2013 Football, Game 11: The Citadel vs. VMI

The Citadel vs. VMI, the Military Classic of the South, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 1:00 pm ET on Saturday, November 16. The game will not be televised, although it will be streamed on Bulldog Insider (subscription service) and can be heard on radio via the thirteen affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Danny Reed (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Josh Baker, with Lee Glaze roaming the sidelines and Walt Nadzak providing pre-game, halftime, and post-game commentary.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for the network; the station will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each home football game. It is also possible to listen to the game via a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Note that 1:00 pm ET start time, an hour earlier than for the past two home games. Don’t be late!

Also: The Citadel’s basketball team will be playing North Greenville at McAlister Field House on Saturday, with tipoff scheduled for 7:05 pm ET. If you have your ticket from the football game, you can watch the basketball game for free.

The hoopsters won their first game of the season on Tuesday, beating Presbyterian 82-68 in the home opener. The team shot well against PC, and held off the Blue Hose down the stretch despite a fair amount of foul trouble.

I hope a lot of Bulldog fans make Saturday a personal football/basketball doubleheader.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

VMI game notes

SoCon weekly release

Big South weekly release

Kevin Higgins on the SoCon media teleconference

Sparky Woods on the Big South media teleconference (beginning at the 18:20 mark)

The Kevin Higgins Show

Advertisement for VMI-The Citadel (video)

Ben Dupree is the reigning SoCon offensive player of the week

Dupree once found out that wearing flip-flops can be problematic

Game story from The Post and Courier on The Citadel’s win over Elon

Game story from the Burlington Times-News on The Citadel’s win over Elon

This preview is going to be a little lighter on the usual historical/statistical minutiae (possibly a blessing in disguise), as I’m on the road much of this week.

Just a lot of “odds and ends” observations…

The game story from the Burlington (NC) newspaper included two quotes that I want to highlight:

Obviously, it’s a low point right now for Elon football

The above comment is from Elon head coach Jason Swepson. He is in his third season, but it may be his last if he keeps having to make pronouncements like that one. It’s not the way the school wanted to exit the SoCon before starting gridiron action in the CAA next season.

Yeah, since I’ve been on the team, it’s probably the lowest we’ve come as a Phoenix, or the Phoenixes, or whatever you want to call us

That was said by Elon’s starting quarterback, Mike Quinn. “Phoenix, or the Phoenixes, or whatever you want to call us” is so…expressive.

I missed this article that ran last week in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, but better late than never. Both Appalachian State and Georgia Southern currently have losing records against league teams, and I get the impression that doesn’t hurt the feelings of SoCon commissioner John Iamarino one bit.

VMI played its final Big South conference game last week against Gardner-Webb, and a funny thing happened. VMI won.

It wasn’t even close, as the Keydets prevailed 27-9. Gardner-Webb owns victories this season over Wofford and Furman, so yes, this was an upset.

How did it happen? Well, mostly it happened because A) VMI’s defense has been improving over the course of the season, and B) Gardner-Webb couldn’t get out of its own way.

Gardner-Webb opened the game by fumbling a snap into its own end zone, where VMI senior linebacker Weston Reber fell on the ball for a touchdown. G-W fumbled again on its next drive, setting up a Keydet field goal.

Those were two of Gardner-Webb’s five turnovers. The Runnin’ Bulldogs also committed thirteen penalties, and shanked a punt that went for just six yards. It just wasn’t G-W’s day.

Choice comments from Weston Reber:

“I just saw the ball on the ground,” said Reber, referring to G-W quarterback Lucas Beatty, who had lost the ball after having trouble fielding a low snap.

“I was on a lineman and I said, ‘I’m getting this damn ball, this thing is mine!’ It was a foot away and it kept rolling and kept rolling, and when it rolled over the [goal line] I just took off and dove on it.”

Reber laughed and jokingly added: “Hopefully, they will take away some demerits from me for the touchdown!”

I wouldn’t count on it…

Sparky Woods, discussing matters during his media teleconference:

We would like to defeat Citadel [sic] so we could continue this reign the Big South has over the Southern Conference.

He did mention that a year from now, he might feel differently about the conference dynamics, given VMI will be in the SoCon next season. Of course, it’s not a given that Woods will be in charge of the Keydets when the school returns to the league.

VMI’s victory over Gardner-Webb was only its second win of the season, and first over a Division I opponent. Woods is in his sixth season in Lexington, and has won only 15 games during that time.

A new AD, Dave Diles, has taken over at VMI, and Diles will have a decision to make about Woods’ future after the season.

VMI is last in the Big South in the following categories: scoring offense, total offense, rushing offense, offensive third down conversion rate, scoring defense, pass defense, defensive third down conversion rate, kickoff return average, kickoff coverage average, and net punting.

Keydet opponents average 6.2 yards per play. VMI is allowing an average of 35.0 points per contest.

The Keydets can point to some positives. VMI leads the Big South in passing offense (though it is next-to-last in pass efficiency), and its red zone defense is actually quite respectable (allowing 4.6 points per opponent possession inside the 20).

The negative to that red zone defense statistic is that opponents have had 47 such possessions.

VMI also has a knack for inducing penalties. I’m not sure how that happens, but VMI leads the Big South in the category, and it’s the second year in a row VMI opponents have been prone to committing infractions when facing the Keydets.

Last year, by far The Citadel’s worst game of the season in terms of penalties came at VMI. Those mistakes almost cost the Bulldogs the victory. That is something to watch on Saturday.

Redshirt senior A.J. Augustine will start at quarterback for VMI against The Citadel, the third straight start for the native of St. Petersburg. It’s too bad he’s not a native of St. Augustine.

Augustine replaced Eric Kordenbrock, who had started most of VMI’s games at the position since midway through his freshman year. He is the alltime leader in passing yardage for the Keydets.

Kordenbrock suffered a serious concussion against Presbyterian, during a play that resulted in an ejection for a Blue Hose player. As a result, Kordenbrock’s college career is over.

Running back Derrick Ziglar rushed for 94 yards and a TD against Gardner-Webb. He had rushed for 100+ yards in the previous two games, becoming the first Keydet with back-to-back 100-yard rushing games in four years.

VMI’s top receiver is Sam Patterson, who is averaging 17 yards per catch. Patterson has seven touchdown receptions and has caught at least one TD pass in four of his last five games.

Earlier in the year, Patterson had back-to-back 100-yard receiving games, the first VMI player to do that since 2005.

VMI’s starting offensive line averages 6’4″, 289 lbs. The biggest of the group is 6’8″, 325 lb. Andy Marcotte.

The starting center for the Keydets, Will Lucas, is a native of Hartsville. He was the only VMI player named to the Big South’s preseason all-conference team.

Another Keydet who turned up on a couple of preseason “watch lists” was tight end Mario Thompson. Unfortunately, three weeks ago Thompson suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Weston Reber, the player with the potentially demerit-erasing fumble recovery against Gardner-Webb, is VMI’s leading tackler. He has one more stop than free safety Alex James.

Outside linebackers Logan Staib and Chris Harper lead the team in tackles for loss and sacks, respectively. Cornerback James Fruehan has two interceptions; seven of his teammates have one each.

VMI’s defense will line up against The Citadel in a 3-4, or a “three down look”, or a five-man front…pick your terminology.

As mentioned earlier, the Keydets have shown some improvement on D in recent weeks and won’t lack confidence from last year’s game against the Bulldogs. In that contest, The Citadel did not score an offensive touchdown in the second half.

VMI placekicker Dillon Christopher was named the Big South special teams player of the week for his performance against Gardner-Webb, which included a 52-yard field goal. Earlier this season, Christopher made a 45-yarder, so he’s got a strong leg. He has been a bit inconsistent, though, and is 7-12 on field goal attempts for the season.

He is also the kickoff specialist for the Keydets. Christopher has six touchbacks in 38 kickoffs this year.

David Eberhardt is averaging 39.0 yards per punt for VMI. So far this season, only one of the Keydets’ 65 punts has been blocked, which is better than VMI’s recent history in that department.

Ripped from the pages of The Citadel’s game notes…

The Citadel is 0-5 against VMI on November 16. Saturday’s date? November 16. Uh-oh.

The Bulldogs did beat Clemson on November 16, 1918. Perhaps the department of athletics should have tried to flip the dates for the VMI and Clemson games this season.

Saturday is the “Hall of Fame Game” at Johnson Hagood Stadium. This year’s honorees: Chip Cannon, Lance Hansen, Jim McMillan, Dan McDonnell, Richard Moore, and Joe Turbeville. Congratulations to all.

Richard Moore may be the least-known of the six. He probably needs to get a little more attention. Moore (class of 1953) was the rifle coach at The Citadel from 1959-62. To quote the press release:

The Bulldogs were undefeated in shoulder-to-shoulder competition during those four seasons and regularly defeated teams from Army, Navy and Air Force.  The Bulldogs finished first in the Hearst National Rifle Match, which equated to national championships, in 1959, ’60 and ’61.

Arguably the most successful coach in Citadel history, Moore’s four teams captured Southern Conference and state championships each year and along the way, three shooters – Robert Metsker ’60, David Edgerly ’62 and Keels Dickson ’62 – all earned All-America citations, becoming the first Citadel program to showcase three All-Americans.

State, conference, and national championships. That works for me.

Moore’s tenure as the rifle coach ended when he was transferred for a tour of duty in Vietnam, which serves as a reminder that the game against VMI is also Military Appreciation Day.

A few weeks ago, I wrote that my preview of the VMI game might be just one sentence: “The Dogs better not lose to VMI.”

I decided a few more sentences wouldn’t hurt, but the bottom line is that this is a must-not-lose game for The Citadel.

That was true last year, too, and the Bulldogs hung on for a victory in a game that was a little too close for comfort. The Citadel can’t afford to let VMI hang around on Saturday, as the Keydets may have a little more confidence this time around that they can pull off the upset.

In a season that has been more of a struggle for The Citadel than was anticipated, it is now even more critical that the coveted Silver Shako is retained.

Of course, it’s always important to keep the greatest trophy in all of sports in Charleston, where it belongs.

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.

The Citadel hoops it up in Las Vegas…and a couple other places

What happens in Vegas…stays in Vegas.

On Friday, The Citadel plays the first of four basketball games in the western half of the United States, with one game in Boulder, Colorado, another in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and two games in Las Vegas.  If you have to play four games in the week before Christmas, you could do worse in terms of locales.

The four games are all part of the IBN Las Vegas Classic, which is an in-season tournament that really isn’t a tournament.  Well, I suppose it’s a tournament for Colorado, New Mexico, Indiana, and Northern Iowa.  Those four schools host two games, then play in a four-team bracket in Las Vegas for the “tournament” title. Meanwhile, four other schools (The Citadel, South Carolina State, Longwood, and SIU Edwardsville) play two games at the “bigger” schools and then two games against each other in Vegas.

It doesn’t matter if The Citadel beats Colorado and/or New Mexico before playing in Las Vegas.  It’s still paired off with the Longwood-SIUE-SCSU group.

This kind of in-season event is a growing trend that can be blamed mostly on Gardner-Webb, which a couple of years ago upset Kentucky and replaced the Wildcats in a made-for-ESPN tournament at Madison Square Garden.  That didn’t sit well with event organizers, which missed out on the hordes of UK fans (and also presumably annoyed ESPN, which lost a big TV draw).

After that, the folks who run these types of events started the “guaranteed four” setup, so as to ensure that the four “name” teams in the tournament advance to play at the main site.  Of course, both sets of teams in the LVC are playing at Orleans Arena anyway, but I’m guessing CBS College Sports (which is televising each game of the Colorado-New Mexico-Northern Iowa-Indiana group) didn’t want to be faced with the possibility of televising Longwood-South Carolina State instead of Northern Iowa-Indiana.

In addition, the organizers want to sell as many tickets, advanced or otherwise, as possible, and it’s not as easy to do that without “heavyweight” matchups (although there is nothing particularly heavy about any of the heavies in this tourney).  If you click on the “IBN Las Vegas Classic” link above, you will notice that ticket prices for the event range from $44 to $110, and single-game tickets are not available.  (If you listen to the announcer on the streaming video advertisement, you will also notice him promoting South Carolina as playing in this event; undoubtedly the folks who put the video together got South Carolina confused with South Carolina State.)

The Citadel also played in a “tournament” with pre-determined matchups a couple of years ago, in Cancun, an event that also featured New Mexico, and which was most notable for having its games played in a ballroom (complete with chandeliers).

Just some thoughts on The Citadel’s upcoming opponents, nothing too substantial…let’s start with Chris Fowler’s alma mater:

Colorado is 5-3.  The Buffaloes are 5-0 at home and 0-3 on the road.  Luckily for Colorado, it will play The Citadel at home.

This appears to be enough of an edge for The Denver Post, and possibly Buffs coach Tad Boyle, to take the Bulldogs for granted.  Boyle plans to “substitute freely” against The Citadel, in an effort to give his benchwarmers some playing time. According to the Post, “it will be a disappointment if Colorado can’t empty its bench” against the Bulldogs.

I think that qualifies as bulletin board material…

You can understand Colorado’s confidence, what with its impressive wins over national powers Idaho State and Texas-Pan American, and its near-upset of Harvard, which only beat the Buffaloes by 16 points.

Alec Burks (20.5 PPG this season and last year’s Big XII freshman of the year) and Cory Higgins (16.9 PPG) are good players, and need to be saved for other games, like those against top-100 RPI teams.  Colorado needs to beat some of those teams to finish the year in the top 100 itself, something it hasn’t done in the past four seasons. Part of the reason for that has been its less-than-stellar defensive play; among other things, Colorado finished last in the Big XII in 2009-10 in FG% defense.

Boyle won 25 games last year at Northern Colorado, and then moved to Boulder to replace Jeff Bzdelik (currently losing games to low-major squads at an alarming rate for Wake Forest).  He wants to improve Colorado’s defense and rebounding, which is a good idea, but through eight games the Buffs are still struggling to defend (including allowing opponents to shoot 40% from three-land; Zach Urbanus, take note).

The Citadel, by my count, has now lost 51 straight games to schools currently in BCS conferences.  Its last victory over a major-conference foe came in 1989, at South Carolina.  Before that you have to go back to 1979 and a win over Clemson.  The Bulldogs have only one victory over a current Big XII school, a 62-61 decision against Texas A&M in 1971.

While beating Colorado might be considered unlikely, given that history, it’s not out of the realm of possibility, particularly since the Buffaloes are not exactly on the same level as Duke or Kansas.  I’m a bit bemused by the Post story, which appears to be assuming a walkover.

Going into this season, Steve Alford had won 76 games in three years at New Mexico, including 30 last season (a school record).  One of those 30 victories came in the NCAA tournament, which matched Alford’s total number of NCAA tourney triumphs in eight years at Iowa.  It appears Albuquerque is a better fit for Alford than Iowa City, somewhat surprising for a Big 10 legend…or a Big 10 leader…whatever.

(We’ll be mocking the new Big 10 division names for years to come.)

Alford should have a good team this year, too, although it could have been even better had MWC player of the year Darington Hobson returned.  He elected to go pro and bypass his senior season, however.  Hobson and Ramon Martinez (also departed) combined to average 30 points and 15 rebounds per game last season; now Alford has to replace that production.

The Lobos are 7-1, including back-to-back wins over New Mexico State (a scheduling oddity; the victory in Las Cruces came in OT) and victories over Arizona State and Detroit.  The one loss was a 25-point beatdown at California.

New Mexico has a lot of depth, and Alford is still in the process of figuring out how to use it, evidenced by the fact ten different players have seen action in all eight of the Lobos’ games, and that doesn’t include Phillip McDonald, who missed three early games with an elbow injury.  When Alford does get a handle on his rotation, New Mexico should be an upper-echelon Mountain West Conference outfit, albeit probably a rung below San Diego State (Steve Fisher appears to have his best team in 12 years at the helm of the Aztecs’ program).

New Mexico plays its home games in one of college basketball’s great venues, The Pit, which has undergone a $60 million renovation.  The Pit is probably best known as the site of North Carolina State’s famous victory over Houston’s “Phi Slama Jama” squad in the 1983 NCAA title game.

It’s too bad Final Fours aren’t played in true basketball arenas any more, because The Pit was a classic host site.  CBS has been using “The Road to…” tagline for years to hype the NCAA tournament, and nothing ever sounded better than “The Road to Albuquerque”.

Once The Citadel arrives in Las Vegas, it will face South Carolina State.  This is, in a word, dumb.  Two schools 77 miles apart (believe me, I am more than familiar with the distance between Orangeburg and Charleston) will travel across the country to play each other.  I don’t see why the event organizers didn’t have SCSU and The Citadel play Longwood and/or SIU Edwardsville in the first round, to lessen the chance they would play each other.

South Carolina State is 4-4, with all four victories coming against non-D1 opposition. (The Orangeburg Bulldogs will play Indiana and Northern Iowa prior to matching up with The Citadel.)  The losses include setbacks at Clemson and at Charlotte; SCSU has also lost to Furman and, perhaps most disappointingly for its fans, North Carolina Central.

Carrio Bennett, a senior who was the MEAC freshman of the year three seasons ago, scored a combined 35 points against Furman and NC-Central, but averaged just six points against Charlotte and Clemson.  Darnell Porter lit it up against the Bulldogs’ non-D1 competition, but hasn’t yet produced against the better teams on SCSU’s schedule.

All of South Carolina State’s scholarship newcomers this season are junior college players; one of them, Brandon Riley, scored 23 points against Charlotte and 12 against Furman.

Through four games against D-1 teams, SCSU has done a good job forcing turnovers and rebounding, and a poor job defending in the paint (allowing 54.1% on 2-point FG attempts).  The Bulldogs are a mixed bag when it comes to offensive efficiency; they’re a good 2-point shooting team but terrible beyond the arc (26.6%).

This will be the first meeting between The Citadel and South Carolina State since 2004.  Charleston’s Bulldogs hold a 7-3 advantage in the series.

After playing South Carolina State, The Citadel will play either Longwood or SIU Edwardsville.

Longwood is 3-8, with its lone D-1 victory over Columbia.  The Lancers share one common opponent with The Citadel, James Madison, losing at home to the Dukes 88-78 (the Bulldogs lost to JMU 74-67 at McAlister Field House).

The globetrotting Lancers have also lost at Kansas, Seton Hall, Marquette, and VMI (losing 114-82 to the run-and-gun Keydets).  When The Citadel is playing Colorado, Longwood will be playing New Mexico (and vice versa).

Longwood is a small school (a little over 4000 undergraduates) in Farmville, Virginia that has been a D-1 member since 2007.  It’s an independent in hoops, which largely explains its all-over-the-map schedule.  Its most famous hoops alum is Jerome Kersey, who was a longtime NBA player for the Portland Trail Blazers.

SIU Edwardsville started institutional life as an extension of SIU Carbondale (the school commonly referred to as Southern Illinois or SIU).  SIUE now has almost 14,000 undergraduate students.

Like Longwood, SIUE is a recent debutant in D-1.  The Cougars ply their trade in the Ohio Valley Conference, although they won’t compete in league play as a member until next season. SIUE is still transitioning to Division I.

SIUE is 2-9, with only one victory over a D-1 squad.  That win came last Saturday against Kennesaw State in 2OT.  Kennesaw State had beaten Georgia Tech earlier in the season, so beating KSU was a nice scalp for the Cougars.  Actually, any win would be a nice scalp for SIUE, which prior to the Kennesaw State win had only defeated MacMurray (the college, not the dad from ‘My Three Sons’).  Last season the Cougars were 5-23, which included two non-D1 victories.

SIUE has several notable alums from the world of sports, including the great tennis doubles team of Ken Flach and Robert Seguso, the respected baseball broadcaster Dewayne Staats, and pro wrestler Paul Wight (“The Big Show”).  Sportswriter Bill Plaschke also attended SIUE.  However, the most notable SIUE basketball alum is longtime referee Ed Hightower.

When I last wrote about the hoops team, The Citadel was about to play its first two Southern Conference games of the season, along with a game against D-3 St. Mary’s of Maryland.  I had expected the Bulldogs to go 2-1 in those three games, and that’s exactly what happened.

As for the four upcoming “tournament” games, I believe The Citadel should be 2-2 at worst.  I don’t really expect an upset on the road in Boulder or Albuquerque (although it would be nice, obviously), but I think The Citadel has a better squad than South Carolina State (and a more cohesive and experienced one as well).  The Bulldogs should be favorites against either Longwood or SIUE.

Jeff Hartsell did a nice job in a recent “Bulldog Bites” post of breaking down how the season has gone so far, although I think the Bulldogs are a little better than that current Pomeroy projection.  I certainly hope so, anyway.  The Citadel needs to continue to work out its problems on the defensive end; the Bulldogs are a bottom 50 team nationally in 2-point FG% defense and aren’t much better in defensive turnover rate.  The Citadel does have good numbers defensively against the three-point shot, however, as opponents are only shooting 31% from beyond the arc.

The Citadel is only shooting 62.9% from the line, which is actually better than I would have expected, given that the player who has shot the most free throws so far this season is Bryan Streeter.  If good foul shooters like Cameron Wells and Mike Groselle get more opportunities from the charity stripe, the FT% will go up.

One way for Groselle to get more chances is for his minutes to increase, which I think is going to happen, particularly if he can hold his own defensively.  On the offensive side of the court, he has been very impressive.

I’ve been trying to decide who Groselle reminds me of in terms of his offensive game. Maybe this is a reach, and it certainly is a blast from the past, but I’m going to say he has a game not unlike John Pinone, who was a star for Rollie Massimino at Villanova in the early 1980s.

Streeter may be a total liability at the foul line (33.3%), but he is an offensive rebounding machine, with 29 in eight games.  That is getting it done.   Even with his struggles with free throws, he has still been arguably the Bulldogs’ second-best player so far this year when you combine all the elements of the game.

Zach Urbanus appears to have located his missing outside shot, and the team has solid numbers in terms of assist/turnover ratio and assist/made basket ratio (the A/B of 64% is 20th-best in the country).  Where the Bulldogs are hurting offensively is inside.  I noted The Citadel’s poor 2-point FG% defense earlier; it’s matched by an equally poor 2-point offensive percentage.  Between that, the team’s early struggles from three-land and the free throw issues, The Citadel’s eFG% is 314th out of 345 Division I teams.

I hope the players have a good time on the trip, and come back with an extra Christmas present or two, like a win in Boulder or Albuquerque.

Football, Game 5: The Citadel vs. Western Carolina

This week’s edition of the game preview is a bit of a ramble.  I don’t know if that’s good or bad…

In last season’s preview of the Western Carolina game, I wrote (among other things) about how WCU has some built-in problems when it comes to competing successfully in football in the Southern Conference.  At the time, the Catamounts were 0-5.  It was a game The Citadel was supposed to win.

The Bulldogs lost, 14-10.

That’s the lesson to be learned when it comes to The Citadel competing in the SoCon.  The Bulldogs may face a team that is struggling and/or lacks (as a program) certain resources.  However, The Citadel will never be in a position to just show up and win while playing its “C” game.  The military school doesn’t have the capacity to do that, and never will, because of its own restrictions (note that I said restrictions, not disadvantages).

At its best as a program, The Citadel could beat any league team — and could lose to any league team.  That’s just the way it is.  In terms of physical talent, no other conference squad will ever be overmatched by the Bulldogs.

This season, Western Carolina is 1-3, including a 24-point home loss to Tusculum, a Division II school.  On Saturday, on the road at Johnson Hagood Stadium, Catamounts coach Dennis Wagner will give a true freshman quarterback his first career start.  It is a game The Citadel is supposed to win…

Western Carolina opened its season by losing 48-7 to North Carolina State, which no one could get too upset about.  Then, however, the Catamounts were embarrassed by Tusculum 54-30 (in a game that ended with 2:39 still on the clock after a lightning strike).  Plenty of Catamount fans were upset about that.

WCU followed that up with a somewhat surprising 28-14 win over Gardner-Webb, which had just upset Akron.  Last week’s 27-21 loss to UT-Chattanooga was also a bit of an eyebrow-raiser, as the game wasn’t supposed to be that close.

I decided to discount the NC State game when looking at WCU’s statistical record. Western Carolina actually scored first in that game before allowed 48 unanswered points.  Still, that was against a currently undefeated BCS school.

Against Tusculum (as mentioned above, a Division II school, and one that only won three games last season), the Catamounts gave up fumble return touchdowns of 90 and 60 yards and were also victimized by a blocked punt that resulted in a TD one play later.  Ouch.  Just before halftime, the score was 27-0.  It was just a complete debacle.

Also noteworthy:  Tusculum only had 42 net yards rushing, but threw for 410 yards without being intercepted.  The stats for this game were very different from the other WCU games in several respects — the Catamounts finished with more first downs and more time of possession, for example.

That game looks like a situation where things started terribly, and the Catamounts were simply incapable of reversing the momentum.  That may be an indication of how fragile WCU’s program is, but I think Western Carolina’s 9-40 record since 2006 is enough of an indicator.

Then came the promising performances against Gardner-Webb and UTC.

Against G-W, Western Carolina only picked up 7 first downs on offense (to the Bulldogs’ 24) and was on the short end of time of possession by almost 16 minutes. So how did the Catamounts prevail?  By taking advantage of six turnovers, that’s how. WCU intercepted five passes, returning one for a score, and also returned a fumble for a TD.  Torrez Jones had four of the five picks (although not the pick-6).

WCU’s other two scores in the game were on a 78-yard pass reception and a 60-yard run, so big plays ruled the day.  Gardner-Webb couldn’t overcome all of them, even at home.

The UT-Chattanooga game was a similar story.  The Mocs had 24 first downs to WCU’s 12 (with the Catamounts not picking up a single first down by rushing).  In this game Western Carolina committed four turnovers, all by Brandon Pechloff, the freshman who will be starting against The Citadel on Saturday (three interceptions, one fumble).

However, WCU forced four turnovers of its own, including three fumbles, one of which it returned for a TD.  WCU also scored on a trick play.  After a UTC punt gave the Catamounts great field position, WCU scored on its first play following the change in possession on a wide receiver pass.

To sum up, the Catamounts are not the type of team that sustains long scoring drives. The Catamounts have had to count on big plays, both offensively and defensively, to stay in games.    I could see The Citadel rolling up a huge edge in time of possession in this game, but it won’t mean much if the Bulldogs turn the ball over.

The big play motif is probably a key factor behind WCU coach Dennis Wagner’s decision to start Pechloff, a 6’7″ left-hander, at quarterback.  The starter for the UTC game, Zac Brindise, left that game after completing 10 of 14 passes, but for only 34 yards.  That wouldn’t be good enough for any team, and certainly not one like WCU. Pechloff may have thrown three interceptions, but his yards-per-attempt rate of 6.04 was a lot better than Brindise’s 2.43 YPA.

It’s hard to blame Wagner for taking a shot with the young QB.  It’s up to the Bulldog defense to take advantage of his inexperience and collect a few turnovers of its own.

Tangent:  Chattanooga beat writer John Frierson noted in a Tweet that “WCU coach Dennis Wagner might be the only college head coach who wears shorts on game day. I bet others wish they did.”


I don’t recall ever seeing a college head coach wear shorts during a game.  In a way it’s amazing that no one else has (or that I can’t think of anyone else, anyway). Saturday is supposed to be clear with a high of 77 degrees, so I’m guessing Wagner breaks out the long pants against The Citadel.

Frierson also noted in another tweet that Pechloff “looked good once he settled down a bit”, so this probably won’t be a case of the Bulldogs going up against an overly anxious quarterback.  Pechloff could be a find for WCU, too; he led his high school team in Illinois to the 5A championship as a senior after not starting his junior year (which according to him is the reason bigger schools did not offer him a scholarship).

Like every other high school prospect, Pechloff had a Youtube video.  You can see it here.

I would say that The Citadel needs to pressure Pechloff, but you could say that every week about every quarterback the Bulldogs defense faces.  I think another thing to do, though, is to give him different looks and force him to make reads under duress.

I also wouldn’t bet against Brindise making an appearance for WCU against the Bulldogs.

I wrote about things the Bulldogs did well/need to improve in my review of the Furman game, so I’m not going to rehash that here.  I’ll make a couple of quick points, though:

– With the triple option, there is a significant element of “take what the defense gives you” to the offense.  Terrell Dallas’ stat lines against Presbyterian and Furman the last two weeks are a good example of that.  However, I think there is still a place in the triple option to feature certain players in some situations.  The Citadel has to get the ball to its best playmakers.

It may not be that easy to free up a fullback like Dallas, but I would like to see more opportunities for Jones.  That would be Van Dyke Jones and Domonic Jones, or any other Jones on The Citadel’s campus who can be a gamebreaker.  Terrance Martin did struggle with the science of going in motion against Furman, but regardless he is another player capable of making big plays.  I hope he gets more chances to change the game.

– It’s about time for Milford Scott to block another punt.  He also has to lead all levels of football in the head-over-heels flipperama move, which is a little scary.  The special teams in general (jinx alert) have looked better this year so far, although the placekicking remains a concern.

Let’s wrap this up with a couple of sort-of-but-not-really related observations:

– One “new” tradition at Johnson Hagood Stadium that I like is the corps singing the “Olé Olé Olé” song, a la European/South American soccer matches.  In fact, I will go so far as to say that it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the corps to emulate more soccer traditions (well, maybe not the hooliganism, racism, and setting off of flares).

There is something very natural about a crowd singing/chanting without prompting or assistance from a loud, obnoxious sound system/video board.  It just felt right to me when the corps did its chant.  The best sounds to be heard at the game were that, and the band.

If the corps could throw in some large soccer-style banners, too, that would be cool. (The “Star Wars” one [actually two] that the Toronto fans did killed me.)

– The “get fired up” shorts featuring defensive players that are repeatedly aired on the video board…well, it gets old fast, especially when the same short gets played three or four times in a row between plays.  Maybe those should be more judiciously employed.

I’m ready for Saturday.

Post-turkey hoops, live from McAlister

The Citadel went 2-2 on its recent road trip, just about as expected, losing to Missouri State and West Virginia, and winning neutral-site games against Eastern Michigan and Maryland-Eastern Shore.  A few comments on the four games:

  • Against Maryland-Eastern Shore, Mike Groselle had a very active 13 minutes, scoring 14 points (4-4 FG and 6-6 FT) while pulling down 4 rebounds, and also committing 4 fouls.  Talk about an all-action player.
  • UMES reserve frontcourt player Lyvann Obame Obame grabbed 10 rebounds in only 9 minutes of play but didn’t attempt a shot from the field…kind of a strange line.  Obame Obame is a 6’6″ native of Gabon, by the way.
  • Austin Dahn was 3-5 from 3-point land in the UMES game.  Alas, in the other three games he was a combined 0-10 from beyond the arc.
  • Conversely, Zach Urbanus made 12 of 21 three-pointers over the four-game span.  Joe Wolfinger was actually even better from outside (13-21), including a 5-5 night against UMES (The Citadel made 13 three-pointers in that game).
  • Fifteen different Bulldogs played against UMES.  All of them played at least three minutes.
  • The Citadel’s win over Eastern Michigan came down to winning the rebounding battle (33-24) while committing five fewer turnovers.  Cameron Wells’ 10-12 night from the line came in handy, too (he finished with 24 points).
  • The Citadel led for much of the EMU game, but actually trailed by 2 with less than 5 minutes to play before rallying for a victory in what was in effect the “swing” game of the road trip.
  • The Bulldogs lost by 17 points to Missouri State, but it was a three-point game (55-52) at the 4:32 mark of the second half before the Bears pulled away.  That game was more competitive than the final score suggests.
  • Missouri State had a very efficient offensive game against Bulldogs, scoring 72 points in only 63 possessions, which is what happens when you shoot well from the field (including 9-18 from 3-land), the foul line, and only commit 8 turnovers.  The Citadel’s defensive stats took a hit in that game.
  • West Virginia only committed four turnovers against The Citadel (the Bulldogs suffered 19 of their own).  Three of the four WVU turnovers were steals by Cameron Wells.
  • The Citadel had 56 possessions against the Mountaineers, a very slow pace, even by the Bulldogs’ normal standards.  The 19 turnovers are an even bigger black mark in a game that with that few possessions, of course; without them, The Citadel fared well, shooting well from outside (9-16 from 3) and holding its own on the boards (30 rebounds for each school).  It’s just almost impossible to win, or even be in the game, when you turn the ball more than one of every three possessions.
  • Incidentally, the Bulldogs’ pace of play for each of the four games was as follows:  EMU (60 possessions), Mizzou State (62), UMES (65), WVU (56).  That’s a little low for the WVU game, but generally those numbers indicate the tempo that favors The Citadel’s style of play.

Before anyone gets too disappointed with the Bulldogs’ 3-3 record, a little perspective.  By the time the turkey was being carved this year, The Citadel already had two Division I victories.  Two years ago, the Bulldogs had two D-1 wins all season…

Now it’s time for the CollegeInsider.com Skip Prosser Invitational, named for the late Wake Forest coach.  The Citadel will host Savannah State (although the Bulldogs will not play the Tigers), UVA-Wise (an NAIA Division II school) and Central Connecticut State (of the Northeast Conference).  There will be two games on Saturday and two on Sunday, all held at McAlister Field House.

The Citadel is hosting the event, I gather, primarily because head coach Ed Conroy was named the 2009 Skip Prosser Man of the Year.  I suspect that attendance will not be very high, given the field, and also because it’s the weekend after Thanksgiving.  Still, it’s two more games for the Bulldogs before beginning conference play, which probably counts for something.

As I noted above, The Citadel will not play Savannah State in the event — it’s an “invitational” as opposed to a true tournament.  The Bulldogs open with UVA-Wise on Saturday and face Central Connecticut State on Sunday.

UVA-Wise (officially “The University of Virginia’s College at Wise”) has been a four-year school since 1970; it was initially a junior college, founded in 1954.  Until 1999 the school was called Clinch Valley College, so if you aren’t familiar with UVA-Wise, perhaps you have heard of it under that name.  Of course, odds are you’ve never heard of Clinch Valley College either.

UVA-Wise has a little under 2,000 students and is located in the southwestern corner of Virginia, not too far away from Big Stone Gap.  Its most notable alum, according to Wikipedia, is Holly Kiser, who appeared (and was the first-season winner) on a reality TV show called Make Me A Supermodel.  I will admit I don’t know anything about this show, which evidently airs on Bravo.  At any rate, I suppose congratulations are in order to Ms. Kiser.

As for the basketball team, the Highland Cavaliers play in the Appalachian Athletic Conference, a league that includes schools like Milligan, Montreat, and Virginia Intermont.  UVA-Wise was 8-21 last season, and has averaged 18.5 losses per season over the last four years.

The Citadel is UVA-Wise’s first NCAA Division I opponent this season, but in past years the Highland Cavaliers have played (and lost to) schools such as VMI, Wofford, and Charleston Southern.  Last season UVA-Wise dropped games to Elon (92-65), Longwood (87-44), Gardner-Webb (74-47), and Coastal Carolina (90-51).

UVA-Wise comes into Saturday’s game with a record of 3-4, having lost on Tuesday in Pippa Passes, Kentucky, to Alice Lloyd College.  The Highland Cavaliers like an up-tempo game, averaging 81.6 possessions per contest.  This has led to some high-scoring games.  UVA-Wise shoots the ball fairly well (other than free throw shooting — the H-Cavs were an atrocious 9-31 from the charity stripe in a loss to Emory & Henry), but turns the ball over a lot and is not a particularly good defensive squad.

The Highland Cavaliers employ a 9- or 10-man rotation.  No player on the squad is taller than 6’6″, which may make guarding Joe Wolfinger a bit of a problem.

Central Connecticut State will be The Citadel’s opponent on Sunday.  CCSU is located in New Britain and has slightly under 10,000 students.  It has been around in various forms since 1849, attaining university status in 1983.  Notable alums of the school include two former NFL head coaches, Dave Campo and Mike Sherman, as well as the legendary Richard Grieco.

Howie Dickenman, a former assistant to Jim Calhoun, has been at Central Connecticut State since 1996.  Dickenman has had a good run at CCSU, which is also his alma mater.  The Blue Devils have made three NCAA appearances under Dickenman, most recently in 2007.  However, CCSU has had two straight losing seasons (going 13-17 last year).  The Devils were 8-10 in NEC play; CCSU hasn’t had a record in conference worst than that since joining the league in 1998.

Dickenman has a young team this season.  Only one senior has seen playing time thus far, and that player (Joe Seymore) has only played fourteen minutes in two games.  Of the six players who are averaging more than twenty minutes per game, two are freshmen, two are sophomores, and two are juniors, including hard-nosed point guard Shemik Thompson, who was the rookie of the year in the NEC in 2008 despite having a plate put into his head following a concussion.

In contrast to UVA-Wise, the Blue Devils like to play at a slower pace.  In the past two seasons, CCSU has averaged 65.9 and 67.2 possessions per game, but this season in two games Central Connecticut State is averaging just 59.5 possessions per contest.  Of course, two games is a decidedly small sample size.

The bigger issue for CCSU is that is has lost both games, against Fairfield (in a game played in Bridgeport) and at Savannah State.  Yes, Central Connecticut State is going to play consecutive games against Savannah State, which is a little odd.  The Tigers have actually played three games since the initial meeting with the Devils, while CCSU hasn’t played a game since the 16th of November.

CCSU simply hasn’t shot well from the field in either of the two games, shooting less than 38% from the field while its opponents have shot almost 46% from the field.  The Devils have also been crushed on the glass, to the tune of a -12 rebounding margin, particularly getting whipped on the offensive boards.  It’s hard to win games when you don’t shoot well and can’t rebound effectively.

Like UVA-Wise, CCSU has a 9- or 10-man rotation, and also like UVA-Wise, the Devils lack size.  The tallest player on the roster, freshman Joe Efese, is only 6’6″.

The Bulldogs should handle UVA-Wise fairly easily and will be a slight favorite against Central Connecticut State.  It would be nice to be over .500 when Davidson comes to town on December 3.

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