THE GAP BETWEEN the Ivy League and Atlantic Coast Conference is about the biggest in college basketball. With conference seasons about to begin in earnest, Steve Donahue is negotiating it about as well as possible.
Donahue parlayed the three consecutive Ivy titles and the unforgettable 2010 Sweet 16 run at Cornell into the Boston College job and games with Duke, North Carolina and the rest of the ACC minefield.
BC is 10-2. The Eagles have won seven straight. They won their ACC opener at Maryland. They have wins over Texas A & M (the Aggies' only loss), California, Indiana, Massachusetts and Providence. They have a star guard in Reggie Jackson. And Donahue loves every minute.
"We have one really good player and a bunch of other pretty solid offensive basketball players," Donahue said. "We've got to mask it a little bit on defense. There's not a real understanding or passion for that side of the ball. We're a very good offensive team."
The numbers bear out the coach's assessment. BC is scoring 1.19 points per possession, sixth nationally. The Eagles have a 1.54/1 assist/turnover ratio, seventh in the nation.
Jackson is good at everything. He averages 19.2 points, 5.0 assists, 4.4 rebounds, shoots 54.0 percent overall, 50.9 percent from the arc, and 80.4 percent from the foul line. He has 60 assists and just 20 turnovers.
"He's got a [great] feel for the game and has a real good poise about him throughout a game," Donahue said. "He's extremely explosive. He's the whole thing."
The talent level is obviously different at this level. So are some of the intangibles. And not necessarily in a good way.
"Their lack of attention to detail is not something they worried about," Donahue said. "They just kind of play basketball. They don't listen as well."
By the end at Cornell, everybody knew what everybody else was doing. All the coach had to do was point the way.
Now there is more teaching. There are also planes for league road trips instead of buses.
"They picked up the offense incredibly well and it helps having Reggie Jackson," Donahue said. "If you have one guy like that, all the other guys can fill in a role."
This seems counterintuitive, but the ACC schedule won't be nearly as perilous as the Ivy. You can lose games in the ACC (and everybody except maybe Duke is going to lose games) and survive. But you can't survive in the Ivy with very many losses.
There will be no game on BC's schedule like the one Cornell faced last season at Princeton when its whole season was on the line, a night after being upset at Penn. The Big Red won that one at the finish and did not lose again until Kentucky got them in the Sweet 16.
"I hope I never see them again," Donahue said of Princeton. "I played them 41 times in my career [Penn assistant, Cornell head coach]."
The Tigers will not be on the BC schedule anytime soon.
"The good thing is it feels the same to me," Donahue said. "Good academic school. People care about that. The media stuff isn't overwhelming. It's a good place for me."
And for his family.
They live 10 miles from campus in a nice Boston suburb. They get into the city as often as possible, seeing all the history there, not unlike what he might have done as a kid coming in from Delaware County to the city.
BC, however, is 0-1 against the Ivy, losing to Yale in the season's second game on Nov. 16, an unfamiliar result for Donahue in recent seasons. The Eagles were missing one of their better inside players for that game. And a walk-on, who wasn't playing much, is now playing 30 minutes per game.
So adjustments were made. What has needed no adjustment so far in the coach's move from the Ivy to the ACC is the record.
Since he has been at Coppin State, Fang Mitchell has played 66 percent of his games on the road - half the MEAC games and practically all the nonconference games when his team collects guarantees to play the big boys in their arenas.
Amazingly, Coppin had never shown up at the wrong gym - until last week. Even though it was supposed to play UConn in Hartford on Dec. 20, the team was instructed to show up in Storrs the night before to practice, according to Mitchell. The gym was closed.
Eventually, Coppin got inside. They had one ball for half-an-hour. Eventually, they got enough balls to conduct a practice. And played the game the next night at the XL Center in Hartford. Coppin lost, 76-64, not a bad result against a really good team.
By Coppin standards, this has been an easy road. It also has played at Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Kentucky, where it lost last night, 91-61. Coppin (4-6) plays at Texas on Friday.
The season so far?
"It will be all right once I get off the road," Mitchell said.
A MOST EFFICIENT PLAYER
If you get a chance to see Arizona sophomore Derrick Williams, do not miss it. He is really good and does just about everything right.
He averages 19.3 points and 7.0 rebounds while shooting 63.2 percent overall, 68.4 percent from the arc and 82.6 percent from the foul line, where he has already made 90 free throws. Add it all up and he is averaging an almost impossible 2.15 points per shot. That's serious efficiency.
In just his second season, Sean Miller, who did such a nice job at Xavier, is getting it done in Tucson. The Wildcats are 11-2.
THIS AND THAT
* As the conference season began, the Big East was 110-9 at home, 29-15 on neutral courts and just 12-12 on the road. Got to love those guarantee games. The league is 44-1 against its smaller eastern rivals - the America East, Ivy, Northeast, MAAC and Patriot. And just 8-9 against the Atlantic 10.
* If Cincinnati can win its next two home games (Seton Hall, Xavier), the Bearcats will be 15-0 when they come to Villanova on Jan. 9.
* Pittsburgh is scoring 1.22 points per possession, best in the country.
* Villanova has made 205 free throws. Its opponents have attempted just 180.
* Mike Rice is off to the best start for a first-year coach at Rutgers since Donald S. White in 1945-46. The Scarlet Knights are 9-3 after losing to North Carolina, 78-55.
* There are seven unbeaten teams as we head to 2011 - Duke, Kansas, Ohio State, Syracuse, Cincinnati, Central Florida and San Diego State.
* Through the weekend, the CAA was 68-46 in nonconference games. And its 20 road wins were the most of any league. Matt Brady's James Madison won at South Florida, the school's first win at a Big East school.
* Over the last 5 years, the CAA has had a team in the Final Four of the NCAA (George Mason) and NIT (Old Dominion), both in 2006. VCU won the CBI Tournament last season and ODU won the collegeinsider.com Tournament in 2009.