Commentary

BC has a lot of concerns with Duke

Updated: January 26, 2011, 8:45 PM ET
By Jack McCluskey | Special to ESPNBoston.com

Coming off a loss to then-unranked (now No. 22) Florida State, Boston College is headed to No. 3 Duke on Thursday looking to pull off an upset and avoid a two-game losing streak in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

History is not on the Eagles' side.

BC's record against Duke is 2-12. In Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Eagles are 0-5.

In fact, the Eagles (14-5, 4-2 ACC) haven't beaten a top-10 team since Feb. 15, 2009. (That win came at home against the then-No. 6 Blue Devils.)

If they want to have a shot against Duke (18-1, 5-1 ACC), the Eagles must do a better job than they did against the Seminoles (15-5, 5-1 ACC) on both ends of the court.

[+] EnlargeKyle Singler
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeWith BC having concerns about its defense, Duke's Kyle Singler will present a particular challenge.

"We didn't play extremely well, necessarily," BC coach Steve Donahue said, referring to his team's performance in the 67-51 loss in his weekly ACC teleconference on Monday, "but I think Florida State had a lot to do with that."

Florida State held BC to its lowest totals in points (51), made field goals (17) and field goal percentage (35.4 percent, 17-of-48) this season. The Eagles had been averaging 75.5 points a game on close to 48 percent shooting, but came nowhere near those numbers against FSU. That's not entirely surprising, considering the Seminoles are holding opponents to just 34.9 percent shooting this season, best in the country.

And after beating Virginia by getting to the free throw line and converting, the Eagles didn't help themselves in Tallahassee by tying a season low for free throw percentage, making just 50 percent (9-of-18) of their foul shots.

It also didn't help that the Eagles went into the contest at less than full strength.

Starting guard Biko Paris missed the game with an illness. (Freshman Gabriel Moton started in place of Paris.) Joe Trapani also was plagued by flu-like symptoms prior to tip-off, but he played and scored a game-high 19 points. But after scoring 14 points in the first half, Trapani's legs failed him in the second.

More important than any offensive struggles, however, may be the struggles on the other end.

"One of the things we've tried to do this year is try to figure out what's best for this team defensively. And there's no mistaking that it's our Achilles' heel," Donahue said. "And at times we've played it well. I thought we did a very good job in the first half at Florida State and unfortunately we did not do a good job in the second half. Maybe that has a little to do with us getting worn down in the second half of games."

Reggie Jackson admitted after the win over Virginia on Jan. 19 that at times he relies too heavily on his athleticism on the defensive end. Jackson made the remark when asked about teammate John Cahill, a senior walk-on who was in the game late to play defense (subbing in for Trapani) mainly because his relative lack of athleticism makes him focus on communication and on keeping his man, and the play, in front of him.

If Donahue's right and the Eagles are getting worn down in the second half, then perhaps to mitigate the risk of being undone by their Achilles' heel they should take a page from Cahill's book and rely less on athleticism and more on alertness on defense.

They also may have to ask more of Jackson, who already shoulders much of the offensive load.

"I think Reggie, if there's anything I would ask him to do more, I think he could be more active off the ball," Donahue said of his star guard. "He can create turnovers for his teammates by getting into passing lanes, and he can defensive rebound for us. We're asking him to do so much but there are other ways he can help us win basketball games."

To beat Duke (8 p.m. ET, ESPN3.com), BC will likely try anything it can think of. And the Eagles will have to do everything while drowning out some of the most raucous fans in the country.

"Obviously this one is a great college venue," Donahue said of Cameron Indoor Stadium. Then the first-year ACC coach did as he's wont to do, and made an argument for the little guy.

"The thing that's funny … you'll get a lot more tough gyms to play at in the lower levels, even in the Ivy League," said Donahue, the former Cornell coach. "A place like Yale seats about 2,500 and they're on top of you. And it's loud, there's no good acoustics.

"A lot of these arenas are so nice at this level that even if the crowd is loud, you've got some space, you got good acoustics, you've got video boards that take your attention away from fans. Sometimes at that Ivy, Patriot League level, you've got arenas [in which] people know everything about you and they're screaming everything, and you hear every little word they say. And they can be just as intimidating as, if not more intimidating than, some of these big arenas."

Given the Eagles' 0-2 record at home versus Ivy League teams this season, perhaps it's a good thing Donahue & Co. won't have to find out how they would fare in Ancient Eight arenas.

Donahue did acknowledge that Duke has a significant home-court advantage and admitted that any ACC team that doesn't try to give itself an edge at home is "really missing the boat."

Asked for his evaluation of Blue Devils senior Kyle Singler, Donahue was quick to sing his praises.

"The thing that is so impressive about Kyle is how hard he plays," Donahue said. "It's kind of easy for a guard to play 40 minutes and not miss a step, because he's basically going foul line to foul line. But when you add the physicality that Kyle plays with and then all the things he tries to do defensively, it's pretty incredible.

"That's the thing that amazes me; his motor is just a notch above everybody else on the court. Add to that obviously he's extremely talented in so many aspects of the game as well, it's a heck of a combination."

Add to Singler players like Nolan Smith, who's on pace to lead the ACC in both scoring and assists, Mason Plumlee and the emerging Ryan Kelly, and it's clear any team will have its hands full facing Duke.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski will make sure his third-ranked squad doesn't overlook Donahue's Eagles.

"He's done a really good job with a veteran BC team," Coach K said of Donahue. "I mean they have really good talent but a new coach coming in has to implement a new system, and sometimes that's harder to do with older guys than with younger guys. They seem to have responded really well."

If the Eagles are able to overcome their Achilles' heel, hold the Blue Devils below their ACC-leading average of 85.7 points a game and escape the Cameron Crazies with a win, they'll not only have their first victory over a top-10 team since 2009, have collected their first win at Duke and have avoided a two-game losing skid. They'll also have ended the longest active home winning streak in college basketball, which Duke holds at 30.

And that wouldn't be bad history to make.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and contributes to ESPNBoston.com.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

EDITORS' PICKS

MORE MEN'S COLLEGE BASKETBALL HEADLINES