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.

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.

McAlister Musings: Forget about being close, just win

Statistics are through January 13, 2014

- The Citadel’s record: 4-14, 0-3 SoCon
– SoCon rank in offensive efficiency (through three games): 3rd
– SoCon rank in defensive efficiency (through three games): last
– SoCon rank in free throw shooting (through three games): last
– SoCon rank in 3-point shooting percentage (through three games) 1st

Yes, the offensive statistics through three league games aren’t bad at all. The Citadel has shot the ball well in its last three games, and fared well on the offensive glass. The Bulldogs also committed fewer turnovers in those three games (though still too many).

However, The Citadel still managed to lose all three of those games, blowing double-digit second-half leads in two of them. For a team that desperately needs a win (or two, or three, or four), it was rather dispiriting.

In those two losses (at home against Chattanooga and on the road versus Wofford), the Bulldogs basically let one player on each team dominate them inside and on the boards. Both UTC’s Z. Mason and Wofford’s Lee Skinner had what amounted to career nights against The Citadel, combining for 17 offensive rebounds and 19 made 2-point field goals (on 31 attempts).

Because of that, the Bulldogs are currently last in league play in defensive rebounding percentage. The Citadel is also last in the SoCon in forcing turnovers. The Bulldogs have given their opponents so many “extra” chances to score that even solid perimeter defending hasn’t been enough.

In the “bad luck” category: The Citadel has done a good job keeping its SoCon opponents off the foul line (ranking 4th in the league in that category). However, those opponents are shooting 77.1% from the charity stripe, the highest percentage against any team in the league.

In the “not bad luck” category: The Bulldogs picked a bad time to go into a free throw shooting slump. No team has shot worse from the foul line than the Bulldogs in league action.

This comes after The Citadel did a fine job shooting free throws during the non-conference slate. However, the Bulldogs have not gone to the foul line enough all season as it is.

The Citadel is shooting slightly less than one free throw attempt for every field goal try (33%). The national average for FTA/FGA is 41%.

Of course, three games don’t reflect the entirety of the season, and the Bulldogs struggled mightily out of conference. The Citadel has as many losses to non-D1s as it does victories over D-1s, having lost to West Alabama and beaten Presbyterian.

For the season, The Citadel is in the bottom 50 nationally in offensive turnover rate, FTA/FGA, two-point field goal percentage, steals rate (offense), defensive rebounding percentage, steals rate (defense), and defensive turnover rate. Thanks to all those issues, the Bulldogs also rank in the bottom 50 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

In the Kenpom ratings, The Citadel is currently ranked 339th out of 351 Division I teams.

On the plus side, The Citadel has done a good job beyond the arc, both on offense and defense.

The Bulldogs’ tendency to throw the ball away on a semi-regular basis has been a problem for the past three seasons, as has the defensive issues. I will say that the defending has improved this season, at least on opponents’ initial shots. However, the inability to control the defensive glass has crushed The Citadel.

On his postgame radio show after the loss to Wofford, Chuck Driesell said of his team that “we’re getting close”.

With all due respect to Driesell, I don’t think he can say that. Not right now, anyway.

The goal for this season can’t be to have a record like last year (8-22) or the year before (6-24). This isn’t about trying to eke out a couple of victories or break a losing streak.

Getting close, in the context of this season, is putting together consecutive wins, and building on that — winning four out of six, seven out of ten, etc. Falling short in SoCon games isn’t getting the program to where it needs to be.

Because make no mistake, the Southern Conference is not good this year. It wasn’t very good last year either, but in 2013-14 the league has been dreadful.

There is no reason The Citadel can’t win a bunch of SoCon games, and the next couple of weeks will present the Bulldogs multiple opportunities to bounce back from their bad start in conference play.

On Thursday, The Citadel travels to Greensboro to face the Spartans. UNCG isn’t that bad, relative to the rest of the league, but this is a chance for the Bulldogs to win a road game.

UNCG actually has a turnover rate that is worse than The Citadel’s. Now, the Bulldogs haven’t proven capable of forcing many TOs all season, but this will be one game in which they have a shot at improving on that statistical category. If they can do so, they can win the game.

On Saturday, The Citadel hosts Furman, and then plays Appalachian State at McAlister Field House the following Thursday. I think the Bulldogs should win both contests. Not “can win”, but “should win”. Furman isn’t any better than The Citadel, and Appalachian State has arguably been worse so far this season.

In other words, the Bulldogs ought to win at least two of their next three games. If they don’t, it will be a disappointment.

After the loss to Elon, the sixth straight for the Bulldogs, Chuck Driesell had this to say:

You look at the stats and you think we could have won this game. But we were playing a good team on their home court. We kept our composure, but a couple of breaks didn’t go our way. But more guys are stepping up; everybody’s starting to come around.

I hope so. There would be nothing better than some positive news from the hardwood. Good basketball makes for a shorter winter.

Otherwise, Punxsutawney Phil will see his shadow at McAlister Field House once again.

McAlister Musings: It’s time for The Citadel’s 2013-14 hoops season, ready or not

Note: this season, I am again participating in a cross-blog/forum exercise known as “Scanning the SoCon”. As part of this, there will be a preview for each league school. I am writing the preview for The Citadel, which you can read below (it is being posted on Mocs Mania! as well). Previews for the other conference schools can be found here: Link

- The Citadel’s 2012-13 record: 8-22, 5-13 in the SoCon (next-to-last)
– Chuck Driesell’s record at The Citadel (three seasons): 24-68, 14-40 in the SoCon
– Biggest positive from the 2012-13 campaign: The Citadel swept Furman!
– Possibly related development: Furman hired a new basketball coach
– Negatives from 2012-13: Horrific defense, and an offensive turnover rate that was almost as bad

After a 6-24 season in 2011-12, there was a belief that The Citadel would substantially improve on the hardwood last year. That didn’t happen.

While there was a modest two-game upswing in both The Citadel’s overall and league records, that was largely due to a slightly softer out-of-conference schedule and a down year in hoops for the Southern Conference as a whole. Make no mistake, last season was a significant disappointment for the Bulldogs.

Note: the statistics in this section do not include the two games The Citadel played last season against non-D1 opponents.

The Bulldogs had enormous defensive problems. Per KenPom, The Citadel ranked 346th in adjusted defensive efficiency last year, ahead of only one other Division I team, Grambling State (which had a historically awful season).

The numbers on defense were bad across the board. The Bulldogs could not control the defensive glass (bottom 25 nationally), had no shotblocking presence (bottom 25 nationally), and weren’t particularly good at forcing turnovers as a team, all of which led to an opponents’ eFG of 55% (bottom 10 nationally).

Teams shot well against The Citadel from inside (53.6%) or outside (38.2%). Most of the damage, though, was done in the paint.

Not surprisingly, when the Bulldogs defended fairly well, they were much more likely to win. The Citadel’s three best defensive performances against D-1 teams all resulted in victories. The Bulldogs only won once when they finished a game with well below-average defensive numbers (a ludicrous comeback victory at Furman).

The Citadel’s offensive numbers weren’t good, either, almost entirely because of an alarming tendency to throw the ball away. The cadets committed 436 turnovers last year in their 28 games against D-1 competition, averaging 15.6 per game, a particularly high number given the number of possessions involved (less than 65 per contest).

Almost one out of every four Bulldog possessions ended in a turnover. Only thirteen teams in the entire country had a worse turnover rate.

It wasn’t just about the amount of turnovers, either. The types of turnovers committed hurt the Bulldogs too. The Citadel was victimized by steals at a rate higher than all but three other teams in Division I. That clearly had an impact on the defensive end, as teams were often able to convert those steals into easy transition baskets.

The Citadel will now begin a new season without its best player over the past two years, Mike Groselle. Someone (or multiple someones) will have to replace his offensive productivity (including an eFG of 57.4% while taking almost 28% of the team’s shots).

The other senior on last year’s squad was graduate student Stephen Elmore. In spot duty (13.7 minutes per game), Elmore provided a little muscle and some defensive rebounding.

The Bulldogs suffered a very tough blow with the loss of junior forward P.J. Horgan, a solid presence in the frontcourt whose basketball career has officially ended because of back problems. Horgan would have been a sure-fire starter if he had been healthy.

There is also a possibility that The Citadel will be without the services of 6’7″ forward C.J. Bray, who missed almost all of last season with an ankle injury. Bray now has nerve damage in his arm.

If Bray is unable to recover, the Bulldogs would be essentially bereft of experienced frontcourt players. For a team that already struggled to defend the post, it could be a recipe for complete disaster.

That is what can happen when a program struggles with attrition issues. There are no seniors on the Bulldogs’ roster this year (not counting Dylen Setzekorn, an academic senior who from a varsity athletics standpoint is a redshirt sophomore). Every recruit signed by Ed Conroy as part of his last recruiting class at The Citadel is gone.

Also no longer at The Citadel are two of the four post players signed by Chuck Driesell in his first class — and of the two who stayed, one is no longer on the roster (Horgan) and the other is injured (Bray). Driesell did not sign a PF/C type for his second class.

Lawrence Miller (who had just completed his sophomore campaign) and Janeil Jenkins (a freshman last year) also left school after the 2012-13 season. Both of them were guards. While they won’t be missed as much as the frontcourt players, their absence will certainly not help. The Citadel only has eleven players on its roster this season (and that includes Bray).

As a result of those personnel losses, this year’s freshmen will be expected to contribute right away. I think it’s tough to ask true freshmen (particularly at The Citadel) to take on such a significant load, especially those who will have to match up against older, bigger players close to the basket. Driesell has no choice, however.

Let’s take a look at the players who will actually suit up for the Bulldogs this season…

- Marshall Harris III returns as the starting point guard for the Bulldogs. Harris did a fine job distributing the basketball last season (a top 60 assist rate nationally) but committed too many turnovers, particularly for a pass-first PG (Harris had more assists than field goal attempts last season).

If he can cut down on the turnovers and elevate his shooting percentage (a woeful 29.9% last year), Harris could be a major plus for the Bulldogs. That possibility isn’t out of the question, as his totals improved markedly from his freshman to sophomore seasons.

Harris averaged an assist every 7.8 minutes and a turnover every 9.2 minutes in 2011-12; in 2012-13, he picked up an assist every 5.8 minutes while committing a TO every 11.9 minutes. He also managed to get to the foul line on a regular basis, one of the few Bulldogs to do so.

- Raemond Robinson missed the first eleven games of his freshman season while recovering from a broken foot. That may have set him back a bit last year, but he still had his moments.

If The Citadel is going to outperform its projections this season, it will need surprising performances from several players, and Robinson is as good a breakout candidate as any. In limited action, he shot 43% from beyond the arc. The former Goose Creek High football/basketball star is a solid passer and is also capable of picking up a few steals here and there.

Like most of the Bulldogs, he needs to lower his turnover rate. I would also like to see a bit more boardwork from Robinson (and The Citadel’s guards in general, as the backcourt players did not get their fair share of rebounds last year).

- Ashton Moore leads all returning Bulldogs in career points, with 394. Last season, he started exactly half of The Citadel’s 30 games, and played just over half of the minutes available. Moore and Mike Groselle were the only rotation regulars to post respectable turnover rates.

Moore is more of a scorer than a shooter, and to be successful this season he needs to get to the foul line a lot more often than he did last year. Some observers believe that Moore would be at his best providing an offensive spark in a sixth-man role, a la Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson or Jason Terry.

One somewhat curious factoid about Moore: he had fewer fouls per forty minutes than all but five players in the country last season. He only picked up three fouls in a game once. That happened at Furman, and it was arguably Moore’s best game of the season.

- Quinton Marshall was a late signee for Chuck Driesell last year. The native of Raleigh showed off his athleticism at times during his freshman season. He’s not afraid to dunk.

Marshall is a big guard with the ability to score inside. If he can develop a specialty, perhaps becoming a defensive stopper, Marshall could see more playing time (he appeared in 23 contests last season, averaging 11 minutes per game).

- Dylen Setzekorn redshirted during the 2011-12 season, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t busy. In his freshman year at The Citadel, Setzekorn took 40 hours of classes over two semesters.

Forty hours as a knob is…a lot. Last year, Setzekorn took 46 hours — and also played in 28 games for the Bulldogs, averaging 10 minutes per contest.

He’s a slender 6’7″ jump shooter who will light it up in a hurry if someone don’t get a hand in his face (11 points in 13 minutes against Furman, 13 in 18 minutes versus Wofford). He’s not an ideal one-on-one defender, but Setzekorn can help the Bulldogs in certain matchups, particularly if he can take advantage of his height and collect a few more rebounds.

- Warren Sledge is one of four freshmen on the Bulldogs’ roster. A 6’3″ guard, his bio on the school website states he was “known for his solid defensive presence” in high school. If true, he could break into the rotation sooner rather than later.

One thing Sledge has going for him is that he is a native of Keller, Texas. The Citadel has had a lot of luck with players from the Lone Star state in recent years. Among the Texans to have played for the Bulldogs: Cameron Wells, Zach Urbanus, and Mike Groselle.

- Matt Van Scyoc occasionally struggled last season, like a lot of freshmen. He would sometimes take bad shots. He had three games in which he committed 5+ turnovers.

When the dust cleared, though, Van Scyoc had put together an excellent first year, and was named to the SoCon’s all-freshman team. He had an eFG of 53.7%, helped by shooting 37% from three-point land. The 6’6″ swingman wasn’t afraid to hit the boards, blocked a shot every now and then, and had just a bit of an edge to his game.

This year, Van Scyoc should be the main man for the Bulldogs. The better he is, the better off the team will be.

Van Scyoc needs to shoot more free throws, avoid high-turnover games, and grab a few more offensive rebounds. There is a good chance he can, and will, do all those things and possibly more.

In the middle of last season, Van Scyoc was asked during an interview why he chose to attend The Citadel. His answer:

I really wanted to go someplace where I could make a difference. The Citadel is one of the few schools that has never been to the NCAA tournament. Winning hasn’t happened a lot here, and to be able to help them do that, that would be big for me.

I like that quote. I like it a lot.

- At this point, the status of C.J. Bray for this season is uncertain. It would be a big lift for the Bulldogs if he is able to contribute.

Two years ago, Bray started 18 games for The Citadel and was particularly effective on the defensive glass. He also showed flashes of a nice inside-outside game. Bray is athletic enough to have been offered a football scholarship by Arkansas.

- The Citadel’s basketball team traveled to Canada in August and played three exhibition games against Canadian universities. Perhaps the most intriguing performer in those three contests for the Bulldogs was freshman forward Brian White.

White is only 6’6″, 180 lbs., but early returns suggest he plays “bigger” than his size. As Van Scyoc noted, White “doesn’t look the part but he can get it in there and mix it up”.

- Another freshman post player who will get a chance to show his stuff is 6’8″ Dutchman Tom Koopman. I don’t know anything about him, but Chuck Driesell says Koopman “enjoys playing defense”, so he has that going for him, which is nice. Total consciousness for Koopman is sure to follow.

- Nate Bowser is a 6’9″, 210 lb. forward/center from Fort Worth. I am not sure if the original plan was to redshirt him (or Koopman) for this season, but the loss of Horgan probably ended any chance of that happening.

Like Sledge, Bowser is from Texas, so there is decent karma potential for The Citadel. Also, “Nate Bowser” is a great name for a menacing power forward. To become truly menacing, however, he probably needs to gain some weight.

The Citadel’s non-conference schedule includes road games against BCS opponents Nebraska, Tennessee, and Wake Forest, along with two in-season tournaments. The Bulldogs will again compete in the All-Military Classic, a non-exempt tournament featuring The Citadel, VMI, Army, and Air Force. This year, VMI is hosting that event.

Towson is hosting the “mainland” portion of the Battle 4 Atlantis. That tournament struggled to find D-1 opponents to play in the side event, which means the Bulldogs will play a neutral-site game against West Alabama, a Division II team.

Other teams of note that The Citadel will play out of conference: Navy and Radford (both on the road), and College of Charleston, Presbyterian, and Gardner-Webb (with those three schools coming to McAlister Field House).

West Alabama is one of four non-D1 squads that The Citadel has on its schedule, which is at least two non-D1s too many. It should be noted, however, that the military college is far from alone in filling out its home slate with such teams.

SoCon schools are playing a total of 32 non-D1 opponents in 2013-14, averaging just under three per school. Last season there were only 18 such matchups in the league (not including the CofC).

Clearly, the increase in non-D1 scheduling is partly about trying to fill out a home schedule as a low-major, with the reduction of the SoCon’s league schedule to 16 games probably a factor. I do wonder, though, if the conference is trying to “game” the RPI to a certain extent.

The Citadel was picked to finish last in the Southern Conference by both the league’s coaches and media members. It is hard to argue with that collective assessment.

The Bulldogs lost their top scorer and rebounder from a team that finished next-to-last in the league last season. There is a possibility that the Bulldogs’ 4 and 5 spots will be manned almost exclusively by freshmen.

In addition, the defensive woes for last season weren’t just a blip, but a pattern. The Citadel has been very poor on defense throughout Chuck Driesell’s tenure at the school, ranking 314th, 294th, and 346th nationally in defensive efficiency (per KenPom) in those three seasons.

Best-case scenario for the Bulldogs: the team’s turnover rate recedes to the national average. Matt Van Scyoc becomes an elite SoCon player, and at least two of his teammates become major offensive forces as well. The freshmen prove to be tougher-than-expected interior defenders, and The Citadel’s defensive eFG declines dramatically, falling to 48%.

A raucous crowd at McAlister Field House cheers on the cadets to victory after victory. Whenever Tom Koopman scores, the Bulldogs’ radio play-by-play man Danny Reed yells, “Koop with the hoop!” as love-struck CofC co-eds throw tulips in the air to show their appreciation for the Dutch sensation.

Worst-case scenario for the Bulldogs: the team remains unable to stop opponents from scoring at will. C.J. Bray is unable to play. The Citadel struggles in and out of conference play, and its win total from last season is cut in half, from eight to four.

I think it’s fair to say that The Citadel’s fan base is skeptical that the best-case scenario outlined above will come to pass. That is completely understandable.

However, games aren’t played on paper. The Bulldogs have an opportunity to prove a lot of people wrong.

Let’s see what happens.

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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