Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Basketball Season Grades: Al Skinner

I’ve been dragging my feet on this post since the end of the season. I could have buried it amidst the hockey stuff or the draft coverage, but that wouldn’t have been fair. Before I get into the thoughts on this season, let me restate that I think Al Skinner is a great coach and the program is still in good hands. The grade and post below are strictly about the 2007-08 season.

The loss to Kansas didn’t bother me. Nor did the stinker against Robert Morris. When the team followed those bumps with three straight ACC wins, I was at ease. We were looking at another good season. New faces, new challenges, same Skinner results. Who would have known that 3-0 start would be the peak of it all? Shortly after the quick start, the wheels came off.

There were so many problems I don’t know where to begin. Ultimately what made this season different from past is we did not establish an offense that could dictate tempo and force teams to play our style. Left scrambling for points, we were susceptible to presses and couldn’t stop other teams’ runs. How did we go from being so consistent to the mess we became? Part of it was the roster change, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Skinner made the mistake of trying to bridge the eras. We tried to use Blair and Spears like they had the same inside games as Dudley and Smith. When that failed against better competition, Skinner started giving those minutes to Southern (and Raji somewhat) and moved to a more open style of play a la the Troy Bell years. By then it was too little too late. We also were very sloppy with the ball. That’s to be expected with so many young players, but there wasn’t much improvement as the season progressed.

I also hoped the defense would be better this year. It wasn’t. While the team showed improvement on the perimeter and in transition, the defensive rebounding and interior play was lacking.

There’s a perception that Al doesn’t coach during that games. Anyone who has sat near the BC bench can easily refute that myth. However, his in-game adjustments hit the wrong notes this year. We let winnable contests get away from us too often during ACC play.

Fortunately recruiting held up and there is more talent on the way.

I remain optimistic. I’ll give Skinner a pass for this year and probably for next year too. But I can’t sugarcoat what happened on the court this year. I look forward to next fall so we can put this season behind us.

Season Grade: C-


Erik said...

From a publicity perspective, the highlight was the Maryland victory in the ACC Tournament - but that was mostly Gary, Vasquez, and the Terps giving the game away.

The team a lot more lost than they were untalented, which I thought the Providence game showed.

Lets sweep this season under the rug and start a'new in 2008-2009. GO EAGLES!

Claver2010 said...

Honestly ATL, I like Al Skinnner, I really do but something has to change. We obviously don't have the personnel to run the flex either this year or next year. Our "best" starting line-up, no matter who says it, will be a combination of 3 guards, Trapani, and Southern. This lineup will not be able to successfully run the flex if it is not altered.

Obviously our strength (relatively) will be in the backcourt. One would think that it would dictate a full court press and run and gun style. I by no means expect to see that. I expect to see the lackadaisical blob defense. The only reason why this defense was successful the couple of previous years was the combination of S. Williams and Craig Smith.

The offense was so predictable: Rice brings the ball up, passes to a big man who flashes at one of the elbows, as Rice cycles down a wing moves up to the other elbow where an extremely risky bounce pass is executed by Roche, Oates, etc. When the clock runs down the four on the floor watches Rice isolate. The offense will have to change come next year.

I did not see growth in many players this year.

Rice: continued his play from his sophomore year
Rakim: tailed off as the season progressed
Raji: tailed off as the season progressed
Southern: finally given a chance in the UNC game and was able to produce instant offense from the post.
Spears: obviously did not improve and transferred
Biko: steadying force with the ball in his hands, didn't get a ton of time.
Roche: not a DIII player
Oates: one good game, never seen a more passive 6'10" player.

I believe that this year is a big measuring stick for Skinner. He heard some rumblings this year about his job, and if he doesn't improve next year they will be more than rumblings.

ATL_eagle said...

Claver, not to pull the "before your time" card on you but Skinner won the Big East regular season and tourney title with a small lineup in 2001. I don't think he'll win the ACC next year, but he can tweak things enough to go four smalls and Southern and still be a bubble team.

Big Jack Krack said...

Hello Bill:

"Who would have known that 3-0 start would be the peak of it all?"

Well, I'm nowhere near the area and didn't pay much attention this year as in years past, but on1/11/08, after thinking it for a long time, I predicted that we would end up 5 and 11 (or worse) in the ACC. (That's 2 and 11 or 1 and 12 after a 3 and 0 start. Why?

I said that Skinner is too lax for freshmen who are not surrounded by wily veterans to be successful, in my opinion.

I think Coach Skinner is a mediocre coach at this point, as many others have said. I respect all of you who admire him and like him - I hope you are right that he is a great coach, and that I am wrong. I just don't see it. There are too many glaring weaknesses in our overall approach. We can't play the basics in basketball. Waving at the opponents as they streak for the basket is becoming a trademark of BC defense - just awful. The overall appearance of the players seems to be that they have a lackadaisical attitude; they walk when they should jog and their heads are down when they should be standing proud, etc. They do what Al does - try to look cool when everything is falling apart.

Even when we were good, we underachieved in the league tournaments and the Big Dance. As an example we were picked for good things one year (04-05)and were blown out in the Quarterfinals of the Big East by West Virginia (when it was 47 to 22, we still looked cool)and smacked in the 2nd Round of the NCAA by Milwaukee-Wisc - Who? Maybe they were pretty good that one year, but the fact is we were better. Yet Milwaukee came out and took it right to us - Skinner had no answers. He looked cool on the bench though, as his team, which was once one of the top 2 or 3 teams in the country that year, went down meekly to the Horizon League.

The 05/06 losses to Duke in the ACC Final and to Villanova in the Sweet Sixteen were probably as good as we'll ever get. I think most sportswriters liked BC in the Final Four that year.

Both of those games were ours, but we found a way to lose. Coach Skinner apparently didn't know how to instruct his players to shadow Reddick - AND DENY HIM THE BALL. And have we ever asked ourselves how Villanova could get a wide open layup with only a few seconds left. This was right after a timeout! Sure they had fantastic guards, but you have to guard everybody at crunch time with only a couple of seconds left. What a (preventable) heartbreaker - Al had them keying on the guards and left the non-scoring forward WIDE OPEN UNDER THE BASKET. Unbelievable.

When Coach Skinner finally brings some of these games home, I'll feel better. When he coaches the basics, I'll feel better.

As usual, I'm just doodling and thinking that it's high time to shut up.

Claver2010 said...

Haha no problem on that ATL, I have been a BC fan for as long as I can remember but I was only 13 then so the memory of the Troy Bell years are a little foggy.

It's just that there is no excitement around the program. That isn't Al's nature and that's fine. It's not GDF's nature and that's fine too. We are playing in front of a 2/3 empty arena when national programs come to town. It's the old chicken-egg theory. Does the losing beget little interest or the little interest beget losing?

Another thing is the lack of discipline of the players that Al brings in. These players are on full rides here and should be held to a higher standard. In my mere two years being on campus, we have had 2 dismissals, and 3 transfers. We were also in jeopardy of another huge shoe dropping this semester and thank God nothing came of it.

Winning, as it is will all things, solves everything.

John Macek III said...

Claver, what are these rumblings you hear about? Besides the obvious message boards.

Claver2010 said...

Ask anyone on campus who knows we have a basketball team and they know some form of the truth, as do I. All I know is that where there is smoke there's fire. I posted it months ago on EI. Think: Brady Smith

Eagle0407 said...

I've tried to block that Villanova game out for the past 2 years, but Big Jack's comment reminded me of something that pretty much sums up my problem with Skinner:

We lost that game because, among other things, a 4 year senior didn't know how to switch or hedge on a backscreen on the inbounds play. That is something that a player enters college with very little idea about, and its the coaches' job to teach it to them. Every team has (or should have) a philosophy on how you treat screens in different areas of the floor, on the ball, off the ball, live or inbounds. Whether a timeout should have been called or not is always better answered in hindsight, but the bottom line is that you don't teach Marshall what to do in that situation during a frantic timeout. You teach it when he steps on campus. You reinforce it in practice, in film sessions, and by making everyone accountable if they forget the philosphy (this means paying in playing time). By the time you graduate, you know exactly what to do. And you know that your teammate knows what to do. Teams execute well for a reason, because the coaches lay the building blocks for it.

I think Al would make a great NBA coach, but I just don't think he's enough of a teacher to really succeed in college. College kids need to be motivated and have a coach that insists on movement along the learning curve.

ATL_eagle said...

Jack, we'll agree to disagree on Skinner. The body language/carry themselves like Skinner goes both ways. They don't panic and have won many games late by staying cool and playing smart. Just look at this year's ACC tourney. The "too cool" approach kept them in Maryland. It also probably hurt the next night.

Claver, don't name names here. I let gossip and speculation fly, but don't want anything approaching libel on the blog.

eagleboston said...

I feel Skinner is the basketball version of TOB. Great guy and he brought back a winning traditon on campus, but has hit his ceiling and will never achieve greatness.

luch said...

Coach Skinner is a professional in all senses of the word. One things that sometimes hurts former pros is that they sometimes expect a certain level of professionalism / work ethic/ desire from their players. Just because in their minds, there is no other option on how you approach your craft. But the thing is that these kids (and they truly are kids) do not always know how to approach what they do...they are just kids in mens bodies who have been blessed with size and talent. I have seen this in a few different sports. The best way to combat this is to try to find a middle ground where the coaching staff gets much more hands on and makes a commitment to teach from Day One on campus from the most basic ideas ie how to get proper rest, hydration, putting on socks (coach wooden), etc to more complex ideas like switching on an inbounds play...
it is a great advantage for BC to have Coach Skinner; he is someone that has been there and done that and has professional connections that many coaches would love to have. he can provide honest feedback to kids aspiring to play in the league and has developed a reputation for allowing overlooked players to flourish on a big stage.
one thing i will say is that our team stopped playing in a couple games this year and that is absolutely inexcusable and embarrassing. i would rather play the manager, a couple walk ons, and the last scholarship players than see the starters tank their way through a game.

Brian said...

@ big jack

"The 05/06 losses to Duke in the ACC Final and to Villanova in the Sweet Sixteen were probably as good as we'll ever get. I think most sportswriters liked BC in the Final Four that year."

Actually, the NYT picked Boston College to win it all that year! I still have the JPG graphic. BC over Kansas. Couldn't believe it.

That year and my year as a freshman (2000-2001) were two of the best BC squads I have ever seen play. I'm going to give Skinner a pass but we lost the Round of 32 game to USC that year in similar fashion to Villanova. Why we didn't shoot a 3 and instead opted to drive the lane as the seconds ticked away, I'll never know ...

downtown_resident said...

Good grief, you people are tough. One bad season and suddenly Skinner can't teach, can't coach-- and, in one of the more trivial criticisms I've heard in a while-- looks too cool on the sideline.

Suddenly forgotten in the wake of this disappointing 2007-2008 campaign is the fact that Skinner has taken BC to five NCAA appearances this decade (more than any other decade in the school's history), recruited three of the top six players in BC history in the last eight years, and coached up guys like Jon Beerbohm, Louis Hinnant and, I think, Tyrese Rice from shaky freshmen into big-time contributors by the ends of their BC tenures. We've also forgotten that Villanova and its three guard offense was the worst possible matchup for the interior-oriented BC team in 2006-2007, or that the following year's team had Final Four potential as well until **** W******s puffed it up in smoke. Definitely forgotten amid the glass ceiling discussion is that Skinner built the URI team that was 59 seconds from a Final Four the season after Al departed for The Heights.

ATL is right. Al certainly has his faults and this season sucked, Al's performance included. But let's not overreact. We'll know a lot about the future direction of the program after next season. Until then, take a page from Al's book and keep your cool.

Bravesbill said...

It's about time people are starting to board the bandwagon. Nice to see you all. Amend jack krack, you hit the nail on the head. It is the perfect example of how is not a good strategic coach. Great recruiter and talent developer but a horrible game coach. And to eagleboston, I've been making that comparison since BC lost to Milwaukee. It's about time someone else sees that.

3xEagle said...

Hey, I actually sit very close to the BC bench, and have for over 20 years. I can absolutely and categorically verify the compelling truth that Skinner doesn't (more likely can't) coach in games. For someone to say that is a myth simply provides evidence that they watch very little BC basketball live, or even on TV, and probably get most of their info from reading media accounts of games. Come sit with me for a few a games and I will give you Exhibit A in the scathing indictment of Skinner's game-time (i.e., lack of) coaching, strategies and adjustments. Go back and watch the 2008 Clemson ACC tournament game for cryin' out loud! Also, Bunny needs to see the opthamologist - apparently he cannot see beyond the seventh seat on his bench.