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Rider: Where do we go from here

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The door was emphatically slammed on Boston College Thursday night. It was a valiant effort of the Eagles in the ACC tournament, as the 11-seed marched into the quarterfinals against a 4th-seeded Virginia team coming off a double bye and pushed them to the limit. With a buzzer beater from Mason Madsen, there was a magical moment that BC fans have no experienced for the better part of the decade in March.

For all valiant of a performance the team gave us this week, it leaves a lot to be desired when discussing the season overall. Winning two tournament games, thrashing a very good Clemson team along the way, is certainly something that should be recognized. A couple more regular season wins and avoiding the first round was possible as well. Both things can be true.

This idea that if you were critical of the team, more so the staff, then you are unable to celebrate the success is mind boggling. This was a roster laden with talent that had potential for 20 regular season wins. When looking back at the handful of games that could’ve swung there way and made a difference standing wise – its hard to ignore.

The 25 point thrashing at the hands of Pitt ended the breakthrough talk that surrounded the program this season.

Last season ended with plenty of promise. The Eagles finished their ACC slate with a 7-5 record, then promptly began this year with a 9-2 out-of-conference record, their best in years. Some concerns arose with an early December conference loss to NC State at home with a magnitude of missed free throws. Even after another close loss at home Wake Forest, the feeling surrounding the team was still hopeful: Two close conference losses with fixable mistakes really let Eagles fans dream of an NCAA Tournament berth that has eluded them since 2009.

As we all know – that dream has been dashed. Of their 11 ACC losses before Saturday, five were by 10 or more points, six by under 10. In comparison, last year’s team suffered four 20-plus point blowouts. The numbers are damning in the sense that this year’s team has remained competitive for the majority of the season, but just couldn’t close out enough games.

It is true that BC has provided itself with more opportunities for wins and simply did not capitalize. The inability to execute down the stretch, hold leads and close out hames has been the frustrating story line of the season. Simply put, this team not only hasn’t been learning how to win, it hasn’t been able to shake the familiar feeling of overall losing.

Since their captivating win over Miami at home, the Eagles lost four straight, all in more embarrassing fashion than the previous. It’s no secret that the team was demoralized. Mason Madsen’s recent comments on his vlog paint a revealing picture for the current state of the team.

“I said it the whole year like I feel like we have enough and we have just as much talent as anyone we’ve played,” Madsen said. “So it’s frustrating and it feels like guys don’t want to be there. And I don’t think that’s true. But that’s what it felt like, especially going into a week for I feel like we had so much to play for.”

In a season where there has been so much promise, only to be thwarted but an all too familiar foe of losing, it’s hard for this BC team not to mentally check out. The resulting four consecutive losses topped off by a blowout on Senior Night, has to be demoralizing. As alluded to before, this is a program that has not been to the NCAA tournament since 2009, the third longest streak in all of the Power Six. 

“Winning’s hard,” Madsen said. “And I think that when you’re at a school, and at a program like this that hasn’t experienced winning in so long, I think that there are certain things that are kind of non-negotiable. If you’re trying to kind of turn that around and create a winning culture … I just think we’ve wavered kind of from who we are. But I guess from my point of view, I think that a few non-negotiables like you have to have an identity. And you have to have people who accept roles, and the only thing that the group can care about is winning.”

After clinching a worse conference record than last year, it seems hard to see this season as any kind of improvement, even with another win or two. Earl Grant was asked about this in the ACC coaches circle recently.

“I think right now, we’re in position to have a better overall record than last year, but I think it’s a situation where if that’s our thought, if it’s all about the results at this point — that’s a very unhealthy way to look at it.” Continuing, “I think it’s about behavior and going into the ACC Tournament feeling good, having a chance to compete once we get to DC.”

BC isn’t only void of a real “signature win,” but its net rating supports the disappointment: 6-14 across quads one and two. The Eagles are 13-1 against quads three and four, something that could have been a really great foundation for the year. Add in that seven of their eight conference wins came against opponents seeded lower than them, and a paltry 1-12 against the teams above them, its tough to look at this subjectively and determine that this was a successful campaign. Now they are left wondering what might have been.

There was growth in Grant’s first two years. Their showing in the 2022 ACC tournament offered some hope, followed by last season’s 16 wins (after 13 the first year). But even though the team was able to rally and surpass that number again, it’s hard to look at this as a big improvement. 

The roster has been constructed, whether intentionally or not, with an apex for this year. Quinten Post has the most talent on both ends of the court for the Eagles since Jerome Robinson. His surrounding cast vastly trumps what we’ve seen here. Next year things are bound to look vastly different, but with this season being much of the same that has plagued the program for 15 years now, it’s hard to see what will be different. 

The bigger question in all of this suddenly changes from “will this be the turnaround year” to now “where do we go from here?”

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