Monday, March 23, 2009

Stars, Skinner, and winning differently next season

This season validated many things around BC basketball. It showed that last year was a temporary setback due to rebuilding. It showed that BC could win in the ACC with a young team. And finally it showed that BC could win if Rice got more of his teammates involved. But as we all read in the run up to the tournament, opposing coaches and fans still felt Rice was the key to the team. Friday night USC stopped Rice and therefore stopped BC. But I don't think any of us believe it was that simple.

Rice is now gone and Skinner's squad will be very different next year. For the first time in a long time BC won't have a proven star returning. In fact next year will be the first time since 1999-2000 that BC will enter the basketball season without a player who has earned league honors. None of the super sophs, Roche or Jackson have been named to ACC rookie teams, defensive teams or all conference teams. The only player to get any sort of recognition is Joe Trapani, but that comes with a major asterisk since his America East All-Rookie Team honors had nothing to do with his BC career.

Stars have served Skinner well. Each year he took his scheme and adjusted it to the talents of his best players. He also let the under recruited, late bloomers lead the team emotionally and through example. Despite our occasional frustrations with how the team deferred to these different stars, the program worked. BC kept finding and installing great players and kept winning.

The current mix of players breaks that model. The six sophs (and even Reggie Jackson) are a different breed of BC recruits. They are not McDonald's All Americans, but all had solid offers from major conferences. None were as unheralded as Bell or Dudley. They also all came in together. Prior to that BC had small classes that saw usually just one star emerge. These guys have a bond that prior classes didn't. They also will share the load in ways previous teams did not.

I don't mean to limit any of the guys we have returning. I think more than one will get all league honors before their BC careers are over. You could argue that Sanders and Jackson were overlooked this year. But there is no one yet who has shown the consistency to be considered a star. Some of the clutch moments are a good foundation for stardom. You need a pile of game changing moments to be considered a star.

I actually think the team concept will take BC further than any of the previous Skinner years. Next year Al will have one of the most experienced, versatile and deepest teams in the ACC. Not dominant in any facet, but good enough in all. And most importantly, unless there is a late flyer or some one has a change of heart, BC will not be bringing in any significant recruit. Barring transfers and a little more Ravenal and Ellmore sprinkled in, what you see is what you get for BC basketball. Can they do it? I think so. In a way, I think they outgrew Rice this year. Friday's struggles were a learning tool and a transition. These guys now have the off season to bet better, work together and show that there is more to BC than just a star system.


Galvin said...

Very good post and I really appreciate reading your stuff. I think we have a shot next year to be a pretty good team if we focus on our strengths. We have decent athletes and I believe we could become a really annoying defensive team. I am not anticipating it, but I would also like to see Southern progress a little on the block. Every time he catches the ball I nearly have a heart attack. We need to have Sanders, Raji and Jackson consistently attack the rim and put opposing big men in foul trouble if Southern or Ravenel aren't going to be low post threats. That being said, I am extremely excited for next year's development with this solid core group. BC basketball will be fun to watch next year with rising expectations. Now let's hope football stays consistent too, go Justin Tuggle!

dhaps34 said...

Thank you for this blog, great post as well.
I think the key to next season is Reggie Jackson. Like you accurately said, we know what we are getting out of the other guys, Jackson is the one guy who can step up to the next level. I think you'll see all the players improve to an extent but Trapani, Raji, Paris and Southern are what they are and they are never going to be big time ACC players. Sanders can be, and we'll need Jackson to be the end of the game scorer. I think Jackson has that in him. the goal for next year should be top 4 in the ACC and battling for a sweet 16 spot. If Jackson improves, then the following year we have a real shot, like we did when Craig Smith was a senior. With this program, you will get your shot every 4 or 5years, that is what the program is.

conlonc said...

Great write. The makeup of a team has always been a funny thing. Under Skinner we've been guard oriented or big man oriented. The first sparkplug off the bench has been a guard or a big man. You're completely right that Al has done a fantastic job adjusting to the strengths of the team from year to year.

Someone is going to have to step up next year, that much we know. But I am far more comfortable when a team shares the load as opposed to one guy dominating; it just really handcuffs the teams when that guy has an off night.

As long as Al is firm in ensuring that everyone has and KNOWS their role, then the next two seasons should be exciting.

matthew said...

I disagree that the key to next season is Reggie Jackson. He will be an important part of the system, and how his game changes/improves will be fun to see... but still.

I think the key is our front-court. Can Southern pick it up? Will Ravenal get 15-20 minutes next year? My real question is what kind of contributions we will get from guys that didn't really play this year. We are used to guys either contributing from the start, or not being a factor. Well, let's hope that's not the case with this bench. Another question I have is about the consistency of Paris. I'm just wondering how he will handle the load, running the team for about 30 min per game.

I just don't think it's fair to say all of those players "are what they are". They all still have 2 years of bball left in them... perhaps you meant that they aren't going to be 1st team all acc caliber, which I guess I would agree with.

Don't sleep on Trapani -- saying that he is never going to be a big time acc player is questionable. His skill set is pretty wide, and he is a tough competitor. It's silly to argue about things without defining what words we are dealing with ("big-time")... but I think Trapani can make the second team all-acc, and that is big time to me.

Opinionater said...

While I do not totally share your unbridled optimism, I understand and respect your point of view. I agree that depth and "balance" (defined as playing without a "star" who has to dominate the "touches" for a team to succeed) is a potential "plus" for BC. I would qualify that statement by stating, that for BC's depth and balance to be a plus, three things need to happen:

1. Get rid of the "flex" offense
2. Spread the floor and improve the spacing
3. Learn how to execute in-bounds plays and how to break a press

Thank you for your well thought out analysis.

I ask a last question: Should Al Skinner not be held accountable for the lack of recruits?

Big Jack Krack said...

Opinionater - I think your three points are very good. Many fans actually like the flex offense, I guess. I don't think it's a good fit for these particular players anyway, regardless of how I feel about it personally (get rid of it and move on....).

Concerning recruiting, we have 10 scholarship players returning. How many are we allowed? I should know, but I don't. If Mosakowski is on scholarship, that's 11. Only Roche will be a senior. Since you were talking about spacing (on the floor) it also seems as though the spacing of these scholarships wasn't as good as it could have been - top heavy with sophomores. We'll have the same problem next year as well.

Lenny Sienko said...

I'm a bit more cynical.

I suspect we may see the scenario we have experienced in the past; i.e.; a player who whose minutes have diminished and seems to have been ignored by Coach Skinner will "decide" to transfer.

This will free a roster spot and a scholarship (?), allowing the signing of another player. The question is: "Who would be available?"

I'm copping two... said...

I think there is a lot to look forward to in the next few seasons. Something I am scared of is our lack of an inside presence. Josh southern clearly will not develop into a reliable big man. I know people say the NCAA tournament is all about guards, but the last two times we have been bounced from the tournament it has been totally because of a dominating performance by the other team down low. I see a ton of potential in our sophomores and reggie, but I'm just confused about how we can ever beat a team with a legit big man if Skinner doesn't go out and get one.

BlockParty said...

out of curiosity, why does everyone think southern wont develop into an adequate 5?

also, i realize we dont have jay wright (nova's coach), but they get it done as a guard-oriented team. of course, they run a different offensive set. still, it can be done with favorable results.

mod10aeagle said...

1. We don't necessarily need to abandon the flex offense, but it can't be the only offense.
2. Hire an assistant who values set pieces -- in-bounds, press-break, "10 seconds left, need a bucket".
3. Enroll Southern in martial arts or yoga and make him catch and dribble 100 tennis balls a day.
4. Tell Trapani to do exactly what he did during his previous year off.

I think Trapani can be our Singler, if we can learn how to take advantage of him. Sanders has all the physical tools, but what about the other stuff?

cjack said...

NCAA allows 13 scholarships for Men's Hoops. Skinner likes to bank 1 or 2 (not sure why) - can't remember the last time we had 13 guys on scholarship. Looks like we might get one guy or transfer this year, so we'd have 3 ships for 2010 (2 remaining after Lawton). If someone transfers out, this scenario changes...

Patrick said...

There is one thing that concerns me with Al and the future of BC basketball...

According to the defensive efficiency numbers, our defense is getting worse by the year. And it was horrid this year. People are bitching about the flex, etc, are dead wrong -- we have a very effective and efficient offense.

It's our defense that's horrible. And it has shown no signs of improving in a long, long time. For those of you concerned with the press -- I hate how we break it too. But if we played better defense...well, you can't press off of misses.

Big Jack Krack said...

Thanks for the explanation cjack. We see what we're up against. Al needs to bring in a big (strong) player from somewhere this recruiting class.

Patrick, I agree wholeheartedly with you concerning your observations about our defense - it is awful.

Concerning the flex - I think it's more suited to an offense with an anchor player like Craig Smith or Uka Agbai - or Danya Abrams (a little before Al's time?)in the middle. We don't have that now, so I agree with mod10aeagle - it can't be the only offense. Al needs to be more creative sometimes when he doesn't have the right type of players to fit his flex. (I like this - Enroll Southern in martial arts or yoga and make him catch and dribble 100 tennis balls a day - then the flex will be more effective):-)

He definitely needs to instill defensive pride in this bunch.

GF3Blogger said...

I definetley think that this team is headed into the right direction. Next year there will be lots of juniors, obviously, that have gotten used to Al's flex offense and a have seen what it takes to be at the top of the acc in prior years. Then comes Reggie Jackson. He had his moments in his in his freshmen year and taking Tyrese's spot is certainlly going be a challenge. However we saw what he could do and got a feel for what he brings to the table last year. He can break zone defenses pretty well and can hit jump shots. I think he'll do fine next year. But if you look at this team, there's really no reason why they should have a down year next year. Rakim Sanders is a very good player and can do a little bit of everything. He can put the ball on the floor and get to the hoop, shoot the 3, and is a decent rebounder. Then you have a glue guy like Corey Raji who continues to get offensive rebound after offensive rebound and is a hardworker on the court. Joe Trapani also brings a lot to the table. He's a guy that can take advantage of someone that may not be as big as him and post him up or as we've seen is an exceptional 3-point shooter. Josh Southern is the presence in the low block that this team needs and is a good rebounder as well. Then you have kncokdown shooters like Biko Paris and Tyler Roche. Roche is going to be the only senior on the team next year which just goes to show how much young talent the team has and Paris has also ran the offense at times as well. Couple all these players w/ the winnigest coach in school history and i don't see why this team can't be as successful or even more successful than last year's squad in the next two years, especially the 2010-2011 season when all the juniors to be are seniors!

eagleboston said...

Read GF3Blogger's post. Now substitute Matt Ryan, Toal and Herzlich for Biko Paris and Tyler Roche while switching in TOB for Skinner. This same post could have been written 3 years ago to describe TOB's chances in the fall and yet most people on this blog despised TOB but are effusive in their praise of Skinner. I don't get it. I think it comes down to the fact that TOB is just plain not a likable person while Al Skinner exudes charisma. However, looking at what matters, results, I don't see a whole lot of difference between Skinner and TOB. I think they are both good, not great, coaches but I just find it interesting how BC Nation hates one coach and loves the other.

conlonc said...

eagleboston: this whole TOB/Skinner thing carries one huge difference that anyone who brings up either doesn't think of or avoids. Conferences. Big East and ACC = elite b-ball conferences. Big East and ACC do not equal top football conferences. Al has consistently been top 4 (outside of the first 3 seasons) in both conferences. TOB was consistently right around the middle of the pack of a much smaller and less elite group.

A smaller difference is the big wins. Al has them throughout and TOB only had a couple - and those few came in his later seasons. Sure, Al gets more chances and the elite conference thing helps, but TOB couldn't ever beat the elite he played against (besides ND who has been a blur of themselves since the mid-90's). TOB got all his wins against Temple, Rutgers and Navy. I respect TOB and don't hate on him as much as most, but those are the facts.

By the way - Ryan, Toal and Herzy > Paris and Roche.

CT said...

Wow, I don't think I agree with much of GF3's post, except for the first sentence. The sentiment about Southern--he rebounds well?--, and "knockdown" shooters in Paris and Roche? Did I miss something this year? Whatever.

We will continue to hit the same ceiling unless and until Southern and/or Dunn get better (barring BIG improvements from Sanders and Jackson).

Al Skinner "exudes" charisma? Did I miss that memo, too? He may exude a lot of things, but charisma ain't one of them.

Anyway, as to the original post, I would only agree with the "no star team-first" argument if ALL or MOST of the sophs/freshmen improve at essentially the same pace. That probably won't happen.

Big-time programs DEMAND big-time players who demonstrate more than occasionally that they're the best player on the court. The flex is already a team-first offense (everyone touches the ball--bowling for baskets?).

I'd prefer more extreme competitiveness and quickness from BC's bball program (the flex mitigates quickness but offensive variety is the spice of life). Quickness, quickness, quickness.

I want dominance. I don't think "team-first" and "individualism" are mutually exclusive concepts in basketball. It's not a zero-sum game, where if the "stars" are a little pushy about making plays that the rest of the guys suffer. College zone defense encourages individuals to drive and kick. Man-to-man in college isn't as efficient b/c most of the young guys are still learning help team defense (the most impressive Coach K trait).

There should be a pecking order. We're not an Ivy League team (despite recent results).

I would agree that the team showed signs this year of outgrowing Rice. I think that has the potential to mean good things in the future, but I don't necessarily think that three or four above-average (thus far) players means all that much more. You need two really good players and then guys who fill roles (it'd be nice to have one defensive stopper assigned to the other guys's best scorer each game--provided it was a guard or forward).

You need consistent excellence to be a star, and game-changing moments are a natural byproduct. You can change a game when it's 17-13 in the first half just as much as you can when you have the ball in your hands at the end.

I understand the gist of the post. I agree that it would work in the BEST case scenario. I'd rather have it another way, but here's hoping everything goes to plan next year (and next next year).

If not, we'll be seeing a new coach try a new technique, methinks.

eagleboston said...


You have a point about conference success, however, most national fans could care less about conference achievement. For example, can you name who won the Big Ten in 2002? When it comes to national prestige, right or wrong, it is all about the NCAA Tourney. In football, it comes down to where you are in the final poll. I believe TOB once attained a #18 ranking. Skinner made it to the Sweet 16 in 2006. Very comparable.

My point is both coaches are decent coaches who have never attained greatness. And probably never will. TOB was ripped apart for his level of success while Skinner, at a very similar level (both are BC's most winning coaches in their respective sports) is exalted. Results are similar. The only difference as far as I can tell is one guy is likable and the other is not.

BCMcG said...

A #18 ranking in football and a Sweet 16 appearance is a poor comparison. For the past 9 years, Al Skinner's teams have consistently been in the top 30 or so in the country. That's the top 10% of programs. The illustrious bowl streak was the result of being in the top 50% of football programs over the same period.

Additionally, O'Brien consistently made excuses and laid eggs in key games. He frequently used the gambling scandal as a crutch when it was far more overblown that it should have been. Skinner, on the other hand, has never made excuses for his teams' shortcomings and has had some marquee wins as well as conference tournament and regular season championships. Finally, where Tom O'Brien used the gambling scandal to falsely prop himself up, Al Skinner has never complained about how his predecessor effectively destroyed local recruiting and ruined the basketball program. I believed that Jim O'Brien had done irreparable damage to BC basketball and it would take decades to recover. Al Skinner never complained about this situation and, in only four years, brought the program into the upper echelon of college basketball. It has nothing to do with likability or charisma and, frankly, those aren't Al's strong suits. The indisputable fact is that he saved BC basketball from being a desolate program and made it competitive with the top programs in the country. For that alone, he can stay at BC for as long as he wants as long as I'm concerned.

mod10aeagle said...

Al Skinner has tenure. It would take a court finding of mental incompetence or a major morals infraction to fire him. He leaves when he wants to leave, and frankly, he's earned that. While I don't see much value in the debate, there are more similarities than differences between Skinner and O'Brien. Both produced winning teams and brought integrity back to crippled programs. Both infuriate a segment of fans for not quite taking their teams to "the next level". Somehow the hockey team has done that repeatedly, and the soccer team broke through that wall last season, but hoop and f'ball are stuck in Tier Two. Of course, hockey and soccer are niche sports, accustomed to receiving very little media attention, so BC doesn't suffer that recruiting disadvantage in those sports.

conlonc said...

But I'm not talking about national prestige, I'm talking about expectations of a school like BC within conferences of extremely different statuses and how that affects the opinion of fans towards Skinner and TOB.

Of course you also have to factor in that football is way bigger at BC than b-ball and that TOB is no longer here, while Al is.

Your rankings comparison is way off. It took both of them about 3 years to rebound from the problems in each respective program. Here are the rankings each achieved in AP polls:
TOB - 1999 (21), 2004 (21), 2005 (18), 2006 (20)
Skinner - 2001 (7), 2004 (25), 2005 (14), 2006 (7)

While agree there are many similarities, the pool of teams and level of competition are quite drastically different.

GF3Blogger said...

Hey CT just kind of throwing this out there-- This past season Biko Paris hit almost 37% of the 3's he took. He was 14 for 38 from 3 this year averging 12 minutes a game. That's not bad at all. Roche was almost as good. Roche hit 35% from downtown this year. He went 21 for 59 on 3's in 13 minutes a game. Both of those guys can shoot the ball.