The Syracuse Orange have headed east and will take on Boston College tonight at Conte Forum with a tip time of 8 pm EST. The Orange are coming off a brutal loss at Virginia Tech on Saturday and have now reached the median of its three game road trip.
As we do before every game, we’ve reached out to our opponent’s SBN affiliate to gather intel on the enemy. Patrick Toppin of BC Interruption was kind enough to answer our questions, so let’s dive in.
TNIAAM: Boston College could have easily been 11-1 through the non-conference if not for two overtime losses. How would you describe play before the start of ACC?
Patrick Toppin: Man I’m still not sure what happened. The loss to Providence was bad coaching (refusal to foul when up 3 as clock hit zero). The IUPUI game was an embarrassment. The Hartford game was even worse (and I’ve repressed it in my memory).
There were basically two teams that played before conference play. One team stood around and watched Ky Bowman play hero ball, while the other had great off-ball movement and hit open shots. The latter was usually good enough (Providence game notwithstanding), the former I blame for the two ugly losses.
Jim Christian finally has the guys he wants at every level, including the bench, which means that this team can play beautiful, offensive basketball for 40 minutes. It also means that there’s less emphasis on defense, which can bite BC against teams that shoot the three well.
TNIAAM: BC got out to an 0-4 start in conference play before winning two straight. What’s happened there?
PT: I hate to give this as an excuse, but it really came down to injuries. Star freshman and superb ball handler Wynston Tabbs was out for Virginia Tech and Louisville. Steffon Mitchell, who’s BC’s own Draymond Green, (Ed. note — lol) was out for Virginia and Notre Dame. Any team without much depth is going to miss a starter dearly, especially in the ACC.
Now I don’t think that their presence turns the tables in the UVA and VT games. But it might have made a difference in the Louisville and Notre Dame games (though the loss against the Irish was as much a result of terrible refs and Coach Jim Christian being unable to push the pace).
In a world with injuries turned off, BC is probably looking at being 3-3 in conference play. When all five starters were healthy earlier in the year, the Eagles were beating Minnesota and Loyola-Chicago. In the first conference game with all five, they beat No. 11 FSU (probably overrated, but still a talented team). And then they almost dropped one to Wake Forest without Tabbs.
Injuries are a part of the game, and BC certainly isn’t the only team who has them (just look at Notre Dame). But I think a fair amount of BC fans are wondering “what if” with regards to this year.
TNIAAM: In regards to the win over Florida State, Ky Bowman dropped 37 points on the Seminoles. How did that occur?
PT: Well it always helps to open up 7-for-7 from the field. It was just a game when Ky Bowman was on and his shot was falling. He’s had a few games like that this season: Wyoming (38 pts), Columbia (24 pts), and Hartford (44 pts).
The trend in all of those games is made threes. He’s by far the most athletic player on the Eagles and his layup package is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. When he’s trying to get it going, driving to the basket is always going to be his go-to move. But his outside shot has been inconsistent all year. Part of the reason so many BC fans were optimistic after the Minnesota win was because Bowman went 3-13 on field goals and the Eagles still won. This team can compete with anyone in the country when Bowman is hitting shots. It’s a lot harder when he’s not.
TNIAAM: Jim Christian said on Monday that Bowman doesn’t get tired despite his minutes and takes care of himself with rest/sleep. How has he approached this season as the focal point without Jerome Robinson?
PT: Everybody on, at, or in any way affiliated with Boston College knew that Bowman was going to be the center of this offense. As a whole, he’s done really well. Without Jerome Robinson he’s still managed to keep up his borderline reckless play, hit absurd layups, and crash the boards. His defense has improved, in my opinion, despite playing virtually every second of every game.
One of the things you’ll notice on the stat sheet is a drop in assists. I think part of that can be explained by the departure of Robinson. There are just less assists to go around when your 1st-team All-ACC selection isn’t shooting the ball anymore. There have been games where Bowman is clearly trying to get his teammates going, but he has to balance that with carrying the scoring load. At the end of the day he’s the #NationsMostDynamicGuard (blame BC for that one), and he’s got to show it.
TNIAAM: Bowman and Jordan Chatman both shoot it well from deep. Can they exploit a Syracuse 2-3 zone that gave up 9 threes to Justin Robinson last Saturday?
PT: We’ve already talked about Bowman’s shot, so we won’t know until the end if he can exploit that 2-3 zone. Chatman is far more consistent historically. He’s always been a sharpshooter that can get hot in a second (he made back-to-back-to-back threes in the FSU game to give BC a lead), but he’s had some struggles this year. He was up and down before the Providence game, and then sat out three games due to a leg injury. When he came back he proceeded to go 2/19 from deep over a four game stretch, and there was some question as to whether he should be the first man off the bench instead of guaranteed starter.
Chatman must have heard something because he’s shot over 60% from downtown in the three conference games since then. If there’s a guy who can exploit Syracuse’s defensive scheme on this team, it’s him.
TNIAAM: How has Nik Popovic stepped up this season?
PT: Pop has stepped up big time this season, especially in his consistency. He put together some sterling performances last year, especially in the conference tournament, but he had periods of passive, uninspiring performances. This year he’s improved his touch around the rim and his energy on both ends, resulting in career highs in points, rebounds, and blocks. I also think he’s embraced the fact that he’s a 250lb 7-footer and has imposed himself on other teams.
TNIAAM: What’s the story on Wynston Tabbs?
PT: There are two freshmen that BC fans expected to make an impact this year: Jairus Hamilton and Wynston Tabbs. Hamilton has the size and power that any coach dreams of (he was listed as 6-8 210 in high school), but I think he needs some more time to adjust to the speed of college ball. Tabbs doesn’t have that size, but he came out of one of the toughest leagues in the country and therefore reads the game like an upperclassman. He’s got such great vision and he complements the game-breaking athleticism of Ky Bowman as a more traditional point guard.
TNIAAM: Any interest storylines for BC this year or anything else Syracuse fans should know before the game?
PT: I think we covered most everything. This has been a frustrating year for BC sports, from the collapse of the football team after College Gameday showed up, to the fact that our hockey teams sometimes look like they forgot how to play, to the aforementioned IUPUI/Hartford losses. Success here would make us forget all that, so if you guys would roll over now we wouldn’t mind.
TNIAAM: Who wins, what’s the final score and why?
PT: 68-64 BC because I stuck this into a simulator and ran it until BC won.
Nah but actually, if this is close I think it goes BC’s way. But if the shots aren’t falling and they can’t penetrate the zone it’ll get out of hand fast.
What do you guys think? Worried about Bowman after seeing Justin Robinson go off last game? Think Syracuse makes corrections within the zone with more time to prepare?