Basketball: The Eagles may have landed

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Basketball: The Eagles may have landed

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com

CHESTNUT HILL -- After Saturday's 66-63 loss to Duke, Boston College coach Al Skinner looked tired.

He sounded worse.

"The frustrating part for any team is getting over the hump," he said. "We're playing good teams well enough for periods. But it's got to be more extended. We can't afford to make mental mistakes and that's where we are right now. We've got to play 40 minutes and get the job done."

It's starting to look like this season might be one big hump for the 12-10 Eagles. With just seven games left to play, BC's only real shot to enter the 2010 NCAA Tournament is via the automatic bid given to each conference's tournament champion.

No small feat for a current ACC cellar dweller.

Of their remaining contests, just North Carolina and NC State sit below Boston College in the conference standings, and neither should be underestimated. NC State made headlines three weeks ago after a 14-point walloping of a Blue Devils team that BC -- twice -- couldn't beat. And though UNC is having an uncharacteristic down year, the Tar Heels still managed wins over No. 5 Michigan State and No. 13 Ohio State.

Do the Eagles actually have a chance to turn this season around?

Skinner did manage a minute of optimism.

"I still feel that good things can happen this season," he said. "We just have to put things together and do it for an extended period of time. Like I said, when we do that we are a pretty good team."

There is no denying the Eagles have strengths.

Joe Trapani continues to be a workhorse on the court. In his second season in Chestnut Hill, the junior combo forward is BC's leading scorer with a 14.5 ppg average in 29.5 minutes. But it's his willingness to contribute to the team in any possible facet of the game that makes him so valuable.

"Whatever I can do to help the team, whether it's rebounding or scoring I try to do whatever I can, Trapani has said. "If that means doing what I can to help the team on defense or offense, if I need to block shots or get a couple offensive rebounds and put-backs, trying to shoot a good percentage from the foul line I'll do whatever I can.

Reggie Jackson also gives a big lift to the Eagles. Whether Skinner uses him in the starting five or as instant offense and energy off the bench, Jackson's emotional play is at the center of this team's heart.

On Saturday, BC was down 64-60 to Duke with under 20 seconds to play. Jackson dribbled around the top of the key and pulled up for a triple. When that shot went down, putting the Eagles within striking distance of the upset, the sophomore passionately threw up his arms and screamed to get his team, and the Super Fans, roaring back to life.

It was an embodiment of the intensity that's been missing in some of BC's losses.

Such was the case Jan. 16 against Maryland. Skinner was beyond discouraged in the postgame, calling his team's lackluster effort in the 73-57 loss "disturbing," and seemed practically lost as how to resolve the uninspired mentality of his players.

The Eagles elevated their play in the three weeks that followed, yet have only been able to win two out of the last five games. Clearly, effort is just one piece of the puzzle. Playing a full 40 minutes of basketball that is not just dialed-in but clean has proved a bigger problem.

And the struggle has made it hard for Boston College to even think about the Big Dance.

"Right now I can't worry about the postseason because we haven't put ourselves in position to consider that," Skinner said.

No team wants to throw up a white flag. But his later comments might have interesting implications:

"These guys are coming back next year," he said. "As frustrating as this season has been, we're still building towards something. It's not like they are all seniors and heading out the door."

What does it mean when a head coach brings up the idea of a building year after yet another loss? And how much does such a remark overshadow the "good things" that Skinner says can still happen in 2010?

One has to wonder if he is trying to unburden his squad from what might be an unrealistic expectation of success. It sounds like the plan for the Eagles is to fight through the rest of the season but hold off hope for an earnest run at the title for the next year.

At least the future looks bright.

A more experienced retuning team should commit less of the mental mistakes that this season's squad so often trips over, and that's exactly what Skinner will have. Jackson will come back, as will the most oft-used starters; forwards Trapani and Corey Raji, point guard Biko Paris, center Josh Southern, and wing Rakim Sanders. Senior forward Tyler Roche will be the only one missing in 2011 from the current 12-man roster.

But that's next year.

For now, Boston College has enough talent to grab a few more wins and even surprise someone in the ACC tournament. But as for this year's national tournament -- the dancing shoes will probably stay in the closet.

Garoppolo: Get the little things corrected, or they'll bite us in the butt

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Garoppolo: Get the little things corrected, or they'll bite us in the butt

 

This felt like a step backward for Jimmy Garoppolo. 

The preseason had been shaping up so nicely for him, too. He'd be able to ride the wave of momentum following his strong performance last week against the Bears, and carry that into Carolina, where he would take on a very good defense on the road. What better way to simulate what he'll see in Week 1 of the regular season in Arizona?

Then something happened. Garoppolo, who looked cool last week at Gillette Stadium, seemed rattled by the Panthers defense. The quarterback who hadn't turned the ball over all preseason very nearly gave it away twice. Whereas he made calculated risks in the red zone last week, this week there were head-scratchers in the same area. 

"Ups and downs," said Garoppolo, who beat the Panthers, 19-17, and finished the game 9-for-15 for 57 yards. "Just little things here and there we need to get corrected. We’ll take care of it."

Garoppolo's first third-down throw foreshadowed what was to come for the Patriots on third down Friday night. He threw what should have been an easy interception for linebacker Luke Kuechly when there was a miscommunication between him and receiver Julian Edelman. 

Edelman stopped and turned for a pass a few yards off the line of scrimmage. Garoppolo targeted him as though he was still moving, hitting Kuechly between the numbers at the Carolina 12-yard line.

The team started the night 0-for-7 on third down.

"It’s my fault. I can’t put it in the linebacker’s hands like that," said Garoppolo, who insisted splitting reps in practice wasn't to his detriment. "It’s just bottom line. Just got to be smart. It’s tight windows, tight throws. Just got to finish with touchdowns."

Later in the game, Garoppolo didn't recognize a Panthers pressure, he took a glancing blow from a defender and escaped the pocket. Rather than throw the football away, he tried to make a positive play and was stripped from behind by linebacker Thomas Davis. 

Patriots running back James White was there to pounce on the ball, and Garoppolo was fortunate to escape with his turnover column clean.  

Still, Garoppolo knows there are adjustments to make. In order to give the Patriots a chance to beat the Cardinals in Week 1, he'll probably have to play better than he did on Friday. 

“We’ll do our best to get in there,” Garoppolo said. “We have two weeks until then and we’ll work. There’s little things here and there. Overall, there’s some good things that we did tonight. 

"We just have to get the little things corrected or they’re going to bite us in the butt. We’re going to work our tails off to get to that point. We’ll get there.”

Running back D.J. Foster making a late push for Patriots roster spot

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Running back D.J. Foster making a late push for Patriots roster spot

CHARLOTTE – D.J. Foster began making his case to stick on the Patriots’ 53-man roster Friday night against the Panthers.

An undrafted pass-catching back from Arizona State who’d missed almost all of training camp with an unknown injury was pretty persuasive. He caught three passes for 33 yards, showing nice burst, carried twice for 9 and returned a punt for 16. He saw his action late in the third with fellow rookie Jacoby Brissett in at quarterback.

Foster punctuated his first reception – an 11-yard screen that Brissett (9-for-9 for 85 yards and a touchdown) – by lowering his shoulder and delivering a blow that Foster said he wanted to “get that adrenaline going.”

“It felt great,” said Foster. “It had been a long time. I was telling some guys, that was the first time I’d gotten hit since college. It felt good to get back out there. The coaches gave me a chance to get out there and show what I could do.”

James White will be the Patriots sub-back (or third down back or pass-catching back or whatever you want to call him) until Dion Lewis returns from his knee malady. But Foster showed the acceleration and quickness that made him such a productive player for the Sun Devils. With 222 receptions for 2,458 yards and another 2,355 on the ground, Foster would fit nicely in an offense like the Patriots that uses the short and intermediate passing game so well.  

He hasn’t had much chance to make a case to stick and the Patriots – with White, LeGarrette Blount, Tyler Gaffney, Brandon Bolden and Joey Iosefa all in the mix – may have to take their chances with releasing Foster and hoping he goes unclaimed so New England can bring him back for their practice squad. It’s a risk, but other teams are encountering the same issues at cutdown time. Do they pluck a player they passed on in the draft and put him on their roster ahead of players they’ve been working with since the spring?

Bill Belichick wasn’t effusive in his praise for Foster but did indicate it was a good opportunity to at least see him in game action.

“We played a couple of guys that haven’t gotten much playing time so we got a chance to look at them,” he explained. “D.J. is one of those so we wanted to give him a few opportunities to handle the ball because he hasn’t done it this year. I thought he did some good things. There are a couple of things that he could do a little better but we’ll look at the film and see how it goes. He did a couple of things with his chances out there.”

To make the most of those chances, Foster said he avoided getting too hyped before getting on the field.  
 
“Just keeping my calm and hearing the playcall and just doing the mechanics and all the fundamentals of being in the backfield (was the focus),” said Foster. "Coach Ivan (Fears, running backs coach) did a great job of keeping me mellow. I felt healthy, I felt really good. I got some punt returns, some kick returns, some special teams. I was seeking contact to get that adrenaline going.

“It’s a long process,” he acknowledged. “Talking to the veteran guys, they said it’s a long process. I knew battling my injury and come back healthy, I came back strong and I felt ready.”

We’ll see if it’s enough to carve out a niche on the roster. The cutdown to 75 players comes Tuesday.