Taking Stock: What Have We Learned From Boston College's 2-0 Start

Lukas McCourt

Prior to the start of the season, it was difficult to be optimistic about this year’s BC Basketball team. After all, the Eagles lost their best player from last year’s squad to the NBA (Ky Bowman) and realized they would be without their most promising young player (Wynston Tabbs) for the entire season. BC would have to rely on a freshman quartet and a former five star recruit (Derryck Thornton) who had disappointed at each of his previous two collegiate stops (Duke and USC). It was also not just jaded BC fans who struggled to think positively about Jim Christian’s sixth season in Chestnut Hill. The Eagles finished in 13th in the preseason ACC poll and analytics-savant Ken Pomeroy ranked BC as the 119th best team in the country -- 39 spots lower than the next worse ACC school, Wake Forest. However, we are not even a week into the season and the narrative surrounding this team has changed significantly.

So, it is fair to ask: What is the reason for BC’s 2-0 start? What have we learned so far?

1) The freshman are for real.

While few doubt Jim Christian’s technical coaching ability, it is safe to say that his recruiting has left a lot to be desired. With the exception of a handful of diamonds in the rough -- Bowman, Jerome Robinson, Nik Popovic and Steffon Mitchell -- BC’s recruiting classes have lagged far behind the rest of the ACC. Yet, this year’s crop of freshmen seems to be legit. All four freshmen have received playing time, with Jay Heath, CJ Felder, and Julian Rishwain emerging as key rotation players. Despite a shaky game against South Florida, Heath appears to be a tough, creative guard that can score at all three levels. Felder may be a bit raw, but he is an explosive athlete that plays with relentless energy. Lastly, Rishwain has been the pleasant surprise of the group. Lesser recruited than his peers, Rishwain has shown an impressive shooting stroke and a level of basketball intellect that allows him to stay on the floor.

2) Defense is a priority.

Under Jim Christian, defense has been a consistent issue for the Eagles. Some of that has been due to personnel, some of that due to poor coaching, and some of that due to effort. Yet, during the offseason, coach Christian made a point to emphasize the importance of defense. So far, it seems as if the players listened. The Eagles have been playing with a defensive cohesion and energy level that far exceeds any other team of the Christian era. It also helps that BC possesses a team uniquely qualified to defend at a high level. Both Hamilton brothers are excellent athletes, Thornton does a great job pressuring the ball and Mitchell is simply a dominant defensive force. In order for the Eagles to continue to exceed expectations, they must match this level of defensive play all season.

3) Derryck Thornton has been unlocked.

After once being classified as one of the best high school players in the country and a future Duke star, I do not think that anybody envisioned, five years later, Derryck Thornton would be suiting up for BC. The thing is, it would be totally fair to classify Thornton as a bust, considering his college career prior to Chestnut Hill. In his three seasons at Duke and USC, Thornton never averaged more than eight points per game, failing to shoot better than 32.5 percent from beyond the arc in any season. However, the Derryck Thornton that has been playing for BC is a different guy. Thornton set his career high in scoring against Wake Forest (23 points) and nearly set it again against USF (22 points). Thornton is playing with confidence, displaying a refined shooting stroke and a willingness to drive towards the basket. Thornton also seems to be reveling in his leadership position. After a long-winding college career, Thornton has finally found a place in which he is the undisputed star and given the freedom to live up to his potential. So far, Thornton appears to be doing just that.

While apathy regarding the football program is at an all time high, this year’s basketball team stands out in a positive way. The energy of the players is infectious, making the team incredibly easy to root for. While long-starved BC hoops fans must practice a bit of restraint -- after all, Wake almost lost to Columbia this past weekend and USF was missing their best player -- it looks like hope may finally have returned to Conte Forum.