Brief commentary on a record crowd at Riley Park

On Wednesday night, The Citadel defeated South Carolina at Riley Park, 10-8. There were 6,500 fans in attendance, the largest crowd to ever see a college baseball game at the facility.

The previous record was 5,851 for a game at Riley Park between South Carolina and Clemson that was played in 2012. In the leadup to that game, columnist Gene Sapakoff of The Post and Courier wrote (among other things) the following:

For now, the South Carolina-Clemson baseball game set for Friday night at The Joe feels like the greatest sporting event and toughest ticket in Lowcountry sports history.

This is tell-your-grandchildren stuff, two-time defending College World Series champion and No. 3 South Carolina playing No. 15 Clemson in a bragging rights series opener within a small but famously charming facility.

The “War on the Shore” [1991 Ryder Cup] put the Ocean Course on the world golf map and a thrilling United States victory revived the Ryder Cup.

No need to knock one great thing to argue for another, but I’m guessing most Palmetto State people would rather watch South Carolina-Clemson baseball at its peak than any single day of golf.

Link

Clemson and South Carolina baseball fans scrambling for tickets to tonight’s Bragging Rights series opener at Riley Park might have to settle for the large party outside The Joe, or dig a little deeper…the limited number of standing-room-only tickets were gobbled up quickly.

No. 3 South Carolina is the two-time defending College World Series champion. Clemson leads the overall series and is ranked No. 15. This is the first Gamecocks vs. Tigers appearance in Charleston since the programs clashed for the very first time, at Hampton Park in 1899.

Booster clubs from both schools have scheduled major tailgate events…

…The weather forecast keeps getting better for tonight’s much-anticipated South Carolina-Clemson baseball game at Charleston’s Riley Park.

Link

The South Carolina-Clemson baseball squabble has reached fever pitch heading into the first pitch of a three-game series Friday night. The Gamecocks’ back-to-back national championships, the Tigers’ historical edge, a “Batgate” controversy and Omaha drama makes this rivalry a budding baseball version of Duke vs. North Carolina in basketball. The next game in the series is at Charleston’s Riley Park.

Link

Readers may have been under the impression that South Carolina-Clemson at Riley Park was the sporting equivalent of World War III. Everything else in comparison appeared to be second-fiddle (if not second-rate).

Then the game was played. When the actual attendance didn’t quite fit his preconceived narrative, Sapakoff challenged the turnstile count:

There were only a few questionable calls Friday night, but one of them was the turnstile count.

An announced crowd of only 5,851?

On a jam-packed, standing-room-only night at a facility with a listed capacity of 6,000?

They were kidding, right?

Maybe it wasn’t the Riley Park record of 8,426 on Opening Night of the 2007 RiverDogs season, but, in a competition for South Carolina-Clemson games with Greenville and potentially Myrtle Beach, mistakes get magnified.

(Incidentally, notice how he got five paragraphs out of five sentences in that stretch. Excellent work by a veteran columnist.)

When I pointed out to him on Twitter that Wednesday night’s crowd was larger, his response was not unexpected:

hah. depends on who is doing the counting. If you were at both, you know

It’s very important to hold on to your beliefs, even when the cold hard facts don’t cooperate. Blame somebody. Blame the ticket-takers. Maybe the mob was involved.

On Wednesday night, more people attended a makeup of a rained-out game from earlier in the season between South Carolina and The Citadel than 2012′s relentlessly hyped South Carolina-Clemson game at Riley Park. It’s as simple as that.

Why does it matter, you ask? I’m glad you did.

First, Clemson doesn’t play in Charleston very often — only six times in the last quarter-century. One of those games was the 2012 matchup with South Carolina. The other five were against College of Charleston (played between 2002 and 2008).

Clemson has not played The Citadel in Charleston since 1990, when Bill Wilhelm was the Tigers’ head coach and the Bulldogs still played their home games at College Park. Clemson has never played The Citadel at Riley Park.

Instead of the hype machine being focused on Clemson-South Carolina, imagine that kind of coverage for a game at Riley Park between the Tigers and Bulldogs. I want The Citadel to receive that kind of positive attention from the local press, since it is a local school. I don’t think it’s too much to ask, either.

Also, the fact that South Carolina-The Citadel outdrew South Carolina-Clemson should put an end to the discussion about Clemson making a return trip to Riley Park in the near future. The next time the Tigers venture to Riley Park for a game, they should be playing the college team that actually calls the park home.

Clemson probably should play baseball games in Charleston more often. Six games in 25 years is not a lot, and is arguably a disservice to its fan base in the Lowcountry.

There are a couple of reasons why South Carolina always has a lot of fans at baseball games in Charleston. One is the success the Gamecocks have had in recent years, of course.

However, the other thing South Carolina’s baseball team has going for it when it comes to attendance in Charleston is the fact the Gamecocks have played at The Citadel almost every season since the early 1970s. The annual home-and-home series has been good for both programs.

Lowcountry fans of the Gamecocks have become used to the short yearly trip to see their team play. It is an event for them, and has helped build up the number of South Carolina’s “committed” baseball supporters in the area.

Obviously, Clemson is further away from Charleston than Columbia, so expecting the Tigers to play a game or two in Charleston each season is probably a bit much. However, it surely would be in the program’s best interests for the team to make its way to the Port City at least every two or three years.

Perhaps if Clemson played The Citadel in Riley Park on a semi-regular basis, another college baseball attendance record would be set, with no hype necessary…

Why the CAA and Big Sky champs should always be in an NCAA tournament play-in game, regardless of record

This is just a brief companion post to my longer discussion about the NCAA Tournament’s play-in games (also known as PIGs). In that post, I referenced a quote  from the Albany Times-Union made by Peter Hooley, a player for Albany. Here it is again:

“If you play well enough to win your league,you shouldn’t have to play a play-in game.”

Hooley is correct, but you might be surprised to know that not every small- or mid-major conference shares his point of view. At least, not every league commissioner agrees with him.

In a story from USA Today, both CAA commissioner Tom Yeager and Big Sky chief Dennis Farrell both suggested they would actually prefer that their respective league champions be sent to Dayton for a play-in game in a certain situation:

“We joke about it in the conference offices, but if you’re going to have a 16 seed, let’s go to Dayton,” Colonial Athletic Association commissioner Tom Yeager said. “Play someone that’s relatively similar to you with the opportunity to pick up another basketball unit, and then you walk into the lion’s den with the No. 1 seed.

“Last year, James Madison was able to win and then line up with Indiana. I’d rather take that route than line up with Indiana or another No. 1 seed right out of the box. That’d be my preference. It’s a winnable game, and the unit is worth, over six years, about $1.5 million dollars.”…

…”When the whole concept of the play-in games first came up, as a conference commissioner I wasn’t very excited about the prospect of having a team playing in those games,” says longtime Big West commissioner Dennis Farrell, who expects to be in Dayton to cheer on Cal Poly. “But in all honesty, when they put the financial reward on winning that game, it certainly changed my viewpoint about it. If you’re going to be a 16 seed, you might as well have a chance to pick up a victory in the tournament.

It’s possible neither man has ever asked the players and fans of affected teams about the difference between being a “regular” 16 seed and one sent to a play-in game. I guess it’s also possible neither one cares that much about the opinions of the athletes and supporters. That might seem harsh, but I’m not sure how else to interpret those comments, particularly Yeager’s.

Coastal Carolina got a 16 seed and was matched up against Virginia. Was it a difficult matchup for the Chanticleers? Of course it was (although CCU actually led the game at halftime).  Regardless, Coastal Carolina’s players and fans received the benefit of the complete NCAA Tournament experience in a way that the AQs relegated to the play-in games did not.

I know that if my school somehow ever won its league, I would be bitterly disappointed (if not very angry) if it were put in a play-in game. The difference between the play-in games and being part of the real tourney — because make no mistake, the PIGs are not part of the real tourney — is enormous.

In my opinion, if SoCon commissioner John Iamarino ever suggested that he would not mind seeing his league champion in a play-in game, it would be a sign that the SoCon needed a new commissioner.

Basically, I’m writing about this because I was struck at how open these two commissioners were about this topic and their viewpoints on it.  After all, the extra cash on the table is basically “hush money” for smaller leagues, so as to reduce the amount of complaining about automatic qualifiers having to go to the PIGs.

Yeager and Farrell aren’t the only commissioners who feel this way (the article also quotes MEAC commissioner Dennis Thomas), but they are the two who are quoted as preferring the play-in game to being a “regular” 16 seed. That leads me to make a simple suggestion.

Every year, the CAA and Big Sky champions should automatically be sent to Dayton for a play-in game, regardless of their record. That way, those two leagues have the opportunity to pick up the additional “basketball unit” they seem to want.

So next year, if William & Mary were to win 20+ games and finally claim a league tourney title, instead of being part of the regular NCAA Tournament, the Tribe would go to Dayton and participate in a play-in game. That would naturally be unfair to its players (including the redoubtable Marcus Thornton) and longtime fans, who have always dreamed of playing in the NCAAs.

However, the CAA would have a chance of making a little more money. That’s the bottom line, isn’t it?

A rancid PIG: the NCAA basketball tournament’s biggest flaw

Last week, Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports.com wrote an excellent column about the worst aspect of the NCAA Tournament, the play-in games. Oh, the NCAA doesn’t want you to call them the play-in games, but Doyel disposed of that nonsense with ease:

The NCAA prefers that we don’t call what happened Tuesday night a play-in game, and I prefer you don’t call me bald. It’s possible I am bald, but do me the courtesy of not noticing.

Even Albany’s coach and players have been calling this thing a play-in game since Sunday night, when they gathered to watch the selection show and watched their name come up for … this. The team wasn’t clapping or hooting. The team was stunned, and trying to recover.

Doyel writes about all of the many things that make PIGs so abominable, including this key point:

And understand this: Mount St. Mary’s got screwed out of the NCAA Tournament experience — the NCAA Tournament – it earned by winning the NEC tournament. Used to be, every school in America started the season with the same premise, and promise: Win your conference tournament, and you’re in The Dance. Even the smallest of the small schools were guaranteed a spot in the field if they won their league.

It should be noted that Albany, despite beating Mt. St. Mary’s in their play-in matchup, also missed out on an essential part of the tournament experience. Normally, it would have been part of the bracket discussion until Thursday or Friday, with its fans filling out their brackets with glee, and pundits weighing in on the Great Danes’ chances to pull off a miracle upset…but no, Albany didn’t get to enjoy any of that. Instead it was shunted off to Dayton for a game against another small school.

The ideal solution would be to eliminate the play-in games and revert back to the 64-team model for the tournament, but that’s not happening. Since there is no chance of the NCAA getting rid of the PIGs, then, the next-best thing to do would be to make all four of the games matchups between at-large teams. Right now, only two of them are.

I want to illustrate how unfair that really is by breaking down the teams (and leagues) that have participated in the last four NCAA tournaments (2011-14) into categories.

What follows is based on league affiliation beginning in 2014-15. In other words, Rutgers is considered a Big 10 member, and Louisville is representing the ACC. Tulsa is part of the AAC, as are Tulane and East Carolina. Davidson is in the Atlantic 10. Middle Tennessee State and Western Kentucky are part of C-USA, etc.

To further clarify, another example. Pacific is now a member of the WCC, but it earned a 2013 NCAA bid as a member of the Big West. For the purposes of this exercise, though, the Tigers are considered to be a WCC school that has been in the tournament at least once over the last four years (because that is in fact the case). There are several other schools that received bids in one league over the last four years before moving to another (like Butler and UTSA).

I decided to organize things that way to avoid mass confusion, though it is practically impossible to completely avoid confusion with all the recent conference realignment. If I made a mistake or two along the way, I apologize in advance.

Okay, now for some statistics:

The “power conferences”

There are 65 schools that play in the P5 leagues (ACC, Big 10, Big XII, SEC, Pac-12). Forty-eight of the 65 have made at least one appearance in the NCAA tournament over the past four years. That’s 74% of all power-conference schools.

Of the seventeen that haven’t, only six haven’t made the tourney over the past seven years: South Carolina (last made the NCAAs in 2004), Auburn (2003), TCU (1998), Rutgers (1991), Oregon State (1991), and Northwestern, well-known as the only power-conference school to have never made the NCAA tournament.

Multi-bid regulars

The next grouping is made up of leagues that almost always will have two or three teams (sometimes more) make the tournament. The four conferences in this category are the AAC, MWC, Big East, and Atlantic 10. Obviously, two of these leagues are basically new (the AAC and the nuBig East), but quite a few of the teams in those conferences have consistently received NCAA bids.

There are 46 schools in these four leagues, and 30 of them (65%) have participated in at least one NCAA tournament over the past four years.

The occasional at-large recipients

There are three leagues that in a given year might wind up with multiple bids, but also might not. They are the MVC, WCC, and C-USA.

Of the 34 schools that will be in those three conferences as of 2014-15, only twelve received an NCAA berth in the last four years. That’s 35% of the group.

For the record, those twelve schools: Wichita State, Indiana State, Gonzaga, BYU, St. Mary’s, Pacific, UAB, Middle Tennessee State, Southern Mississippi, UTSA, Old Dominion, and Western Kentucky.

AQ-only

In the remaining 20 conferences in Division I, 54 different schools (out of 205) have made the NCAAs over the past four seasons. That’s 26% of the schools (and doesn’t count poor NJIT, the lone independent).

All 54 of those schools appeared in the field as automatic qualifiers.

Note: there were a few at-large bids out of the 20 leagues over the last four years (including teams in the Sun Belt and the CAA), but none of the schools that got at-large bids in those conferences will still be in those leagues as of 2014-15.

When you see just how difficult it is for a school in a mid- or low-major conference to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, it further underlines just how ridiculous it is that at least four such schools every year are placed in a PIG. These schools all did what was necessary to make the NCAA tournament: win their respective leagues.

From the Albany Times-Union:

UAlbany shouldn’t have to beat Mount St. Mary’s for the chance to play No. 1 overall seed Florida on Thursday in Orlando. The Danes already earned that right.

“If you play well enough to win your league,” Danes guard Peter Hooley said, “you shouldn’t have to play a play-in game.”

Hooley is absolutely correct.

I am also a bit perplexed the folks at CBS headquarters haven’t suggested to the NCAA that having an all at-large “First Four” is preferable. I would presume having larger-conference schools face off against each other might provide slightly better ratings than TruTV got for Cal Poly-Texas Southern. Don’t they want more people to see those promos for Impractical Jokers?

Hmm, maybe they don’t…

My fear is that the NCAA is more likely to go the other way, and make all four PIGs auto-qualifier affairs (which might be okay with certain league commissioners). The play-in phenomenon is not limited to basketball, either; there is apparently now a movement to introduce it to college baseball, in what seems to be a transparent attempt to marginalize smaller conferences in that sport.

Sometimes I get the impression that the people who run the NCAA Tournament don’t understand what it is that’s great about the NCAA Tournament. Never do I feel that way more than when I see the PIG matchups.

I’m not the only person who feels that way, either.

Corps Day, spring football, and some Beautiful Bulldogs

This is basically just a post to upload a few pictures I took on Corps Day at The Citadel. I arrived on campus in time to watch most of the parade, then wandered over to Johnson Hagood Stadium to see the various entrants for the fourth annual Beautiful Bulldog Contest. I have to say the costumes on some of the dogs were…inventive.

I then watched the spring football game, though I had to leave during the third quarter.

There are, to be sure, other outlets for (much better) photos of these events, including the school’s own website. I also highly recommend this gallery of Beautiful Bulldog Contest pictures from WCIV-TV, and this one from The Post and Courier.

It was a nice day for a parade, and a game, and for a bunch of bulldogs (and their handlers) to goof around.

I don’t have any in-depth observations to make about the football scrimmage. The offense is a work in progress. Mitchell Jeter was arguably the standout player overall.

Key stat: no serious injuries were reported (Walker Smith did twist/sprain his ankle).

There was a decent crowd in attendance, perhaps around 800-1,000 fans. There may have been more; I’m not sure how many people were in the club section.

Big Dance victory droughts: major-conference schools that haven’t won an NCAA tournament game in at least ten years — the 2014 edition

Last year, I wrote about the BCS schools that haven’t won an NCAA tournament game in at least ten years. Thirteen schools fit that description, unfortunately for them. Two things subsequently happened:

1) One of the thirteen, Mississippi, won its first NCAA tournament game since 2001. The Rebels beat Wisconsin in the round of 64 before losing to La Salle.

2) The Big East split into two leagues, the “new Big East” and the American Athletic Conference.

The latter event is leading to a slight change for this year’s post. What, precisely, is a “major conference” in college basketball? Does the Big East count? What about the AAC? And if they do, then perhaps shouldn’t the MWC as well? Does the Atlantic-10 have a case?

For this year, I’ve decided to consider seven leagues as “major conferences”: AAC, ACC, Big 10, Big XII, Big East, SEC, and Pac-12.

For the record, here are the 13 schools in the A-10 and MWC that have not won an NCAA tournament game since at least 2004 (a few of them have never won a tourney game at all): Duquesne, Fordham, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure, St. Joseph’s, Air Force, Boise State, Fresno State, San Jose State, Utah State, and Wyoming.

The following 17 major-conference schools have not won an NCAA tournament game since at least 2004:

- Northwestern (no tournament appearances): NU is the cause célèbre of schools to have never played in the NCAA tournament, because it is the only major-conference school to have never competed in the event. You can read about Northwestern and all the other schools that have never made the Big Dance here: Link

At 13-18 this season (6-12 in conference play), the Wildcats would have to win the Big 10 tourney to make the NCAAs for the first time. That would mean winning four games in four days, against Iowa, Michigan State, probably Wisconsin, and possibly Michigan.

No, that’s not happening.

- Nebraska (no NCAA victories): The Cornhuskers are winless in six trips to the Big Dance, and haven’t made the NCAAs at all since 1998.

That “haven’t made the NCAAs” bit is probably going to change this year, though, as Nebraska appears a decent bet to get an at-large bid. Whether it can finally win a game in the tournament is another matter, of course. It should get the opportunity, though.

- UCF (no NCAA victories): The Knights’ football team won a BCS bowl game this past season, but in four trips to the NCAA Basketball Tournament, UCF is 0-fer. All four of those appearances came as a member of the Atlantic Sun.

This year, UCF is 12-17 overall, 4-14 in the AAC, and waiting for football season.

- South Carolina (last won an NCAA game in 1973): It has been more than 40 years since the Gamecocks advanced in the NCAAs. South Carolina’s last victory was actually in a regional consolation game. Its losing streak in NCAA play began with a loss to Furman.

The Gamecocks would have to win five SEC tournament games in five days to earn a trip to the NCAAs this year, which is about as likely as Frank Martin controlling his emotions on the sidelines.

- Houston (last won an NCAA game in 1984): That’s right, the Cougars haven’t won an NCAA tourney game since the days of Phi Slama Jama. That may seem hard to believe, but Houston has only made one trip to the NCAAs since 1992.

In order to return to the grand stage for the first time since 2010, the Cougars would have to win the AAC tourney, a dicey proposition at best. Houston is the 6 seed in a league tournament with five very good teams. Beating three of them in three days is probably not realistic.

- Oregon State (last won an NCAA game in 1982): The Beavers haven’t made the NCAA tournament since 1991, the longest such drought for a BCS school outside of Northwestern, and haven’t won a game in the tourney since 1982, when OSU lost to Georgetown in the West Regional final. The program has two appearances in the Final Four, so it’s not like Oregon State is bereft of hoops tradition.

Only a Pac-12 tourney title will be enough to get Oregon State back to the NCAAs. Raise your hand if you think President Obama’s favorite Pac-12 team can win four games in four days, with the first two coming against Oregon and UCLA. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

- Rutgers (last won an NCAA game in 1983): The last time RU won a tourney game was in 1983, when the Scarlet Knights were in the Atlantic-10. Rutgers has since moved from the A-10 to the Big East to the AAC, and, beginning next season, the Big 10.

In 1976, Rutgers made the Final Four as a member of the ECAC Metro conference. That league was probably a bit easier to navigate than this year’s AAC, in which Rutgers went 5-13 in conference action (11-20 overall). There will be at least one more year on this list for the Scarlet Knights (if not more).

- TCU (last won an NCAA game in 1987): TCU hasn’t made the NCAAs since 1997, when it was in the WAC. TCU’s last victory in the tournament came in 1987, as an SWC team.

This year, as a member of the Big XII, the Horned Frogs were the only program in Division I to go winless in conference play. I wouldn’t put any money on a league tournament run.

- SMU (last won an NCAA game in 1988): The Mustangs’ last win in the Big Dance was an 83-75 victory over Digger Phelps and Notre Dame. SMU was a member of the SWC at the time, as it was for all ten of its appearances in the NCAAs.

Under the tutelage of the remarkable Larry Brown, the Mustangs are poised to return to the NCAA Tournament this year for the first time since 1993, this time as a member of the AAC.

- Providence (last won an NCAA game in 1997): Two notable coaches (Dave Gavitt and Rick Pitino) each led the Friars to the Final Four (in 1973 and 1987, respectively). Providence hasn’t won a game in the NCAAs since losing a regional final to Arizona in 1997, however, and hasn’t made an NCAA appearance at all since 2004.

This year the Friars are a “bubble” team. To make the NCAAs, Providence probably needs to win at least one Big East tournament game. As it happens, the Friars’ first-round opponent is another bubbler…the next team on this list.

- St. John’s (last won an NCAA game in 2000): SJU has only played in two NCAA tournaments since 2000, testimony to the modern struggles of this tradition-rich program (two Final Fours, four Elite Eights).

To have any shot at returning to the NCAAs this season, Steve Lavin’s Red Storm must beat Providence on Thursday (and likely needs to win the following day as well, a potential matchup against Villanova).

- Iowa (last won an NCAA game in 2001): Iowa is another school that has a fine basketball history. The Hawkeyes played in the 1956 NCAA title game, one of three times Iowa has made the Final Four. Since 2001, however, it has only made the NCAAs twice, losing in the first round on both occasions (the latter appearance as a 3-seed, in a gut-wrenching loss to Northwestern State).

The Hawkeyes should be returning to the NCAAs again this year, barring a lot of conference tourney upsets across the country. Fran McCaffery’s squad will get a chance to dance.

- Penn State (last won an NCAA game in 2001): The Nittany Lions got to the Sweet 16 in 2001, upsetting North Carolina in the second round to get there. PSU has only made one tourney trip since (2011).

Barring a spectacular run through the Big 10 tournament, Penn State (15-16 overall, 6-12 Big 10) will have to wait at least one more season to return to the NCAAs.

- Georgia (last won an NCAA game in 2002): UGA has only made two NCAAs since 2002. In 1983, Hugh Durham’s Bulldogs made it all the way to the Final Four before losing to eventual champ North Carolina State. That 1983 appearance was actually UGA’s first trip to the NCAAs in school history.

Despite a 12-6 conference record, Georgia will have to win the SEC tourney in order to return to the NCAAs. Of all the teams on this list that are in “win league tourney or else” mode, though, the Bulldogs may have the best shot. Admittedly, it’s not much of one.

- Auburn (last won an NCAA game in 2003): The last time Auburn made the NCAAs, the Tigers advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2003 before losing by one point in the regional semifinals to Syracuse, which won the national title that year.

The Tigers tend to play well in the NCAAs (12-8 alltime) when they get to the NCAAs. Getting there, however, has been a bit of a challenge at times. This year will be no exception. Only an SEC tournament title will do, and Auburn is the 12 seed in that event.

Seton Hall (last won an NCAA game in 2004): Louis Orr was the coach when Seton Hall last won a game in the Big Dance, winning an 8-9 game against Lute Olson and Arizona in 2004. Orr was also on the bench when the Pirates made their last appearance in the NCAAs, in 2006.

This year, Seton Hall is 15-16, and would have to win four games in four days at Madison Square Garden to qualify for the NCAAs. It would be quite a story.

- DePaul: (last won an NCAA game in 2004): DePaul hasn’t been back to the NCAAs since advancing to the round of 32 in 2004.

This season, the Blue Demons have been dreadful (11-20, last in the Big East), culminating in a horrific 79-46 loss to Butler on Senior Night. That would be Senior Night…at home. In Chicago.

(Speaking of Chicago, it’s been a tough year for college hoops in the Windy City. The five D-1 schools in the metropolitan area (UIC, Chicago State, Northwestern, Loyola-IL, DePaul) have a combined record of 52-103; four of those schools finished in last place in their respective leagues.)

For any of these schools to break through and win a game in the NCAAs, the first step is getting to the tournament. This year, SMU will be there, and Iowa probably will be as well. Nebraska should join them.

Providence and St. John’s could possibly garner at-large bids. The other twelve schools can only get there by winning their respective league tournaments, a tall order. Otherwise, they are guaranteed to be on this list next year.

Schools that have never made the NCAA Tournament — the 2014 edition

Previous entries on this subject:  The 2013 edition The 2012 edition  The 2011 edition  The 2010 edition

All records are through March 2

March Madness is on the horizon. Conference tourney time is almost at hand. Schools far and wide will strive to make the NCAAs.

Most will fail. When it comes to making the NCAA tournament, some have known nothing but failure.

There are 34 schools that have been in Division I for at least a decade that have yet to make a trip to the Big Dance. Now, it is one thing to be UC-Riverside or Gardner-Webb and to have not made your tourney debut, since neither of those schools moved up to D-1 until the dawn of the 21st century.

However, 16 of those 34 schools have been in Division I for 30 years or more and have never received an NCAA tournament bid. For fans of New Hampshire, or Youngstown State, or Stetson, the annual exercise of watching the tourney from the outside looking in has become more than a little frustrating.

Can any of them finally break through? That’s the subject of this post. The short answer, however, is that the odds are not favorable.

I started posting about this topic in 2010. That year, I highlighted the 20 schools that had waited the longest for their first NCAA bid. As of 2014, 19 of those schools are still waiting. The twentieth, Centenary, has left Division I.

There are actually around 54 schools (give or take a transitional member or two) currently in D-1 that have never made the Big Dance, but my focus is on schools that have been in the division for more than 10 years without receiving a bid. It’s too early to worry about making the tournament if you’re UMass Lowell or Incarnate Word.

Of course, last year one of those newly minted D-1 schools took the nation by storm, as FGCU (only in the division since 2008; heck, only a functioning school since 1997) dunked its way into the Sweet 16. This season, the “newbies” with the best chances of making a move into the field of 68 are probably Bryant, North Carolina Central, North Dakota, USC-Upstate, and Utah Valley.

Before I run down the longtime hopefuls, though, I want to mention another subset of schools, namely those institutions that have played in the NCAA Tournament, but have not made an appearance in the event for at least twenty years. Some of them have waited for a return trip longer than most of the never-beens.

First on this list is Dartmouth, a two-time national finalist (!) that hasn’t been back to the NCAAs since 1959. The Big Green won’t be in the tourney this year, either, having already been eliminated in the race for the Ivy League title (as there is no post-season tournament in that conference).

Next in this group is another member of the Ivies, Yale, which has not appeared in the NCAAs since 1962. That streak is likely to continue for at least one more year, as the Elis are all but mathematically eliminated from league title contention (with Harvard set to clinch the auto-bid with one more victory).

Other schools that have made at least one NCAA trip but haven’t been back since 1994 (or earlier) while continuously in D-1: Tennessee Tech (no appearances since 1963), Columbia (1968), Bowling Green (1968), Rice (1970), VMI (1977), Duquesne (1977), Furman (1980), Toledo (1980), Mercer (1985), Loyola of Chicago (1985), Brown (1986), Jacksonville (1986), Marshall (1987), Idaho State (1987), Marist (1987), Oregon State (1990), Loyola Marymount (1990), Idaho (1990), Louisiana Tech (1991), Towson (1991), Northeastern (1991), St. Francis-PA (1991), Rutgers (1991), Howard (1992), Georgia Southern (1992), Campbell (1992), Fordham (1992), Coastal Carolina (1993), East Carolina (1993), SMU (1993), Rider (1994), and Tennessee State (1994).

Of note: Seattle (a finalist in 1958 thanks to Elgin Baylor, but which last made the NCAAs in 1969) and Houston Baptist (a tourney team in 1984) both left Division I and then later returned, so they haven’t been in D-1 for all the years after making their most recent NCAA tourney appearances.

Last year, a couple of schools with long breaks between appearances broke through (Middle Tennessee State and La Salle). This season, things are looking very good for Larry Brown’s SMU squad to grab a spot in the field. Others to watch in this group: Coastal Carolina, Louisiana Tech, Mercer, Toledo, Towson, and VMI.

Among the power conference schools, Oregon State’s 24-year drought is currently the longest, not counting Northwestern…and that’s our cue to begin the rundown of schools that have never made the tournament. As is traditional, we start with The Forgotten Five.

The NCAA Tournament began in 1939. In 1948, the NCAA reorganized into separate divisions (university and college) for its member institutions. Of the schools that since 1948 have continuously been in what is now Division I, there are five which have never made the tournament field. All five of those schools theoretically could have been in the tournament beginning in 1939, actually, so for them the wait is longer than their history as official members of D-1.

The five schools are known as “The Forgotten Five”. The class of 1948 (or 1939, I suppose):

- Northwestern: According to the Helms Foundation, Northwestern actually won the national championship in 1931. Of course, that’s a retroactive ranking, not an actual on-court result.

At 12-17, the Wildcats can only make the NCAAs this season by winning the Big 10 tournament, which is unlikely. However, Northwestern has shown a little bit of moxie in Chris Collins’ first season as head coach.

I think the Wildcats are perhaps two years away from finally breaking through. Maybe next season, even. Not this year, though.

- Army: Last season, the Black Knights enjoyed their first winning campaign in almost three decades. Army is currently 14-15 and has concluded regular season play.

To make its first NCAA trip, a Patriot League tourney title is necessary. It’s not inconceivable, though Boston University and American are the league favorites.

- St. Francis College: The Terriers (18-13) are going to qualify for the NEC tourney, but need a lot of luck to grab the auto-bid from league heavyweight Robert Morris (not to mention second-place Wagner). SFC hasn’t been very close to making the NCAAs since it lost in the 2003 NEC title game.

It’s too bad. I bet even Jim Rockford would root for the Terriers, despite the fact that Lt. Chapman played for SFC.

- William & Mary: Three times, the Tribe has advanced to the CAA final. Three times the Tribe has lost.

It isn’t out of the question that William & Mary (18-11) could find itself back in the league championship game again this season. Can it finally grab the brass ring?

- The Citadel: A win over Samford ensured that the Bulldogs would not go winless in the Southern Conference for the first time since 1955-56. That said, The Citadel is 6-25. This won’t be the year.

At one point during the season, The Citadel lost 17 consecutive games. That broke a single-season record originally set by the 1953-54 squad, a team that featured no scholarship players and also had to deal with things like frozen uniforms.

What about the other never-beens? Well, first up are two New England state universities still in search of a bid despite being members of D-1 since 1962. As a hardwood tandem, they are called “The Dour Duo”.

- New Hampshire: The Wildcats are 6-23 and tied for last place in the America East. It’s hard to imagine a team less positioned to make an NCAA run — well, except maybe…

- Maine: The Black Bears are 6-22 and share that last place spot with UNH in the America East. It’s hockey season (as always) for New Hampshire and Maine.

The rest of the rundown:

- Denver (D-1 from 1948 to 1980, then back to the division in 1999): The Pioneers are only 15-14 this season after back-to-back 22-win campaigns. At 8-6 in the Summit League, though, Denver still has a decent shot at finally advancing to the NCAA Tournament.

Joe Scott has continued his classical Princeton approach to coaching offense, as only one D-1 school (Miami-FL) plays at a slower pace than the Pioneers.

- UT-Pan American (class of 1969): The Broncs were 16-16 last year. Like several teams on this list, UTPA moved to the WAC for this season, giving it an opportunity to compete for an automatic bid that wasn’t available in the now-defunct Great West Conference. Unfortunately, this season UTPA is 9-21 and not a serious candidate to claim that automatic berth.

- Stetson (class of 1972): Ted Cassidy’s alma mater is 7-23. Even Gomez Addams couldn’t conjure up a way for the Hatters to win the Atlantic Sun tournament and grab an auto-bid.

- UC Irvine (class of 1978): UCI, currently 20-10 and in first place in the Big West, has a legitimate chance at making the NCAAs this year. The most recognizable of the Anteaters is 7’6″ Mamadou Ndiaye, the tallest player in Division I basketball.

- Grambling State (class of 1978): The Tigers do have two conference wins this year and three victories overall, a marked improvement from last season, when Grambling State went winless. However, GSU is ineligible for postseason play this year due to APR penalties (though the Tigers, like three other SWAC schools, will be allowed to compete in the conference tournament).

- Maryland-Eastern Shore (D-1 in 1974-75, then back to the division for good in 1982): UMES is 5-22. This is the 12th consecutive season the Hawks have lost 20 or more games. Ouch.

Last season, veteran coach Frankie Allen went 2-26 at UMES, and got a one-year contract extension. I don’t know if he will get another one. I don’t know if he wants another one.

- Youngstown State (D-1 in 1948, then returning to the division in 1982): The Penguins have been quietly respectable in recent seasons, and are 15-16 this year. They won’t be favored to win the Horizon League tournament (Green Bay has that distinction), but YSU has a puncher’s chance (along with every other league squad save UIC).

- Bethune-Cookman (class of 1981): In 2011, Bethune-Cookman won the regular-season MEAC title. Since then: 18 wins, 14 wins, and (so far this season) 6 wins. That’s not a promising trend when you’re trying to pick up an NCAA bid.

- Western Illinois (class of 1982): Last year, the Leathernecks won 22 games, the first time WIU had ever won 20 or more games in a season. The opportunity to win the Summit League was there, and then it was gone.

This year Western Illinois is 10-19. Back to square one.

- Chicago State (class of 1985): Another former Great West refugee that found its way to the WAC, Chicago State is 12-17. Don’t sleep on the Panthers’ chances of pulling an upset in the WAC tourney; Chicago State won the final Great West postseason tournament last year, so its players have tasted some success in a tourney format.

Even if the Panthers don’t win the WAC tournament this year, the program has already won one battle. After struggling with academic issues for several years, the men’s basketball team’s most recent APR score was a perfect 1,000.

- Hartford (class of 1985): While Dionne Warwick is Hartford’s most famous alum, its most passionate grad may be WCSC-TV (Charleston) sportscaster Kevin Bilodeau. Will he finally see his school appear in the NCAA tournament?

Probably not. The Hawks are 16-15 overall and are looking up in the league standings at Vermont and Stony Brook (more on SBU below). Perhaps Warwick could save Bilodeau unnecessary anguish and have one of her psychic friends tell him whether or not Hartford wins the conference tournament.

- UMKC (class of 1988): I’m not sure why the Kangaroos moved from the Summit League to the WAC, but the results are similar. UMKC is 9-18 and has the worst offense in the conference. Edie McClurg is not happy.

- Buffalo (D-1 from 1974-77, then back to the division in 1992): At 12-4 in league play (18-8 overall), the Bulls currently lead the MAC’s East division and can dream again of that elusive NCAA bid. Few schools on this list have come as close to crashing the Big Dance as Buffalo has over the last decade.

The first-year head coach of the Bulls, Bobby Hurley, is more than a little familiar with the NCAA Tournament.

- Sacramento State (class of 1992): As noted in last year’s edition of this post, Sacramento State is the alma mater of actor Tom Hanks, and plays its home basketball games at a 1,200-seat gym (Colberg Court, aka “The Nest”) named for a women’s volleyball coach.

Sacramento State didn’t qualify for the Big Sky tourney last season. This year the Hornets (13-14 overall, 9-9 in league play) may sneak into the eight-team event, but getting past Weber State or Northern Colorado to actually win the auto-bid is another story.

You never know, though. After all, Sacramento State has already beaten Weber State once this season, thanks to this amazing shot.

- UT-Martin (class of 1993): After starting the season with ten consecutive losses, things really haven’t improved for the Skyhawks (8-23). UTM will not qualify for the OVC tournament, so the NCAA dream will have to wait at least another season.

- Cal Poly (class of 1995): The alumni list for the Mustangs includes such sporting notables as John Madden, Ozzie Smith, and Chuck Liddell. However, no NBA player lists Cal Poly as his alma mater, so there isn’t a huge hoops tradition in SLO land.

It doesn’t appear that this year will change that. The Mustangs are currently 10-18, 6-9 in the Big West.

- Jacksonville State (class of 1996): Like UT-Martin, Jacksonville State plays in the OVC. Also like UT-Martin, the Gamecocks (10-21) will not qualify for the OVC tournament this year.

- Quinnipiac (class of 1999): Last year, after detailing a few near-misses for the Bobcats in the NEC tournament, I wrote that “one of these years, Quinnipiac is going to win that league tourney. It will probably happen sooner rather than later.”

Ah, the dangers of prognosticating during this era of massive conference realignment. Quinnipiac has since moved to the MAAC, so the Bobcats certainly aren’t going to be winning the NEC tourney anytime soon.

They could win the MAAC tournament, though. QU is 19-10, and in third place in the league standings (trailing regular-season champ Iona and second-place Manhattan). We’ll have to wait for the exit polls to get a better idea on Quinnipiac’s chances of breaking through.

- Elon (class of 2000): At 18-13, Elon is having a season similar to last year’s solid campaign, though not as good a year as its fans may have wanted. The SoCon’s preseason favorite in some precincts finished fourth in the league standings.

There was no Southern Conference tournament title for the Phoenix last season, but Elon is a not-unreasonable pick to win the league tourney this year. Getting past Davidson is going to be a challenge, however.

This is Elon’s last chance at the SoCon auto-bid. Next year, the Phoenix move to the CAA.

- High Point (class of 2000): The Panthers are only 16-13 overall, but a 12-4 conference record was good enough to win the Big South’s North division.

(What division do you think sounds better, the Big South North or the Big South South? I can’t decide.)

Last year, an injury to a key player late in the campaign derailed High Point’s season. The Panthers are hoping for better luck in this year’s Big South tournament.

- Sacred Heart (class of 2000): 5-26 overall, just two wins in NEC play, losers of 13 of their last 14 games, eliminated from the league tournament…ugh. Let’s move on.

- Stony Brook (class of 2000): Last year, the Seawolves won the America East by three games but was tripped up in the league tourney semifinals by Albany. The game was played at Albany, because that’s how the America East rolls.

This season, Stony Brook (21-9) is second in the league behind Vermont but will avoid drawing a homestanding Albany in the conference tournament semifinals again. That said, getting a first-ever NCAA berth is not going to be easy.

- UC Riverside (class of 2002): The Highlanders are 9-19, have lost five of their last six contests, and are tied for last in the Big West. Last year, UCR was ineligible for the league tourney due to APR issues. That isn’t the case this season, but the Highlanders need to beat UC Davis in their next game in order to guarantee qualification for this year’s event, as only the top eight squads advance to the Big West tourney.

- IPFW (class of 2002): IPFW is short for Indiana University-Purdue University Ft. Wayne, so the acronym is a necessity. The schools’ teams are known as the Mastodons, one of the more distinctive nicknames in Division I.

This year, March Madness could become Mastodon Madness, as IPFW is 22-9 and tied for second place in the Summit League. The program has already set its high-water mark for victories as a D-1 member, but looks to top that achievement with an appearance in the NCAAs.

- Gardner-Webb (class of 2003): The Runnin’ Bulldogs (17-13) tied for second place in the Big South South, and have a decent chance to win what should be one of the most competitive conference tournaments in the country. Last year, Gardner-Webb won 21 games but bowed in the conference semis to eventual champ Liberty.

- Savannah State (class of 2003): It’s been a tough year for the Tigers. After winning 21 and 19 games the previous two seasons, Savannah State is 11-17, including a 10-game losing streak in non-conference play.

However, SSU is 9-5 in the MEAC and could be a dark horse in the league tourney. As always, the MEAC tournament is one of the nation’s more oddly constructed postseason events.

- Lipscomb (class of 2004): The Bisons have won two regular-season titles in the Atlantic Sun (2006 and 2010), but have never won the league tournament, and thus have yet to make the NCAA Tournament. This year, Lipscomb (15-14) is a middle-of-the-pack team in the A-Sun, and it would be a huge surprise if the Bisons snagged the auto-bid from the likes of Mercer or FGCU.

Well, that’s the roll call for 2013-14. Will any of those teams get to the promised land?

Usually, I say no. This year, though, I think at least one of the never-beens is going to make it. UC Irvine, Stony Brook, William & Mary (now that would be a story), Quinnipiac, Denver, Elon, IPFW, Buffalo — at least one of them is going to be dancing.

I hope so, anyway. I also hope that if any of the aforementioned schools qualify, that they aren’t shunted off to the play-in games, which shouldn’t exist in the first place. These long-suffering programs deserves a presence in the main draw.

The play-in games limit the tournament experience of the automatic qualifiers, and that’s unfair. The tourney should really revert back to a 64-team field. At least talk of expanding the tournament to 80 or 90 teams has stopped (for now).

It’s an accomplishment to make the NCAA Tournament. It means something to a program, especially when that school is a first-timer. It should continue to mean something.

Best of luck to all the dreamers.

Riley Report: a brief (and late) preseason preview

Yes, this is late. I was waiting on some information that as of yet isn’t available, so I can’t work on part of the statistical breakdown I had intended to make.

Anyway, what follows is a curtailed preview.

Links of interest:

Schedule

“Quick Facts” from the school website

Season preview from The Post and Courier

SoCon preview, Baseball America

SoCon preview, College Baseball Daily

SoCon preseason polls (The Citadel is picked second in both)

SoCon preseason all-conference teams

Fred Jordan discusses the team’s preparations for the season (video)

Note: all statistics are for Southern Conference games only unless otherwise indicated.

This chart features the 2013 offensive statistics in league play for The Citadel’s returning players:

Player AB R HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG OPS
H. Armstrong 120 36 0 13 15 0.383 0.449 0.467 0.916
Mason Davis 140 30 3 7 17 0.336 0.377 0.464 0.841
Calvin Orth 124 26 7 4 25 0.331 0.366 0.565 0.931
Bo Thompson 105 27 9 33 13 0.314 0.493 0.610 1.103
Tyler Griffin 58 14 4 10 20 0.310 0.423 0.552 0.975
D. DeKerlegand 111 22 2 15 23 0.297 0.410 0.441 0.851
J. Stokes 121 20 3 9 18 0.289 0.333 0.413 0.746
Bailey Rush 55 8 2 5 16 0.273 0.328 0.473 0.801
Bret Hines 42 4 0 4 8 0.214 0.300 0.262 0.562
Jason Smith 21 2 0 1 7 0.048 0.087 0.048 0.135
Connor Walsh 3 0 0 0 1 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000
Totals 900 189 30 101 163 0.309 0.389 0.471 0.860

Now, compare that to the totals in conference action for the returning players from this time last year:

AB R HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG OPS
Totals 705 94 7 78 142 0.234 0.318 0.333 0.652

You can see why there is a lot of hope for the Bulldogs’ offense this season. Every one of last year’s regulars returns except for catcher Joe Jackson (though he is a big exception, to be sure), and most of those returnees had good-to-excellent campaigns in 2013. The outlook is a lot rosier than it was prior to the 2013 season.

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Assorted stats from this year’s returning players: as a group they were hit by pitches 25 times in SoCon play. Their walk rate (11.2%) per at bat was a tick higher than in 2012 (11.1%), with almost a third of that total courtesy of Bo Thompson, who walked in 31.4% of his at bats.

Thompson was also hit by pitches six times in the league regular season, second on the team to Drew DeKerlegand (seven).

Hughston Armstong had seven of the team’s 23 sacrifice bunts in SoCon action. Nine of the eleven Bulldogs to get at bats in conference play had at least one sacrifice fly (the team had 12 in 30 league games).

The Citadel’s 2013 returnees stole 30 bases last year in conference play (out of 42 attempts). Armstrong, DeKerlegand, and Mason Davis combined for 28 of those steals, with Bret Hines swiping the other two.

That percentage of successful steals (71.4%) isn’t bad, but it isn’t great either, and doesn’t include the seven times Bulldogs on the current roster were picked off in SoCon action.

However, what isn’t taken into account with those numbers is the potential for advancing on errors, balks, etc. Defensive execution in college baseball is not at the same level as it is in the professional ranks, and that goes a long way to explaining the emphasis by many teams on the running game and “smallball”.

Is it overdone on occasion? Yes. However, I never got the sense that was the case for The Citadel last year (other than a Bo Thompson bunt attempt early in the season that made me cringe).

That said, the Bulldogs can do better. In 2012, The Citadel stole bases at a 77.8% clip (42 for 54) while only having five baserunners picked off in league play.

SoCon-only statistics for the Bulldogs’ returning pitchers:

G GS IP H R ER HR ERA K/9 BB/9
Brett Tompkins 1 0 3 1 0 0 0 0.00 15.00 6.00
Ross White 9 0 8 10 4 2 0 2.25 6.75 1.13
James Reeves 13 3 32 27 11 9 1 2.53 7.59 1.69
Logan Cribb 10 8 50.1 50 30 21 9 3.75 8.23 1.97
Skylar Hunter 16 0 20 17 10 10 2 4.50 10.35 4.50
Zach Sherrill 23 0 19 16 13 10 0 4.74 7.11 3.32
David Rivera 18 0 19.2 22 11 11 1 5.03 7.32 2.29
Austin Mason 10 9 33 59 43 34 2 9.27 6.00 2.45
Austin Livingston 2 0 1.2 3 2 2 0 10.80 5.40 5.40
Kevin Connell 10 0 10.1 24 17 15 1 13.06 4.35 2.61
Totals 114 20 197 229 141 114 16 5.21 7.58 2.51

Last year’s corresponding totals:

G GS IP H R ER HR ERA K/9 BB/9
Totals 91 29 226 259 144 123 14 4.91 5.38 3.83

During last year’s preview, I wrote:

The walk rates [in 2012] were obviously too high, and must be lowered. They were not completely unmanageable…but typical Bulldog pitching staffs do not walk people at that rate. Teams that contend for league titles do not walk people at that rate.

I am particularly concerned with the strikeout totals, however. Having a 5.38 K/9 rate as a team is problematic. Pitchers need those strikeouts.

Well, they got those strikeouts, all right. Look at those improved K and BB rates for the 2013 campaign .

In conference play, Bulldog pitchers struck out almost 2 1/2 more batters per nine innings than they did in 2012, and at the same time lowered their walk rates by about 1 1/3 BB per nine IP (remember, this doesn’t count Austin Pritcher’s numbers, and he was only the league’s Pitcher of the Year).

Based on that comparison, you would have to say the Britt Reames Experience is having a very positive effect.

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There are some things to be cautious about, however. The Bulldogs do have to replace Pritcher in the weekend rotation. Last year, returnees had started 29 of the previous year’s 30 league games.

Also, pitching success can vary from year to year, even among returning hurlers. The good news is that the Bulldogs have a lot of options.

The obvious statistic of concern is the team ERA, which actually increased in league play by 0.3 of a run per nine innings. What is interesting about that is the hit rate per nine innings showed almost no variance from 2012 to 2013.

Homers were up, though. On the other hand, nine of the sixteen home runs hit off Bulldog pitching in conference play were allowed by Logan Cribb, and he still fashioned a fine 3.75 ERA.

The increased ERA can be partly attributed to a few bad outings by Bulldog pitchers,and the conference run environment was also an issue. Updated park factors for the league are not available yet, but there was a significant increase in runs (and corresponding league ERA) in 2013.

There were 2068 runs scored in SoCon play in 2013, after 1843 runs were scored in conference action in 2012. The league ERA jumped from 4.69 to 5.42.

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One other thing: no, that’s not a typo, Zach Sherrill really did pitch in 23 of 30 conference games in 2013. He appeared in 48 games overall, shattering the school record for pitching appearances and leading the entire nation in regular-season games on the hill.

At one point during the season, Sherrill pitched in 11 consecutive games. He was very effective (which is why he kept getting the call from the bullpen), but part of me hopes the Bulldogs don’t have to lean on him so often this year.

The Citadel’s DER (defensive efficiency rating) in SoCon play last season was 68.9%, right around where it had been in 2012 (68.8%). The Bulldogs’ DER the last two seasons is much improved from 2011 (63.2%).

While The Citadel committed many more errors in league action in 2013 (57) than in 2012 (39), in terms of actually getting to balls and recording outs, the results were about the same. This indicates that a number of the “extra” errors were overthrows and other types of mistakes, which allowed opponents to advance further on the basepaths.

Double play totals declined from 25 to 14. That may be related to ground ball/fly ball rates from Bulldog pitchers, however.

The league DER in 2013 was only 66.1%, which was down considerably from 2012 (68.4%). I’m not quite sure what to make of that, other than it certainly contributed to the higher run totals across the conference.

Opponents were 29 for 42 on stolen base attempts against the Bulldogs in SoCon games. Ten opposing baserunners were picked off.

The conference as a whole averaged 52 attempted steals per team in league games, with a success rate of 74.3%. Those numbers are inflated slightly by Wofford, which attempted 101 steals in its 30 SoCon contests (and was successful 78 times).

Only Western Carolina allowed fewer stolen bases in conference play than The Citadel, with the Catamounts having a very impressive 51% defensive caught stealing rate (21 for 41).

This is a season that Bulldog fans have been waiting for since…well, since last season ended. The Citadel should be very good on the diamond in 2014. The squad has considerable talent and a lot of experience.

I really like the non-conference schedule this year. Plenty of quality opponents are on the slate, both at home and on the road.

As a result, the Bulldogs may struggle at times in the early part of the season, but they should be well prepared once league play rolls around.

A few things to watch:

1) The weekend rotation, especially the Sunday starter

2) Possible platoon situations at first base/third base/DH

3) The pitcher-catcher dynamic (particularly with regards to baserunners)

4) New contributors, including some who have been around the program (Ryan Kilgallen, for example), and others making their collegiate debuts (such as Austin Mapes)

5) Whether or not Bo Thompson can hit a ball on the fly into the Lockwood Boulevard parking lot

I’m tired of winter. I’m ready for spring.

Spring on the diamond in 2014 could be a lot of fun.

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