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50 Days to Tipoff: Opponent Previews - Boston College and Louisville

Taking a look at a pair of the ACC’s Bird Bros

NCAA Basketball: Louisville Red-White Scrimmage
Louisville G Quentin Snider
Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Countdown to Tipoff: 14 Days

Boston College Eagles

2016-2017 Record: 9-23 (2-16)

Head Coach: Jim Christian - 4th year, 29-67 (6-48)

Key Departures: F Connar Tava, F Mo Jeffers, F A.J. Turner

Key Returnees: G Jerome Robinson, G Ky Bowman, G Jordan Chatman

Key Newcomers: F Deontae Hawkins, F Vin Baker Jr., F Luka Kraljevic

For the last four seasons, Boston College basketball has finished in the bottom three of the ACC standings. It might be a little too much to expect more from the Eagles in 2017-2018, but they might not be too far from climbing out of the basement and into respectability. After inheriting an empty cupboard, 4th year coach Jim Christian is beginning to inject some talent into the program.

Last season, the Eagles struggled mightily in ACC play but found a couple of interesting pieces to build around. Boston College’s starting backcourt is quietly one of the strongest in the conference. Sophomore point guard Ky Bowman and junior guard Jerome Robinson (voted second team preseason All-ACC) were a dynamic one-two punch last season. Bowman was a fairly unhearlded recruit but burst onto the scene as a freshman, scoring 14.3 ppg and shooting an incredible 45% from behind the arc on over 4 attempts per game. Robinson, a lanky 6’-6” wing, led the team in scoring with 18.7 ppg. While Bowman is the point guard, Robinson still handles the ball a lot and actually led the team in assists last year. Both players would do well to work on ball security as they each had roughly a 1:1 assist to turnover ratio last season.

NCAA Basketball: Boston College at Clemson
G Ky Bowman
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Outside of Bowman and Robinson, the Eagles face a lot of questions. Last year’s starting frontcourt of Connar Tava, Mo Jeffers, and A.J. Turner all left the program (Turner transferred to Northwestern). None of the three were great players, but they were all tough, experienced players. To replace them, I’d expect the Eagles to go to more of a three guard look, bumping sixth man and BYU transfer Jordan Chatman into the starting lineup. Chatman is a fantastic shooter (41.8/41.7/91.3% FG/3FG/FT percentages) but doesn’t really do a lot else.

The key to Boston College’s season will be establishing a post presence that can hold their own against the rest of the ACC. To do that they’ll look to sophomore Nik Popovic. At 6’-11” 243 lbs, Popovic has tremendous size but came to Chestnut Hill as a bit of a developmental project. In limited minutes last year he showed some flashes as both a rebounder and scorer but has a long way to go. If he doesn’t develop, the Eagles will be undersized but could field some interesting offensive lineups. Illinois State grad transfer Teddy Hawkins was one of the best shooters in the country last season and rebounded well despite being slightly undersized at 6’-8”. His ability to adjust to ACC competition will be big for the Boston College. The Eagles bring in four freshman, all mid 3-star prospects. Perhaps the most interesting one is Steffon Mitchell, a 6’-7” small forward. He was the lowest ranked of the recruits but in a scrimmage against Bryant, Mitchell played 26 minutes as the sixth man, tallying 9 points and 8 rebounds.

NCAA Basketball: Boston College at Notre Dame
G Jerome Robinson
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Now, I’m not saying that Boston College is suddenly going to vault into the top half of the ACC but there are signs of progress. Pulling a few upsets and winning 5 or 6 conference games isn’t out of the question if Bowman and Robinson continue developing and the Eagles find some sort of frontcourt threat. Georgia Tech should beat Boston College this season, but they’ll need to beware an upset when they visit Chestnut Hill on February 4th.

Louisville Cardinals

2016-2017 Record: 25-9 (12-6)

Head Coach: David Padgett - 1st year

Key Departures: G Donovan Mitchell, F/C Mangok Mathiang, F Jaylen Johnson

Key Returnees: G Quentin Snider, F Deng Adel, F Anas Mahmoud

Key Newcomers: F/C Malik Williams, G Darius Perry, F Jordan Norwa

The season probably can’t start fast enough for Louisville basketball fans. When the FBI announced their investigation into college basketball recruiting in late September, the Cardinals, or University-6, found themselves in the cross-hairs. After yet another scandal, the University ordered AD Tom Jurich to fire Hall of Fame head coach Rick Pitino. When Jurich refused, he was also terminated. Additionally, prize 5-star recruit Brian Bowen’s eligibility is in limbo. He’s still enrolled as a student at Louisville but is no longer on the team’s roster. It’s possible, though unlikely, that he is reinstated and plays this season. So, minus an athletic director, head coach, and 5-star freshman, where does that leave Louisville in 2017-2018?

Still pretty good.

NCAA Basketball: Louisville at Syracuse
F Deng Adel
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Despite all the turmoil and the loss of star G Donovan Mitchell (15.6 ppg), the Cardinals are still set up to challenge for a spot in the Top 4 of the ACC and a double-bye in the conference tournament. They’ll be led by a pair of players who were named to the preseason 2nd team All-ACC: G Quentin Snider and F Deng Adel. Snider is a senior PG and was Louisville’s second leading scorer last season with 12.4 ppg. He’s a smart offensive player and a strong ball handler but just an average to slightly above average shooter (38.5/37.3/72.0 % FG/3FG/FT%). Adel, a junior who can play either forward position, broke out last season, increasing his scoring from 4.0 to 12.1 ppg. Many Louisville fans are expecting even more from him this season. If he can improve his outside shot (34.6% from 3 last season) he could easily challenge for ACC Player of the Year.

Louisville will likely round out their starting lineup with a trio of players who played around 15 minutes per game last season but are in line for much more. The most intriguing of these is 7’ C Anas Mahmoud. The Egyptian big man came on strong towards the end of last season, even earning some situational starts. He’s a very strong rebounder, especially on the offensive end, and blocked shots at the 4th highest rate in the country, per KenPom. Likely joining him in the post will be 6’-10” F Ray Spalding. Like Mahmoud, Spalding is a very strong rebounder and a good shot blocker. Most projections I’ve seen have Louisville starting both Mahmoud and Spalding, which confuses me a bit. Together, the duo would make an imposing frontline but would severely hamper their floor spacing. In this era of pace and space basketball, starting two players who are not threats away from the rim is a major callback to a previous era. One player who can space the floor is sophomore SF V.J. King. He didn’t play a ton as a freshman but percentage-wise was the Cardinals’ best 3-point and free throw shooter. Elevated to a starting role, he should easily score 10-12 ppg, if not more.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Michigan vs Louisville
C Anas Mahmoud
Thomas Joseph-USA TODAY Sports

With those five likely starting, the Cardinals’ bench will mostly be made up of freshmen. Even without Brian Bowen, the 2017 recruiting class has a lot of promise with three top 100 recruits (per 247) and a fourth just outside it. The top recruit on the roster is 6’-11” F/C Malik Williams. He’ll be competing with Mahmoud and Spalding for playing time right away. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up starting, as he is more of an offensive threat than either of the veterans. F Jordan Nwora should also get significant playing time as a freshman. Louisville’s offense struggled at times last year and were a bad perimeter shooting team. Nwora is a big-bodied forward at 6’-8” 220 lbs but was a good shooter in high school. G Darius Perry and F Lance Thomas (both from the Metro Atlanta area) should also contribute in some manner this season.

There’s no two ways about it. The Louisville Cardinals are facing a lot of questions heading into this season. They’re still a very talented team, but how much of a step down in coaching is David Padgett? Can the first time head coach steer the Cardinals through the ACC schedule? Is there anyone on the roster that can replace Donovan Mitchell’s shooting and playmaking? Can Deng Adel take another step to become a superstar? Will Anas Mahmoud fulfill his promise? Can the freshmen class turn into a strong bench? If everything goes perfectly, Louisville could absolutely win the ACC. Even if things continue to go against them it would be an upset not to make the NCAA Tournament.

Georgia Tech and Louisville only face each other once in the 2017-2018 season. They’ll tip off on February 8th in the KFC Yum! Center. Louisville should definitely be favored but it will be a good matchup. Mahmoud vs. Lammers will be particularly entertaining and something to keep an eye on.