BC has been inconsistent, but Jim Christian says he isn’t worried about his job
Launching a few college basketball thoughts from behind the arc while questioning myself about why I was invested in the Rhode Island-Fordham game Saturday. Sometimes I can’t figure out the matchup zone that is my mind.
■ As Jim Christian nears the end of his fifth season as Boston College coach, there are a number of ways to evaluate him.
There are the pleasant memories of beating Duke in Conte Forum last season, the development of NBA lottery pick Jerome Robinson, and enough improvement to make the NIT last season.
On the negative side, there’s the 61-94 overall record. The never-to-be-forgotten winless season in the ACC in 2015-16 and, even this year, despite a 13-11 mark and an impressive victory over nationally ranked Florida State, there are the two gigantic blots on the record: Inexplicable home losses to IUPUI and Hartford.
It’s the type of performance that leads to regime change, but Christian refuses to let the negative thinking affect him.
“I don’t really worry about that,’’ he said. “I worried about that when it was Year 1. In Year , people can be happy, people can not be happy. With what we’ve been dealt this year, we’ve done a phenomenal job. I don’t care what anyone says.
“Years 1 through 5, when you’re not sure what you can do, you worry about it. I coach every day; these guys know I care about them. They know I’m going to work hard every day. I don’t worry about anything else. Everything else is speculation on somebody’s part.’’
Injuries play a part in the team’s inconsistency. Freshman guard Wynston Tabbs, who became an important player from the first game, has missed nine games with a knee injury. There are others: Shooter Jordan Chatman (three games with an ankle injury), rugged center Nik Popovic (three games, groin and concussion), and active forward Steffon Mitchell (four games with a thigh injury).
Young brothers Jared and Jairus Hamilton, as well as Chris Herren Jr., are talented but have been slow to become consistent contributors.
“We’ve had to reinvent ourselves a couple of times,’’ said Christian. “We have to play and compete with who’s here, but when guys go out, it changes a lot of stuff.
“It’s a different offensive package when Nico’s [Popovich] in the game and when he’s not in the game. There’s a different offensive set when Chatman’s in the game and when Chatman’s not in the game. When Wynston Tabbs is in the game and when he’s not, the options on the team become different.
“You’ve got to kind of keep reinventing yourself. Other guys have to emerge, and I think we’re getting that. Chris Herren’s emerged, he’s getting better. He’s a much better player now than he was against Virginia Tech in the first ACC game. Jared Hamilton’s a much better player now than he was when he played against DePaul.
“All of those things slowly happen and then, hopefully, if you get everybody back and the team continues to grow, you can see what you really can do.
“Right now, it’s just game by game — who can play, what’s our best chance to win this game? What do we have to do to give ourselves an opportunity? We’ve done that. We’ve done that pretty much every game.”
Playing in the best basketball conference in the country is part of the problem, but no matter who coaches BC, that’s not going to change.
“The is a tough league,’’ Christian said. “You cannot have your spirit squashed when the schedule sometimes becomes overbearing. It’s going to be tough, I don’t care who you are.
“This is a great league. You’ve got to weather those storms and stay together through tough times. And I think that’s what this team did, that’s what happened.’’
That will continue to be true the rest of the season. A home game against North Carolina on March 5 is probably a loss; there also are home games against Louisville and North Carolina State, and road games against N.C. State, Clemson, and Georgia Tech. The ACC tournament begins March 12.
A BC official said athletic director Martin Jarmond wouldn’t talk about the basketball program, so it’s unclear whether the final few games will have any bearing on Christian’s future.
■ The return of Bryce Aiken has made a huge difference for Harvard. He played somewhat like his buddy, Kyrie Irving, over the weekend in wins at Princeton (33 points) and Penn (25), including a 30-footer to send the latter to overtime.
There’s another big road trip for Harvard this weekend: Brown on Friday and then Yale on Saturday in what will be the Ivy League’s game of the year. Yale leads Harvard by one game in the standings.
■ Northeastern suffered a tough loss to Charleston on Saturday. The Huskies trail Hofstra by two games in the Colonial Athletic Association with four to play. It would be stunning if they made that up. It still comes down to three days in March.
■ I saw the unhindered Ja Morant last week, finally recovered from a sprained ankle. The Murray State guard is projected as a top-five pick in the NBA Draft. He has great natural talent — that is, he’s fast and can jump. He also has a great knack of slithering through the lane to get to the basket. But he’s not necessarily fundamentally sound; there are a lot of one-handed passes.
■ I thought we all learned this lesson in 1992 when Christian Laettner and Duke beat Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament on a full-court pass and shot. Apparently not.
Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell did not have his team guard the inbounder while protecting a 1-point lead with 3.3 seconds left against Iowa on Saturday. It still took an Iowa player grabbing a deflected ball and banking in a shot from the corner to win the game, but . . . PUT YOUR TALLEST PLAYER ON THE INBOUNDER in those situations.
It was also the second straight game Iowa won on a last-second shot.
■ Some notable facts from last week:
North Carolina’s 95-57 victory over Wake Forest marked the school’s largest margin of victory in an ACC road game. It also was the largest margin in series history, and the worst home loss for Wake at Joel Coliseum.
Auburn won at Vanderbilt for the first time since 2000. On the other side, Vandy has lost 13 straight; the school record is 14, set over two seasons, 1934-36. Next in line: Tennessee, coming off a loss to Kentucky.
I didn’t know this. Oregon State and Oregon have played 352 times, an ongoing NCAA record that dates to 1903. I guess I’m surprised that the Beavers lead the series, 189-163. With a win Saturday, the Beavers swept the Ducks and are in second place in the Pac 12 at 8-4.
■ Conference USA will begin its revolutionary scheduling experiment this Saturday. The last four games of each team’s schedule were left blank before the season. The matchups have been determined by performance.
For example, the top five teams will play each other in the final four games.
The goal was to improve the league’s NCAA at-large chances by making the schedule more difficult. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it’s going to work; C-USA appears to still be a one-bid league.
Games I’d like to see this week:
Maryland at Iowa: Iowa will win despite trailing by 6 with 10 seconds left. The Hawkeyes will hit a three, get fouled, and Maryland coach Mark Turgeon will get hit with two technical fouls. Iowa’s Jordan Bohannon will make all four free throws.
Louisville at Syracuse: Syracuse will rally from a 20-point deficit in the last five minutes and will win when Louisville coach Chris Mack runs on the court to stop his team from inbounding the ball directly to the other team and gets hit with a technical foul. Watch this video and scroll to 8:40 to see what I mean.
North Carolina at Duke: Roy Williams will try a new defensive strategy, putting four defenders on Zion Williamson. It still won’t work, as Jack White records a triple-double.
Nevada at San Diego State: The Aztecs are suddenly awake and have won six of their last seven. You’re officially on upset alert.
St. Francis of Brooklyn at St. Francis of Pennsylvania: The Pennsy Frankies are leading the Northeast Conference and have won seven in a row. The Brooklyn Frankies are also playing well, so it all adds up to a key conference game.
Vermont at UMBC: Vermont has won 12 of its last 13, the one being a home loss to UMBC.
Central Florida at Cincinnati: This is UCF’s chance to move into a second-place tie with Cincy in the American Athletic Conference.
Marquette at Providence: It’s worth the trip down 95 to see Markus Howard in person. The Fightin’ McGuires’ little guard has some jaw-dropping moves and a great 3-point shot.
Tennessee at LSU: The Vols’ schedule has toughened up, and they need to raise their game to meet the challenge. LSU has been rapidly improving.
Virginia at Louisville: Let’s see what happens earlier in the week for L’ville, but this does have upset potential in the Pitino Palace.
Florida State at North Carolina: Great chance for an upset here, as the Tar Heels will be coming off a loss to Duke.
Duke at Syracuse: See above. Just change the names of the schools.
Wofford at Furman: Wofford is undefeated in the Southern Conference, but the streak could end here in the city of poinsettias.
Seton Hall at St. John’s: One week, these two teams are on the bubble; the next, they’re in the tournament. Right now, they’re both tournament teams.
Kansas at Texas Tech: I still think it’s odd that Kansas will be an underdog in this game and will most likely lose. I’ve accused Tech fans of not caring enough, but they’ll be ready for this one.
Fresno State at Nevada: A tough week for Nevada, but it should rebound from its trip to San Diego to win at home.
Michigan State at Michigan: The two best teams in the Big Ten, but Michigan State lost another starter (Nick Ward) to injury. The Wolverines have no excuse.