Matchup: Miami (14-1, 1-0 ACC) at Boston College (11-4, 2-0)
Rankings: Miami, #47 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th in ACC); Boston College, #62 (8th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Boston College, 69-67 in 66 possessions
Upset Possibility: 43%
Watch When: Boston College has the ball. Miami's overrated defense (27th in raw efficiency, 53rd in adjusted due to playing just the 248th toughest opponent offenses) will be tested versus Boston College's underrated offense (71st in raw efficiency, 53rd in adjusted due to playing the 66th toughest opponent defenses).
Result: Boston College, 76-66 in 74 possessions. The targeted matchup played out about how it was expected—BC's 1.08 points-per-possession offense was reduced to an output of 1.02 by Miami's stingy defense. However, on the other side of the ball, the outcome was much different than one might have thought...
Seminal play: 13:21 1st half—A Miami miss and defensive board got the Eagles out on the break, and point guard Tyrese Rice threw up a perfect alley-oop for forward Shamari Spears to slam down two-handed for a 14-2 Boston College lead. There was still over three-quarters of the game left to play, but the Hurricanes walked to their bench after asking for time with the outcome already in the books.
We Learned That: Boston College can be extremely effective offensively without any use of the three-point or free-throw lines. The Eagles essentially put the game away with a 20-4 run out of the gate, and every one of those 20 points was scored on layups, dunks, or short jumpers around the paint.
You Should Know: Boston College head man Al Skinner is an outstanding offensive coach, and he employs a version of the Flex with the Eagles. The set is predicated on one or two big men alternately setting screens at the two free-throw elbows for guards to curl around, as well as motion and screening up and down the baseline.
“It's not always the guy that's cutting to the basket, usually it's the guy that's setting the screen that's going to get an opportunity, because [the defense is] trying to help,” Skinner said. “It's just recognition—more so by the passer than anyone else. Early in the season we didn't recognize what was occurring on the offensive end. And now we're recognizing it a little bit better, and guys are making some real fine offensive plays.”
Quotable: “The hangover has to come after we've got 12 or 14. This is too early in the process to be getting drunk on this. So I think we've got a little more tolerance than two wins.”
—Skinner, on whether beginning January with back-to-back ACC wins will give his team a hangover.
The Details: Boston College Game Plan/Miami Game Plan
CHESTNUT HILL, MA—Bad defense was a large part of the identity of coach Al Skinner's last two otherwise-strong Boston College squads. With a 76-66 calming of the Hurricanes on Tuesday night at Conte Forum, the Eagles served notice to the rest of the ACC that this year's youthful edition of the team is well on its way to removing that stigma.
Boston College established its supremacy on defense from the outset, holding Miami to four points in the game's first eleven minutes on 2-of-20 shooting. The Eagles built a 20-4 lead during that span, a lopsided stretch that chased away any hopes of a close game. The matchup had the makings of a tight conference battle heading in, but the Hurricanes could get no closer than nine points after getting blown away by Boston College's opening salvo.
“We've come out ready to play the last two games,” guard Tyrese Rice said, referring also to the Eagles' 112-73 dismantling of Wake Forest last Friday. “We come out quick and we really try to concentrate on playing D in the beginning. We defended well, which led to some easy shots early, and that's how we got out to an early lead.”
Miami was held to 24-of-76 from the floor, good for a measly 37 eFG%. The Hurricanes came into the game scoring a robust 1.11 points per possession, but managed just 0.89 on the night in 74 possessions—a faster pace than projected for the two plodding teams thanks to Miami's vain attempt to get back in the game by pushing the tempo after halftime.
With that stifling performance, Boston College improved its seasonal defensive efficiency to 96.8, a far cry from its figure over the last two seasons, when the Eagles struggled badly to get stops. With raw defensive efficiencies that ranked in the bottom half of Division I, both of those teams, which featured two current NBA players, gave up over a point per possession. If you had watched Boston College's loss to Kansas on January 5th—when the Jayhawks scored 85 points on 64 possessions—you would be excused for thinking that the 2008 version was not any better.
“Coach pretty much called us out after the Kansas game, and just was telling us that we was playing like girls, that we just wasn't bringing it on the defensive end,” Rice said. “A lot of people took that to heart. Everybody's just coming out trying to prove that we can be better than what people think we are.”
Boston College's swarming man-to-man defensive effort was keyed by Rice, unquestionably the Eagles' engine. The 6'1” junior point guard completely disrupted the game of his Miami counterpart Jack McClinton, the Hurricanes' top scorer, shooter, and possession user. McClinton scored 20 points, but was a horrific 6-of-26 from the floor, as he tossed up off-balance, contested jumper after jumper to no avail. Coming into the game with a team-leading 59.8 eFG%, McClinton shot to the tune of a 31 eFG%, sounding the off-key note that rang in Miami's ear the entire game.
Rice also directed the initial Boston College attack which produced the insurmountable 20-4 lead. He corralled the opening tip and fed guard Rakim Sanders to begin the scoring, then tallied four more assists during the rest of the first half, after which the Eagles led by 14. Rice captained the fast break that produced eight first half points, and with Boston College in its half court offense was able to split the paint to find teammates or the basket against a leaky Miami interior man-to-man defense. The Eagles got only eight of their 36 first-half points on three-pointers or free-throws—a notable trend for this Boston College team—with the rest coming on layups, dunks, or short jumpers.
Rice finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and six assists, while Sanders scored 20 and center Tyrelle Blair had 11 and 12 boards. Guard James Dews added 15 points for Miami, whose senior center, 6'9" Anthony King, was held scoreless for the first time all season.
The Eagles improved to 3-0 in league play, while Miami lost just its second game of the year overall and first in the conference. The Hurricanes showed they have a ways to go before they can write their name in the NCAA tournament bracket, despite a gaudy national ranking. And with the quality win, BC threw its hat into the mix of teams fighting to finish third in the conference and advance to the tournament.
“From the beginning of the year, I felt like the ACC is open,” Rice said. “You got Carolina and Duke who are going to be your top two just about every year. Then other than that—I mean you don't want to settle for third, don't get me wrong—but whoever wants to take the third spot, can take it. We just have to take care of our business at home, [and] steal a couple on the road.”
Boston College has already stolen one on the road, an 81-78 December win in Maryland. If the Eagles keep putting forth the effort to play the sort of vicious defense they used to shut down Miami—and are able to continue transforming the team's defensive identity—they should pick up another on Saturday in Virginia.
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Basketball Prospectus. He can be reached here.