Team preview: Boston College

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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)

The most gratifying thing for Boston College coach Al Skinner about his team's debut in the Atlantic Coast Conference was not the fact that the Eagles bounced back from a near-disastrous 0-3 start to nearly win a league championship.

It was simply that BC, in its first season in the nation's top basketball conference, did exactly what it had hoped to do: finish near the top of the league's regular-season standings and be in position to win the league title.

What happened at the beginning of the season, when the Eagles lost consecutive games at Maryland, at Georgia Tech and at home to NC State, didn't matter one bit.

What people didn't realize, Skinner says, is that just two years before, the Eagles had done something similar in the Big East, losing five of their first seven games in conference play only to win 10 of their next 11 to advance to the Big East Tournament semifinals.

So it was no surprise to Skinner that his team could come back to win 13 of its last 15 regular-season games and advance to the ACC Tournament title game, relying on All-America and first-team All-ACC selection Craig Smith and second-team All-ACC pick Jared Dudley. And in one of the great finals in ACC Tournament history, the Eagles bowed to perennial league champion Duke.

In the NCAA Tournament, the Eagles advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1994, losing in a heart-breaker, 60-59.

"I didn't have any doubts that we would bounce back," said Skinner, who last season surpassed Jim O'Brien as BC's all-time leader in coaching victories. "We just had to go out and do the job and, eventually, we started to do that. That was gratifying to me, not because we bounced back from the way we started, but because that is what we expected to do from the beginning. That is where the satisfaction was for me.

"People didn't understand the mindset of this basketball team. At the end of the day, we wound up where I thought we should be."

The statement, indeed, was clear: The Eagles could -- and would -- be a factor in their new conference because even though they set a school record with 28 victories, the season could have been even better. Of BC's eight losses, five were by two points or less.

After such an impressive ACC debut, the Eagles are back for more, though they have significant losses to replace. Not only is two-time All-America forward Smith no longer in the lineup, neither is the four-year starter at point guard, Louis Hinnant.

Few teams can withstand the loss of a major frontcourt presence and a veteran point guard and still expect to contend for the league title.

The Eagles, however, still have many weapons, and a strong contender in sophomore Tyrese Rice to take over in the backcourt. Dudley, one of college basketball's most durable and versatile players, has scored more points and grabbed more rebounds than any returning player in the ACC, and he has a trio of junior big men to help replace Smith in the paint.

Center/forward John Oates started all 36 games for the Eagles last year, sharing time with Sean Williams and Akida McLain, both of whom got late starts to the season while serving team and school suspensions.

Also available in the frontcourt is junior shot-blocking specialist Tyrelle Blair, who is eligible after sitting out last year after his transfer from Loyola-Chicago.
The backcourt is led by senior Sean Marshall, who like Dudley has started 100 consecutive games in his BC career. He's got an outside shooting touch and a knack for playing defense.

Meanwhile, Rice must take over Hinnant's duties at the point, sharing time with fellow sophomore Marquez Haynes.

"Obviously, we have to do things a little bit differently," Skinner said. "We lost two very fine players in Craig Smith and Louis Hinnant. We are going to have some people who have to take on some new responsibilities.

"If they can handle that, we have a chance to be competitive again. If not, we will struggle."

It's clear that the Eagles, who were the only team in the ACC to start the same lineup in every game last season, will be a different kind of team, with more interchangeable players.

Finding out who fits best in the lineup, with what chemistry, will be Skinner's challenge.

"That's what the preseason and the early part of the season will be about, to find out exactly how we are going to do that," Skinner said. "We have some talented players, but they also have to shoulder the responsibility through the course of the season.

"There is more flexibility within this team, but it is going to take more effort to learn what needs to be done for them to be successful."

Skinner brought in three freshmen, forwards Shamari Spears and Tyler Roche and guard Daye Kaba. All could be in the mix for playing time this season. Spears and Roche are accomplished scorers, while Kaba could be a defensive stopper in the backcourt.

"They all bring a different talent, which is very important to us," Skinner said. "[But] I don't rely heavily on freshmen. If they can do just a couple of things, then they are going to help us be successful.

"It is really up to the returning players to get it done first."