story of college basketball's opening weekend. Smith's ongoing weight issues at UCLA left many thinking he was a lost cause, but his 25-point, 10-for-13 performance in Seoul showcased a player who might yet succeed in spite of his size.
Game of the day: Florida State vs. VCU. The previous time these two teams met, Florida State was the Sweet 16 victim in VCU's program-defining First Four-to-Final Four run in 2011. Bradford Burgess' layup with seven seconds left, and Rob Brandenburg's last-second block, gave VCU the win — and resulted in one of the greatest and most delirious radio calls of all-time. Florida State's odds on revenge seem slim.
2K SPORTS CLASSIC (New York City)
Connecticut vs. Boston College, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Indiana vs. Washington, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Need to know: Connecticut point guard Shabazz Napier appears to have finally found his sweet spot, posting a 135.5 offensive rating thus far. It's still early, of course, but that's a 20-point increase from last season's efficiency metric, despite Napier using almost exactly the same number of possessions in 2013-14 (24.4) as in 2012-13 (24.3).
The difference? Fewer shots. Napier is hoisting just 17.9 percent of available attempts this year, down from 24.0 last season, and his assist rate has leapt from 27.9 to 36.3. He's shot just seven 3s; he's made six. This is all small-sample-size disclaimer stuff, but it is worth noting: Napier is keeping UConn's top-10-level offense humming less through scoring than everything else. Against Boston College -- a slightly disappointing 1-3 team with an efficient offense and a downright brutal (ranked 294th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency-level brutal) defense -- Napier's smooth command should be on full display.
The Huskies likely will face Indiana, but that's only if the Hoosiers can avoid an upset at the hands of Lorenzo Romar's rebuilding Washington Huskies. Indiana is a very different team from the No. 1-seeded group that sent two players (Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo) to the top five of the 2013 NBA draft. This is evident in both good and bad ways. On the positive side, freshman Noah Vonleh has been an immediate interior beast, grabbing 31.0 percent of Indiana's available defensive rebounds and blocking one shot every 20 possessions.
On the down side, Indiana's 3-point shooting has plummeted from 40.4 percent last season to 30.3 percent; stellar sophomore point guard Yogi Ferrell is the only player shooting it consistently. That has allowed smart defenses (see: LIU Brooklyn) to sink and prevent driving lanes, stagnating IU's attack, making life more difficult for Ferrell, and making IU look -- for perhaps the first time in Tom Crean's tenure -- better at defense than offense. Strange times.
Game of the day: Indiana vs. Washington. Boston College doesn't look likely to stop Napier, Ryan Boatright, and the rest of UConn's impressive backcourt. But if Indiana's young group stutters under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden, C.J. Wilcox and the Huskies might just have an unpleasant surprise in store.