Gameday Preview — Duke at Boston College

It’s tempting to suggest the elements will be a bigger hurdle to Duke winning its game Sunday night at Boston College than the opponent. The snow is supposed to be measured in feet but the Eagles are tied for last in the ACC (2-7, 10-12 overall), have lost six of their last seven games, and don’t have any RPI top 100 wins (though according to Pomeroy they have two such wins, both at home, against #61 Providence and #100 Clemson). So on paper this game is a mismatch.

It probably will be in real life, as well, assuming the game happens. There have been conflicting reports as to whether the Duke team has already left for Boston or not, but if they haven’t, they’ll probably try to fly up there Sunday morning and who knows if the airport will be open? It’s possible this could end up a “trap game” if Duke looks forward to the UNC game next week, but it’s more possible that BC simply isn’t good enough to beat Duke whether Duke is looking forward or not. That said, Kansas lost to TCU this week, so hopefully Duke will be ready to go. The Eagles played tough in home losses to Miami (1 point), Wake Forest (3 points), and a road loss at Maryland (5 points).

Steve Donohue’s third edition at BC is not as young as last year’s version, but it’s still pretty green. Boston College starts two freshman and three sophomores, and its top two reserves are also sophomores. The only upperclassmen who get any run are the eighth and ninth men, 6’10″ grad student Andrew Van Nest (12.7 mpg) and 6’6 junior Danny Rubin (7.2 mpg). The Eagles aren’t that deep, with their four top players getting minutes ranging from 32 to 35. Their fifth starter has been somewhat fluid, mostly split between three sophomores: 6’5″ Patrick Heckman, 7’0″ Dennis Clifford, and 6’7″ Eddie Odio.

Odio got the starting nod in BC’s last game, a 22 point drubbing at Miami, and won the raves of his coach for his hustle and smart play. He averages 15 minutes per game, with 3.0 points per game and 2.7 rebounds, and sounds like he might be a bit like former Duke player Dave McClure. Seven footer Clifford, who started 25 of 31 games a year ago, has been hampered with leg injuries and only played 5 minutes against Miami. He got a cortisone shot last week and should play against Duke but it’s difficult to say how much. For the season, he’s missed three games with his injuries and only averages 16.5 mpg after playing 26.7 mpg in 2011-12. He averages 3.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks, but if you look at the more advanced stats it’s apparent he’s a very solid rebounder (offensive rebounding percentage of 10.7% and defensive rebounding pct of 18.9%). Heckman, who has 13 starts this season, is a 6’5 guard averaging 23.0 mpg, with 7.5 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 1.5 assists. His 108.7 offensive rating is 2nd on the team.

BC’s four main players are perhaps more interesting. 6’8″ sophomore Ryan Anderson plays 32.8 mpg and amasses 16.0 points and 8.8 rebounds. His rebounding percentages of 10.1% offensive and 22.6% defensive are comparable to Mason Plumlee’s (10.5% offensive and 23.9% defensive). I’m not sure how often Anderson teams with Clifford out there, but when Clifford’s sitting, Anderson vs. Mason should be an interesting matchup.

Other than Anderson and their roving 5th starter, the Eagles start three guards. 6’3″ sophomore Lonnie Jackson plays 31.8 mpg with 10.1 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 2.2 assists. His offensive rating of 110.5 leads the team, mostly due to his three point shooting. Jackson leads the ACC in three point attempts with 135 (over 6 per game) and his 39.3% long-distance percentage is 6th in the conference. The top two minute-getters on BC are both freshmen: 6’4″ Olivier Hanlon and 6’2″ Joe Rahon, who was last week’s ACC rookie of the week. Hanlon plays 34.0 mpg, with 13.9 points, 2.7 assists, 1.2 steals, and is a pretty good rebounder for a guard at 4.2 per game. Rahon leads BC with 3.6 assists per game, along with 10.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 1.0 steals. Still a freshman, he scored 26 against Clemson but put up a goose egg against Miami.

Boston College is ranked 150th by the RPI, 124th by Sagarin, and 127th by Pomeroy. They’re not bad on offense, as according to Pomeroy they have the 60th most efficient offense in the country, but they’re dreadful on D, ranked 223rd in adjusted defensive efficiency. The Eagles play at the fourth slowest tempo in the ACC (238th in the country) while Duke plays the fourth fastest (72nd in the country), so it may be interesting to see who wins the battle to set the pace.

Expect a ton of threes to fly through the air. BC is first in the ACC in launching from outer space, with 32.7% of their shot attempts coming from three-land, and Duke is 2nd in the conference, at 29.5%. A big difference there, however, is that Duke is first in the ACC in 3-point shooting percentage (7th in the nation), at 41.1%, while BC ranks 9th in the conference at only 34.0%. BC also gets to the line a lot (3rd in the ACC in free throw rate, while Duke is 6th), but their free throw percentage leaves something to be desired. In ACC play so far they’ve only hit 64% of their free throws (69.7% for the entire season). So, the two things they do best — attempt threes and attempt free throws — they don’t finish very well.

The other area to watch is turnovers. Duke has the fewest pace-adjusted turnovers in the conference and is 1st in the league in assist/turnover ratio (6th in the nation), while BC is 8th in the conference in pace-adjusted turnovers. On the defensive end, Duke forces the third most turnovers in the conference while BC forces the fourth least. So if BC doesn’t take care of the ball it could be a long night for them.

In sum, while anything could happen, Duke doesn’t appear to need their “A” game to win this one. If we can get through the snow and bring anything close to our “B” game, it should be a nice stepping stone to the rivalry game on Wednesday.