Eagles Await MD/GT Winner

Sean Marshall

The Boston College Eagles will play their first-ever ACC Tournament game Friday night at 9:30. It's the latest game scheduled on the second day of the tournament, so the boys from Chestnut Hill will have more time than anyone to prepare for their quarterfinals matchup.

Well, sort of. They also have to wait the longest before they know who they're playing. Having earned a bye during the regular season with the third-best conference record, the Eagles will play the winner of the first-round contest between Maryland (#6 seed) and Georgia Tech (#11 seed). That game won't be over until late Thursday night, as it will be the last game played on the first day of the tournament.

For head coach Al Skinner and his team, that shouldn't make much of a difference. He's never been known to drastically change his game plan for a specific team. The same five will be out there to start the game and the points will come from the usual places: Craig Smith on the inside, Jared Dudley on the inside, a lot of assists, and the occasional three-ball from the guards. The key to winning Friday night, however, will be their ability to execute that game plan.

Sure, that sounds obvious. That's like saying the key to the game will be scoring more baskets than the other team. But in the three games BC played this year against their two potential opponents, they went 1-2. Their lone win was a two-point game at home against a reeling Georgia Tech team. Either scenario could pose some issues for the Eagles, who need just two wins to make it to the tournament finals…

Maryland (#6, 8-8): The Eagles' first ACC game was a disappointing one as they fell to the Terps in College Park on December 11th. This game seems as if it took place two lifetimes ago, when BC looked like they had no business playing in the conference. The game was ultimately decided by horrible free throw shooting by the Eagles. They took advantage of Maryland's now league-worst scoring defense by putting up 71 points on 52.5% shooting, but they went 5-15 from the line. Maryland hit four more free throws than BC attempted, giving the Terps a plus-14 point margin just on foul shots alone. Considering Maryland only won by two points and that this was the only game BC lost all year when they shot better than 50% from the field, the Eagles' ugly day at the line was the difference in the game.

Again, however, BC is a completely different team now than they were back in December. They've improved their shooting from the line and both Akida McLain and Sean Williams are in full swing. Smith, who had a loaded stat line back in December (23 points, 12 rebounds, five assists), is still himself. If BC came as close as they did to beating the Terps on the road, all things considered, the Eagles should be in a good position to claim a victory this time around.

This matchup seems to be the more likely scenario. Georgia Tech went 2-12 in their final 14 games of the regular season, including two losses to Maryland. So they don't have too much momentum coming into the tournament. But neither does Maryland (4-7 in their last 11) for that matter and something crazy always seems to happen in these conference tournaments. There's reason enough for BC to look at a possible third contest against the Yellow Jackets.

Georgia Tech (#11, 4-12): BC has a knack for playing in ugly games. That's why the national networks would rather televise a game between Duke and Some Terrible Team before they would even glance in the Eagles' direction. The two games BC played against Georgia Tech this year were particularly ugly, though. In the first meeting, a 60-58 win for the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta, BC went ice-cold from the field to end the first half, giving away an early eight-point lead. They struggled once again from the line at the end of the game, but they were put away by a few clutch three-pointers from Tech's guards.

In the second contest, BC failed to shoot 40% from the field, but shot an astounding 81% from the line. They made 16 more foul shots than Tech, which was just enough to claim a 66-64 victory.

It seems head coach Paul Hewitt and the Yellow Jackets know how to contain BC's offense, despite being one of the worst defensive teams in the conference (11th in both scoring defense and opponent's field goal percentage). It's hard to imagine that BC would lose to Georgia Tech again, if the Jackets can even get that far. But BC often plays down to their opponent, so anything's possible.

What to Expect: Maryland should win Thursday night and BC should have plenty of defense to contain Maryland's third-best scoring offense. If the Eagles can not only get to the line but hit their free throws, they'll also have plenty of offense to combat Maryland's league-worst scoring defense. Considering Maryland's undersized frontcourt and what happened the last time they played, expect another double-double from Craig Smith and an appearance in the semis for BC.

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BC will tip-off against the North Carolina Tar Heels at 4 PM Eastern time on Saturday.

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