Basketball Preview: BC

<B></B> continues the preview of Big East Schools with the Boston College Eagles, who will be leaving for the ACC next season.


This is the swan song for the Eagles in Big East play. They leave to join the ACC following this season, amid some bad blood from league rivals.

Al Skinner's club would like it if there was even more bad blood in March, if the Eagles can leave as conference champs.

A stretch? Maybe a little. Boston College returns a ton of talent off last year's squad that made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, but so do a lot of other teams in the league.

What the Eagles have is a system -- a defense-first, 40 minutes of intensity style that makes opponents work the full shot clock on offense and fight through picks and screens on defense. The team has a player, Craig Smith, who has as good a chance as anyone of winning Big East Player of the Year honors, and a solid backcourt.

Moreover, Boston College has some quality depth. Jermaine Watson's averages belie his impact -- when he's hot, he's instant offense off the pine. And freshman Sean Williams will get an early chance to crack the core rotation and support the veterans in the paint.

This team still has holes. It's not very deep inside -- the one senior lost, five-year vet Uka Agbai, provided leadership, points and rebounds that will all be difficult to replace. And Smith showed some signs of strain down the stretch last season. He absorbed a lot of pounding even with Agbai on hand.

Still, with Watson and Nate Doornekamp as the only seniors on the roster, this team has the potential to be great, this year in the Big East and next year in the ACC.


STRENGTHS: Craig Smith showed last season that he could carry this team when everyone else is struggling, and should only be better as a junior. Five of the top six players in the rotation return, so it's not a team that has a lot of players adjusting to new roles.

WEAKNESSES: This team had some stretches on offense last year where it couldn't find the basket at all, and Al Skinner's defense-first mentality may indicate that offense is something that may not get a whole lot better. If the freshmen don't adjust quickly to college ball, the Eagles won't have much depth -- only seven players return from last year's squad.

LAST YEAR: 24-10 overall, 10-6 in the Big East; lost in second round of NCAA tournament.

HEAD COACH: Al Skinner (career 260-221); Eighth year at Boston College (122-95).

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Moving from the Big East, we've got to go out there and try to beat the ACC teams we play. We've got to make our mark for when we go there, as well as beat the Big East teams because they are really going to be going after us. Talking to some of the football players, they told me they hear that a lot. We've just got to go out there and play as hard as we can. We don't want any letdowns, especially in the Big East this year." -- Point guard Louis Hinnant


SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: Sean Williams gives the team another defensive presence in the paint, and the 6-9 freshman should get a chance to join the core playing rotation right away. Akida McLain will be an offensive threat off the bench.

KEY EARLY-SEASON GAME: Nov. 26 vs. Clemson -- You wouldn't think a home game against an ACC also-ran would have much meaning, but the Eagles are joining the ACC after this season, making this showdown one with a lot of pride on the line. Clemson beat Boston College last season, and point guard Louis Hinnant is good friends with Clemson standout Sharrod Ford.

PROGRAM DIRECTION: Ascending. The Eagles overcame being left out of the NCAA Tournament in 2002-03 to explode off the dreaded bubble by winning its last six regular-season games last year. It gave eventual national title game participant Georgia Tech all it could handle before falling in the second round, and should be poised for a Sweet 16 season with four starters back.

PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: Point guard Louis Hinnant, shooting guard Sean Marshall, center Nate Doornekamp, power forward Craig Smith, small forward Jared Dudley.

ROSTER REPORT: Three players transferred after the season -- sophomore Johnnie Jackson (Ohio U.), freshmen Devon Evertsen (Fordham), and walk-on Tavio Hobson. None played much last season. ... Seniors Nate Doornekamp and juniors Craig Smith and Louis Hinnant will be the team captains this season. ... Freshman Sean Williams may get a chance to fill the void left by Uka Agbai's departure.

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