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.

NFL combine preview: Tight ends

NFL combine preview: Tight ends

With the NFL combine about to begin -- and the NFL Draft just about two months away -- we'll take a daily look at the collegiate talent available at positions where the Patriots might be looking for help. We start today with: Tight ends.

On Tuesday, players will arrive in Indianapolis for the NFL scouting combine, with on-field workouts beginning Friday. 

The second group to take the field is the tight end group, which should be worth watching for a number of reasons. For starters, Todd McShay says that this is “a good year to need a tight end” given that there could be three first-rounders in O.J. Howard, David Njoku and Jake Butt.

Furthermore, Martellus Bennett’s potential departure and Rob Gronkowski’s durability questions make tight end a position the Patriots could target early come April 27. 

Here’s a quick look at each of the 19 tight ends invited to the combine: 

O.J. Howard, Alabama, 6-foot-6, 249 pounds

- NFL.com describes him as an “exceptionally gifted athlete” and says that his “play speed resembles a wide receiver’s when the ball is in the air.” They add he “appears passive” as a blocker and “need more muscle and mass to be an in-line blocker as a pro.”

David Njoku, Miami, 6-foot-4, 245 pounds

- Not the biggest guy in the world at 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, but is considered a top-end athlete. NFL.com says he “should annihilate the combine with monster numbers in speed and explosion.”

Jake Butt, Michigan, 6-foot-6, 250 pounds 

- Does everything well, but could stand to fill out his frame a bit more. 

Jordan Leggett, Clemson, 6-foot-5, 250 pounds

- Not considered a great blocker and has admitted that he’s played lazily. Could the Pats fix his motor? 

Gerald Everett, South Alabama, 6-foot-3, 227 pounds

- Very interesting prospect. Primarily a basketball player in high school who played just one year of football (insert Antonio Gates basketball reference), Everett played at Alabama-Birmingham before the school cut its football program. Upon transferring to South Alabama, Everett showed his skills as a pass-catching tight end. 

Evan Engram, Mississippi, 6-foot-3, 236 pounds

- Itty bitty for a tight end, and he doesn’t have the greatest hands either. Described as a “move tight end only who lacks dependability as a blocker.”   

He was one of five who for second in the nation among tight ends with eight touchdowns last season. Other guys in that group were Njoku, Hayden Plinke,  Cole Hikutini and UMass’ Adam Breneman.

Bucky Hodges, Virginia Tech, 6-foot-7, 245 pounds

- Just your average quarterback-turned-tight-end. The lanky Hodges would be a good fit for the Patriots simply because it would give Julian Edelman a break from the constant mention during broadcasts that he used to be a QB. 

Cole Hikutini, Louisville, 6-foot-5, 248 pounds

- A good athlete who isn’t much of a blocker.

Adam Shaheen, Ashland, 6-foot-6, 277 pounds

- Former college basketball player transferred from Pittsburgh-Johnstown to Ashland to focus on football and eventually established himself as a dominant player at the Division II level. He’s certainly got the size and strength, but questions will persist about just how similarly he holds up going from Division II to the NFL. 

Jeremy Sprinkle, Arkansas, 6-foot-5, 265 pounds

- Big, physical tight end with a solid stiff arm. Sprinkle was suspended by Arkansas for the Belk Bowl because he stole from a Belk department store after each player had been given $450 to spend there. He was arrested for the incident, as he stole $260 worth of extra items.

Pharoh Brown, Oregon, 6-foot-6, 245 pounds

- Not considered the athlete he was prior to a 2014 injury that nearly resulted in his leg being amputated. 

Michael Roberts, Toledo, 6-foot-4, 261 pounds

- Huge hands, which he uses to catch better than block. He led all FBS tight ends with 16 touchdowns last season. 

Jonnu Smith, Florida International, 6-foot-3, 245 pounds

- College career was ended prematurely when his pregnant girlfriend poured boiling water on him, resulting in severe burns throughout his upper body, including his head. He has good speed, but drops were an issue in college. 

Scott Orndoff, Pittsburgh, 6-foot-5, 256 pounds

- Figures to be a solid blocking tight end, but he also had five receiving touchdowns as a senior. 

Eric Saubert, Drake, 6-foot-5, 251 pounds

- Every draft pick is a gamble, but Saubert might be more so than others. An AFC regional scout says that Saubert is “body beautiful but he can’t catch. I don’t think it’s correctable, either.”

Cethan Carter, Nebraska, 6-foot-4, 240 pounds

- Elbow injuries figure to be a topic at the combine, and he had various injuries throughout his college career. 

Darrell Daniels, Washington, 6-foot-4, 246 pounds

- A scout told NFL.com that Daniels is "going to test through the roof and he's going to get overdrafted on the traits.” The Patriots don’t typically fall into such traps. 

George Kittle, Iowa, 6-foot-4, 250 pounds

- Only had one drop as a senior, but then again being believed to have had no drops in college doesn’t make a guy an NFL stud. 

Hayden Plinke, UTEP, 6-foot-4, 265 pounds

- Transferred twice in his college career, starting at Boise State, then Portland State and finally UTEP. Is considered a good blocker who grabbed eight touchdowns as a senior. 
 

Haggerty's Morning Skate: Two AHL teams recreate Slap Shot on the movie's anniversary

Haggerty's Morning Skate: Two AHL teams recreate Slap Shot on the movie's anniversary

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while so glad to see Dave Strader getting the play-by-play call in this afternoon’s national NBC broadcast of Stars and Bruins from Dallas.
 
-- Jeremy Roenick weighs in with some trade possibilities involving Avalanche and Blues players in what could be a blockbuster at the deadline.
 
-- Antoine Vermette acknowledges his wrongdoing in making a statement about his 10-game suspension for slashing an official, but feels like the punishment was too severe.
 
-- Don Cherry wishes a happy 40th anniversary to Slap Shot while wearing a Charleston Chiefs jersey as he hosts Coaches Corner.
 
-- Speaking of Slap Shot, what an Old Time Hockey fight between the AHL's Iowa Wild and Chicago Wolves. It spilled into the hallway afterward . . . that’s when things get real.

-- I've been asked multiple times about the white Boston hat David Pastrnak is always wearing in the Bruins dressing room, so here it is.

 -- Here’s all the Dallas Stars info you need ahead of this afternoon’s 11:30 a.m. local start in Dallas for the Stars and Bruins.

-- PHT writer Cam Tucker has Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning indicating that the mumps outbreak for his team won’t impact the trade deadline.
 
-- For something completely different: the headline seems a little click baity to me, but I’ll read about anything involving Homer Simpson and the Baseball Hall of Fame.