Hoops season has arrived, and just in time

At first, I was going to wait for a couple of games to be played before I started posting about The Citadel’s basketball team.  I like to do that because I want to see how things are going to shake out in terms of personnel (who is getting the minutes), style of play, etc.

While everyone knows who the key players will be (Cam and Zach!), and who some of the regulars will be (like Austin Dahn and Bryan Streeter), there is still uncertainty about who will be manning other positions and featuring in the rotation.  Can Cosmo Morabbi find his shot?  Is it true that Matt Clark is going to thrive in the new offensive system?  Just how quick is freshman DeVontae Wright?  Are the two European-born grad student big guys named Mike any good?

Plus, Chuck Driesell is now the coach, and apparently he wants to play at a quicker tempo than his predecessor, Ed Conroy.  In the exhibition victory over North Greenville, the Bulldogs had 71 possessions.  In 2010, The Citadel averaged 61.1 possessions per game; in 2009, 64.8 ppg.  Of course, it’s only one game, and one that doesn’t count.

However, I decided to make this ramble of a post, because I’m ready for the season to start.  If I hadn’t been excited for college hoops season already, Wednesday night’s thriller between Maryland and the College of Charleston would have done the trick anyway.  That was a fun game to watch, and also an instructive one for the Bulldogs.

In last season’s two meetings with the CofC, The Citadel did a good job keeping Andrew Goudelock from exploding from beyond the arc.  He was a combined 2-14 from 3-land in the two games.  The Bulldogs are going to have to do that again this season when they match up against the Cougars.  It won’t be easy.

The Citadel opens its season on the road at Richmond.  The Spiders, which run the “Princeton” offense, were very good last season, and are expected to be very good again this year.  In 2010 Richmond narrowly missed out on winning the Atlantic 10 regular season title, and then advanced to the league tourney final.  The Spiders received an at-large bid to the NCAAs, finishing 26-9 after a first-round loss to St. Mary’s.

Richmond features 2010 A-10 player of the year Kevin Anderson, a 6’0″ guard who averaged nearly 18 points per game last season, and 6’10” NBA prospect Justin Harper, both seniors.  They are two of eleven returning scholarship players. Richmond has a bevy of frontcourt players to complement Harper, but must find an outside shooter to replace Daniel Gonzalves, who has graduated.  There appear to be several worthy candidates, however.

The Spiders’ only real weakness is on the boards, and it cost them against St. Mary’s, as Gaels big man Omar Samhan had a field day against them.  (Of course, 2-seed Villanova couldn’t handle Samhan either.)

There is a lot of anticipation for the upcoming season for Richmond fans, who expect a banner campaign — and it’s hard to blame them for being excited.

As for the game itself, besides Richmond’s talent, I’m a little concerned about the pace of play.  If Driesell’s Dogs really are going to be significantly more uptempo this season, then this will be a case of the Spiders wanting to play “slower” than the Bulldogs.

It has been unusual in recent years, of course, for a team to play at a slower pace than The Citadel, but when it has happened it has occasionally thrown the Bulldogs off their game.  I remember a bad Iowa team beating The Citadel easily at McAlister Field House two years ago, partly because of its size, and partly because The Citadel seemed flummoxed by the Hawkeyes’ style.  The same has sometimes been true when playing Samford, another school that employs the Princeton offense (the 2009 SoCon tourney game still gives me nightmares).

If The Citadel is going to try to occasionally force the action this season, there will be times when the other team wants to slow the game down, and the Bulldogs are going to have to learn how to adjust.  Friday night’s game may provide a good test in that respect.

Earlier in the summer, it was generally believed that The Citadel would be participating in the Charleston Classic.  I was very happy about that, as it would be a chance for the Bulldogs to play good competition early in the season, and possibly on television.

However, at the last minute Wofford was substituted as the SoCon’s representative in the tournament.  I was less than thrilled about that, and am even less thrilled now, because it’s my understanding that The Citadel elected not to play in the tournament after originally agreeing to do so.  Ed Conroy was game, but Chuck Driesell was apparently not interested.

I’m sure he had a good reason, but I would like to know what that reason was.  The Charleston Classic is an ESPN tournament, and will get its fair share of promotion from the four-letter.  In addition, at least two (if not all three) of the games The Citadel would have played in the tourney would have been on television.

There is nothing more frustrating than having a billion college basketball games on television, and almost none of them featuring your team.  This season, The Citadel will apparently only appear on television three times — on SportSouth (at the College of Charleston), on FSN-Rocky Mountain against Colorado, and on KASY-TV, which will carry the game against New Mexico (but which probably won’t be on Full Court, and thus will be unavailable outside the Albuquerque area).

ESPN will televise over 1200 college basketball games this season.  None of them involve The Citadel.

The Citadel should have (at the very least) a competitive team this year, one that merits as much promotion and coverage as it can handle.  As it is, the Bulldogs are so anonymous that the mammoth College Basketball Prospectus forgot to include The Citadel in its publication, the only one of 345 Division I programs to be left out.

The Bulldogs aren’t playing in next season’s Charleston Classic either (oddly, no SoCon school is).  Maybe The Citadel is holding out for another chance to play in a ballroom in Cancun

I’ll close this post by throwing in a few links:

– Richmond game notes (.pdf):  Notice that Chuck Driesell’s name is misspelled. Also, it would have been nice if UR had referred to “The Citadel” on its cover page, but considering we can’t get the name right on our uniforms, I can’t complain about another school failing to do so.

– Richmond student newspaper, The Collegian, with a writeup:  Link

– Here is an article on Tulane’s exhibition victory over Loyola of New Orleans.  I’m only linking it because I’m a little puzzled about Ben Cherry being eligible.  More power to him.

– The “holy grail” for The Citadel’s basketball program, of course, is the NCAA Tournament.  For those unaware of how difficult this task has been for the Bulldogs, my manifesto from two seasons ago (slightly outdated but still mostly relevant):  Link

– Do you remember how a feature story on Ed Conroy and the Bulldogs almost always wound up being about Pat Conroy?  Of course you do.  Well, prepare for more of the same, as scribes writing about Chuck Driesell and The Citadel will often revert to telling stories about Lefty.

I’m ready for some hoops…

No hoops until next year for The Citadel

Of course, next year isn’t that far off.  The Citadel’s next game is another non-conference battle, at home against Bethune-Cookman on January 3.

The Citadel lost to Michigan State by 14, and lost to South Carolina by 14.  However, the Bulldogs played a much better game against the Spartans than they did against the Gamecocks.  South Carolina managed to increase the tempo to a faster pace than The Citadel would have liked (although not quite as fast as the Gamecocks would have preferred).  The Citadel could not take advantage of the helter-skelter play to knock down more open three-point shots.  To win the game the Bulldogs had to make several more threes than USC, and a 7-6 made 3FG advantage was never going to be enough.  It didn’t help that South Carolina was unexpectedly good at shooting free throws (28-33).

The officiating favored the Gamecocks’ defensive style, which is basically a version of the “five guys press and foul, the refs can’t call ‘em all” system famously run by Rick Pitino at Kentucky, only Pitino had multiple future NBA players with which to work.  The Citadel never seemed able to adjust to this (even after USC sleepwalked through the game’s opening five minutes).  I would have liked to have seen some of the Bulldogs get more aggressive (I did appreciate Cosmo Morabbi’s approach in this respect).  A poster on The  Citadel’s message board made what I thought was a good point; the Bulldogs needed to set some backcourt picks to “punish” the Gamecocks as they continued to harass the man bringing the ball up the court.

Still, it wasn’t a terrible effort by the Bulldogs, as opposed to the laughable “atmosphere” at Colonial Life Arena.  I wass amused to read that the reported attendance was 9493 (it was less than that by at least a third).  There wasn’t anything original about the Gamecocks’ pregame, from the intros (which featured a player introduced as a starter who actually didn’t start) to the band playing “Sweet Caroline” (this ongoing sports tribute to Neil Diamond must stop).  USC also cranks up Zombie Nation like every other school in North America.  It’s just so…tired.

There was nothing imaginative or innovative about any of it, the crowd was dead…that reminds me.  I honestly am not sure how many of the people at the game were rooting for either of the two schools, because I can’t believe that as much as 40% (or more) of the “crowd” was there for The Citadel, but that’s what it looked like with all the people who showed up wearing blue collared shirts.  Surely some of them were just Gamecock fans, but if you’re a Gamecock fan, shouldn’t you be wearing garnet and/or black?  It was really hard to get a read on the fan ratio because of this (along with all the empty seats).

I took a picture of the scoreboard when The Citadel first took the lead, just for posterity.  I took it quickly, just in case South Carolina scored before I could snap it (as it turned out, I need not have worried).  Here it is:

0032

Longtime rivals UC Davis and The Citadel to play Monday night

Before writing a little bit about Monday night’s game, I just wanted to briefly comment on the results of The Citadel’s first two SoCon games.  First, it’s great to actually win a conference road game (or any road game, for that matter).  I also think it’s good that the team is probably a little disappointed it didn’t pull off the road sweep.  Expectations may be gradually increasing for this team.  This happens when in one year you go from a 30-point loss at UNC-Greensboro to a 7-point win in the same building.  Holding UNCG to 5-29 from beyond the arc was also a welcome development (struggling down the stretch from the foul line, not so much).

I will say this.  The SoCon owes The Citadel a couple of makeup calls against Elon in both football and basketball (actually, in football three or four makeup calls are in order).  I can’t say I was upset to see Elon choke away a potential FCS berth by losing to Liberty.  Elon should never have been in a position to get a bid in the first place, because it was given a win over The Citadel by hilariously inept Southern Conference officiating.  Just desserts and all that.

The hoopsters’ matchup at Elon featured a really convenient (for the Phoenix) shotclock reset situation at the end of the game.  Nice.  No telling what the umpiring will be like at Riley Park for the first SoCon series of the year.

Okay, on to the battle with the Aggies…

I’ve been trying to figure out how this matchup (the first ever between the two schools) came to be ever since the hoops schedule came out.  My best guess is that UCD was going to have to play Presbyterian in Clinton, S.C., anyway (in a return game from last season) and figured if it had to travel all the way to South Carolina, why not make it a two-game trip.  I don’t know if this means a journey to Davis is in the cards for The Citadel in the next couple of years.  If it is, I hope the team doesn’t spend too much time at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science.

The institute is just part of a sprawling campus scene at UC Davis, which is one of those schools nobody on the east coast has ever heard of that just happens to have 30,000 students.  It’s part of the UC system, along with fellow Big West schools Irvine, Riverside, and Santa Barbara.  It’s located in Davis (surprise!), which is a city of about 60,000 near Sacramento.  Davis is a haven for bicyclists, and for toads.  Seriously.  From a Wikipedia entry (and remember, wiki is never wrong):

Davis’ Toad Tunnel is a wildlife crossing that was constructed in 1995…Because of the building of an overpass, animal lovers worried about toads being killed by cars commuting from South Davis to North Davis, since the toads hopped from one side of a dirt lot (which the overpass replaced) to the reservoir at the other end. After much controversy, a decision was made to build a toad tunnel, which runs beneath the Pole Line Road overpass which crosses Interstate 80. The project cost $14,000. The tunnel is 21 inches (53 cm) wide and 18 inches (46 cm) high.

The tunnel has created problems of its own. The toads originally refused to use the tunnel and so the tunnel was lit to encourage its use. The toads then died from the heat of the lamps inside the tunnel. Once through the tunnel, the toads also had to contend with birds who grew wise to the toad-producing hole in the ground. The exit to the toad tunnel has been decorated by the Post-Master to resemble a toad town.

The Wikipedia entry also refers to Davis as being “known as a strongly leftist-liberal town,” which after reading about the toad tunnel shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.

UCD started off as a farm for UC Berkeley (basically, an extension service) and gradually morphed into a free-standing university, being officially established in 1959.  It’s still an agricultural school (hence the nickname “Aggies”) but has added several other academic disciplines.  In reading about UCD I noticed that it has an Army ROTC program, which is apparently the largest of its kind in the State of California.

UC Davis is in its sixth year as a Division I school after a successful run in NCAA Division II.  Last season the Aggies finished last in the Big West with a 1-14 record (9-22 overall).  UCD lost 13 of its last 14 games and completed the campaign sporting an RPI of 283.  Over the last three seasons the Aggies are 2-33 in road/neutral contests.  The Citadel can relate to those types of numbers.

This season, UCD is 3-6, with wins over Loyola-Marymount, Tulane, and Cal State-Bakersfield, and losses to UW-Milwaukee, Iowa State, South Alabama, Portland, Arkansas, and Sacramento State.  The Aggies are a really good free throw shooting team (81.8%, which is currently third nationally) and have a very nice assist/basket ratio (70%, also third nationally).  They have not been a strong defensive team, allowing opponents to shoot 47.5% from the field.

The Aggies average a little over 70 possessions per game.  It will be interesting to see which team controls the tempo, as The Citadel has averaged just over 60 possessions per game.  Few teams have collectively played their games at a slower pace than the Bulldogs.

UCD has three players averaging in double figures in scoring.  Joe Harden is a 6’8″ guard (!) averaging 15 points and 8 rebounds per game.  Dominic Calegari is a 6’10” forward who can shoot the three.  He’s 16-31 from beyond the arc so far this season (and a career 40% 3-point shooter).  Vince Oliver, a 6’3″ guard, is averaging 10.8 points per game.  Mark Payne is another tall guard (he’s 6’7″) who leads the team in assists, with 5.3 per game (he also boards at a 5.6 clip).  The Aggies employ a nine-man rotation.

I’m not sure what to make of UCD, a tall team that doesn’t rebound particularly well and has no shotblockers.  Defending the three could be a challenge for The Citadel, and the Bulldogs definitely don’t want to send the Aggies to the foul line.  If the Bulldogs can keep UCD from having a good night from beyond the arc, The Citadel can win this game.  The other factor to consider is the layoff.  Neither team has played a game in the past nine days.

Cancun Challenge matchups (that are actually in Cancun!)

It’s time for the Cancun Challenge to reach its highly anticipated climax.  All the excitement moves to Mexico, where The Citadel will play two games in two days this weekend in pre-determined, non-televised matchups.  On Saturday the Bulldogs play Central Arkansas.  On Sunday, the opponent will be Grambling State.  The games will be played at the Moon Palace Resort in Cancun.  Incidentally, this tournament is run by Triple Crown Sports, the same outfit responsible for the women’s NIT (pre-season and post-season).

Central Arkansas is a school with an enrollment of about 13,000 students.  It’s located in Conway, a city with a population of around 55,000, about 25 miles north of Little Rock.  UCA was an NAIA school for many years, then moved to NCAA Division II, and four years ago began its transition to NCAA Division I.  It’s in year three of that transition, and has a year to go before becoming a full-fledged D-1 member.  Thus, it isn’t eligible for its conference tournament until next season.

That conference would be the Southland.  UCA just completed a football season in which it went 10-2, 7-1 in the league, but it wasn’t recognized as conference champion because the league feared it would lose its automatic bid to the FCS playoffs if its champion was ineligible to compete in the postseason.

There are two other facts about Central Arkansas worth mentioning.  One is that Scottie Pippen went to UCA, where he was a two-time NAIA All-American before winning six NBA titles with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.  Pippen actually started his career at UCA as a 6’1″ walk-on (with team manager responsibilities), but then he grew to 6’7″ and the rest is history.  The other thing you need to know about Central Arkansas is that while its men’s teams are called the Bears, the women’s teams are known as the Sugar Bears.

The Citadel and Central Arkansas have never met in hoops.  So far this season UCA is 2-2, with home wins over Bacone (an NAIA school in Muskogee, Oklahoma) and UNC-Greensboro, and road losses to Northwestern and Vanderbilt.  The loss to Northwestern was just horrendous (81-39).  On the other hand, beating UNCG should be more than enough to impress The Citadel, which was swept by the Spartans last season.

UCA returns three starters from last year’s 14-16 squad (which went 4-12 in the Southland) and adds a couple of key players to that mix.  6’6″ Mitch Reuter missed most of last season for the Bears with an injury.  He’s off to a nice start this season, as is Chris Brown, a 6’8″ transfer from Wichita State.  Other players of note for UCA include Marcus Pillow, a 6’0″ guard who leads the team in scoring and minutes played, and Mike Pouncy, a 6’1″ guard who exploded for 26 points against UNC-Greensboro.  Also part of the Bears eight-man regular rotation are a pair of centers, 6’9″, 260 lb. Brian Marks (leading the team in rebounding) and 6’8″ Landrell Brewer.

There is one player from South Carolina on UCA’s roster, the wonderfully named King Cannon, a 6’5″ forward and graduate of York High School who is averaging 13 minutes per game.  Not seeing much action but worth mentioning is 6’1″ sophomore guard Imad Qahwash, who went to high school in Canada but played this summer for the Jordanian national team.  That’s not Michael Jordan’s house team, by the way.

So far this year UCA has not shot the ball particularly well, a carryover from last season when the Bears were among the poorer shooting teams in the country.  Central Arkansas is currently shooting less than 40% from the field and less than 30% from beyond the arc.  UCA shoots only 65.3% from the foul line.  So far this season, UCA’s defensive FG% stats are rather hideous in four games (opponents are shooting better than 50% from the field), but that’s obviously a small sample size.  Last year the Bears were okay defensively.

After its game against The Citadel, the Bears will play on Sunday against South Dakota State.

Grambling State is famous for its football.  Basketball, not so much (although the school does have one famous hoops alum, Willis Reed).  Grambling has been in Division I since 1978 and has never qualified for the NCAA tournament.  Only eleven schools can claim a longer (continuous) drought without an initial tourney appearance.  One of those schools, of course, is The Citadel.  The game on Sunday will be the first between the Tigers and Bulldogs.

In the last 15 years, Grambling has only enjoyed two winning seasons (14-12 in 2005 and 16-12 in 1998).  The Tigers followed up that 1997-98 season with a six-win season and a three-win campaign.  Maybe even more disappointing for a Grambling fan is that over that same time period, only three times have the Tigers had a winning conference record.  Considering that the SWAC annually ranks near or at the bottom of conference RPI ratings, that doesn’t say much for GSU.  Last year Grambling finished with a 7-19 record and an RPI of 328.  In other words, when it comes to hoops, Grambling State and The Citadel are peers.

Grambling’s new coach is Rick Duckett, who has been around.  He’s a UNC grad who had successful stretches as a head coach at the Division II level, and was most recently an assistant to Dave Odom at South Carolina.  He’s probably a good get for the school, but he has his work cut out for him.  In three games so far this season Grambling has lost a close home game to Louisiana Tech and has been blown out in two road games against New Mexico (96-50) and Oklahoma State (91-60).  Duckett wants to employ an up-tempo style, but he may not have the players to do that yet (in the three games the Tigers are averaging a slightly-above-average 72.5 possessions).

Grambling lost three starters from last season and two other key contributors.  Duckett does have Andrew Prestley, a 6’5″ forward who in three games so far this season is putting up a 17-8 line, and JC transfer Ibrahim Kpaka, a 6’4″ guard who is averaging 13 points per game.  Grambling has very little size; the biggest player in its seven-man rotation is 6’7″, 240 lb. Jamal Breaux.  Breaux is the SWAC’s leading returning rebounder and came into this season averaging 52% from the field for his career, but in three games so far this season he is shooting 36% and only collecting 4.3 boards per game.  Grambling as a team is shooting just 33% from the field and an abysmal 55% from the foul line.  Conversely, its opponents are shooting 50% from the field (43% from 3-land).

The day before playing The Citadel, Grambling State takes on Morehead State, another winless team (0-5).

It will be interesting to see how the Bulldogs fare in neutral-site games against teams with at least similar talent levels.  Playing two games in two days will be a good warmup for the Southern Conference tournament (although assuming the Bulldogs might play more than one game in that tourney is always dangerous).  I will be disappointed if The Citadel doesn’t win at least one of these two games.  Central Arkansas is probably a slight favorite, but the Bulldogs likely would get the edge over Grambling.

No points for Curry, no sense for Patsos

I just had to briefly comment on last night’s Loyola (MD) – Davidson basketball game, as Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos took the early lead in the “strangest coaching strategy of the season” competition.  As you probably have heard by now, Davidson All-American Stephen Curry did not score in this game, because Patsos had two of his players shadow Curry for the entire game, regardless of whether or not he had the ball.  This was called a “triangle and two” defense, but in your typical triangle-and-two the defenders not in the triangle are guarding different players, not the same guy.  I propose the formation used by Loyola last night should henceforth be called the “Pitiful Patsos” defense. 

Curry spent a good portion of the game standing in a corner of the court, allowing his teammates to go 4-on-3, much like a power play in hockey.  Patsos continued to employ the double-shadow defense after it became apparent his strategy wasn’t going to work, or even come close to working, as Davidson went on an 18-0 run during the first half en route to a 39-17 lead.   Davidson eventually won the game, 78-48.

Some people have noted that Davidson had been averaging 87.5 points per game against Division I competition before this game, and so have argued that Loyola’s bizarre doubling on Curry was, from a defensive point of view, successful (since Davidson only scored 78 points in this game).  That is wrong, however.

In its four previous games against Division I teams, Davidson had averaged 87. 5 points while averaging 75.725 possessions per game, or 1.1555 points per possession, which is outstanding (that number would have led the country last season).  Against Loyola, the Wildcats may have scored “only” 78 points, but those points came on an estimated 67 possessions, for a points-per-possession average of 1.1641, which is actually better than what Davidson had been averaging before the game.  Davidson’s output of 78 points simply reflects the pace of the game, not a decline in its offensive production.

Meanwhile, Loyola’s own leading scorer, Brett Harvey, got shut out in this game (Harvey only played 13 minutes), and the Greyhounds were so discombulated on offense that they committed 21 turnovers while only having 16 made field goals.  Davidson made almost as many three-point shots (14).  Loyola hadn’t been a particularly good offensive team prior to last night, but the performance against Davidson was truly putrid.  Of course, the Wildcats were also the best team Loyola had played so far this season, so maybe that was to be expected.

My biggest problem with Patsos is that he continued to “roll the dice” (as he called it) even after it became obvious his strategy was failing, and that in the end, he seemed more determined to keep Curry from scoring than actually win (or stay competitive in) the game.  That isn’t what college basketball is about.  He made the game a farce, and for what benefit?  He’ll get some publicity (almost entirely negative), but his team will get nothing out of the game.  Instead of getting the chance to measure themselves against a quality non-conference opponent, and take that experience into Metro Atlantic conference play, it’s a waste of a game and a waste of time for the players.

It’s nice to be road warriors instead of road kill

On January 6, 2007, The Citadel won at Wofford, 74-71.  That was actually the Bulldogs’ second straight road win, having defeated Elon 53-50 three days before.  It would be the last time The Citadel won a road game…until last night.

The Bulldogs had lost 20 consecutive road games, but Tuesday night at the North Charleston Coliseum, The Citadel led throughout the entire second half and eventually outlasted Charleston Southern, 84-80.  The Bulldogs had a strong offensive showing, scoring those 84 points on 71 possessions, led by a superb game from Cameron Wells  (26 points, 11 rebounds, and only one turnover in 38 minutes).  The Citadel generally took good care of the basketball (with one area of exception – I’ll mention that later) and did a reasonable job of controlling the pace of the game. 

Shot selection was a major part of that, as the Bulldogs did not rely quite as heavily on the three-pointers as they have had a tendency to do (although the percentage of made threes was excellent).  The longer the offensive possession for the Bulldogs, the better off they were.  The Citadel also got to the foul line with regularity and converted those opportunities (84% FT).

Defensively, The Citadel did just enough to win, although there are still issues to address.  Down the stretch the Bulldogs committed a few silly fouls, allowing CSU to score points while the clock was stopped.  The three-point defense was actually pretty good.  With the way Jamarco Warren has been shooting so far this season, holding him to 4-9 shooting from beyond the arc isn’t that bad, and his teammates combined to go 3-11.  In general the Bucs didn’t shoot well, but almost made up for it with all those free throws (both teams did a great job shooting foul shots).    

The Citadel also struggled a bit with inbounding the basketball.  CSU put its 6’10” center, Billy Blackmon, on the baseline to guard the inbounds passer on made free throws and other dead-ball situations, and the Bulldogs seemed to have a hard time dealing with his size.  That’s something that is correctable, though, with instruction.  

I’ll say this (as I look around for a handy piece of balsa or oak):  it’s not a bad thing at all to root for a team that can actually make free throws, particularly down the stretch of a tight game.  I could get used to that.

Last year The Citadel beat Charleston Southern on November 26.  Its next (and final) win against a Division I opponent came on February 14, against Western Carolina.  Let’s hope that doesn’t happen again.  The Bulldogs’ next opportunity to win a game will be Saturday in the Cancun Challenge, with the game actually in Cancun this time.  The opponent is Central Arkansas.  No word on whether Scottie Pippen will be cheering on his old school.

Charleston Southern isn’t in Charleston

Not only is Charleston Southern not in Charleston, it’s not south of Charleston, either (unless you’re talking about the Charleston in West Virginia).  CSU is in Ladson, about 18 miles northwest of the Holy City.  Ladson is not exactly a suburb of Charleston.

That doesn’t prevent the school from emphasizing its connection to Charleston, however tenuous that connection may be.  The media guide, for example, has this fine example of glossing over the fact the school really isn’t in the city:

“the University is strategically located near Charleston, South Carolina, in the center of the modern growth patterns of the tri-county area. Students take advantage of the cultural, historical and recreational opportunities the city offers. Charleston is a city famous for its well-preserved colonial houses, famous gardens and plantations, miles of wide sandy beaches, and major fine arts events…”

CSU has been CSU since 1990.  The school was originally founded in 1964 as Baptist College, but as it got larger, the powers-that-be decided to change its name.  Part of this had to do with people confusing it for a seminary.  CSU (as Baptist) had been an NCAA Division I member for 15 years at the time of the switch, which occurred around the same time the College of Charleston became a full-fledged member of the division, leading to occasional confusion when the likes of ESPN or the AP reported scoring updates, as people mixed up the two schools regularly.  More than once a reference to “College of Charleston Southern” was made as well.  The national befuddlement has largely subsided now, however.

(I was a little amused to notice, though, that in CSU’s game notes there is a breakdown of the school’s alltime record under each of the school’s names.  The school recorded 285 wins as Baptist College, and has 207 so far as Charleston Southern.)

Charleston Southern (the school teams are nicknamed the Buccaneers, or the “Bucs”) has won the Big South tournament twice, but the first time the conference did not have an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.  CSU did go to the tourney in 1997, when it won the league tournament for the second (and to date, last) time.  Charleston Southern lost to UCLA that year in the first round.  Probably the most well-known CSU hoopster, at least in the Lowcountry, is longtime Charleston TV personality Warren Peper, who played basketball at Baptist College in the 1970s.

Although The Citadel and Charleston Southern are less than twenty miles apart, the two schools have had stretches of not playing each other that have lasted for several years at a time.  There were no games between the Bulldogs and Bucs from 1987 through 1992, from 1999 through 2001, and again from 2003 through 2004.  Part of this has been due to personality conflicts between various individuals, and part of it has to do with CSU’s home court situation (there is a chicken-and-the-egg aspect to the conflicts/court issue).

Charleston Southern’s on-campus “arena” is the CSU Fieldhouse, which according to a Wikipedia entry (why is there a Wiki entry for the CSU Fieldhouse?) seats 790 fans, and is reportedly the smallest home gym in Division I.  Now, to be honest, I think it can seat more than 790 (the announced attendance for the Bucs’ home opener against Furman was 846), but it is a really small gym.  Thus, CSU plays select “home” games at the North Charleston Coliseum, which seats over 13,000 in its basketball configuration.

As you might imagine, the Bucs never draw close to that many people for any of their home games, no matter the opponent (Clemson played CSU at the Coliseum about a decade ago; the game drew less than 4,000 fans).  I once went to a game at the Coliseum between CSU and Furman that could not have had more than 200 spectators in attendance, and that was counting the operations staff.  Tonight’s game should be a little better than that, but I would be surprised if more than 2,500 people are at the game.

However, the Coliseum is a selling point for the Bucs when recruiting (“see, if you’re good we’ll fill this arena with thousands of screaming fans!”).  What CSU really needs is a place to play bigger than its current home gym but not as gargantuan as the North Charleston Coliseum.  An arena with around 5,000 seats would do the trick.

The Citadel leads (!) the alltime series with CSU 18-13.  The Bucs have won five of the last six games in the series, but the one loss came last year at McAlister Field House, 76-73.  That game was typical of The Citadel’s season (poor defensive statistics across the board, heavy reliance on the three, etc.) except that The Citadel shot 50% from behind the line (11-22) and attempted (and made) a lot more free throws than normal.  Those two elements contributed to one of the Bulldogs’ two wins last season against Division I competition (late in the season, The Citadel notched its only conference victory, over Western Carolina).

Zach Urbanus went 5-6 from three-land, scoring 21 points, and the Bulldogs also got good games from Cameron Wells (15 points, 7 assists) and Demetrius Nelson (12 points, 8 rebounds in one of his last games before taking a medical redshirt).  Phillip Pandak made three 3-pointers, finishing with 11 points.  For CSU, Jamarco Warren was a force, scoring a game-high 22 points while making six 3-pointers and dishing out 5 assists.  Omar Carter added 17 points.  All of those players return for Tuesday night’s game.

This season, CSU is 2-2, with losses at Iowa (by 68-48; The Citadel lost at home to the Hawkeyes 70-48) and to the College of Charleston (at the North Charleston Coliseum).  The Bucs have defeated Toccoa Falls (a non-Division I school) and Furman, both at home.  The game against the CofC was an up-and-down affair, while the Iowa and Furman games were slower-paced.  I think CSU would probably like to play a little faster against The Citadel than it did against the Hawkeyes and Paladins.  CSU takes care of the basketball and shoots fairly well from behind the arc (and was 8-12 from that distance against Toccoa Falls, so it comes into tonight’s game confident in that respect).  The Bucs are only shooting 46.7% from inside the 3-point line, though, thanks mainly to a poor night against Iowa.  CSU has not been particularly good defensively (especially inside).

Warren is averaging 23.5 points so far this season and is red-hot from outside (64.5% from 3-land).  Carter is averaging 16.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per contest.  Freshman Kelvin Martin is a 6’5″ forward pulling down 9 rebounds per game.  He’s also in double figures in points (11.5).  The Bucs also have a 6’10” center, Billy Blackmon, who is shooting 68% from the field while averaging 7.5 boards.

Charleston Southern has lost a combined 42 games the past two years and would like to reverse that trend.  Losing again to The Citadel would be a bad sign, especially considering the Bulldogs have yet to show sustained improvement on defense and (except for the game against Cincinnati Christian) have been much more turnover-prone than they were last season.  That’s not to say the Bulldogs aren’t better than they were last season.  It’s just that it may be later in the year before The Citadel starts demonstrating that overall improvement by winning games.

However, if Nelson and Wells have good games, which I think is quite possible, and at least one other Bulldog chips in offensively, The Citadel has a decent chance of making it two in a row over CSU.  For that chance to become reality, though, the Bulldogs must control the game’s pace (in part by avoiding turnovers), do a better job defending the three, and contain the Bucs (especially Martin) on the glass.  Easier said than done.

Live from Charleston, the Cancun Challenge

I’m still amused (or perhaps bemused) by the format of the Cancun Challenge.  Basically, it’s a four-team tournament with guests…

Vanderbilt, Virginia Commonwealth, New Mexico, and Drake are in the actual bracketing for the tournament.  Drake-Vandy and VCU-New Mexico are the first round matchups, with the winners and losers playing each other the next day.  All of that makes sense.

What doesn’t make a lot of sense is that six other teams are part of the Challenge, but won’t compete in the mini-tourney outlined above.  Those six schools are The Citadel, Grambling State, Central Arkansas, South Dakota State, Central Florida, and Morehead State.

Basically, what happens in this “tournament” is that the Vandy-VCU-UNM-Drake group each host two games in the U.S. against two opponents from the six-pack mentioned in the previous paragraph.  It doesn’t really matter which two, because they don’t impact the tournament brackets for any team.  Then all ten teams will go to Cancun, with the four host schools playing an actual tournament while the remaining squads play two pre-determined matchups against other members of the “lesser six”.  The Citadel, for example, will play Central Arkansas and Grambling State in Cancun.

Further confusing things is that there were only eight available spots for the six-pack against the “fab four” in those U.S.-based matchups, so a couple of teams had to play “filler” schools for their second game.  The Citadel thus needed another opponent as part of the Challenge, and Cincinnati Christian is it.

All of this is an effort to cram as many games into an official tournament as possible, because they all count as two games (instead of four) for scheduling purposes.

At any rate, the bottom line is that The Citadel plays Cincinnati Christian tonight.  This will be the first time the two schools have met in hoops.  Cincinnati Christian is an NCCAA school (like Grace Bible College, the opponent in The Citadel’s season opener) and is also a member of NAIA Division II.  CCU, which has about 1100 students, is a member of the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, which includes schools such as Asbury, Berea, Alice Lloyd, and the St. Louis College of Pharmacy.  (The Citadel has played Asbury twice in recent years, winning those two games by scores of 75-48 and 81-60.)  I am not sure, but I think this is Cincinnati Christian’s first year in the KIAC.  In a preseason poll listed on the KIAC website, the Eagles are picked to finish next-to-last in the league, just ahead of SLCOP.

The Bulldogs will be the first of two Division I opponents for Cincinnati Christian this season.  The Eagles will also play Liberty in late December.  The Flames were the opponent the last time CCU played a D-1 team, which was two years ago, Liberty winning 101-65.  Liberty and Cincinnati Christian also met the year before that, an 81-51 triumph for the Flames.

Cincinnati Christian was 23-14 last season.  CCU had been the top seed in the NCCAA national tournament, but lost in the quarterfinals.  Two games later, the Eagles finished their season by winning a consolation game against none other than Grace Bible College, 104-87.  That was the 40th time the two schools had met on the court, with CCU winning 33 of those contests.

This season Cincinnati Christian is 4-1, with victories over Ohio Chillocothe, Kuyper College, Boyce College, and Kentucky Christian, the last two wins coming after the lone loss, 104-67 to Mount Vernon (OH) Nazarene.  Mount Vernon Nazarene was the preseason #3 team in NAIA Division II.

It’s hard to get a read on CCU when you examine the box scores from its first five games.  The Eagles’ first three games were played at a breakneck pace (82, 91, and 92 possessions).  That included an easy win, a close win, and a blowout loss (the 92-possession game).  Then either the Eagles or their opponents lowered the throttle, as the last two games have been played at a more normal pace (71 and 73 possessions).  CCU has occasionally been turnover-prone, but has also forced its fair share of TOs.

The best player for the Eagles is probably Trenton Calloway, a 6’6″, 260 lb. center averaging 15.6 points (on 71% shooting) and 9.8 rebounds per game.  Calloway is not a good free throw shooter (38%).  Chris Scott, a 6’0″ guard, is averaging 11.2 points per game and 4.4 assists per game.  Scott also averages over 3 turnovers per game, as opposed to Tommy McGuire, a 5’10” guard who has almost as many assists as Scott (22 to 18) but has a solid 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.  The Eagles don’t have much of a rebounding presence aside from Calloway.  Their other frontcourt players include Drew Ellis, a slender (215 lbs.) 6’7″ forward, and 6’9″, 265 lb. center Luke Mace.  CCU has played at least 12 guys in each game, incidentally.

That’s about all I have on Cincinnati Christian.  The Bulldogs should win this game, and I believe they will.  I expect a more coherent performance than in The Citadel’s win over Grace Bible College.  I think if the Bulldogs stay within themselves and avoid turnovers, victory should be assured.

Bulldog hoopsters unable to maintain lead over mighty Big 10 opponent

The lead was 4-2.  Iowa eventually survived, 70-48.

For The Citadel, the first six possessions went like this:
1) Inside to Demetrius Nelson, he scores
2) Inside to Nelson, he scores again
3) Attempt to transition for an easy hoop leads to challenged layup, no good
4) Ignored the inside, rushed a 3, no good
5) Ignored the inside, one-on-one move leading to long jumper, no good
6) Inside to Nelson, Iowa brings help this time, he kicks it out for an open 3, Daniel Eykyn makes it

Then there was a media timeout.  When action resumed, Nelson had been substituted.

When you are playing a team like Iowa, there aren’t going to be a lot of possessions (the Bulldogs had 54 in this game).  You’ve got to make them count.  If something is working early, like Nelson getting good looks because he’s being played one-on-one by a guy about his size, keep doing it.  Instead The Citadel started rushing things. 

Iowa would pass the ball around, running ball screen after ball screen, waiting for a defender to screw up (which happened way too often).  Then one of the Hawkeyes would take (and 52% of the time, make) an open 3.  It was quite frustrating to watch.  Even more frustrating, though, would be The Citadel’s response, which was seemingly to try to speed the game up by taking quick shots on the offensive end, especially three-pointers, missing most of the outside jumpers (4-17 from 3).  The Citadel’s rushed play also led to 13 turnovers, which doesn’t sound bad, but remember, there were only 54 possessions.  That means that almost one-fourth of every Bulldog possession ended in a turnover.  That’s not a good ratio.

The Citadel also tried to speed the game up by pressing Iowa, but that didn’t work, partly because the Bulldogs aren’t really a pressing team.  Iowa only committed one turnover in the entire first half (five for the game). 

A victory probably wasn’t meant to be for The Citadel, anyway, considering Iowa was fairly sharp and never seemed sluggish, and also given how well Hawkeye guard Anthony Tucker shot the ball (the second three Tucker made was actually very well defended, but Tucker made it anyway). 

Still, the final result is disappointing.  While Iowa is a major conference team, it’s not expected to challenge for the Big 10 title, and perhaps more importantly, the game didn’t feature multiple athletic mismatches like you might expect against a BCS opponent.  In other words, it shouldn’t have been a 22-point loss (which is a bad loss, especially given the pace of play).  The Citadel did manage to get within five points with less than 13 minutes left in the second half, but then Iowa made another run and the Bulldogs seemed to lose their bearings.

Cameron Wells had a good game, finishing with 21 points on 13 shots.  Austin Dahn seemed to pick up a foul every five seconds he was in the game – it just wasn’t his night.  Nelson finished with eight shot attempts (and only one FT attempt) in 28 minutes.  Cosmo Morabbi grabbed six rebounds, not bad at all for a guard, and had three assists.  He was 0-5 from the field, though, missing three three-point shots, at least two of which seemed to not come in the natural flow of the offense.

Of course, there arguably wasn’t a natural flow to the offense.  The Citadel only had five assists in this game on nineteen made field goals, and that despite only picking up two offensive rebounds, so it’s not like the Bulldogs converted a bunch of tap-ins.

Next up, Cincinnati Christian, as part of the Cancun Challenge, with McAlister Field House the site, as opposed to a Mexican beach…

The Iowa Hawkeyes come to town

On Thursday night, the Iowa Hawkeyes will become the first Big 10 team to ever play a game at McAlister Field House.  I’m sure people will be telling their grandchildren some day about the time big bad Todd Lickliter came to town with his band of marauding hoopsters, intent on destruction.  Then again, maybe not.

Let’s delve into some of the history (or lack thereof) between the two schools…

I first want to mention Whitey Piro.  Who is Whitey Piro?  Well, he was once the head basketball coach at The Citadel.  In 1947, Piro’s Bulldogs were 5-11.  That doesn’t seem like much of a record, but keep in mind the four coaches who followed Piro all had worse overall records.  Never has a .313 winning percentage looked so good.  Piro, who was born in Germany, went to high school in New York and graduated from Syracuse in 1941.  At Syracuse he was a star wide receiver and also played one year on the basketball team as a reserve.  He did not score a point that season, which arguably made him an ideal candidate to later coach hoops at The Citadel.

Piro played one year in the NFL, for the Philadelphia Eagles, before joining the Army Air Corps during World War II.  He would eventually have a long career as an assistant coach at Iowa (and was later a pro scout).  His son is Iowa’s executive director of development for intercollegiate athletics.

Piro is still alive and resides in Iowa City.  He is 90 years old.

After that, connections between the two schools dry up a bit.  Ed Conroy, of course, is a native of Davenport, Iowa, as is his assistant Andy Fox.  Assistant Doug Novak was once the head coach at a JC in Council Bluffs.

This will only be the fifth time The Citadel has ever played a Big 10 school in basketball.  Two years ago the Bulldogs played both Iowa and Michigan State (which will be the case this season as well).  In 1974 The Citadel played Indiana in Bloomington, and in 1970 the Bulldogs faced Northwestern in a Christmas tournament in Greenville.  The Citadel lost all of those games.

The last time The Citadel defeated a school currently in a BCS conference was 1989, when the Bulldogs upset South Carolina 88-87 in Columbia.  (At the time, the Gamecocks were members of the Metro Conference.)  Since then The Citadel’s record against current BCS schools is 0-45.  Prior to that 1989 game the Bulldogs had last defeated a major conference opponent in 1979, when they beat Clemson 58-56 in Charleston.  Thus, The Citadel has lost 70 of its last 71 games against schools currently in BCS conferences.

The Big 10 is not the only major conference The Citadel is 0-for-history against; the same is true of the Pac-10.  However, there have been very few games between The Citadel and teams from those two leagues.  That is also the case with the schools making up the Big XII.  The Bulldogs do have a win against a current Big XII school, though, having defeated Texas A&M (then of the Southwest Conference) 62-61 in 1971.

Okay, enough of that.  Let’s talk about this game.  First, a little background on Iowa’s recent hoops history.  It’s not what Iowa fans would like it to be.

Iowa had made three NCAA tournament appearances before 1979.  In 1955, Iowa reached the Final Four (in a 16-team tournament) before losing to Tom Gola and La Salle.  In 1956, the Hawkeyes made it to the title game (playing the regionals in Iowa City; the national semis were in Evanston, Illinois) before running into Bill Russell, K.C. Jones, and San Francisco.  The coach for those two teams was Bucky O’Connor.  Ralph Miller was the coach of the 1970 Iowa team that won the Big 10, the next time the Hawkeyes made an NCAA tournament appearance.

Iowa hoops in the “modern” era (when the tourney began to take on bigger-than-life dimensions) started with Lute Olson and a series of appearances beginning in 1979.  After stubbing its toe a bit that year (Iowa lost in the first round to Toledo in a game, interestingly enough, played in Bloomington), the Hawkeyes made their third (and to date, last) appearance in the Final Four in 1980.  As a five seed, Iowa had to play a first-round game against Virginia Commonwealth (the tourney had 48 teams back then) and then faced fourth-seeded N.C. State, which had received a bye, in Greensboro.  The Hawkeyes won that game, and then crushed the nascent Big East conference by winning back-to-back games in Philadelphia against top-seeded Syracuse and third-seeded Georgetown.  In the national semifinals, Iowa lost to eventual national champion Louisville, and then also lost to fellow Big 10’er Purdue in the consolation game (the next-to-last time the consolation game was played).

After that season, you better believe expectations were raised in Iowa City.  Olson continued to put teams into the field, but without the success he had in 1980.  Iowa lost in the first round in 1981 and the second round in 1982.  In 1983, as a seven seed, Olson’s charges rolled Norm Stewart and Missouri in round two before getting upended by Rollie Massimino and Villanova 55-54 in the Sweet 16.

Olson moved on, and was replaced by George Raveling, who was still one coaching move away from his inevitable job at Nike.  Raveling went to the tournament twice but was one-and-done both times.  His successor, Tom Davis, brought Iowa to the brink of another Final Four in 1987, but the Hawkeyes blew an 18-point lead to UNLV in the West regional final.  The next year, Davis guided Iowa to the Sweet 16, but the Hawkeyes were thumped by old coach Olson and his new team, Arizona.  That established a pattern for Davis, whose teams always won their first round matchup, but seldom their second.  Davis took Iowa to eight NCAA tournaments in twelve seasons.

He was succeeded by Steve Alford, who was the hot name in coaching (besides being an Indiana high school and IU legend).  Alford, though, had a bit of a disappointing run in Iowa City, only making the NCAAs three times in eight seasons.  He also only had three winning seasons in conference play over his tenure as coach.  Alford won one NCAA tournament game as head coach at Iowa, which is one fewer than he had while coaching (Southwest) Missouri State.  Alford jumped at the New Mexico job two years ago in a classic “jump or be pushed” situation.

Now the coach at Iowa is Todd Lickliter, in his second year with the Hawkeyes after a great run at Butler that included two Sweet 16 appearances in six seasons.  He’s a good coach, but he has work to do.  Iowa was 13-19 in his first season (6-12 Big 10).  Iowa lost its share of close games (seven by six points or less), but also played a lot of fairly close games, which can happen when you average just over 60 possessions per game.  Iowa scored 56 points per game, low by even Big 10 standards.  The Hawkeyes scored under 50 points seven times, including once in a game Iowa actually won (a 43-36 victory over Michigan State that drew guffaws from around the country).  Iowa was not a good rebounding team and struggled to force turnovers, while committing a bunch themselves (bottom 15 nationally in turnover rate on offense).  The Hawkeyes had mediocre offensive shooting stats across the board and were not good from the foul line (64.9%).

This season Iowa is 2-0 with home wins over Charleston Southern (by 20 points) and UT-San Antonio (by 6).  One player almost certain to give The Citadel problems is Cyrus Tate, a 6’8″, 255 lb. senior who in two games is averaging 13.5 points and 8.5 rebounds.  He has also blocked five shots in two games.  He’s the type of post player The Citadel could not compete successfully against last season, and so far this season.  Tate is one of seven Hawkeyes who have played significant minutes so far this year.  Another guy to watch is 6’5″ freshman guard Matt Gatens, who was the high school player of the year in Iowa last season.

Iowa is continuing the deliberate pace it employed last season, averaging 61 possessions in the two games it has played to date.

One more thing — according to Iowa’s game notes, the game against The Citadel will probably be the only Iowa game this season that will not be televised.  All but one of the rest of the Hawkeyes’ games are guaranteed to be on TV.  (Conversely, The Citadel will only be on television three times this season.)

Iowa is picked to finish near the bottom of the Big 10, along with Northwestern and Indiana.  Due to Iowa’s rebuilding, youth (five of its top seven rotation players are freshmen or sophomores), and style of play, if you were going to pick a Big 10 team that could be beaten in McAlister, this might be the one.  However, I don’t see it happening, at least not tomorrow night.

The best chance The Citadel has is to make more than its fair share of three-pointers while somehow holding its own in the paint.  If Demetrius Nelson and company could neutralize Tate and his friends, and The Citadel could shoot well (while not repeating the somewhat out of character 21-turnover performance against VCU), maybe the Bulldogs have a shot.  The Citadel has yet to prove it can successfully defend inside (or outside, really) against a team at the Division I level, though.

Still, there is a reason they play the games…

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