The Citadel begins its search for a new AD

On Tuesday, Larry Leckonby resigned as director of athletics at The Citadel to take a similar job at Catawba College, a Division II school in North Carolina.

In doing so, he became the first “modern” AD at The Citadel to take another full-time position. The previous three directors of athletics at the school (Eddie Teague, Walt Nadzak, and Les Robinson) all retired after their respective tenures at the military college.

The move was not unexpected. Indeed, last month a Clemson-oriented website breathlessly reported that “Clemson Associate Athletic Director Bill D’Andrea is the leading candidate to become the new athletic director at The Citadel”, which was news to just about everyone, since at the time the position was occupied (more on that later in this post).

At the time, Leckonby told The Post and Courier‘s Jeff Hartsell “Not that I know of,” in response to a question as to whether or not he was leaving. However, rumors persisted through the end of April and into May.

There is a whiff of “jump or be pushed” in assessing the reasons for Leckonby’s departure.

In six years, he developed a reputation as being good at balancing a budget. Some observers occasionally maligned him as a “bean counter”, which was probably unfair.

For one thing, bean counters are necessary. Leckonby had work to do on that front when he first arrived in Charleston. From all accounts, he handled it well.

However, Leckonby’s time at the school was marked by generally unsuccessful performances by The Citadel’s varsity teams. While he was AD, the department only won one SoCon team title (2010 baseball).

The rifle team did capture the SEARC championship in 2011 (the SoCon doesn’t sponsor rifle). It is also only fair to note that the wrestling team had some truly outstanding individual accomplishments in the last few years.

The Citadel’s highest-profile sports, though, were a sore spot. In the last four decades, the military college has only had five school years during which the football, basketball, and baseball teams all had losing records. However, three of those years have come in the last four campaigns.

Leckonby’s hiring of Chuck Driesell as head basketball coach has yet to produce on-court success, to say the least. The football program has continued a 15-year rut (and counting) of mostly sub-.500 seasons, and even the Diamond Dogs have scuffled as of late.

All of The Citadel’s varsity sports are important to the college, but the “big three” have a special place in the hearts of the school’s alums/supporters. It hurts the department as a whole when none of them are doing well.

Leckonby was perceived in some quarters as being largely indifferent to a variety of issues of varying importance. Just to name a few: the corps of cadets’ seating during football gamesthe overall ambiance at Johnson Hagood Stadium; the disposition of the cheerleading squad; the mascot program; and the much-criticized video streaming service.

I’m not going to throw him under the bus for all of that, largely because it’s hard for me to determine how much of that was him being difficult (or shortsighted) and how much was Leckonby simply following orders. You can’t blame him for everything.

In accepting the position at Catawba, Leckonby stated that he wanted to focus on “one-on-one engagement with Catawba’s coaching staff, its student-athletes and with all of those who support the athletics program.” That’s an admirable desire. I wish him well at Catawba. I’m sure everyone else who supports The Citadel does, too. 

I think the newly open position will be an attractive one. It isn’t an easy job by any means (and may get more difficult as the years go by).

However, there is a lot to be said for running the department of athletics at an outstanding school, located in Charleston, with a loyal fan base, and that has a history of being patient with administrators and coaches (the person hired for the job will become only the fifth AD at The Citadel since 1957). It’s a good gig.

Already, a number of people have been mentioned as candidates. The first name that popped up, as mentioned above, was Bill D’Andrea, a longtime Clemson administrator who is retiring from that school. D’Andrea has not been particularly shy about his interest (confirming as much late Tuesday morning in an email to WCSC-TV sportscaster Kevin Bilodeau).

I am more than a little dubious about the “sources” referenced by Clemson Insider‘s William Qualkinbush, who suggested in April that D’Andrea was “the leading candidate” for the position. His article also initially stated that The Citadel was a private institution; if a media member doesn’t know enough about the school to know that it is public, then I’m not really confident in any tips he is getting about the inner workings of the Board of Visitors.

Clemson Insider remains confident in its reporting. Fair enough.

D’Andrea has a fine reputation and is very popular in key Clemson circles. However, he is just one of many qualified people who will be in the mix. Other names that will be (or have been) mentioned for the job: Jerry Baker, John Hartwell, Fred Jordan, Geoff Von Dollen, Robby Robinson, Harvey Schiller, and Kelly Simpson. Some of them may not actually be interested. Many will be.

The search for a new AD should be a wide-ranging one that leaves no stone unturned. Gene Sapakoff of The Post and Courier wrote in his Wednesday column that there is “no need to search from sea to shining sea and bring in 11 candidates for first-round interviews.” I completely disagree.

I have no idea where he came up with the number eleven, but if it is in the school’s best interests to bring in that specific number of people for initial interviews, then the search committee should do so. And yes, I think a “search from sea to shining sea” is more than appropriate. It’s necessary.

This is an important hire. It has be made with due process and careful consideration.

Obviously, the new AD has to be able to grasp what The Citadel is all about sooner rather than later. That is just one of many attributes the new director of athletics must have. Two others are perhaps of the utmost importance.

1) He or she must be a great fundraiser. Not a good fundraiser, but a great one — both from a personal perspective, and in terms of organizational ability.

If a candidate tells the search committee, “I can raise $20 million per year,” the first question a committee member asks should be, “What about $40 million?”

2) The new AD has to have a long-term vision for varsity athletics, one that matches the needs of the institution.

There are some supporters of The Citadel (including me) who believe the school should have a more expansive sports portfolio. Not everyone is on board with that line of thinking, of course. However, I think most alums/supporters would agree with the idea that an educational institution should be treated as an investment, rather than a series of journal entries in a general accounting ledger.

I want the next director of athletics to be an imaginative thinker and a creative force of nature. I want him or her to have big plans, and possess the wherewithal to make those plans come to life.

The next few weeks are going to be fascinating. I hope they will also be productive.

I’ll be watching, and listening, and maybe pontificating from time to time.

Won’t we all…

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.

McAlister Musings: Time to start winning

Since my last post on The Citadel’s basketball team, the Bulldogs have played four games. One of them was a victory (!), which broke a 12-game losing streak. Alas, The Citadel has dropped two games since then.

This isn’t going to be a long post. I just have a few brief comments on the recent action.

Davidson 70, The Citadel 38

Okay, so Davidson is good and the Bulldogs are something less than good. Also, this game was at Davidson. Still, there is no excuse for any D-1 team not based in Lincoln Parish to average less than 0.6 points per possession for an entire game, as The Citadel did in this contest. 64 possessions, 38 points. Yeesh.

Davidson didn’t even shoot particularly well, and still won going away (and then some) thanks to 26 Bulldog turnovers, which when combined with 31% FG (3-11 from 3) resulted in an offensive debacle. The less said about this game, the better.

The Citadel 70, Georgia Southern 55

Georgia Southern is the most SoConnish of all SoCon hoops squads, as this game came immediately after the Eagles had beaten Davidson and the College of Charleston in back-to-back contests. GSU whipped the Wildcats by 13 points and held the Cougars to 34% FG, but could not stop The Citadel’s offense.

The Bulldogs followed up a 0.59 ppp performance with a 1.23 ppp effort against the Eagles (70 points on 57 possessions). The Citadel scored more than twice as many points per possession against GSU as it did against Davidson. That may be the biggest differential in consecutive D-1 games for any team in the country this season.

Mike Groselle and Matt Van Scyoc combined for 35 points on only 19 shots, and there were several other efficient individual offensive performances.

College of Charleston 69, The Citadel 54

The Bulldogs did not shoot the ball very well (37% FG, 22% 3FG), and when combined with being badly outrebounded (48-29), The Citadel didn’t stand much of a chance. Chuck Driesell mentioned the rebounding; I want to mention the foul disparity.

With less than three and a half minutes remaining in the game, Mike Groselle had the same number of fouls as the College of Charleston’s entire roster: 4. I’m not sure what to make of that.

Now for a commentary on a commentary…

Gene Sapakoff, writing in The Post and Courier:

Town tournament, anyone?

Simple format: Four teams, two days, two games per team.

The College of Charleston, The Citadel and Charleston Southern are locked in every year. S.C. State makes for a fine fourth, or rotate that spot with other state schools.

I vote no.

The Citadel is already committed to one in-season non-exempt tournament every year (the All-Military Classic). Playing in two of them would likely be problematic when trying to put together a manageable schedule. We’ve already seen how less-than-ideal scheduling can have a negative impact on a season (the all-road December slate).

Besides, The Citadel should be aiming for an exempt tournament (like the Charleston Classic), not one that just takes up two more games on the schedule. It seems pointless to hamstring the program for the benefit of a “local” tournament that may not appeal all that much to the locals anyway.

The Citadel can play the CofC and/or Charleston Southern every year if (and when) it wants to do so. It doesn’t need a tournament setting, with the resulting scheduling problems, to do that.

Elon 70, The Citadel 66

This game annoyed me.

I was annoyed that The Citadel could never tie or take the lead. I was annoyed that the Bulldogs missed a layup that would have tied the game midway through the second half, which was immediately followed by an Elon three-pointer. I was annoyed by Elon’s offense, which consisted of a lot of screens (some of which were legal) to set up three-point shots (32 of the Phoenix’s 59 field goal attempts were from beyond the arc).

I was annoyed by costly unforced turnovers, particularly late in the game. One of those turnovers was a pass where the ball eventually made its way to me. That was a problem, because I was in the stands and not on the roster. (Incidentally, our basketball of choice is ‘The Rock’.)

Most of all, though, I was annoyed by the Cub Scouts.

Yes, the Cub Scouts. There was a promotion for scouts and their families for this game. To be fair, most of them spent the afternoon goofing around with each other, eating large quantities of cotton candy.

During the second half, however, four little miscreants decided it would be fun to stand in the corner rafters and shriek at Bulldog players as they attempted free throws. I should say that it’s possible two of them were not scouts, as they weren’t in uniform (two of them were).

I thought about walking up there and suggesting that they could do something else with their time, but it was obvious nobody was going to get through to them, particularly the apparent ringleader — heavy-set, wearing a white t-shirt and sporting a Harpo Marx hairdo. At least Harpo had the grace to shut up in public.

“We’re frustrated that we’re not closing out games that we have a chance [to win].” — Chuck Driesell

The Bulldogs have been close in several of their losses (Elon, CofC at McAlister, Samford, Chattanooga). However, there is a big difference between being close and finishing the job, and that’s the step the team must now take. The Bulldogs face a stretch of winnable games: Wofford, at Furman, at UTC, at Samford, Georgia Southern.

Sure, some of those are on the road, but The Citadel’s win in Statesboro shows that the Bulldogs are more than capable of winning league games away from home.

I will be very disappointed if the Bulldogs don’t put something positive together over the next two weeks. It’s time to start winning.

McAlister Musings: It is darkest before the dawn, but the dawn is running late

Well, no need to sugarcoat things. Let’s get right to the facts:

– The Citadel has lost 11 straight games, and is now 0-5 in SoCon play.

– The Bulldogs are next-to-last in Division I in Kenpom’s defensive efficiency ratings. There are 347 teams in D-1, and The Citadel is 346th.

– The Citadel’s adjusted offensive efficiency isn’t anything to write home about, either. The Bulldogs are actually a decent shooting team, but their turnover rate has been horrific all season. At 25.4%, The Citadel ranks in the bottom 10 nationally in that statistic.

– About halfway through the losing streak, The Citadel started allowing opponents to collect an alarming number of offensive rebounds, which has contributed to the defensive problems. Bulldog foes are rebounding almost two-fifths of their misses. That makes The Citadel one of the 25 worst teams in the country in defensive OR%.

– The failure to control the defensive glass has lessened the impact of a statistic that was beginning to improve. Through seven games, 47.6% of opponents’ field goal attempts were three-pointers. That percentage has declined to a still-high but much more palatable 35.9%. The Citadel has done a better job of stopping teams from taking three-point shots.

– Unfortunately, when they do take long-range shots, the opposition is still making them from beyond the arc at an extraordinary rate, 41.5%. Only three other teams allow opponents to shoot a higher percentage from three-land. Some of that (not all of it) is bad luck.

– The Citadel has had a tendency to get behind early, by scores like 11-3 (against the College of Charleston), 21-14 (Samford), 22-13 (Chattanooga), 18-11 (Western Carolina), 20-3 (Georgia Tech), 24-13 (St. Bonaventure), and 12-4 (Radford, a game that the Highlanders would lead by 22 at one point in the first half).

Five of the games I mentioned were home contests. It’s hard for the crowd (such as it is) to get enthusiastic when the team falls behind so quickly.

After the loss to Samford, I started to wonder if The Citadel would win another game this season. After thinking about it (and the subsequent game against the College of Charleston), I am a lot more confident the Bulldogs will win again this year. I base that partly on The Citadel’s improved play, but also on the less-than-scintillating status of the SoCon as a whole.

At the beginning of the season, I thought that the Southern Conference would be a stronger league than it was last year. However, the conference has been worse. The SoCon returned a lot of last year’s better players, but apparently most of them came back because they didn’t have any other place to go.

The Bulldogs still have 13 league games remaining (plus a “Bracketbusters” contest against an opponent to be determined). The Citadel is going to come out on top somewhere down the line.

That doesn’t make me feel much better about the way the season has gone, though. I am sure the coaching staff is profoundly frustrated, to say nothing about the players’ disappointment. This season wasn’t supposed to look like last year’s 6-24 campaign, but it is on pace to be just as bad from the standpoint of the overall record.

The one excuse I don’t want to hear any more is that “we have a young team”. The Citadel had a young team last year. This year it has a bunch of sophomores and a few freshmen (along with an outstanding senior, Mike Groselle), and the Bulldogs have already played half of the season schedule. Everyone understood what last season was all about. This year was supposed to be about reaping some rewards for running through that youth-infused gauntlet.

Longtime supporters of The Citadel have heard the “we have a young team” line all too often in years past. It gets old after a while. Very old.

I realize that what I wrote above is, well, rather negative. Then again, the Bulldogs have lost eleven consecutive games. Things haven’t gone well so far this season. The record reflects that.  The statistical profile reflects that.

There are positives, though. The addition of Rae Robinson and P.J. Horgan into the rotation has made the Bulldogs a better team. As I noted above, the Bulldogs are starting to defend the perimeter a little better than they were earlier in the season (though there is plenty of room for continued improvement). Offensively, The Citadel has several guys who can put the ball in the basket, and in a variety of ways. That is encouraging.

Against the College of Charleston, the Bulldogs only committed eleven turnovers, a very respectable total in a 60+ possession game. If The Citadel plays every night like it did on Monday, the team is going to start winning. However, that effort has to be constant.

The Bulldogs aren’t good enough to turn the ball over one out of every four possessions and still win. The turnover issue has been the thing that has annoyed me the most, to be honest. I hope the players keep working with the medicine ball.

The Citadel has to continue to get better on defense, and part of that is solving the problem of defending the outside shot while maintaining control of the defensive glass. The Bulldogs have yet to consistently do both at the same time.

I know the players still have hopes of making a breakthrough. Chuck Driesell has said the right things, and clearly hasn’t “lost” the team despite the losing streak. I haven’t given up on them, either. It’s just tough when you’re on the wrong side of the scoreline game after game. I guess it will make an eventual turnaround that much sweeter.

I just wish that turnaround would hurry up and get here…

McAlister Musings: If you don’t let them see the 3, then they can’t be the 3

Previous editions of McAlister Musings, in reverse chronological order:

Possession is nine-tenths of a win

SoCon voting issues, preseason ratings, and corps attendance

Well, there is no other way to put this: the last three games for The Citadel have been ugly. Very ugly.

The Bulldogs were 3-1 after splitting a pair of games at the All-Military Classic and winning two glorified exhibitions against non-D1 opposition. As far as the latter two games are concerned, there isn’t a whole lot to say, other than The Citadel played much better in the second game, which gave hope that the Bulldogs would perform well in the final game of the initial five-game homestand.

The first half against Radford, however, was a complete debacle, complete with 15 turnovers, which came during the first 15 minutes of play. The Bulldogs were literally turning the ball over every minute.

Following that game, Chuck Driesell had a segment on his show (see Part 2) that included a primer on turnover prevention, which probably also served as a de facto teaser for his basketball camp. Triple threat position, indeed.

I will say that the turnover rate declined in the next game against UNCG, to an excellent 10.1%. It would slip to 17.1% when the Bulldogs played Charleston Southern, although that is still an acceptable rate. The Citadel currently has a turnover rate for the season of 22.9% (D-1 games only); that is 255th out of 347 teams. The Bulldogs need to get that number under 20%.

The problem in the games against UNCG and CSU, then, was not too many turnovers. No, it was too many three-pointers allowed — not just made, but attempted.

Ken Pomeroy had a really good blog post last week in which he noted that the key to three-point defense isn’t as much the percentage made against the D, but the number of shots beyond the arc allowed. As he pointed out:

Nobody with any knowledge of the game would talk about free throw defense using opponents’ FT% as if it was a real thing, yet we’ll hear plenty of references to three-point defense in that way from famous and respected people…With few exceptions, the best measure of three-point defense is a team’s ability to keep the opponents from taking 3’s.

Yes, The Citadel’s opponents are shooting the ball well from three-land — 42.6%, which is the 11th-worst figure in the country for defensive 3PT%. However, some of that (not all of it) is luck. Opponents are not likely to shoot that high a percentage over the course of the season.

If anything, they will revert to a success rate in the 32%-33% range (last year The Citadel’s 3PT% defense was 33.3%). There are no guarantees the percentage will decline to that level, of course (in the 24-loss season of 2007-08, the Bulldogs allowed opponents to shoot 40% from three-land).

The real problem is the number of three-pointers Bulldog opponents are attempting. Almost half (47.6%) of all shots allowed by The Citadel’s defense have been three-point tries; that is a higher percentage than any school in D-1 except for one (Southern Mississippi).

Good defensive teams stop their opponents from attempting three-point shots. Pomeroy mentions the success that the late Rick Majerus’ teams had in this respect.

There is one semi-caveat to all this: sample size. The Citadel has played only five games so far against D-1 teams. Three of those five opponents (VMI, Air Force, and Charleston Southern) rank in the top 20 nationally in percentage of three-pointers attempted per game. Now, do they rank that highly in the category because their offenses tend to take a lot of three-pointers? Or is it because one of their (relatively few) games was against The Citadel?

It’s too early to tell. Over the course of the season, VMI will certainly take more than its fair share of three-pointers, and Air Force might as well. On the other hand, UNCG’s 26 three-point attempts against the Bulldogs may have been an outlier (one that featured six different Spartans making at least one 3, including two players whose only made outside shots all season came against The Citadel).

My general impression, though, is that UNCG and Charleston Southern both purposely set up offensive game plans around hoisting as many shots from beyond the arc as possible. If that is the case, it’s even more important for Chuck Driesell and company to solve the problem.

One suggestion that I’ve seen tossed around is to get out of the 2-3 zone when teams start lighting it up from outside. That is easier said that done, obviously, and possibly not in the best interests of the Bulldogs.

This year’s squad is generally believed to be among the more athletic teams in recent history at The Citadel, which has led some to wonder why they are playing zone instead of man-to-man. That observation, while understandable, doesn’t take into account the fact that a player can be a good overall athlete and yet not equipped to handle the responsibilities inherent in a man-to-man defense. I remember reading about one particular example.

Delray Brooks was a huge high school basketball star in Indiana in the mid-1980s; he eventually signed to play for Bob Knight and IU. However, after a year and a half in Bloomington, Brooks transferred. He wasn’t getting a lot of playing time, mainly because he was a liability in Knight’s man-to-man defensive system. From John Feinstein’s famous book, A Season On The Brink:

Brooks had announced on Monday that he would transfer to Providence College. Knight was pleased about that; Providence was rebuilding and played a lot of zone. Brooks would have a chance there.

It worked out for Brooks. Providence would advance to the 1987 Final Four after upsetting Georgetown in the Elite 8, with Brooks playing a key role alongside Billy Donovan. The Friars would fall in the national semifinals to Syracuse, which would then lose in a scintillating championship game to…Indiana. I guess it worked out for everybody.

Oh, and the coach of that Providence squad, who “played a lot of zone”? His name was Rick Pitino. His teams can play some defense, zone or no zone. I’m sure fans of the College of Charleston would agree.

What I’m saying (in a long-winded way) is that a zone defense doesn’t have to be passive, or susceptible to allowing long-range shots. I mentioned Syracuse above; Jim Boeheim’s teams are famous for playing a 2-3 zone, though Boeheim says it’s not really a zone, but a “trapping, moving defense”. Whatever Boeheim’s defense is called, it has finished in the top 50 in defensive percentage of three-point attempts allowed in seven of the last eight seasons.

In the postgame presser following the CSU loss, Chuck Driesell mentioned that regardless of whether The Citadel played “zone or man, we’ve got to find a way to stay in front, get out to the shooters a little better…we’ve got to play better defense…that’s the bottom line…if we have to throw a few other things in there, we will. We can change a few things.”

Taking a brief look at The Citadel’s offensive numbers:

The Citadel is shooting the ball fairly well, and is doing a solid job of getting to the foul line. However, the offense has been blunted by the turnover rate and the Bulldogs’ inability to grab offensive rebounds. Against UNCG, The Citadel missed 38 shots, but only had 3 offensive rebounds. Games like that are why the Bulldogs are in the bottom 25 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage.

I am also a bit unsure how to evaluate the Bulldogs’ offense given the lopsided nature of the recent games. As the season progresses and there are more games to factor into the statistical record, separating “garbage” time from competitive play shouldn’t be an issue. At least, I hope not.

It may get worse for the Bulldogs before it gets better. The Citadel has four road games following exams, and all of those contests will be challenging. First up is a game at Gardner-Webb on Saturday. G-W is a respectable 6-5, a record that includes a victory at DePaul and a one-point setback to red-hot Illinois. Gardner-Webb also has a win over Austin Peay and a loss to Wofford.

After that game, the Bulldogs make a long trek to just outside Olean, New York. The Citadel will play St. Bonaventure in one of the more curious matchups on the schedule. Andrew Nicholson is now in the NBA, but the Bonnies should still be a tough opponent. To date St. Bonaventure hasn’t ventured too far outside its region. Four of its five victories are against fellow upstate New York schools Canisius, Buffalo, Siena, and Niagara.

The Citadel then plays two ACC schools, Georgia Tech (which has had a promising start to its season, featuring a victory over St. Mary’s) and Clemson (which has a 5-3 record that includes two losses to top-10 teams).

The Bulldogs could easily be 3-8 by the time they play again at McAlister Field House (against Western Carolina, on January 5). That’s the reality. What will be more important than the record is The Citadel figuring out its defensive issues by that time, and continuing to improve in other areas (like rebounding and ball security).

The season hasn’t started in quite the way Bulldog fans hoped it would. There is still time for The Citadel to recover. It’s not going to be easy, though. It never has been.

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