“I think we’re in a good place but I think,” Skinner said, acknowledging there’s still some reservation. “Whether I really feel that, We’ll find out in practice. I’m looking forward to it and I think they’re looking forward to it. I’m just curious as to what the results are going to be. I’ve been pleasantly surprised. They’ve responded.”
Responded and how. The Eagles are 22-11, a No. 7 seed in the Midwest after entering this season picked for next to last in the ACC, and facing USC on Friday night in Minneapolis. However, the Eagles didn’t get to this point without learning a lot about themselves.
While there was some genuine disappointment in losing to an inferior St. Louis team, 53-50, back in November, the B.C. Eagles first really learned how to respond when they dropped an unconscionable 82-70 decision to Harvard at Conte Forum three days after beating No. 1 ranked and unbeaten North Carolina on their home court.
“We’ve had a lot of ups and downs with big wins and dropping (games) to the Harvards of the world,” Rakim Sanders said. “But it’s been a good year. And the experience we’ve had, beating Carolina, knowing we can play with anybody. Having that confidence in our heads has been good for us.”
But confidence can be a funny thing. Just ask their head coach.
“I should have a little more confidence in them but I also know the history,” Skinner said. “I thought we were prepared for the ACC Tournament. Mentally, I thought guys did what I wanted, I thought they were ready to play. I really should, they’ve probably earned that but I’m not quite there yet.”
If Sanders’ shot goes through the basket on Friday instead of ringing off the iron, you could certainly make the point that it would be the Eagles who would have been dancing around the Georgia Dome  floor with nets around their necks on Sunday.
“We lost to Duke by a point,” Skinner said of the loss in the ACC quarterfinals. “What they (Duke) did in the championship game is just an indication of where we are because we obviously had a chance to win that game. I’m pleased but not satisfied and so we’re going to continue to work hopefully till I get satisfied.”
Helping the team in its goal of satisfying the coach and themselves is Tyrese Rice. The senior point guard, who scored 34 points in a half against North Carolina in Feb. ’08, has matured into a leader of men. The kind of leader you need come tournament time.
“I’m expecting a lot,” Rice said. “I’m expecting everyone to step up and do what they’ve been doing all year, and a little bit more. I feel like I can step my game up a little bit more, I feel like there are some other people on the team who could step their game up some more and I feel like they feel the same way.”
Skinner said on Monday he can already sense other players responding to Rice and picking up their game.
“We’ve continued to improve and that’s the most important thing, especially for a young team,” Skinner said. “A lot of times, a team hits a plateau and we have not done that. We’re edging upward and obviously I’m very pleased with that.”
Rice has had a first-hand view of the growth on and off the court.
“Everybody’s playing with a lot of confidence,” Rice said. “You see when guys come into a game, they’re coming in to make a difference. We saw Biko Paris come in and probably have the best game of his career against Duke. He came in and was ready. A guy that didn’t play a lot or probably as much as he thinks he should have and comes in and gives us 15 big points.
“Everybody has a certain swagger to them, a certain confidence,” he added. “We’re just trying to bring it all together.”