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StLouHoo's Preview:

Flying to the Eagles

Boston College Eagles

Virginia hits the road for its first away game since the disastrous trip to West Lafayette on December 4th. This week's opponent doesn't generate quite the emotions as Purdue did, and their arena comes with far less intimidating a reputation. But nonetheless, after more than a month in the cozy confines of JPJ, will the Hoos be comfortable enough in an unfamiliar gym to get the win?

Game Details:

Date/Time:Tuesday, January 7th, 7:00 pm ET
Location:Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, MA
TV:ACCN

 

What 'They' Say

Vegas:Virginia -9, O/U 114, equates to ~62-53 UVA win
Torvik:Ranks BC #144, predicts a 54-49 UVA win, 73% confidence
KenPom:Ranks BC #147, predicts a 58-51 UVA win, 72% confidence

 

Depth Chart:

Starters
PG#11 Derryck Thornton, 6'3" 195, SR
30.1 mpg, 13.3 ppg, 3.4 apg, 25.0 3P%
SG#5 Jay Heath, 6'3" 175, FR
31.4 mpg, 12.0 ppg, 1.8 apg, 37.7 3P%
SF#0 CJ Felder, 6'7" 230, FR
19.7 mpg, 5.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 40.0 FG%
PF#1 Jairus Hamilton, 6'8" 234, SO
24.1 mpg, 9.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 37.5 FG%
C#41 Steffon Mitchell, 6'8" 220, JR
29.7 mpg, 6.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 44.4 FG%
Key Reserves
G#3 Jared Hamilton, 6'4" 203, SR
25.2 mpg, 8.4 ppg, 1.0 apg, 41.4 3P%
G#24 Chris Herren Jr., 6'3" 174, SO
9.1 mpg, 1.7 ppg, 0.2 apg, 33.3 3P%
G/F#2 Julian Rishwain, 6'5" 190, FR
16.9 mpg, 5.3 ppg, 0.9 apg, 34.8 3P%
F/C#13 Luka Kraljevic, 6'10" 228, JR
5.7 mpg, 0.9 ppg, 0.9 rpg, 80.0 FG%

 

The ABC's of Boston College:

A) They're likely missing a big piece. Nik Popovic was one of the best returning players in the ACC no one was talking about. The near-7-footer averaged 14.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg, and nearly a block per game as a junior last year. He had high hopes for his final season of college eligibility and got off to a solid start averaging nearly 12 and 6 through the early contests. But unfortunately a back ailment shut him down indefinitely in December, and BC isn't the same without him. There's not a true big man capable of replacing his minutes, as even in Nik's absence, junior center Kraljevic is only getting 7 minutes a game. Instead, they're going with more of a power forward type in Mitchell as the designated 5 man, sacrificing presence in the paint on both ends of the floor.

B) It all starts in their backcourt. Jim Christian teams aren't known for much (sorry Jim, it's true), but the one through-line to his tenure at BC has been getting good offensive production from underrated guard prospects. In years past we've seen guys like Jerome Robinson, Jordan Chatman, Ky Bowman, and Wyston Tabbs (out for the year with injury) go from under-recruited to double-digit ACC scorer time and again. This year, Christian's leaning hard on a grad transfer (and once-upon-a-time Duke point guard) Derryck Thornton to run point after Thornton never got into a rhythm at USC. Along side him is 3-star freshman Jay Heath, who was 247's composite #280-ranked player last year but all of a sudden is averaging 12 ppg for an ACC club. They both have more turnovers than assists, however, so pay attention to how well they perform against Kihei and Morsell.

C) Their offense is struggling in just about every category. KenPom ranks BC as the nation's #250 offense. They turn the ball over too much (260th nationally), they shoot only 31.1% from 3 (252nd), and only 46.7% from inside the arc (also 252nd). They rarely get to the line (214th), and they can't offensive rebound (265th). Even their free throw percentage kinda sucks. About their only plus offensive statistic is that they rarely get their shots blocked, but that's the slimmest of silver linings. With Popovic out, about the only player scoring efficiently for the Eagles (guys like Thornton and Heath are more volume scorers) is backup guard Jared Hamilton who's hitting over 41% from 3, but maybe doesn't get the volume of opportunities he deserves.

 

Their Season To Date

Boston College is 8-6 on the year, 2-1 in the ACC. They took bad OOC losses to Belmont, DePaul, St Louis, Richmond, and Northwestern. But surprisingly in their two early ACC games, they came away with wins over Wake Forest (home) and Notre Dame (away). Most recently they were blown out 88-49 at Duke.

 

Keys to getting the win:

1) Limit turnovers. The Eagles' defense is built upon a singular strategy, and that's intense ball pressure. They're 24th nationally in defensive turnover rate at 23.9%. They rank even higher at live-ball steal rate, 13th best in the country (12.7%). Every BC opponent this year has coughed up at least 13 turnovers, and BC's hit double-digit live-ball steals five times already this year, most recently getting 10 steals against Duke. Virginia's been uncharacteristically loose with the ball this season, ranking 231st nationally in offensive TO rate, and most concerning is 323rd in offensive live-ball steal rate (11.3%). It's BC-strength-vs-UVA-weakness, and the most obvious statistic against which the game can turn in BC's favor. UVA must-must-must keep the turnovers to a manageable level (target: 12), and keep BC's steal total to preferably 8 or fewer.

2) Trust a bigger lineup. Without Popovic, the Eagles run a smaller lineup, with forward Mitchell at the 5 for the majority of the game. After the VT game, you may expect the Hoos to play small again, with Mamadi at the 5 for long stretches and limited run for Huff and/or Caffaro. But a couple of distinct differences here. First, while Tech had guard-sized players at the 3 and 4 against whom a smaller lineup of Hoo defenders was appropriate, the Eagles will run out big forwards at their wing spots. Felder and Jairus Hamilton are similarly built in that combo-forward mold, so a "big" UVA lineup with Key at the 3-spot and healthy doses of McKoy, Huff, and Papi are reasonable. Papi and Huff might have some occasional struggles if Mitchell tries to force them to play in space, but the junior is a career 24% 3-point shooter and would much rather play offense in the paint. The trade off gain, though, of having a 7-footer alongside a couple of big Hoo forwards would allow UVA to score effectively in the paint against an Eagles squad lacking a rim protector as well as dominate a poor-rebounding Eagles team on both ends of the glass.

3) Get out to a fast start. Against Virginia Tech, the Hoos controlled the game from the opening tip and never allowed the Hokies to gain much confidence or momentum. It allowed the superior Hoos to take the fight out of the upset-minded underdog and win the game going away. On paper, BC is similarly a team UVA should beat going away, but the key will be to prevent BC from getting into any sort of early rhythm. This is especially true when they have the ball, because as bad as their offense has been without Popovic, a familar strangling from the Pack Line should quickly demoralize BC and allow the Hoos to open up a safe lead by early in the second half. I want to see BC still in single digits at the 10-minute mark.

 

 

Predictions:

I know the metrics think this one will be close. But those metrics are based on whole-season data that include(a) a healthy Popovic for 9 games and (b) UVA's struggles while dealing with a rash of Nov/Dec absences. Against VT we saw what UVA can do when healthy and in rhythm against a bottom-half ACC rival. Something about league play brings out the best in Tony and the Hoos, a sharper sense of execution and urgency, and while this Virginia team still has its question marks, there's no reason to expect them to struggle with a Boston College team that's already let multiple mid-majors win on its home court. About the only thing I think could drag UVA down, other than a sloppy turnover-fest, is a quiet and empty arena. BC's students won't even be back, and who really wants to be in Massachusetts in January (no offense, New England Hoos)? But if the Hoos can avoid the malaise and be smart with the ball, this BC team is tailor made to be shut down by UVA's defense. And if BC gets demoralized at one end of the floor, their defense will lapse as well to let UVA open it up for a potentially sizable win.

Hoos Win 59-42