Boston College Basketball: What Could Have Been and Can Still Be

Boston College fans are left to wonder what this season could have been if BC beat then #9 University of Virginia in Charlottesville last Saturday.  Instead, the Eagles lost by 1, 59-58, after sophomore forward Nik Popovic committed an offensive foul with less than 3 seconds remaining.  Despite the loss, BC is no longer an ACC doormat and looks like a potential spoiler according to Sports Illustrated’s Monday Rebound.  While that’s nice for a program that has, to be polite, struggled the last few years, it still stung to have a second top ten win and 2-0 in ACC play slip through BC’s fingers.

Unfortunately, it didn’t sting nearly as much as Friday’s episode of the Ringer’s One Shining Podcast with Titus and Tate.  Roughly  four minutes in, Titus says “Boston College’s problem is that they did not get Patrick Ewing.”  It turns out Ewing went to Cambridge Rindge & Latin in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Boston College was a finalist along with Georgetown and North Carolina (UNC).  Then this happened at Satch’s Restaurant in Boston’s South End on February 2, 1981:

The next day, the Boston Globe’s Michael Madden reported that Ewing’s high school coach said Ewing chose Georgetown because Washington, D.C., was away, but not too far away, from home.  I’m pretty sure Ewing’s decision was the original idea behind Robert Kaplan’s book “The Revenge of Geography:  What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate.”  If it wasn’t, it should have been.  BC didn’t lose to Georgetown, it lost to a map.  Now that really stings.

It’s not hard to imaging what could have been if Ewing wanted to stay closer to home.  Most people remember that Ewing had a Hall of Fame NBA career with the New York Knicks.  Fewer people remember that Ewing was one of the greatest players in NCAA tournament history, leading Georgetown to three straight NCAA Championship games from 1982-84 and winning in 1983.  Almost no one remembers that BC had the 1980-81 Big East Men’s Basketball Player of the Year, point guard John Bagley.  Or that Bagley led BC to the 1981 Sweet 16 and 1982 Elite 8.  Or that BC went to the 1983 and 1984 Sweet 16s without Bagley.  BC was good without Ewing and would have been, at worst, a national title contender with him.

BC has struggled to replicate it’s success from the early 1980s.  After making it to at least the Sweet 16 every year from 1981 to 84, BC has only made it twice since:  in 1994 and 2006.  BC has not made the NCAA Tournament since 2009.  In other words, BC recovered from a major point shaving scandal faster than it did from simply not landing Ewing.

Fortunately, Friday’s episode of One Shining Podcast wasn’t about Ewing or BC’s recent struggles.  It was part-two of a podcast titled “The Sleeping Giants of College Basketball With Bill Simmons.”  BC was one of “sleeping giants” discussed.  To hear their criteria, the full list, and their reasoning, go here.  Here is my reasoning why BC should be on any “sleeping giants” list:

First, BC has the ACC.  The ACC is the premier conference in college basketball.  Three ACC schools, including the defending National Champion Tar Heels, have combined to win five of the last ten national championships.  BC can sell recruits on playing traditional rivals like Syracuse and Pittsburgh as well as college basketball blue bloods like Duke and UNC every year.

Second, BC has a history of obtaining talent.  Chuck Daly, Gary Williams, and Jim O’Brien all coached in Chestnut Hill.  Although Al Skinner has had a less distinguished career after leaving BC, he did recruit and coach two conference Players of the Year in Troy Bell and Jared Dudley.  Others, like the Detroit Pistons’ Reggie Jackson, have had successful NBA careers after playing at BC.

Third, BC has Boston.  It’s easy to dismiss Boston as a “pro town.”  In regards to basketball, it’s also a mistake.  Conte Forum has a capacity of 8,606, which is slightly smaller than BC’s undergraduate student body.  In other words, BC should be able to sell out home games without much help from local residents.  Moreover, BC is the most important program in a major media market regardless whether people watch and is one of the few programs within driving distance of ESPN’s headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut.  The media is even more important now than in the 80s.  Whether you love the media or hate it, location will help BC maintain momentum if it can get it started.

Finally, BC has a window of opportunity.  UConn, the current big dog of basketball in New England, is struggling under Kevin Ollie.  The Huskies finished 16-17 last season and are only 7-6 so far this season.  Conference reallignment means that the Huskies can no longer sell recruits on playing programs comparable to the ACC like they could when they were in the Big East.  It will be harder for UConn to recover from a loss of relevance now than any time since it helped found the Big East back in 1979.  The only other New England school to win a national championship is Holy Cross, back in 1947, and they have yet to recover from declining an invitation to join the Big East back in, you guessed it, 1979.

BC could have had a second top ten win and been 2-0 in the ACC last Saturday.  BC could have had Patrick Ewing and been a national championship contender back in the early 1980s.  While it won’t happen tonight against #25 Clemson, BC can still be a giant of college basketball.