Skinner hopes Eagles will 'take advantage of this opportunity'

March 08, 2010 - 7:55 am

It was apparent weeks ago that Boston College would have to win the ACC tournament to earn a trip to the NCAAs. The players knew it, and coach Al Skinner did as well. And with that in mind, the Eagles set out to fix the errors that had caused their struggles early in the year as the regular season came to a close. With the first round of the ACC tournament on Thursday, there is no time left to work out any issues. The Eagles, the eighth seed in the tournament, need to come to play when they take the court at noon in Greensboro, N.C., to face Virginia (14-15, 5-11 ACC), the No. 9 seed. Skinner does not think that his team will need any extra motivation to get ready for the tournament. '€œI don'€™t think it is hard to get your team'€™s attention,'€ Skinner said on Monday morning's ACC coaches teleconference. '€œI think we'€™ve all got to understand that the reason they are playing in this league is that they want to play against the best and they want to compete against the best. '€œThis is a big stage here; a lot of people are going to be watching,'€ he added. '€œThis is what they came to these universities for, to be in this type of environment. And now they have to take advantage of this opportunity.'€ Despite BC's slipup in Sunday's 66-54 loss to North Carolina Sate in the regular-season finale, Skinner has been encouraged by the turnaround he has seen in his team'€™s play in the last few weeks. BC had won three of its last four going into that game and showed a noticeable improvement in its play. '€œOur offensive execution has improved,'€ Skinner said. '€œFor the most part, our defense and rebounding has been more consistent. Obviously I was disappointed by the way we played the last six minutes against NC State, but up until that point I thought we had been playing rather well and our defense and rebounding had been a lot more consistent over the last couple of weeks.'€ The Eagles would have liked to head into Thursday on the heels of a victory, but some of those troublesome traits from earlier in the year emerged in the final minutes, as Skinner alluded to. BC struggled to convert some good looks and fell apart defensively, allowing the Wolfpack to get some momentum of their own as they head to Greensboro. Still, Skinner does not think the loss will have a huge impact on his team this week. '€œIt'€™s not a big setback,'€ Skinner said. '€œIt is disappointing because we didn'€™t really respond to the situation. We didn'€™t really knuckle up and play the kind of defense that you need to do on the road. That part was a little disappointing, but I don'€™t think it is a huge setback.'€ The Eagles will have to turn their focus to Virginia, a team that early on looked like it could be the surprise of the conference before heading into a tailspin, losing its last nine games. Things will not be any easier for the Cavaliers with the loss of leading scorer Sylven Landesberg, who was suspended for the remainder of the season due to academic issues. When the two teams met at Conte Forum on March 3, BC built up a big lead in the first half and beat Landesberg and the Cavaliers 68-55. Still, Virginia played No. 23 Maryland tough at home on Saturday without its best player, pushing the ACC regular-season co-champion Terps to the wire before falling 74-68. '€œThey have become a different club,'€ Skinner said of the Cavaliers. '€œI didn'€™t see the game against Maryland, but obviously they played very well without [Landesberg]. They were able to score enough points and get some other people some opportunities. '€œIt is not like they are not without talent, there was just an individual who kind of rose above everyone else. But they have some other people that can contribute, and even that second half against us they played us even. We just got off to a good start and we were able to maintain that lead.'€ If the Eagles can get past Virginia, Skinner said he thinks they could make a run in the tournament. One reason for his positive outlook is the depth his team has displayed over the course of the year '€” something that he believes will be key if the Eagles are going to be able to win four games in a row. '€œBecause we play with so much depth, I think it clearly gives us the potential to do that,'€ Skinner said. '€œI think the difficult part of trying to win four games '€” obviously you'€™ve got to win one game at a time '€” but trying to win four games, usually the problem becomes fatigue. And when you play a lot of people and are able to spread out those minutes, I think that becomes less of a factor. '€œThere are pluses and minuses in that situation. The minus is that you are not exactly sure who is going to step up for you, but the plus is that you know you'€™ve got people who can.'€ That depth could be tested Thursday if Corey Raji is unable to go. The junior swingman led BC with 18 points in the first meeting against Virginia, but he suffered a shoulder injury Sunday that kept him out of the second half vs. NC State. Skinner said Raji likely will sit out practice for the next few days but should be ready to play on Thursday. The road for BC will not be easy. If it manages to get by Virginia, a quarterfinal date with the tournament's top seed, No. 4 Duke, would be the reward. Skinner knows that his team might not be playing at that level, but anything can happen in March. '€œI think there are some teams that are playing pretty well right now,'€ he said. '€œThere is no question that people have the potential to beat anybody, but I think there are some teams that are playing better than others, and you can'€™t ignore that. In saying that, I think every team in this league has the potential to beat every other team.'€