McAlister Musings: A review of the season

The Citadel finished the year 8-22 (6-22 vs. D-1), 5-13 in SoCon play, losing in the first round of the Southern Conference tournament for a third consecutive season.

Defensively, the Bulldogs were terrible. There is no way to sugarcoat that. Of the 347 teams in Division I, The Citadel was 346th, or next-to-last, in defensive efficiency, only ahead of historically awful Grambling State (all numbers per kenpom.com). Components of that porous D included:

– 340th in effective FG% allowed
— 326th in offensive rebound % allowed
— 305th in % of 3FG allowed
— 336th in defensive 2FG%
— 332nd in defensive 3FG%
— 324th in defensive block %
— 281st in defensive turnover rate

The Citadel only did two things well on defense. The Bulldogs did not put opponents on the foul line, and did pick up more than their fair share of steals (despite the lack of forced turnovers).

The offense was a mixed bag. The Citadel was one of the most turnover-prone teams in the country, with an excruciating 23.9% turnover rate (334th nationally). Almost one out of every four Bulldog possessions resulted in a turnover, which is obviously unacceptable. The Citadel was only marginally better in SoCon play, with a 21.8% TO rate that was second-worst in the conference.

The Citadel suffered more steals against it in league play (by percentage) than any other team, and also had more steals on defense than any other team. If you went to see the Bulldogs play in conference action, you knew that you were going to see a lot of turnovers.

Most of the other offensive numbers were okay. In fact, the Bulldogs shot well from three-point land (top 100 nationally and second in conference play), had success in the paint (hello Mike Groselle, along with good buddy P.J. Horgan), and were decent (not great) from the free throw line. The Citadel’s 65% assist rate on made baskets ranked ninth in the entire country, and the Bulldogs were even better in the SoCon (68.8%). Marshall Harris should get a lot of credit for that.

When The Citadel didn’t commit turnovers, the offense was excellent. The problem was that it committed way too many turnovers, so many that the Bulldogs ranked 295th nationally in offensive efficiency despite excellent shooting numbers. It was very frustrating to watch; I can only imagine how frustrating it was for the coaches.

Chuck Driesell opined in an interview with The Post and Courier that The Citadel has to take “baby steps” in developing its basketball program. He also said this:

I feel great about where the program is going. I’m disappointed, we all are, that we haven’t won more games. It’s a process. This is not the kind of place where you walk in and sign a bunch of McDonald All-Americans or a bunch of junior-college transfers.

You look at Towson this year, they did a great job of bringing in transfers this year and flipping their roster. We can’t do that here. We have to take baby steps, and I think we did that last year and we’ll continue to do that next year.

It is quite true that The Citadel is not Towson, and cannot “turn over” its roster like a lot of other schools. On the other hand, there are baseline expectations for the basketball program, even one with the military college’s modest history on the hardwood.

Over Driesell’s three seasons as head coach, The Citadel has only won 21% of its games against D-1 competition. The Bulldogs have won 26% of their SoCon contests over that period. Even for “developing” a program, that really isn’t good enough.

Of course, what really hurts Driesell in the opinion of some observers is that the cupboard wasn’t bare when he arrived. He took over a program that had won 36 games in the previous two seasons. Many had high hopes for the 2010-11 season, and the resulting 10-22 campaign was extremely disappointing — arguably the most disappointing season in the program’s entire history.

It was not surprising when his second Bulldogs squad went 6-24 with a very young team. After that first season, though, there was a bit more to prove in his third year, and winning only eight games did not exactly thrill the fan base.

I want Chuck Driesell to succeed, not just because he is the coach of my alma mater, but because he appears to be a nice guy, a smart guy, and a hard worker. He says all the right things, and he seems to mean them. I think several of the players he has recruited have the ability to be impact performers in the Southern Conference. He had a good reputation for talent evaluation prior to arriving in Charleston, and I’ve seen nothing in three years to suggest that reputation wasn’t deserved.

Putting everything together, though, has been a difficult problem. He isn’t the first coach at The Citadel to face that reality. As Jeff Hartsell noted in the linked article:

The last four Citadel coaches had their first winning seasons in year 4.5, on average.

Indeed, Pat Dennis didn’t have his first winning season until his sixth year in charge. I don’t think Driesell can wait until his sixth year to clear the .500 barrier, but he has two years left on his contract, and he’ll undoubtedly have the opportunity to succeed or fail over those remaining years (as he should).

There is one thing that must improve along with the win totals, something that goes hand in hand with winning — home attendance.

This past season, The Citadel averaged only 1377 fans per game for the fourteen contests played at McAlister Field House. That is the third-lowest average per game over the last twenty years.

Obviously, the Bulldogs need to win more games, but I have a couple of other suggestions for improving attendance. I’ve mentioned some of this before, so apologies in advance for being repetitive…

- Corps attendance

I don’t understand why The Citadel requires the corps of cadets to attend all home football games but none of the basketball games — and no, I’m not advocating eliminating the marchover to Johnson Hagood Stadium.

In the Southern Conference, having a serious home-court advantage is extremely important, particularly given the state of the league’s officiating. Having a bunch of rowdy cadets (and there are ways to make sure they’re extremely rowdy) would be a big help to the team.

I also think an increased corps presence would also increase the number of “regular” fans who attend games, perhaps even lowering the average age of a Bulldog fan at McAlister to below 70.

I’m not saying the full corps needs to be at every home game. There are around fourteen home games per season. About half of them are during the week, and half on weekends. Weekend games are a problem; I don’t really expect the corps to be required to attend those games in great numbers. I think the school administration and department of athletics need to get together to figure out how to make it worthwhile for cadets to attend more weekend games.

On weekdays, though, I think it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a rotation among the battalions for attending home games. I also would like to see one or two mandatory early-season home games for all freshmen, just to fully indoctrinate them.

I should mention that there are great cadet fans, particularly in the outstanding pep band. Some of the football and baseball players are also high-quality supporters (and provocateurs).

- Scheduling

This year was a lesson in how not to schedule. No December home games, two non-D1s that no one cared about…it just didn’t work. I believe the key game in the entire season may have been the home game against Radford on November 24, which came after exams and was The Citadel’s first game against a Division I opponent in almost two weeks. In the first half, it appeared at times that the Bulldogs had never seen a basketball before.

Badly losing what was considered a “probable win” right before starting a stretch of six consecutive road games, including the league opener and three “guarantee” games, seemed to put a serious dent in the team’s collective confidence.

Next season, there will be only sixteen SoCon games rather than eighteen. That means there will be eight league games at home. There are two other expected home games, against the College of Charleston (rumored to be the season opener, and now a non-conference game as the CofC begins life in the CAA) and Presbyterian (the return game from this season’s “BracketBusters” matchup).

I suspect that Charleston Southern will also be on the home docket, although it isn’t a certainty. That would leave The Citadel with three or four more non-conference home games to schedule.

The Bulldogs will also be playing in the All-Military Classic for the third straight season. In 2013-14, the non-exempt tourney will be held at VMI. It’s also possible that The Citadel will play a third road game in the state of Virginia, assuming it plays at Radford in a return matchup.

Last year, the Bulldogs played two non-D1 opponents. That’s not terrible (better than four, which has been done before), but I would like to see that number cut back to one. I don’t think it’s a bad idea to schedule a non-D1 during/after exams, but other than that I don’t think those schools offer much value. They certainly don’t help attendance.

I realize it’s hard to fill out a home schedule at the low-major level, but the decrease in league games may make it a little easier to come up with some home-and-home arrangements that will be more appealing. It’s also up to the league (hi there, Dave Odom) to help its member schools in this area.

The Citadel will also play two or three guarantee games. My only suggestion on this front is to try to at least get on TV for these games. The game against Georgia Tech last year was on SportSouth, which was a positive. I’m not sure what the school got out of the game against St. Bonaventure, other than some money and a free tourist brochure from the Olean Chamber of Commerce.

I also would like to see The Citadel participate in exempt tournaments. Again, getting on TV (or at least ESPN3) would be nice. I have been very disappointed that The Citadel has not yet participated in the Charleston Classic.

On the other hand, it might be best to steer clear of exempt tourneys that result in the team playing South Carolina State in Las Vegas. If The Citadel is going to travel to play SCSU, it would be a lot simpler just to go up I-26 to Orangeburg, and the barbecue would be much better.

I’ll close by saying that I think The Citadel can be better in 2013-14, perhaps significantly so. The Bulldogs must replace the outstanding play of Mike Groselle, and that won’t be easy. Groselle had an outstanding (and at times unappreciated) career. It was a pleasure to watch him outfox and outwork many an opponent on the low block.

The coaches must figure out how to solve the team’s defensive woes. The returning players must get stronger and develop more confidence — and they must all return, too. Attrition is always an issue at The Citadel, and will be something to watch in the offseason.

There is talent in the program. Bulldog fans don’t really want to hear about that, however. They can see the talent. What they really want to see, though, are wins. Lots of wins.

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One Response

  1. Quite frankly I find Chuck’s comments in the paper somewhat insulting. First of all, let’s look at what Ed Conroy inherited from Pat Dennis and what Ed did with it, vs. what Chuck inherited and did with it. I think we can all agree Pat left us nothing and Ed had to build it up from the ground. I think Year Two or Year Three we won 20 games. His final year, Ed won 16 games with tons of close calls. Plus, even when we weren’t losing, we were competitive.
    Chuck takes over and has four returning starters back who won 36 games. Instead of taking advantage of the players’ talents, he forced a system that today still is not fit for The Citadel. Additionally, we play no defense, turn the ball over and are not very competitive. After three years we deserve much better. Now, I heard grumblings that they considered Groselle a liability on defense (hard to argue), and want to get a player that they like to fit their system better. When you have players that you inherit who play a different style successfully — I might add — you don’t go changing until you get your recruits in who more likely fit yours. So, Grosselle doesn’t fit our scheme. Like to have a few more like him and see if I can fit a scheme to be successful given the talent on hand.
    Attendance is terrible, but I am against enforced attendance at games. In case you haven’t noticed, attendance at football games as deteriated amoung the corps and I don’t think forcing them to do something they don’t want to do is going to help. Remember, there’s a lot more things to do in the barracks that when you went there and many others. They should want to attend because of school pride and because we have a product on the court that they know are going to have a chance. Right now, that isn’t happening.
    Same holds true with the fans. Until we get something out on the floor that is competitive and plays well, we will not get the fans interested.
    I consider our basketball program to be in a very questionable state right now. Chuck has two more years on his contract. It would be my recommendation that he gets the Bulldogs competitive and in the upper tier of the league standings before the gig is up; otherwise the spelling is on the wall.
    Just my two cents. I want them to win in the worse way, however, right now I don’t think this is the coach. Hope I’m wrong.

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