(Image – Erin Edgerton – Daily Progress)
Following a shaky victory over the Wake Forest Demon Deacons late Wednesday night, UVA looks to improve to 3-0 in the ACC when the teams tip off Saturday at 2:00 PM ET against the Boston College Eagles in another must-win game against an inferior opponent.
What has Boston College done so far
So far this season, Boston College has been hammered by a number of very good basketball teams. With a 2-8 record and losses to Villanova, Florida, Duke, Louisville, NC State, Syracuse, Minnesota, and St. Johns, the Eagles have been on the struggle bus since late-November. Their lone, unimpressive wins came against Rhode Island and Maine.
While their record would suggest otherwise, the Eagles have only been blown out once this season in a 101-63 loss to Syracuse. Outside of that loss, they’ve been in every game. But, the Eagles have struggled to finish games against more talented teams.
Breaking Boston College down
The Eagles’ backcourt of Wynston Tabbs (14.6 PPG) and Jay Heath (13.1 PPG) have led Boston College so far this season. They’ve been the primary offensive threats for a team that relies on a sporadic spread ball screen offense. Curiously, Head Coach Jim Christian actually benched Tabbs in BC’s most recent contest versus Duke. Senior point guard Rich Kelly replaced Tabbs and scored 16 points compared to Tabbs’ 6 off the bench. Kelly, guard Makai Ashton-Langford, and starting wing C.J. Felder generally provide additional scoring to complement Heath and Tabbs. Ashton-Langford missed Wednesday night’s contest with a knee injury, so his status is still unknown.
Boston College wants to push the ball offensively as the Eagles rely on their guards to attack the paint early in possessions off ball screens and then kick out. But, their struggles from behind the arc — they shoot 33.3% as a team — limit their effectiveness. That’s why BC wants to push in transition; to attack defenses that aren’t set and therefore generate easier looks.
The onus will be on Kihei Clark and Reece Beekman in the backcourt to stay in front of the Eagle guards and prevent them from . The UVA ball screen defense will be, once again, tested. But, following an encouraging performance in the second half against Wake Forest when the ‘Hoos only allowed 22 points, things are looking up.
Defensively, BC tends to struggle when guarding man-to-man, so Christian will switch in and out of playing zone defense. Against Virginia’s frontcourt, expect for the Eagles to try and survive by playing zone because they’ll be concerned about Jay Huff and Sam Hauser dominating in the paint. In fact, the frontcourt is likely where UVA has the biggest advantage over Boston College. The Eagles’ starting center, Steffon Mitchel (6’8”, 220 pounds) isn’t a very physical player while starting power forward Felder (6’7”, 230 pounds) struggles against more skilled offensive players.
When the Eagles play zone defense, look for the ‘Hoos to counter by rotating Clark, Huff, and Hauser in a three man motion at the key to keep the Boston College defense moving. This is a tactic that UVA employed against Notre Dame and that worked wonders against the Irish’s zone.
UVA will win if:
the ‘Hoos can take care of the ball, get back on defense, and play smart basketball. They’re better than Boston College. They just have to execute. This should big a big game for Hauser and Huff in the frontcourt and the Wahoo guards should be able to limit the scoring punch of BC’s backcourt.
Boston College will win if:
the Eagles can hit contested shots whole penetrating the pack line defense off of ball screens. They’ll hope to give the Wahoos the issues guarding ball screens that plagued them against Gonzaga and Kent State. On the other end, they’re just hoping to survive.
Score prediction: UVA 69 – Boston College 58
This should be a win for Virginia. The ‘Hoos appear to be hitting their stride defensively, and the recent offensive adjustments frankly worked wonders. There’s always a weird atmosphere in Conte Forum, but that’s nothing unusual this season. Even if there’s a bit of a slow start, expect the Wahoos to win this one fairly comfortably.