Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Preview of #1 Villanova/#4 Boston College, NCAA Sweet 16, Minneapolis, Friday, March 24, 2006

by Craig Dimitri

One of the many downsides to this era of conference upheaval, is the increasing possibility of meeting old rivals in the NCAA tournament. BC and Villanova faced each other twice in 2004-05, so the usual crapshoot element of not being able to prepare fully for an unknown opponent is a nonissue.

There also is a revenge factor. BC betrayed the Big East by first agreeing to remain in the conference in the long-term – and then in October 2003, doing a 180 and announcing that they were defecting to the ACC anyhow, stunning the Big East and the member schools.

BC had to play two lame-duck seasons in the Big East -one more than the other two schools (Miami -FL and Virginia Tech) which left honorably – and without inducing sorrow among the remaining schools. But Miami (which had only arrived in 1991-92) and Virginia Tech (the most recent addition, in 2000-01) were not considered important members from a basketball perspective; they were schools which had been added solely for football.

But BC – one of the earliest members of the conference, and sharing the same medium-sized, Catholic, academically-prioritized traits as Villanova, Georgetown, and Providence – for them to leave under such circumstances, was gravely disappointing.

So BC was a pariah for two years, with administrators excluded from taking place in BE conference calls and decision-making. Not surprisingly, when the 2005-06 schedule was announced, not a single BE school was on it. Nobody is willing to play them any more, and that animosity may last for decades. Even Providence, whom BC has played a hundred times, in a series dating back to 1942, won’t play them. (BC has played only one opponent, Holy Cross, more times than Providence.)

Whether the NCAA selection committee slyly scripted this potential Sweet 16 contest is a matter of conjecture. However, they were hardly unaware of BC’s outcast status (Craig Littlepage, the former Penn coach and now AD of ACC member Virginia, was the head of the selection committee). And given the “chalk”, it could be reasonably surmised that both #1 VU and #4 BC would win their first two round contests and face off in the Sweet 16. It certainly doesn’t seem like an accident – and it will give CBS and the other media outlets a great storyline, leading up to the battle.

But these decisions go on, way above the heads of the players or even the coaches.

For the moment, let’s take a look at BC’s pair of NCAA tournament victories, the first of which they were extraordinarily fortunate to obtain.

Thursday, against #13 Pacific / Saturday against #12 Montana

In this case, I’m going to quote the BC sports information notes directly, since they are the best summaries for recently concluded games…

GAME #34 -- March 16, 2006
Huntsman Center -- Salt Lake City, Utah
Boston College 88, Pacific 76 (2ot)

Senior Craig Smith tallied 25 points and juniorJared Dudley totaled 23 points and five assists to lead the fourth-seeded Eagles past 13th-seeded Pacific. Senior Louis Hinnant contributed 14 points and nine rebounds, while freshman Tyrese Rice added 11 points (including 8-for-8 from the foul line). The victory was BC’s second double-overtime win of the season and the program’s ninth consecutive overtime triumph.

The game was tied at 34-34 at halftime. BC began the second half with a 15-5 run to claim a 49-39 advantage. The Eagles extended the lead to 13 points -- 53-40 and 55-42 -- just more than midway through the half. The Tigers answered with an 18-6 run to trim the difference to one point -- 61-60 -- with 46 seconds to play. Hinnant and Rice both sank two free throws in the final 40 seconds, but Pacific answered with a lay-up and a three-point field goal to force overtime.

The Tigers hit two treys to take a sixpoint margin in the extra session. One Smith free throw and a Hinnant three-pointer narrowed the margin. After Pacific answered with another three-pointer, Dudley hit a trey and Smith sank two free throws with 4.3 seconds on the clock to force another overtime. BC scored the first nine points of the second overtime -- five by Rice and four by Sean Williams -- to secure the victory.

GAME #35 -- March 18, 2006
Huntsman Center -- Salt Lake City, Utah
Boston College 69, Montana 56

Senior Craig Smith registered 22 points and 16 rebounds and junior Jared Dudley posted 20 points and seven rebounds to pace the fourthseeded Eagles past the 12th-seeded Grizzlies. The game marked Smith’s fifth consecutive doubledouble. BC jumped on top early, scoring seven of the game’s first nine points, before Montana answered with its own 7-2 run to even the score at 9-9. Midway through the half, the Grizzlies used a 12-7 run to claim a 25-20 lead. BC evened the score at 28-28 and led 32-30 at the intermission.

Led by seven points from Dudley, the Eagles began the second half with a 14-5 rally to take a 46-35 advantage with 12:40 to play. BC extended the margin to 20 points -- 66-46 -- on a Dudley jumper with 4:49 to play ... Game Notes: Smith tallied 16 points and 11 rebounds in the first half ... BC outrebounded the Grizzlies by a commanding 44-29 margin ... For the second straight game, BC committed just eight turnovers... Freshman Tyrese Rice played a key role as BC extended its second-half lead. Rice hit three three-pointers -- with 11:17, 10:38 and 6:38 to play.

So that’s what they’ve done in the last week. But to get some context, let’s look back at 2004-05, BC’s final Big East season, in order to gain perspective on what the Eagles have achieved in 2005-06...

Boston College in 2004-05

It was particularly galling to BE partisans, that BC ended up winning the regular-season title with a 13-3 record, and taking the #1 seed in Madison Square Garden for its last-ever Big East tournament. Their only three regular-season defeats were @ Notre Dame, @ Villanova on February 23 (while ranked #9), and at home versus Pittsburgh.

The Eagles entered the conference tournament with a 24-3 record overall, having posted a perfect 10-0 mark against non-Big East opponents (Maine, New Hampshire, soon-to-be ACC foe Clemson, Long Island, UCLA, Holy Cross, BU, Yale, Duquesne, Kent State, and UMass). Ironically, the two toughest battles were against long-time rival Holy Cross (a win in overtime) and against Yale (!), who managed to force double overtime before finally succumbing.

Thus, it was sweet revenge when the top-seeded Eagles were upset by eighth-seeded West Virginia, in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament. BC was packing its bags with the regular season crown, but wouldn’t have the opportunity to cut down the nets at what would be their final Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden.

BC did not have a strong OOC schedule, outside of UCLA (and to a lesser degree, Clemson). This fact, coupled with the quarterfinal exit to West Virginia, was the rationale for the NCAA Selection Committee issued the 2004-05 Eagles just a #4 seed. A #4 seed was probably far lower than BC expected, given that the Eagles were regular-season Big East champions, had a 24-4 record overall and didn’t have a single bad loss (the worst being to a slightly below average WVU team).

They went to Cleveland to take on #13 Pennsylvania, and blew out Fran Dunphy’s Quakers by 20, 85-65. They thought they had caught a break when #12 UW-Milwaukee had upset the #5 seed in the first round, and probably figured they had a clear path to the Sweet 16 – what would have been BC’s first trip there since 1994. But they were wrong. UW-Milwaukee pulled a stunning upset, triumphing 83-75, and advancing to the Sweet 16 – and BC was left to ponder an 11th straight season without a Sweet 16 appearance.

What was particularly infuriating to BC fans (and thrilling to Big East fans) was how it had happened. BC started out the UW-Milwaukee game with an 11-0 run and appeared ready to blow the Panthers out of the building. But the Panthers rallied and actually were ahead 41-37 at halftime.

Moreover, the Eagles collapsed down the stretch in the second half. BC took its final lead at 75-74, with 1:46 to go, after Jared Dudley hit two free throws. But the Eagles plummeted to earth, permitting the Panthers to score the final nine points of the game, to win 83-75.

All in all, what had been a remarkable, in-your-face swan song in the Big East, had now turned into a complete fiasco. After entering the Big East tournament at 24-3, the Eagles had proceeded to lose two out of three games to clearly inferior opponents on neutral courts, ending their season.

So it must be in this context, that we analyze BC’s current campaign, its inaugural one in the ACC…

BC’s 2005-06 Season (28-7 overall, 11-5 ACC)

The one silver lining from last year’s post-season meltdown, was that the Eagles were bringing back four starters from a team that had finished 25-5 and won a Big East regular-season title. Center Nate Doornekamp was the only starter to graduate.

Before we break down BC’s players, let’s look at their overall results this year. Accordingly, here is an analysis of what happened to BC this year on the court, in their new ACC wanderings, where they undoubtedly enjoyed much nicer weather than they did playing in the Big East.

Non-ACC Schedule

On November 18, the Eagles blew out Dartmouth in the season opener. At Thanksgiving, they flew to Nevada for four contests in the Las Vegas Invitational. In the first two rounds, they had little trouble routing Shawnee State and Buffalo. In the semifinal, they had some trouble with Drake, winning by just three. They had to do battle with another power-conference team, Oklahoma State, in the final, but vanquished the Cowboys, 76-68, to take the title.

After routing Sacred Heart at home, they momentarily returned to the familiar confines of MSG to face Michigan State; the Spartans handed them their first loss, 77-70.

With the reconfiguration of the conference, they actually had their ACC opener at Maryland on Dec. 11, with the Terrapins winning by two. BC then buzz-sawed through five weak opponents, including three Atlantic 10 schools (Texas Southern, Harvard, @ Duquesne, @ Rhode Island, and Massachusetts), in which the closest victory was a dozen-point margin versus Duquesne in Pittsburgh. BC now stood at 11-2 overall, 0-1 ACC, as it got ready to test its mettle down South.

The Eagles promptly dropped their next two ACC contests (a close loss @ Georgia Tech, and a humiliating Conte Forum loss to NC State by 18 points), and dropped to 11-4, 0-3 in conference play.

BC turned it around, however, turning torrid in a hurry. The Eagles, 0-3 in ACC play, suddenly ripped off 13 victories in 15 games, all but two over ACC opponents. First, they knocked off five straight opponents: Florida State, @ Holy Cross, @ Miami, @ North Carolina, and Georgia Tech. The record now stood at an impressive 16-4, 4-3 ACC.
They lost a very tough battle to mighty Duke, 83-81, at Conte Forum, and fell to 16-5, 4-4. However, the Eagles shrugged off the loss and then swept the next five: @ Virginia Tech, @ Wake Forest, Clemson, cupcake Stony Brook, and Miami.

The Eagles lost by 14 @ Virginia, and then had to head into the rematch @ NC State, BC was back up to 8-5 in the ACC,21-5 overall. After losing by 18 at Conte Forum, BC battled NC State into double overtime in front of CBS’ cameras, before triumphing 74-72.

In their final two regular-season contests, BC completed season sweeps of Wake Forest and Virginia Tech at Conte Forum. Thus, entering the ACC tournament, BC had posted a 24-6 record overall, 11-5 ACC, taking the #3 seed in the swollen, dozen-team ACC.

In their first ACC tourney, BC defeated Maryland and North Carolina, before falling to Duke for the second time.

BC qualified with an at-large bid as a #4 seed, and faced #13 Pacific in the first round. The Eagles were extraordinarily fortunate to escape with a double overtime victory, outlasting the Tigers, 88-76. Pacific had a five-point lead with less than a minute to go in the first OT and couldn’t hang on. In the second round, BC had less trouble defeating #12 Montana, 69-56 (Montana had upset #5 Nevada in the first round.)

So that’s the season, as a whole. Let’s analyze the BC Eagles, now, and how they will fare against Villanova.

Friday’s Sweet 16 game will be very unusual, for two reasons. One is that under NCAA bracketing principles, teams from the same conference cannot meet until the Elite Eight – but it doesn’t say anything about teams that used to be from the same conference. The entire point of the tournament is to mix it up a bit, play intersectional contests, etc. VU and BC will be far more familiar with each other than any other dueling Sweet 16ers.

To make matters worse, is our second reason – not only did BC and VU play twice last year, but both schools brought back virtually their entire teams this season. BC’s only significant player who faced VU last year, but won’t on Friday, is Doornekamp. With the huge exception of Curtis Sumpter, who played last year but has opted to take a medical redshirt this season, due to a knee injury, VU had no significant losses at all.

The only variable, from last season’s pair of clashes, are the newcomers. BC will not have seen Wildcat freshmen Dante Cunningham or Shane Clark before, but they are role players. Conversely, VU will not have seen Eagle freshmen Tyrese Rice (21 minutes/game) or Marquez Haynes (10.5 minutes/game), but they are role players as well.

The Viewpoint on the BC Eagles’ Starters

Coach Al Skinner has gone with the same starting lineup in all 35 previous contests, so we can expect these five at the opening tip:

Craig Smith - #1 – Senior – 6-7 Forward

(First-team All-ACC Regular Season, ACC All-Tournament Team)

The captain, heart and soul of the BC squad. Smith leads the team in scoring, rebounding, and steals, with 17.7, 9.3, and 42 respectively – great numbers, and also ranks second in blocks with 27 He is the go-to guy, leading the Eagles in field goal attempts as well. He has literally no perimeter skills, taking only a dozen three-point attempts and missing all but one of them.

Smith gets to the line a lot (144-241) and does OK when he’s there, for a forward (65.2%).

Jared Dudley - #3 – Senior – 6-7 Forward

(Second-team All-ACC Regular Season, ACC All-Tournament Team)

Along with Smith, a fellow Californian, Dudley provides the other half of BC’s dynamic duo. Wildcat fans will not forget the first contest against BC last season, when Dudley scored 36 points to fuel BC’s victory at Conte Forum.

Dudley scores, rebounds, and steals only a little less than Smith (16.7, 6.7 per/game, 41 total), but unlike Smith, he’s also a mild threat from the perimeter. Dudley went 31-91 from beyond the arc (a rate of 34%) but you can’t just give him open looks out there. Also unlike Smith, he doesn’t block anywhere near as many enemy shots. And Dudley’s a better foul shooter (71.3%, very good for a forward).

Sean Marshall – Junior – 6-6 Guard

The final of BC’s trio of key Californians, Marshall averages 27.7 minutes, 11.0 points, and 3.9 rebounds per game. He is the weakest free throw shooter of BC’s rotation, converting only 61.4% of his chances.

He is one of BC’s three major perimeter weapons, as he knocked down 45 of 122 attempts (36.9%). He also is remarkably durable; he’s started every game of his three year career at BC.

Lewis Hinnant – Senior – 6-4 Guard

One of only three Eagles to average over 28 minutes/contest, along with Smith and Dudley, Hinnant handles the point very well, logging 32.4 minutes/game. He has loads of experience at the point, having played it at BC for three seasons now. His assist- to-turnover ratio is very good, 163-70, a better than 2-1 ratio. He’s generally not expected to score (he’s just fifth on the team in scoring, at 7.6), but he’s an extremely dangerous three-point shooter (42-94, a lethal rate of 44.7%).

John Oates – Sophomore – 6-10 Forward/Center

This coincidence of events is 100% true, as astonishing as it is:

If that name sounds familiar, particularly if you’re from Philadelphia-

Yes, the BC starting center does in fact share the name of one half of the Philadelphia-based 1980s duo Daryl Hall & John Oates, who sold a ton of records in their heyday…

And by remarkable coincidence and timing:

On the same day (Saturday, March 18) that Oates was helping his BC teammates defeat Montana during the second round of the NCAAs, with the eventual opponent of Philadelphia Big Five member Villanova-

Philadelphia Mayor John F. Street had officially proclaimed Saturday, March 18 to be “Daryl Hall and John Oates Day” According to the newspaper Philadelphia Weekly:
"Many local artists have brought a great deal of recognition to our City and we are proud to honor those who have blazed the lyrical trails and have inspired others to follow in their footsteps," Street said in a statement "Local Philadelphia natives and former Temple University students, Daryl Hall & John Oates are truly one of our city's most celebrated musical success stories."

(You really can’t make this stuff up…) Had the BC Oates been from Philly, I’m sure that the mayor would have graciously included him in the proclamation, but the BC media guide lists him as a native of Harriman, NY, and having attended Don Bosco Prep in New Jersey.

Since this poor guy has undoubtedly heard these jokes thousands of times in his life, I’ll restrain myself to one bad pun on a Hall & Oates song in this profile:

Coach Al Skinner has probably said, “I Can’t Go For That, No Can Do”, in response to Oates’ play, very often this season, because he averages just over 15 minutes a game. Although Oates has officially started all 35 of BC’s games this season- that’s very misleading, in light of his limited playing time.

His role appears to serve as being big and wide underneath, if for no other reason that he was whistled for 89 fouls, second on the team to Smith, despite the fact that Oates ranks only sixth in minutes played. For a 6-10 player, he’s not afraid to hoist the occasional three-ball: he’s 17-52 (32.7%) in that department. Thus far in the NCAA tournament, he’s had eight total rebounds in the two victories.

The Rest of the BC Rotation

If one were to look at the aggregate numbers, Skinner uses a nine-man rotation; here is a look at the four others who comprise it. However, as a practical matter, looking at the minutes played in the most recent contests – BC essentially uses only six players; the starters, plus Tyrese Rice. So those six are the players to watch for.

#4 Tyrese Rice – Freshman – 6-0 Guard

Rice is the team’s sixth man, and their most important outside shooter. He leads the Eagles in both three-point shots, and three-pointers attempted, by a wide margin. He fires at a 39.9% clip, so controlling him on the wings is vital for Villanova.

Not surprisingly for a freshman, Rice turns the ball over a lot; he’s tied for 3rd on the team in turnovers, despite playing only 21 minutes per contest. However, his near-double-figure scoring average (9.4) is very impressive for a player who plays only half the game.

#5 Akida McLain – Sophomore – 6-8 Forward

McLain, a lefty, averaged just over a dozen minutes a game, so don’t expect to see him much, unless Smith or Dudley sinks into foul trouble. In the NCAA tournament, he has played only a dozen minutes so far.

His 4.3 pts/2.8 rebs aren’t bad, though, for a guy who plays so little. (Project that into a 36-minute player with 13 pts/9 rebs – not bad at all.) His outside threat is nil – he missed all five three-point attempts he’s taken. Good foul shooter: 72.1%.

He did not play in the first seven BC games this season, due to a suspension.

(Historical note: shares the same last name as Gary McLain, the point guard who helped Villanova win the national championship in 1985.)

#51 Sean Williams – Sophomore – 6-10 Forward

A looming, shot-blocking, thunderous-dunking post player, but he won’t play much. Although his minutes/game average is high (17.0 minutes), the vast majority of it was compiled against cupcakes in December. Since playing a dozen minutes against Stony Brook on February 13, Williams hasn’t played more than single-digit minutes against any subsequent BC opponent (his high was nine against Duke in the ACC tournament). Williams played only six minutes – combined – against Pacific and Montana. -

When he does play, it obviously permits BC to gain an even greater size advantage, as the two star forwards can guard smaller players- but BC needs ballhandlers, not size, against 'Nova.

Like McLain, Williams also served a long suspension (in this case, nine games) at the start of the year, which obviously hindered his development into the rotation. The university-imposed suspension was due to legal charges regarding marijuana possession.

#00 Marquez Haynes – Freshman – 6-3 Guard

Haynes is a spare point guard, who plays the least of any player in the nine-man rotation (10.5 minutes). As with the aforementioned Williams, he hasn’t played more than single-digit minutes since the Stony Brook victory on February 13, and played only six minutes thus far in the NCAA tournament. A very poor outside shooter (6-26, 23.1%) and mediocre free throw shooter (60%, not good for a guard). He probably just comes in to run the point for a few minutes, which he does very well: 32 assists against 15 turnovers.

An Analysis of the Two VU/BC Meetings Last Season

Every Villanova fan remembers Dudley scoring 36 to defeat the Wildcats at Conte Forum on January 19, 2005. Dudley hit four free throws in the final minute to help BC escape with a 67-66 victory, in what was likely VU’s final appearance at Conte Forum for decades, if not generations.

What’s also remembered is that after trailing 40-34 at halftime, VU had a 66-60 lead with two minutes to go and allowed BC to rally and score the final seven of the contest, with the key breakdowns being two Wildcats missing the front ends of one-and-ones in that stretch.

Randy Foye was awesome in that game – he had 22 points and seven boards. Sumpter, ironically, didn’t play that much – just 17 minutes, so it’s a good barometer for how the ‘Cats will attack BC on Friday. Allan Ray and Mike Nardi each had a dozen points for the Wildcats. For the Eagles, Smith was the only other player in double figures, finishing with a dozen points and seven boards. Both teams committed a lot of turnovers (18 apiece).

But every Villanova fan remembers (and with much more relish) the victory over BC at the Pavilion on February 23, 2005, when the 3rd-ranked Eagles swooped in for what would likely be their final appearance at the Pavilion for decades, if not generations. The 23rd-ranked Wildcats established themselves on the national radar and assured themselves of a NCAA bid – the school’s first since 1999 – by beating BC, 76-70.

With the students on campus, and a highly-ranked opponent coming to the Pavilion, rather than the Wachovia Center, the Pavilion was as raucous as it’s ever been, particularly since Villanova was now nationally ranked, as well. Unlike the first game, Sumpter was the star, torching BC for 20 points and 8 rebounds. Foye also had a superb performance, with a game-high 23 points and adding five rebounds and four assists. Kyle Lowry also began his emergence, playing 39 minutes, scoring 11 points and grabbing five rebounds.

Villanova once again had a halftime lead, this time 43-36 – but unlike the contest at Conte Forum, this time they were able to hold onto it at the line, come crunch time. In fact, it was a game that ‘Nova won at the foul line – the stripe was the most important factor in the game. It was a late tip time of 9 PM to accommodate ESPN, and all of the fouls stretched the contest well past 11 PM. BC committed 26 fouls, and as a result, Villanova shot an incredible 36-41 from the line (the Wildcats had eight two-point baskets, and eight three-point baskets, totaling 40 points, but they also had 36 just from the line.)

For BC, Smith and Dudley were – as usual – the stars, scoring 18 and 15 points respectively, and they both hauled down half a dozen rebounds. The whistles blew for Villanova, too – they had 18 fouls and BC went 17-23 from the line.

It was assumed, of course, that VU and BC wouldn’t cross each other’s paths for quite a while – but then fate (and the NCAA Selection Committee, which is largely the same thing, when it comes to March Madness) intervened. And so the Wildcats and Eagles will tangle once more, on Friday in Minneapolis.

For a BC internal debate on the outcome, I highly recommend the BC student newspaper's Point/Counterpoint on the issue:

As always, comments, feedback, opinions, positive or negative, are always welcomed. You can e-mail me at

Go Wildcats!

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