Boston College at Michigan
Boston College (4-0), unlike many of the Big 10 and ACC schools, did not participate in an early-season tournament. In fact the Golden Eagles haven’t even left the friendly confines of Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, but they’ll have to in order to get to Ann Arbor, home of the Michigan Wolverines. The Eagles are undefeated through four home games so far, but it hasn’t been easy. They opened with a 10-point win over New Hampshire, got by Florida Atlantic 68-62, crushed Mercer 73-56, then brushed past Rhode Island 76-72. It won’t get any easier for the Eagles on the road against their first BCS-conference opponent.
Boston College is looking for another solid season after several prosperous years in the ACC. Last season the Eagles went 20-11 overall and 10-6 in the ACC en route to an NCAA Tournament berth. There B.C. upended Bobby Knight’s Texas Tech Red Raiders before fading down the stretch in an upset bids against 2-seed and eventual regional champion Georgetown.
The Eagles will have to overcome the loss of seniors Sean Marshall and Jared Dudley. The good news is they still have flashy point guard Tyrese Rice, who can both dish the rock and score. In three games played he is leading the team in both points and assists at 21.3 and 7.7, respectively. Forward Shamari Spears has also already raised his game, averaging exactly 14 points and 11 rebounds per game. Seniors John Oates and Tyrelle Blair will provide some valuable experience down low. To go along with that leadership, coach Al Skinner brings in five talented freshmen. One of them, shooting guard Rakim Sanders, is already averaging 16.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per outing. The Eagles are probably not as experienced or talented as they have been in recent years, but they still have the tools to make some noise in what is for the most part a young Atlantic Coast Conference.
Michigan (3-3) already has six games under its belt after taking part in the Great Alaska Shootout. The Wolverines lost to Butler 79-65 in the opening game, bounced back to beat Eastern Washington 61-53 in a consolation battle, and then lost to Western Kentucky 73-69 in the fourth-place game. Michigan’s mediocre showing in Alaska was preceded two wins over Radford and Brown and a 74-52 blowout loss to Georgetown in Washington D.C.’s Verizon Center. The bad news is that the Wolverines have not fared all that well against tough competition so far, but the good news is that they’ve already faced better teams than the one they’ll see in Boston College.
Michigan is coming off a season in which in started out hot, going 16-4 (4-1 Big 10) in the first 20 games, but then floundered down the stretch. The Wolverines finished the year 21-12 (8-8 Big 10) and missed out on the NCAA Tournament. Instead they went to the NIT, winning a home game over Utah State before getting blown out at Florida State.
The biggest change, of course, is at the top. New coach John Beilein steps in to replace Tommy Amaker, who failed to take the Wolverines to the Big Dance over his tenure. In fact the once-heralded program has not been to the NCAA Tournament since the 1997-1998 season. That’s what back in the day of Robert “Tractor” Traylor. Beilein brings plenty of post-season experience with him from his successful days at West Virginia, and hopefully that will rub off on his players.
For the moment he does not have a lot of experienced guys to work with, as Michigan brings back just one starter from last season’s ballclub. This team could be led by a pair of sophomore forwards in Ekpe Udoh and DeShawn Simms. Freshman guard Manny Harris is already asserting himself as a leader on the floor, averaging 16.8 points per game through the first six contests. Fellow freshman Kelvin Grady will have to mature extremely fast at the point guard position. Senior Ron Coleman will be counted on for veteran leadership and he can also fill it up from long range. All of these guys will have to consistently step up throughout the season in order for Michigan to contend in the Big 10.
They’ll all have to step up to have a chance against Boston College, as well. Grady, especially, will have to hold his own against Tyrese Rice and play smart basketball on both ends of the floor. It will probably be well into the season before each of these teams really comes into its own and starts playing its best basketball, so expect this one to be a bit on the ugly side. The difference will be that Boston College has experienced players on its side who know how to win and have a history of doing so. Everything about Michigan is new this season and that will show late in the game.
The pick: Boston College by 3.