Schools that have never made the NCAA Tournament — the 2015 edition

Previous entries on this subject:  The 2014 edition The 2013 edition The 2012 edition  The 2011 edition  The 2010 edition

All records are through March 1

It’s time again for another round of March Madness. The regular season is drawing to a close, and conference tournament action is about to begin. Across the country, schools will make a final push to make it to the promised land, the NCAA Tournament.

For some of them, however, there has never been a journey to the mountaintop.

There are currently 35 schools that have been in Division I for at least a decade that have yet to make a trip to the NCAAs. Of course, there are 18 other schools in D-1 that haven’t received a solitary tourney invite either, but there is a difference between recent D-1 entrants such as Northern Kentucky or Incarnate Word and longtime outsiders like UT-Pan American or Youngstown State.

Of those 35 schools with 10+ years in D-1 but no bids to show for it, 18 of them have been in Division I for 30 years or more and are still waiting. For fans of Hartford, or Bethune-Cookman, or Western Illinois, the annual tradition of watching as other schools get their names called on Selection Sunday has become more than a little depressing.

This post is about those schools that have known nothing but pain, nothing but longing, nothing but disappointment. Will the dream finally come true for one or two of them this season? Sadly, history says that the answer is no.

However, history can be rewritten. I truly believe there is hope this year. A couple of longtime wannabes may get asked to the dance this time. It won’t be easy,though.

I started posting about this topic in 2010. That year, I highlighted the 20 schools that had waited the longest for their first NCAA bid. As of 2015, nineteen of those schools are still waiting. The twentieth? Centenary, which left Division I four years ago.

In a way, it is hard to blame the folks in Shreveport for throwing in the towel. Centenary would have almost certainly made the NCAAs when Robert Parish was enrolled there, but instead its games from that era — including its players’ individual statistics — did not count. If you want to read yet another horror story about the NCAA, this 1975 Sports Illustrated story is for you: Invisible in the Post

In recent years, I’ve expanded the rundown to include schools with at least ten years or more in D-1 but no appearances in the NCAA Tournament. For all of those schools, making the ultimate leap into the field of 68 seems almost impossible. However, one did beat the odds in 2013-14.

Last season, Cal Poly entered the Big West tournament with a 10-19 record, but promptly beat the league’s top two seeds (including star-crossed UC-Irvine; more on the Anteaters later). Cal Poly captured the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAAs, the Mustangs’ first in 20 years as a D-1 member.

Of course, that bid came with an asterisk, as Cal Poly was relegated to “almost but not really in the tournament” status by having to participate in a play-in game. The Mustangs did win the much-despised PIG, however, and advanced to the “real” tournament, where they lost to Wichita State.

Congratulations to Cal Poly for dropping off this list and not emulating Centenary in the process. Alas, two more schools have been added to the 10+ years club, UC Davis and Utah Valley. For the Aggies and Wolverines, the struggle begins anew (though it may be a brief struggle for UC Davis, as we’ll see below).

Before beginning this season’s rundown of the longtime no-timers, however, it’s worth mentioning another list of schools. There are quite a few institutions that have made at least one NCAA appearance, but haven’t been back to the tournament in at least 20 years. Some of those schools have been waiting longer for a return to the Big Dance than many of the never-beens have been in D-1.

First among this group of schools is Dartmouth. The Big Green has made seven appearances in the NCAA tournament, and was the national finalist twice (in 1942 and 1944). However, Dartmouth last made the tourney in 1959, and that streak of futility will continue for another year, as the Big Green is tied for last place in the Ivy League (which has no postseason tournament).

Next is another member of the Ivies, Yale, which has not appeared in the NCAAs since 1962, the last of three trips for the Elis. However, Yale is currently in second place in the conference, and still has a chance to crash the NCAA party. Overcoming hoops nouveau riche Harvard may prove too difficult a task, though.

Other schools that have made at least one appearance in the NCAA Tournament, but haven’t been back since 1995 (or earlier) while continuously in D-1:

Tennessee Tech (1963), Columbia (1968), Bowling Green (1968), Rice (1970), VMI (1977), Duquesne (1977), Furman (1980), Toledo (1980), Loyola of Chicago (1985), Brown (1986), Jacksonville (1986), Marshall (1987), Idaho State (1987), Marist (1987), Oregon State (1990), Loyola Marymount (1990), Idaho (1990), Louisiana Tech (1991), Towson (1991), Northeastern (1991), St. Francis-PA (1991), Rutgers (1991), Howard (1992), Georgia Southern (1992), Campbell (1992), Fordham (1992), East Carolina (1993), SMU (1993), Rider (1994), Tennessee State (1994), and Tulane (1995).

Worth noting: Seattle (which last made the NCAAs in 1969, and which Elgin Baylor led to the national final in 1958) and Houston Baptist (a tourney team in 1984) both left Division I and then later returned, so they haven’t been in D-1 for all the years after making their most recent NCAA tourney appearances.

Some of those “last time in the field” appearances have been notable. Tennessee Tech may want to forget its 1963 trip, a 111-42 loss to eventual national champion Loyola of Chicago. In 1977, VMI made it to the round of 16 (the Keydets had reached the Elite Eight the year before).

Brown’s reward for winning the Ivy League in 1986? A matchup with Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. Sure, that was fair. (Of course, the same thing happened to Navy two years later, but then a player named David Robinson vaulted into the national consciousness at the home team’s expense.)

Marist has made two NCAA appearances, the last coming in 1987, with Rik Smits (the Dunking Dutchman) leading the Red Foxes. The year 1987 was also the last time Marshall made the field, as the next season the Thundering Herd began suffering from the Curse of Randy Nesbit.

It is hard to believe it has been 25 years since the emotional, mesmerizing run of Loyola Marymount to the Elite Eight, which included one of the most amazing second-round games ever played, the Lions’ 149-115 destruction of defending national champion Michigan. It is almost as hard to believe that it was also the last time LMU made the NCAAs.

– Worthless trivia department: When Jacksonville made its last NCAA trip, in 1986, the Dolphins were coached by Bob Wenzel. When Rutgers made its most recent appearance in the Big Dance, in 1991, the Scarlet Knights were coached by…Bob Wenzel.

– Worthless trivia department, part 2: Idaho State’s last NCAA appearance, in 1987, was a one-game cameo in Salt Lake City. Idaho’s last tourney trip in 1990 also lasted one game, and also took place in Salt Lake City.

– Worthless trivia department: part 3: In 1991, there were three play-in games that took place between the league champions of six conferences, an early effort by the NCAA to eliminate as many automatic bids for smaller conferences as possible. Unlike the PIGs of today, these games were not official NCAA Tournament games, so the three teams that lost are not credited with a tourney appearance.

All three losing teams (Fordham, Jackson State, and Florida A&M) subsequently appeared in the NCAAs; Fordham’s trip came the following year, in 1992, the last time the Rams made the field. The team that beat Fordham in that 1991 play-in game was St. Francis (PA), the first and only time the Red Flash have qualified for the NCAA Tournament.

– Last year, two schools with long breaks between appearances broke through, Mercer and Coastal Carolina — and the Bears made their long-awaited return a memorable one by beating Duke in the first round.

This season, it appears that SMU will make the field after just missing out on an at-large bid last year. Others to watch in this group: Toledo (tied for first in the MAC’s West Division), Bowling Green (first place in the MAC’s East Division), Northeastern (tied for first in the CAA), Louisiana Tech (in first place in CUSA), Georgia Southern (tied for first in the Sun Belt), and Rider (the MAAC’s second-place team).

Among the power conference schools, Oregon State’s 25-year drought is currently the longest, not counting Northwestern…and that’s the cue to start with the list of schools that have never made the NCAAs. As usual, we begin with the Forgotten Five (recently described by one school president as a “very elegant group”).

The NCAA Tournament began in 1939. In 1948, the NCAA reorganized itself, and established separate divisions (college and university) for its member institutions. Of the schools that since 1948 have continuously been in what we now call Division I, five have never made the tournament field. All five of those schools theoretically could have been in the tournament beginning in 1939, so for them the wait is actually longer than their history as official members of Division I.

The five schools are known as the “Forgotten Five”. The class  of 1948 (or 1939):

Northwestern: NU actually hosted the very first NCAA championship game back in 1939, though technically not the “Final Four”, which as a separate concept did not exist in the days of an eight-team tournament. The semifinal rounds that year were played in Philadelphia and San Francisco.

Of all the schools on this rundown, Northwestern is almost certainly the biggest underachiever. The NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. It is hard to imagine a school in a “power conference” could fail to get an at-large bid during that time, but that is the case for the Wildcats.

Of the 65 schools in the top five leagues (counting Notre Dame as an ACC member), 48 have made at least one appearance in the NCAA tournament over the past four years. That’s 74% of all power-conference schools.

Of the seventeen that haven’t, only six haven’t made the tourney over the past seven years: South Carolina (last made the NCAAs in 2004), Auburn (2003), TCU (1998), Rutgers (1991), Oregon State (1991), and Northwestern. Rutgers hasn’t been in a power league all that time, of course (neither has TCU). The failure by Oregon State to make the field of 64 (or 68) over the last quarter-century is remarkable, but it pales in comparison to Northwestern’s infamous streak.

That streak is likely to continue for at least another season, as the Wildcats are 14-15 overall, 5-11 in the Big 10.

Army: In 1968, Army turned down an NCAA bid, electing to play in the NIT instead. Army had been successful in the NIT under Bob Knight, reaching the semifinals on multiple occasions, and also had a chance to play at Madison Square Garden in the first round. The Black Knights would lose to Notre Dame in that first-round game.

(In case you were wondering, the last school to turn down an NCAA bid was Marquette, in 1970. That move was made by the late, truly great Al McGuire. Schools are no longer allowed to decline NCAA bids to play in the NIT, which is now owned by the NCAA.)

Army also went undefeated in 1944 (15-0), but didn’t play in any postseason tourneys due in part to wartime travel restrictions. I am not sure the Black Knights would have been guaranteed an NCAA invite, as it was still just an eight-team invitational event. It seems likely, though. Many years later, the Helms Foundation awarded Army the retroactive 1944 national title.

All that being said, though, Army is still waiting to make that first NCAA appearance.

This season, the Black Knights are 15-14 overall, but in last place (6-12) in the Patriot League. A run through the league tourney seems unlikely.

The Citadel: The Bulldogs avoided a fifth consecutive 20-loss season, but at 11-18 (6-12 SoCon), it was another frustrating campaign. There will be no party on Selection Sunday for the cadets. Same song, different year.

I wrote about the program’s tortured history in massive detail seven years ago. Since then, things have not improved.

William and Mary: Last year, the Tribe came oh so close to breaking through, but lost a heartbreaker to Delaware in the CAA final, 75-74. The Blue Hens scored the final seven points in the contest to steal the bid.

This season, the Tribe (18-10, 12-6) finished in a four-way tie for first in a balanced CAA (despite a bizarre home loss to Drexel that closed out the regular season). William and Mary will be the top seed in the league tournament.

I wouldn’t bet on a repeat appearance in the conference title game, but I wouldn’t bet against it either. I’m certainly not betting against Marcus Thornton if he gets another championship-winning opportunity.

St. Francis College: It has been a banner season for the Terriers, 21-10 (15-3 in the NEC). St. Francis has clinched the top seed in the league tourney. This appears to be SFC’s best chance in years to grab the brass ring.

The New York City press is starting to take notice of the oldest collegiate basketball program in the city. The late James Luisi, a former NBA player better known for his work as an actor (including Lt. Chapman on The Rockford Files), is arguably the school’s most famous hoops alum.

By getting the top seed, SFC will get to play at home throughout the NEC tournament. That’s a big deal.

Also worth noting: the Terriers at least know they have an NIT bid to fall back on if they don’t win the league tourney (the same is true for William and Mary). SFC wants more than that, though.

Next up on the list of the never-beens are two New England schools still in search of a bid despite being members of D-1 since 1962. As a hardwood tandem, they are known as “The Dour Duo”. This season, one is doing considerably better than the other.

New Hampshire: The Wildcats are 18-11 overall, and finished fourth in the America East. This is UNH’s first winning season since 1994-95.

Albany, which leads the conference, is the favorite to get the league’s autobid. Still, Bill Herrion’s crew has a puncher’s chance to crash the party, which is not something you can say too often about New Hampshire’s basketball program.

Maine: Times are tough in Orono. The Black Bears are 3-26 this season (after winning only six games last year). Even the school’s hockey team has a losing record.

Maybe Rick Carlisle could return to campus and turn the hoopsters into winners. After all, he started his collegiate career at Maine before transferring to Virginia. I’m guessing he’s happy coaching the Dallas Mavericks, though.

The rest of the rundown:

– Denver (D-1 from 1948 to 1980, then back to the division in 1999): A couple of seasons ago, the Pioneers were coming off consecutive 22-win campaigns. The window may have closed for Denver, however, which is 12-17, 6-10 in the Summit League.

Only one D-1 school (American) plays at a slower pace than the Pioneers, which has partially masked the fact UD is poor defensively (bottom 30 nationally).

– UT-Pan American (class of 1969): The Broncs are in last place in the WAC and are 9-19 overall. It’s not going to happen this year (a sentence I will repeat, with variations, throughout the rundown).

– Stetson (class of 1972): Ted Cassidy’s alma mater is 9-21 this season. Only once in the last six years have the Hatters managed to get to double digits in wins, a fact that would even depress Uncle Fester.

– UC Irvine (class of 1978): UCI was the top seed in last season’s Big West tournament, only to lose in the semifinals to Cal Poly (as mentioned above). This year, the Anteaters are 17-11 overall and alone in second place (10-4) in the league standings.

The most well-known UCI player is 7’6″ Mamadou Ndiaye, who has been injured this season and has missed most of the Anteaters’ games. However, Ndiaye returned to action on February 26. Perhaps UCI’s dream will only be delayed by one year.

– Grambling State (class of 1978): The Tigers are 2-23 this year, and winless in SWAC play. That continues a trend, as in the previous three seasons Grambling won 4, 0, and 5 games. GSU is currently last in the kenpom ratings, a position it has held at the end of two of the last three seasons. To state the obvious, this isn’t going to be the year.

– Maryland-Eastern Shore (D-1 in 1974-75, then back to the division for good in 1982): Last year, UMES had its 12th consecutive 20+ loss season.

This year? Well, it’s a new and much better one. The Hawks are 17-13, 10-5 in the MEAC. In his first season at UMES, Bobby Collins has performed one of the nation’s best coaching jobs.

The odds are against Maryland-Eastern Shore winning the MEAC tournament. Top seed North Carolina Central is undefeated in league play and will be hard to beat, as will second-place Norfolk State (particularly with the tourney being held at the Scope).

Having said that, I wouldn’t put anything past the MEAC tournament, a six-day extravaganza that defies convention (see the bracket on page 39 of this document). This year, Gladys Knight opens the festivities.

– Youngstown State (D-1 in 1948, then returning to the division in 1982): The Penguins are 11-20, 2-14 in the Horizon League (last place). Hey, did you hear Bo Pelini is the new football coach?

– Bethune-Cookman (class of 1981): This is another program that had its window of opportunity three or four years ago. This season, the Wildcats are 10-19, 6-8 in the MEAC. I don’t really think this is going to be the year.

– Western Illinois (class of 1982): Speaking of windows of opportunity, the Leathernecks won 22 games two years ago. This season? 8-19, 3-13 in the Summit League (last place). It’s not meant to be this season.

– Chicago State (class of 1985): Of the seven schools in the WAC eligible for the NCAA auto-bid (Grand Canyon hasn’t competed its reclassification period yet), five of them have never made the Big Dance. Despite that, this season the odds are good the league doesn’t send a newbie to the tourney.

Of the WAC no-nos, Chicago State is the least likely to break through this year, as the Cougars are 8-22 overall, 4-9 in the league (next-to-last place).

– Hartford (class of 1985): Dionne Warwick is Hartford’s most famous alum. If one of the NCAA regional pods were in San Jose, and Hartford won the America East tournament, by law the selection committee would have to send the Hawks there.

However, San Jose is not a host site this year, and Hartford (14-15, 7-9 in league play) is not likely to win the AE tourney. That will greatly upset WCSC-TV sportscaster Kevin Bilodeau, who may be the most ardent Hartford fan working in local television.

Incidentally, the great big freeway known as L.A. is hosting the West regional.

– UMKC (class of 1988): Here is another never-been from the WAC, and another one with a losing record (13-17). The Kangeroos are actually in second place in the conference standings (8-5), so perhaps UMKC is capable of making a miracle run through the league tourney. Edie McClurg would be so happy.

– Buffalo (D-1 from 1974-77, then back to the division in 1992): Buffalo has put itself in good position several times in recent years, but hasn’t had a lot of luck in the MAC tournament. This year, the Bulls are having a solid season (19-9, 10-6 in conference action).

This is head coach Bobby Hurley’s second year in charge at Buffalo. The former Duke star knows what it takes to be successful in the NCAA Tournament; first, though, you have to get there — and that’s the hard part.

– Sacramento State (class of 1992): From this year’s Blue Ribbon annual, Sacramento State’s preview (written by John Moorehouse):

Sacramento State has a pretty pitiful history as a Division I hoops program. In 24 seasons, the Hornets have never finished with a record better than .500. They’ve also never reached the NCAA tournament.

Nothing lasts forever. And Sacramento State has an excellent chance to end one of those droughts this season.

Maybe both.

Point to Mr. Moorehouse. Sacramento State is currently 19-8 overall, clinching that winning campaign, and is also in first place in the Big Sky (13-3). If it stays in the top spot, Tom Hanks’ alma mater will host the conference tournament — but not at its regular facility, “The Nest“, a/k/a Colberg Court, which seats 1,200.

Instead, the tourney would take place at another site on campus, “The WELL” (the all-caps is apparently intentional). The WELL will seat 3,000 for basketball.

– UT Martin (class of 1993): Last season, the Skyhawks lost their first ten games and did not even qualify for the OVC tournament. Things have greatly improved for new head coach Heath Schroyer’s squad this season, as UT Martin is 18-11 overall, 10-6 in the league. Getting past conference top dog Murray State in the OVC tourney may be a bit much to ask, though.

– Jacksonville State (class of 1996): The Gamecocks, like UT Martin, did not qualify for last year’s OVC tournament. Unlike UT Martin, JSU (12-19, 5-11) did not qualify for this year’s OVC tournament, either.

– Quinnipiac (class of 1999): The Bobcats are a middling MAAC team (15-14, 9-11). To win the league tourney in Albany, Quinnipiac would likely have to beat at least one of the top two teams in the league, Iona and Rider, both of which swept the Bobcats this season. In a recent survey, 100% of respondents considered Quinnipiac’s prospects of claiming the auto-bid to be less than stellar.

– Elon (class of 2000): The Phoenix moved from the SoCon to the CAA this season. Elon is 14-17 overall and finished eighth in a ten-team conference. This doesn’t look like it will be the year.

– High Point (class of 2000): The Panthers (22-8, 13-5) finished tied for first in the Big South but blew a chance to win the league outright on the final Saturday of the regular season. The Big South is a league in which seven teams have a legitimate shot to win the conference tournament.

HPU can grab that auto-bid, but it will have to do so in three games in three days in Conway, South Carolina — and will probably have to beat three of the other contenders in the process.

– Sacred Heart (class of 2000): At 15-16 overall (9-9 in league play), things are looking up for Sacred Heart, as the Pioneers only won five games all of last season. Winning the NEC tournament is probably not in the cards, however.

– Stony Brook (class of 2000): Over the last five seasons, the Seawolves have won 22, 15, 22, 25, and 23 games. This year, Stony Brook is 21-10 overall, 12-4 in the America East (tied for second).

One of these years, the Seawolves are going to rip down the door separating them from the NCAA Tournament. It’s not out of the question it could happen this season.

UC Riverside (class of 2002): The Highlanders are 14-14, 7-7 in the Big West. That’s a nice improvement from recent campaigns. UCR won’t be favored in the Big West tournament, but neither was Cal Poly last season and we all know what happened.

– IPFW (class of 2002): The Mastodons are 16-13, 9-7 in the Summit League. South Dakota State and North Dakota State will be the heavy favorites in the league tournament, but IPFW beat both of those squads during a recent seven-game winning streak. Don’t count out the Mastodons, even though Mastodons are, well, extinct.

Gardner-Webb (class of 2003): The Runnin’ Bulldogs are 18-13 overall, 10-8 in the Big South. As mentioned earlier, the Big South tournament will be a bloodbath, and Gardner-Webb is one of seven teams with a decent shot at the tourney title.

Savannah State (class of 2003): The Tigers are 9-19 overall, 5-9 in the MEAC. Nope, not going to happen this year.

– Lipscomb (class of 2004): The Bisons are 13-16, 7-7 in the Atlantic Sun. FGCU and North Florida are well ahead of the other A-Sun teams in the standings, and will be favored to meet in the league tournament championship game. Lipscomb is 0-4 this season against those two schools.

UC Davis (class of 2005): The Aggies won only nine games last season. This year, UC Davis is 22-5, 12-2 in the Big West, and favored to cut the nets down in Anaheim (site of the Big West tourney).

UC Davis is coached by Jim Les, the former Bradley player and coach (Les also played in the NBA). During his tenure at Bradley, Les led the Braves to four consecutive postseason tournaments, all of which were different events — the NCAAs in 2006 (when Bradley made the Sweet 16), NIT in 2007, CBI in 2008, and CIT in 2009.

Utah Valley (class of 2005): The Wolverines are 10-18 overall, 4-9 in the WAC. Utah Valley has not been an offensive juggernaut, failing to reach 50 points in seven of its defeats (with a low of 33 points in a loss at Seattle).

If New Mexico State somehow loses in the WAC tourney, the door will open for a first-timer to make the NCAAs. With the history of the five never-beens in the league, though, it would surprise nobody if Seattle (the only team in the league to beat NMSU this season, and the only other team in the league to have made the Big Dance) would grab the auto-bid.

Well, that’s the roll call for this season. Will any of those teams get to the promised land?

The answer, I suspect, will be yes. There are too many teams on that list which have had outstanding seasons. One or more of them will prevail. Among the candidates: St. Francis College, William and Mary (either of which would be huge stories), Sacramento State, UC Irvine, Stony Brook, High Point, UT Martin, Buffalo, Gardner-Webb, New Hampshire, and Maryland-Eastern Shore.

One other potential first-timer not on the list is North Florida, which has been a full-fledged Division I member for only six seasons. The Ospreys (20-11, 12-2) won the regular-season Atlantic Sun title and will get to play all of their league tournament games at home.

If any of the aforementioned schools qualify, they better not be shunted off to one of the play-in games (which obviously shouldn’t exist in the first place).

As I’ve said before (and will say again), the play-in games limit the tournament experience of the automatic qualifiers, and that’s tremendously unfair. If the NCAA has to have the despicable PIGs, make the last eight at-large teams play in them.

A team that handles the pressure of a one-bid league tournament and survives to garner an NCAA bid should always be in the main draw. Always.

Good luck, dreamers.

Schools that have never made the NCAA Tournament — the 2013 edition

Now updated: the 2015 edition

Previous entries on this subject:  The 2012 edition   The 2011 edition   The 2010 edition

We’ve survived the month of February, which means March Madness is right around the corner. Conference tourney time will be here before you know it. So will a longstanding tradition, that of watching as schools fail once again to reach their first NCAA tournament.

There are 30 schools that have been in Division I for at least a decade that haven’t yet made a trip to the Big Dance. Of course, it is perhaps not as crushing for fans of UC Riverside (D1 since 2002) to fail to reach the promised land as it is for supporters of Northwestern, or St. Francis-NY, or Maine, all of which have been wandering in the no-tourney wilderness for far too long.

Can any of those schools finally make their big debut? That’s the subject of this post. I’ll be honest, however — the answer is probably going to be no. I started posting about this in 2010. At that time, I highlighted the 20 schools that had waited the longest for their first NCAA bid. It’s now 2013, and 19 of those schools are still waiting. The twentieth, Centenary, has given up the ghost and is no longer in Division I.

This year I’m expanding the list of featured teams to 30 — in other words, the 30 schools that have the most years in Division I with no NCAA appearances. There are actually around 52 schools (give or take a transitional member or two) currently in D-1 that have never made the Big Dance, but I’m only highlighting those schools that have been in the division for more than 10 years without receiving a bid. For schools like Presbyterian or Kennesaw State, the angst level just isn’t high enough (yet).

Before I delve into the hopes and dreams of those 30 schools, though, I want to mention a few schools that have actually made the NCAA tourney, but haven’t been back in a long, long time. Their fans are suffering, too.

Last year, Harvard won the Ivy League for the first time in its history, and advanced to its first NCAA tournament since 1946. That ended the longest drought for a school that had previously appeared in the event at least once. It’s a distinction that now falls to fellow Ivy leaguer Dartmouth, which actually appeared in the title game twice during the 1940s but hasn’t been back to the tournament since 1959.

Dartmouth won’t be back this year either, and neither will fellow Ivy League schools Yale (no NCAAs since 1962), Columbia (1968), or Brown (1986). That’s what happens when a league is dominated for over 40 years by two teams (Penn and Princeton).

This is the 50th anniversary of Tennessee Tech’s second, and last, trip to the NCAAs. The Golden Eagles had the misfortune of opening up their 1963 tournament against eventual national champ Loyola of Chicago, losing 111-42. Ouch. Speaking of the Ramblers, they haven’t been back to the NCAAs themselves since 1985.

Other schools that have made at least one NCAA trip but haven’t been back since 1993 (or earlier) while continuously in D-1: Bowling Green (no appearances since 1968), Rice (1970), VMI (1977), Duquesne (1977), Furman (1980), Toledo (1980), Mercer (1985), Jacksonville (1986), Marshall (1987), Idaho State (1987), Marist (1987), Middle Tennessee State (1989), Oregon State (1990), Loyola Marymount (1990), Idaho (1990), Towson (1991), Northeastern (1991), St. Francis-PA (1991), Rutgers (1991), Howard (1992), Georgia Southern (1992), La Salle (1992), Campbell (1992), Fordham (1992), Coastal Carolina (1993), East Carolina (1993), and SMU (1993).

Note: Seattle (a finalist in 1958, but which last made the NCAAs in 1969) and Houston Baptist (made the tourney in 1984) both left D-1 and then later returned, so they haven’t been in the division for all the years after making their most recent NCAA tourney appearances.

Some of these teams have notable accomplishments in tournament play. Jacksonville played in the 1970 championship game. Loyola Marymount made the Elite 8 in 1990 in one of the more famous runs in the tournament’s history, but hasn’t been back since. Another school that made the Elite 8 in its most recent NCAA trip: VMI, a fact that might surprise some people.

All in all, it’s an interesting list. Of the teams on it, probably Middle Tennessee State and Mercer have the best chance of making it back to the Big Dance this season. MTSU is the only one of the teams listed with even a prayer of getting an at-large bid. Until recently, I didn’t think the Blue Raiders had a realistic shot at one, but now I think it’s possible.

Among schools in BCS conferences, Oregon State is currently suffering through the longest drought, not counting Northwestern. Speaking of the Wildcats, it’s time to talk about the schools that have never made the tournament. As always, we start with The Forgotten Five.

All records are through March 4

The NCAA Tournament began in 1939. In 1948, the NCAA reorganized itself, and established separate divisions (university and college) for its member institutions. Of the schools that since 1948 have continuously been in what we now call Division I, there are five which have never made the tournament field. All five of those schools theoretically could have been in the tournament beginning in 1939, so for them the wait is actually longer than their history as official members of Division I.

The five schools are known as the “Forgotten Five”. The class  of 1948 (or 1939, depending on how you look at it):

– Northwestern: NU actually hosted the very first NCAA championship game back in 1939. That year there was an eight-team tournament, and the concept of a “Final Four” had not yet taken hold. The first two rounds of the tournament were played in Philadelphia and San Francisco, with the final between Oregon and Ohio State taking place in Evanston.

This year, the Big 10 is generally considered to be the best hoops conference in the land, with as many as eight teams possibly making the NCAA tournament. Alas, Northwestern (13-16) is currently in 11th place in the league. Like every school on this list, the Wildcats’ only chance at an NCAA bid is to win the conference tournament.

– Army: It actually hasn’t been that bad a season on the hardwood for the Bulldogs of the Hudson. Army is 8-6 in Patriot League play (15-14 overall), but winning the conference tournament would likely require victories over both Lehigh and Bucknell. That would be a tall order.

– St. Francis-NY: Things are not looking good for the Terriers, as St. Francis (12-17) barely qualified for the NEC tournament, winning a de facto play-in game against Sacred Heart for the eighth and final spot in the league tourney.

St. Francis is actually the oldest collegiate basketball program in New York City, having fielded teams since 1896. Its most prominent hoops alum is probably the late James Luisi, a former NBA player better known for his work as an actor.

– William & Mary: While probably capable of pulling off an upset in the CAA tournament, it’s hard to see W&M running the table. The Tribe (13-16) is much improved from last season, but not quite ready yet to finally grab the brass ring. Jon Stewart will probably have to wait at least one more year to celebrate his alma mater’s initial appearance in the Big Dance.

– The Citadel: Ugh. This was supposed to be a year of improvement, after a freshman-laden team struggled mightily in 2011-12. Instead, the Bulldogs have struggled mightily in 2012-13 as well. The Citadel (8-21) has one of the Southern Conference’s best players in Mike Groselle, but that hasn’t been nearly enough for a program suffering through its third consecutive season of 20+ losses. My alma mater will not have its name called on Selection Sunday.

That’s the Forgotten Five. Next year, they are almost certainly still going to be the Forgotten Five. What about the other never-beens on our list?

Well, the odds aren’t too good for most of them.

– New Hampshire (began Division I play in 1962): The Wildcats finished the regular season in a tie for 7th place in the America East. At 9-19, UNH has actually lowered its alltime winning percentage this season, not an easy thing to do.

– Maine (also from the class of 1962): 11-18 overall, 6th-best in the America East. Maine may be good enough to win a game in the AE tournament, but that’s about it for the Black Bears. Time to focus on hockey.

– Denver (D-1 from 1948 to 1980, then back to the division in 1999): at 19-8 overall, and currently in second place in the WAC, the Pioneers have a decent chance to finally break through this year. Denver, which has won 15 of its last 16 games, runs a “Princeton-style” offense; the Pioneers are 346th out of 347 D-1 teams in pace of play. Interestingly, the team that is last nationally in that category is also on our list…and like Denver, has also had a fine season.

– UT-Pan American (class of 1969): UTPA has been gradually improving over the last couple of years, but the Broncs (15-15) will have to wait at least one more year for a shot at the NCAAs, as their conference (the Great West) doesn’t have an automatic bid. Next year, UTPA will join the WAC, which should be a boon for the program.

– Stetson (class of 1972): As I mentioned last year, the Hatters’ most famous hoops alum is Ted Cassidy, the actor who so memorably played Lurch on The Addams Family. Stetson (14-15) has had a bounce-back season of sorts in 2012-13, and could conceivably be a factor in what should be a competitive Atlantic Sun tournament.

– UC Irvine (class of 1978): This season, the Anteaters are a middle-of-the-pack team in the Big West, with Long Beach State favored to win the league’s automatic bid. However, I wouldn’t put it past UCI (17-13) to make some noise in the conference tournament, particularly with consensus Afro All-American Mike “The Beast” Wilder on the scene. Zot! Zot! Zot!

– Grambling State (class of 1978): Oh, mercy. Grambling is winless this year (0-27), and arguably one of the worst D-1 teams of the modern era (if not the worst), thanks to scholarship reductions caused by APR issues. GSU has not lost a game by fewer than 10 points. The Tigers will have one more chance to win a game this season, in the first round of the SWAC tournament.

– Maryland-Eastern Shore (D-1 in 1974-75, then back to the division for good in 1982): UMES lost its first 13 games this season and currently sports a 2-24 record.

UMES doesn’t have a football program any more (despite a gridiron alumni list that includes Art Shell, Emerson Boozer, Carl Hairston, Johnny Sample, and Clarence Clemons). Sometimes you have to wonder if the basketball program is worth having. This will be the 11th consecutive season the Hawks have lost 20 or more games.

– Youngstown State (D-1 in 1948, then returning to the division in 1982): The Penguins are a respectable 16-14, solidly in the middle of the Horizon League standings. Butler is no longer in the league, but Valparaiso and Detroit remain, and the combination of those two will make it difficult for YSU to win the league tournament.

– Bethune-Cookman (class of 1981): B-C is 12-18 overall, 7-8 in the MEAC. As usual, the league tournament schedule is an enigma, but it likely won’t matter for the Wildcats this year. It’s hard to see Bethune-Cookman outlasting Norfolk State and North Carolina Central (among others) in the MEAC tourney.

Props to the MEAC, though, for getting Aretha Franklin as the star of its tournament kickoff concert.

– Western Illinois (class of 1982): Here is the other master of slowdown play. The Leathernecks average only 58.3 possessions per game, fewest in the country. WIU is 21-7 overall, tied for first in the Summit League, and one of four teams in that league expected to contend for the conference tourney title. Two years ago, Western Illinois was the only team to lose to Centenary; the Leathernecks have come a long way since then. Will this finally be the year?

– Chicago State (class of 1985): Chicago State is 8-20, and plays in the no-bid Great West. Like UTPA, though, Chicago State is moving to the WAC, so there is hope for a future bid. Not this year, though.

– Hartford (class of 1985): The Hawks are a very decent 17-12. Perhaps alum Dionne Warwick can get one of her psychic friends to tell us whether Hartford will win the America East tournament. If not, expect even more anguished tweeting from Charleston (SC) sportscaster Kevin Bilodeau, a notorious Hartford apologist.

– UMKC (class of 1988): The Kangaroos are 8-23 and will barely qualify for the Summit League tournament, much to the displeasure of noted alum Edie McClurg. Maybe things will be better once UMKC moves to its new conference, the WAC. If you’re keeping track, that makes three schools on this list moving to the WAC.

Give the WAC your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…

– Buffalo (D-1 from 1974-77, then back to the division in 1992): After some excruciating close calls a few years back, the Bulls haven’t really been in serious contention in the MAC for the last two years. Buffalo is only 12-17 this season and clearly the road to the league title goes through Akron or Ohio U (though the Bulls just whipped the Zips).

– Sacramento State (class of 1992): It doesn’t look like this will be the year for the 13-13 Hornets. Tom Hanks’ alma mater has to compete against Big Sky heavyweights Montana and Weber State for the league’s automatic bid (and is in danger of not qualifying for the conference tournament). Incidentally, Sacramento State plays its home games at Colberg Court, which to my knowledge is the only D-1 gym named after a women’s volleyball coach.

– UT-Martin (class of 1993): In 2008-09, the Skyhawks won the regular-season OVC title, thanks in large part to Lester Hudson. However, UTM got beat in the tourney final by Morehead State and missed out on an NCAA tournament bid. Since then, UT-Martin has lost 20+ games in every season. At 9-20 so far this year, that trend will continue.

– Cal Poly (class of 1995): John Madden’s alma mater is 15-12 overall, 10-6 in the Big West, a slight improvement over last season. Like fellow never-been UCI, the Mustangs would have to get past Long Beach State (and Pacific) to win the league tourney.

– Jacksonville State (class of 1996): The Gamecocks are currently in fourth place in the OVC East, despite a solid 17-11 overall record. Even if they were 28-0, however, they wouldn’t be NCAA-bound, as Jacksonville State is banned from postseason play due to APR problems.

– Quinnipiac (class of 1999): The Bobcats’ biggest obstacle to garnering a first-ever NCAA bid has been Robert Morris, which beat Quinnipiac in the 2010 NEC title game (52-50) and in the 2009 and 2011 semifinals (the latter by a 64-62 score). This season, the Bobcats are 15-15 overall, and tied for fifth place in the NEC with an 11-7 league mark.

One of these years, Quinnipiac is going to win that league tourney. It will probably happen sooner rather than later.

– Elon (class of 2000): With an 20-10 record, Elon is enjoying its finest season since joining D-1. To throw a team party on Selection Sunday, however, Elon will have to get past Davidson and the College of Charleston in the SoCon tourney. It’s not completely out of the question.

– High Point (class of 2000): The Panthers finished first in the Big South North (heh) division with a 12-4 league record. High Point is 17-12 overall and is one of several schools capable of winning what should be a wild league tournament. Unfortunately, High Point’s chances were reduced considerably when leading scorer John Brown broke a bone in his foot.

High Point basketball has some interesting alums, including Tubby Smith, Gene Littles, and Joe Forte (the former ACC and NBA referee).

– Sacred Heart (class of 2000): The Pioneers finished the season 9-20 overall, with a 7-11 record in NEC play. Sacred Heart lost its last seven games, missing out on the NEC tournament.

Irrelevant factoid alert: despite having only around 4200 undergraduates, Sacred Heart has 31 varsity sports teams. The man who will soon be in charge of those teams: none other than Bobby Valentine.

– Stony Brook (class of 2000): After its baseball team went all the way to Omaha and the College World Series, it’s now the basketball team’s turn. The Seawolves (23-6) won the America East by three games and will be favored to win the league tournament.

– UC Riverside (class of 2002): At the beginning of this post, I wrote that it probably isn’t crushing for UCR fans that the Highlanders haven’t made the NCAAs yet, since they’ve only been in D-1 since 2002. That doesn’t mean they haven’t suffered, though. UCR is currently 6-23, in last place in the Big West, and barred from postseason play after not meeting APR requirements. Oh, and there was this game.

Well, that’s this year’s roll call. Thirty teams with a dream. Will any of those dreams come true this year? Normally, I would say no, because that’s usually the case — but this year, I’m betting at least one of these schools finally makes it. Denver, Western Illinois, and Stony Brook appear to be the top contenders.

I hope it happens. One of my favorite memories of “Championship Week” came in 2008, when American University finally qualified for the NCAA tournament. AU had been in D-1 since 1967. The head coach of the Eagles, Jeff Jones, cried in his chair on the bench after the game.

That is just another reason the committee shouldn’t expand the tournament (and why it should revert back to a 64-team field and get rid of the play-in games, which lessen the experience for automatic qualifiers). It’s an accomplishment to make the tournament. It means something. It should continue to mean something.

This year, at least, it will.

Riley Report: The Citadel’s 2013 baseball campaign begins (Part 1)

This is Part 1 of a two-part preview of the upcoming season. For Part 2, click here: Link

The Citadel will open its 2013 baseball season on Friday, February 15 at 4 pm ET, against George Mason, with the game being played at Joe Riley Park in Charleston. The contest is part of a round-robin tournament that also includes Kansas State and High Point.

Links of interest:


Preview of the upcoming season for the Bulldogs from the school website

2013 “Quick Facts” from the school website

Preview article in The Post and Courier

SoCon preview, Baseball America (The Citadel is picked to finish 7th in the league)

SoCon preview, College Baseball Today (The Citadel is picked to finish 9th in the league)

SoCon preview, College Baseball Daily (The Citadel is picked to finish 9th in the league)

SoCon preseason polls (The Citadel is 8th in the coaches’ poll, and 7th in the media poll)

SoCon preseason all-conference teams (No Bulldogs made either the first or second team)

Videos: Fred Jordan discusses The Citadel’s pitchers and The Citadel’s position players

More video: Fred Jordan discusses his team’s preparation for the opening weekend of the season

Audio: Jordan talks to Phil Kornblut about the upcoming season

It is time for college baseball season, no matter what the weather forecast for the next few weeks says. I’m looking forward to it, as always. This season should prove to be an interesting one for The Citadel, after three very different kinds of campaigns over the past three years.

2010: Southern Conference regular season and tournament champions

2011: Last place

2012: Transitional season

Yes, last year was a transitional season, both on the field and on the coaching staff. The Citadel finished with a losing record, both overall (25-33) and in league play (13-17). However, after the debacle of the 2011 campaign, the goals for last year were relatively modest.

New arrivals were put in key roles, and for the most part did not shrink from the challenge. In the end, a tie for 7th in the SoCon and a berth in the league tournament seemed to be a reasonable outcome for the Bulldogs.

That won’t be the case this year. The Citadel is used to winning, and contending, on a near-annual basis. Losing seasons in what has historically been the school’s most successful sport are generally not acceptable.

So how will the Bulldogs fare this season? Well, most of the players who saw action on the diamond in 2012 are back this year, including seven regulars among the position players and the bulk of The Citadel’s pitching staff. Many of them showed promise last season.

There are things that  need to be improved this season, however. Some of those necessary improvements are obvious, while others are perhaps more subtle. As usual on this blog, I’m going to be a bit stat-intensive in discussing the team and league. I have even gone so far as to create a new statistic; feel free to mock it with reckless abandon.

One quick note: unless I state otherwise, all statistics are for Southern Conference games only. That’s because A) it’s easier, and much fairer, to compare teams within a specific subset, and B) ultimately, conference play is what most of the season is about anyway. The Citadel’s baseball team will succeed or fail this year based on how it does in SoCon action. I do recognize the limitations of the sample size when making comparisons or analyzing trends.

Just to refresh everyone’s memory, each conference team plays a round-robin schedule of three-game series for a total of thirty SoCon games. There are fifteen home games and fifteen road games. In 2012, there were no postponements that weren’t eventually made up, so the complete league schedule was in fact played.

Last year’s league team batting statistics:

     AVG      OBP    SLUG      R      H   HR   RBI   BB   SO   OPS
App State 0.312 0.392 0.459 212 329 25 192 115 180 0.851
WCU 0.308 0.376 0.417 174 332 21 157 100 194 0.793
Samford 0.302 0.387 0.443 199 323 27 181 121 172 0.830
Furman 0.285 0.361 0.404 157 304 20 138 109 191 0.765
CofC 0.278 0.369 0.445 202 287 33 180 128 240 0.814
Elon 0.277 0.367 0.391 190 295 18 169 131 229 0.758
GSU 0.274 0.353 0.375 158 279 14 131 101 186 0.728
UNCG 0.273 0.353 0.368 157 283 13 139 112 214 0.721
Davidson 0.244 0.329 0.326 120 251 11 105 109 256 0.655
The Citadel 0.239 0.319 0.333 143 244 11 123 106 204 0.652
Wofford 0.238 0.316 0.333 131 234 16 109 102 219 0.649

That looks rather ugly for the Bulldogs, doesn’t it? Next-to-last in batting average and OBP, only ahead of one other team in slugging percentage, tied for the fewest home runs.

I’m not going to sell you on the idea that The Citadel was an offensive juggernaut. However, the Bulldogs weren’t quite as bad as those raw numbers would lead you to believe. You have to consider park effects.

Ah, yes, park effects. The Citadel plays half of its league schedule at Riley Park, which is a true “pitcher’s park”. The question becomes, then, how do you compare these numbers? I decided to give it a shot.

First, I used the Park Factors calculated by the estimable Boyd Nation. His numbers are based on all games played at a school’s home park over the past four seasons (2009-12). That gives us a chance to make a more valid comparison.

One caveat: The four-year period in question includes two years in the pre-BBCOR era, and two years after the new bat standards went into effect. That could have a marginal impact on the ratings. However, I feel reasonably comfortable using these Park Factors.

Riley Park has a Park Factor (PF) of 82, by far the lowest in the league. Appalachian State’s Smith Stadium has a PF of 121, which is the highest for the 2009-12 period.

I took the PF for every team’s home park, came up with a “road park factor” based on the five different road stadia each team played in during the 2012 season, and added them together. Each school thus has a total park factor that is based on where it actually played all 30 games.

Okay, now for the magic!

Let’s look again at how many runs each team scored in league play:

App State 212
CofC 202
Samford 199
Elon 190
WCU 174
GSU 158
Furman 157
UNCG 157
The Citadel 143
Wofford 131
Davidson 120

Runs are the building blocks of the game, obviously; you want to score them, and you want to prevent them from being scored. Scoring runs is the truest measure of a team’s offense. It doesn’t matter if you score them the Earl Weaver way or the Whitey Herzog way.

Appalachian State led the league in runs scored. However, we’ve already seen that half of the Mountaineers’ games are played at the friendly confines of Smith Stadium. What happens when you take park factors into account?

   R    HomePF  RoadPF  TotalPF    SS+ rating
Elon 190 98 101.8 99.9 1.901901902
CofC 202 99 115.4 107.2 1.884328358
App State 212 121 107.4 114.2 1.856392294
Samford 199 109 106.2 107.6 1.849442379
WCU 174 119 100 109.5 1.589041096
The Citadel 143 82 106.2 94.1 1.519659936
GSU 158 117 96.2 106.6 1.482176360
Furman 157 103 109.6 106.3 1.476952023
UNCG 157 117 107.4 112.2 1.399286988
Wofford 131 94 101 97.5 1.343589744
Davidson 120 104 111.8 107.9 1.112140871


These are sorted by what I’m calling the team’s SS+ rating. The SS+ rating is derived from dividing runs scored by a team’s total park factor. As you can see, this suggests that Elon actually had the league’s best offense last season (although the four teams at the top are tightly bunched).

It also shows that despite being ninth in the league in runs scored, The Citadel actually had a decent offense, though it was still slightly below the league average; the league mean SS+ was 1.5846948.

Of course, scoring runs is only half of the equation. Preventing runs is just as important, and I ran the PF numbers for pitching and defense too.

    ERA     BAA        IP       H       R     BB       K     HR   BB/9    K/9
CofC 3.37 0.250 267 253 124 71 229 15 2.39 7.72
Samford 3.80 0.254 275 267 137 99 228 12 3.24 7.46
Elon 3.87 0.263 281.1 282 148 109 219 21 3.49 7.01
GSU 3.93 0.267 265.1 272 141 103 246 21 3.49 8.34
WCU 4.14 0.267 263 269 156 124 218 21 4.24 7.46
App State 4.40 0.271 264 272 156 118 197 15 4.02 6.72
Wofford 4.75 0.275 263.1 285 175 117 243 20 4.00 8.31
The Citadel 5.01 0.294 264.1 305 175 118 166 17 4.02 5.65
Furman 5.77 0.300 270 325 193 114 205 24 3.80 6.83
UNCG 6.18 0.290 262.1 302 210 139 169 23 4.77 5.80
Davidson 6.40 0.301 267.1 329 228 122 165 20 4.11 5.55

Those are the team pitching statistics for the 2012 SoCon campaign. I’ll now list the runs column separately:

CofC 124
Samford 137
GSU 141
Elon 148
WCU 156
App State 156
Wofford 175
The Citadel 175
Furman 193
UNCG 210
Davidson 228

Here is the pitching/defense version of the park factors chart I ran earlier for the offense:

      R    TotalPF  SS- rating
CofC 124 107.2 1.1567164
Samford 137 107.6 1.2732342
GSU 141 106.6 1.3227017
App State 156 114.2 1.3660245
WCU 156 109.5 1.4246575
Elon 148 99.9 1.4814815
Wofford 175 97.5 1.7948718
Furman 193 106.3 1.8156162
The Citadel 175 94.1 1.8597237
UNCG 210 112.2 1.8716578
Davidson 228 107.9 2.1130677

I skipped the home/road PF factor columns; they are the same as the columns in the offensive chart (as is the Total PF column, but it was easy enough to include it in this chart too).

This result is similar to the actual runs allowed column, with Appalachian State faring a little better and The Citadel a bit worse. Just to avoid confusion, I want to point out that the SS- rating mean for the 2012 SoCon season is the same as the SS+ rating mean (1.5846948).

While I’m concentrating on league play in this preview, I want to devote a small section of this post to non-conference scheduling.

If you rank the difficulty of a team’s 2013 non-conference schedule by its opponents’ RPI ratings from 2012 (which definitely has its limitations in terms of analysis, but is still interesting), this is what you get:

Elon (8th-toughest 2013 OOC slate by 2012 RPI)
Georgia Southern (31st)
College of Charleston (48th)
Furman (69th)
Western Carolina (76th)
Davidson (79th)
Appalachian State (95th)
The Citadel (113th)
UNC-Greensboro (187th)
Wofford (188th)
Samford (221st)

(Note: ratings courtesy of Southeastern Baseball’s RPI Ratings Blog)

Elon’s non-league slate includes Coastal Carolina, Kentucky, UNC-Wilmington (twice), Wake Forest (twice), North Carolina (twice), North Carolina State (twice), East Carolina (three times), and Louisville (three times). That’s a tough schedule.

Samford has to replace its entire starting pitching rotation from last season’s SoCon tournament champions, which might explain an easier-to-navigate OOC slate. However, I tend to think that 221st overall rating (out of 298 Division I teams) is a bit misleading. Samford’s non-conference schedule is not that bad.

This season, SoCon teams will play 179 non-conference games at home and 108 on the road (numbers again per Southeastern Baseball). That does not include any neutral-site action. Of those 108 road games, 41 of them are against SEC or ACC teams.

The Citadel’s non-league slate includes a home-and-home set with South Carolina, along with a home-and-home against Coastal Carolina (played on consecutive days). Four games are scheduled against Charleston Southern, and Tony Skole will bring his ETSU squad to town for a midweek contest. There are also matchups against North Carolina and Georgia Tech (both on the road), and a potentially tricky early-season three-game series at North Florida.

As has become traditional during Jack Leggett’s tenure at Clemson, there will be no games between the Bulldogs and Tigers.

This concludes Part 1. In Part 2, I’ll break down The Citadel’s 2012 season a bit more and note some specific improvements the Bulldogs need to make to contend in the SoCon. Part 2 is right here: Link

Hoops update: SoCon play begins for The Citadel

— The Citadel at the College of Charleston, 8:00 pm Thursday, December 1, 2011, at TD Arena, Charleston, South Carolina

— The Citadel at Wofford, 7:00 pm Saturday, December 3, 2011, at Benjamin Johnson Arena, Spartanburg, South Carolina

Both games can be heard on WQNT-AM 1450 in Charleston, with “voice of the Bulldogs” Danny Reed describing the action. Audio is also available online via Bulldog Insider. The game against the College of Charleston will be televised by WMMP-DT 36.1 in Charleston and is also being carried by

The Citadel is now 2-3 on the season, with a 97-44 win over Florida Christian (a non-Division I team) sandwiched by a pair of losses, 73-50 at home to Clemson and 80-72 on the road against High Point, the latter contest being decided in overtime.

The Bulldogs did what they were expected to do against Florida Christian, although it should be noted that the Suns only lost to Bethune-Cookman of the MEAC by 18 points. The game was notable for being the first start of the season for Barry Smith, who also started the game against High Point. The sophomore forward scored 19 points against Florida Christian after being inserted into the lineup for defensive reasons.

I wanted to make a few observations about the games against Division I competition. The Citadel has now played four contests against D-1 teams, winning one and losing three, with two of the losses being close games. The not-so-competitive loss, alas, came at McAlister Field House, and to a Clemson team which then lost consecutive games at Littlejohn Coliseum to the College of Charleston and Coastal Carolina. (The Tigers defeated Furman by ten points on Saturday night to avoid losing three straight home games to in-state foes.)

Chuck Driesell has used the early part of the season to give opportunities to numerous players on his roster, with eleven cadets seeing action in every game. Those aren’t just cameos by the 9th or 10th players off the bench, either; of the 57 individual appearances made by Bulldogs in five games, 50 were for at least nine minutes and two others were for eight minutes.

Offensively, the Bulldogs have played fairly well. The Citadel has taken care of the basketball and has been reasonably balanced on offense, although the Bulldogs got into a three-point shooting contest against High Point and subsequently took 43% of their field goal attempts from outside the arc, which is too many. (The Panthers shot 44 three-pointers in that game, out of 59 field goal attempts.)

The Citadel has to continue to work the ball inside to Mike Groselle, who has been unsurprisingly excellent thus far. Groselle is averaging 18 points (these stats do not count the Florida Christian game) while shooting 68% from the field. He also has a double-double in every game this season while averaging 36 minutes per contest, answering any lingering questions about his stamina.

Groselle needs more help inside, though, both offensively and defensively. He particularly needs some assistance on the offensive glass, as Groselle has almost half of the offensive boards claimed by the Bulldogs in the four D-1 games (18 of 39).

The Bulldogs have struggled on defense. The Citadel ranks in the bottom 75 nationally in several key defensive measures, including eFG%, free throws attempted per field goals attempted, and turnover rate (numbers are from

The Citadel is dead last in all of Division I (345 teams) in the percentage of opponents’ shots blocked (which probably accounts in least in part for opponents of the Bulldogs having success in converting 2-point baskets). Charleston Southern is next-to-last in the category, with Army, Navy, and Presbyterian also in the bottom 11. That’s three military schools and three Palmetto State schools, so I guess it’s only natural that The Military College of South Carolina is last.

At 5-1, the College of Charleston is off to a promising start as it enters SoCon play. The Cougars’ five victories include the road win at Clemson mentioned earlier, along with two victories in the Battle 4 Atlantis holiday tournament that was recently held in the Bahamas. After losing its opening game in the tournament to Central Florida 74-63, the CofC outlasted UNC-Asheville 68-66 in the consolation bracket. The Cougars completed the tourney with an 85-61 win over Massachusetts, running away with that game in the second half.

Through six games, the CofC is shooting the ball very well, with an eFG% of 54.9, ranking in the top 25 of Division I. The Cougars get about one-third of their points via the three-point shot, which is fairly high, but you can get away with that when you have several guys shooting well from distance, including Jordan Scott, Anthony Stitt, and Andrew Lawrence (who has made 14 of 28 three-pointers).

The Cougars have at times struggled with rebounding, which was their downfall against UCF (as they were outboarded 43-21 in that contest). It was probably not a coincidence that touted freshman forward/center Adjehi Baru got in early foul trouble in that game. When playing, Baru has been a significant defensive presence. CofC opponents have an offensive rebounding percentage of 39.7, which places the Cougars in the bottom 20 of D-1 for that metric. Obviously, the sample size is a small one.

The lone senior on the CofC’s roster, Antwaine Wiggins, was named the Southern Conference player of the week last week after the Cougars’ victory over Clemson, a game in which he scored 22 points. He followed up that excellent performance with a total clunker against Central Florida, only scoring two points against the Knights. However, he scored 23 points in each of the next two games, so the UCF contest appears to have been an aberration.

I think the primary longterm concern for CofC fans will be the Cougars’ depth, a problem exacerbated by the loss in preseason of forward Willis Hall to a knee injury. Hall started all 37 of the CofC’s games in 2010-11. Without him, the Cougars have been reduced to what is essentially a seven-man rotation, with five players averaging more than 25 minutes per game. That isn’t exactly a new thing for a Bobby Cremins squad, but it’s something to watch over the grind of a long season. There are three players averaging more than 30 minutes per contest — Wiggins, Lawrence, and 6’8″ forward Trent Wiedeman.

The Cougars have won eleven straight SoCon games at home. Their last loss in league play at what is now called TD Arena came on February 8, 2010, against The Citadel.

The Citadel will face Wofford in its second game of the SoCon season, with the matchup taking place at the Benjamin Johnson Arena. That facility opened in 1981 with a game between the Bulldogs and the Terriers, won by The Citadel 65-64.

Wofford is 3-3 on the season. Like the College of Charleston, the Terriers had to replace multiple key performers from last season’s team, including a star player. The Cougars lost Andrew Goudelock, while Wofford now has to make do without Noah Dahlman. Goudelock was a first-round pick of the L.A. Lakers, but it is Dahlman who will be more difficult to replace.

Dahlman helped make Wofford one of the nation’s better offensive teams, with a team adjusted efficiency rating of 111.0, a top 50 mark in Division I. This season, that number through five D-1 contests (Wofford’s only home game to date was a victory over Emory&Henry) is 94.5, a huge differential. That is what can happen when you have to replace four starters who accounted for 66 points and 23 rebounds per game.

I should note that it doesn’t help Wofford’s offensive statistics to have played one of those five Division I games against Wisconsin. The Badgers bludgeoned the Terriers, 69-33. Wofford does have a nice win over Bradley (70-66), but that is somewhat offset by a neutral court loss to UMKC (64-58, in OT). The Terriers also struggled mightily in a win over Prairie View, which is not expected to be one of the SWAC’s better teams (in other words, it is expected to be among the nation’s worst teams). Wofford’s other loss was a respectable effort against Georgia (62-49).

The Terriers’ offensive woes are reflected in their eFG% (41.1) and their FTA/FGA, ranking in the bottom 30 nationally in both categories. Wofford has also been a bit turnover-prone (and conversely has not been particularly effective in forcing turnovers, which has hurt its defense). The Terriers have not shot the ball well from the field, either in front of or behind the three-point line.

Wofford has employed a seven-man rotation, with senior guards Kevin Giltner and Brad Loesing each averaging more than 38 minutes per contest. Yikes. Loesing, the point guard, started last season, but Giltner was more of an impact sub, shooting 42% from three-land last year. Through six games this season, Giltner is shooting 31% from beyond the arc.

Drew Crowell’s time on the court has increased by about 20 minutes per game from last season to this one; he is basically filling the Tim Johnson role for the Terriers. Two true freshmen, forward Lee Skinner and the highly regarded Karl Cochran (a 6’1″ combo guard), are also seeing plenty of time on the court, as is Domas Rinksalis, a 6’9″ forward/center who redshirted last season.

Wofford isn’t expected to contend in the Southern Conference this season, though the Terriers might prove a tough out come SoCon tourney time.

Neither of these games will be easy for The Citadel, to say the least. The Bulldogs aren’t expected to win either contest, and are a sizable underdog to the College of Charleston ( gives the cadets only an 8% probability of winning).

I think it’s good, though, to start out league play with a pair of road games. I would like to think that by the time the return games roll around, the team will have improved substantially, with the freshmen more fully understanding their roles and gaining confidence. Then that increased understanding and confidence can be put to good use at McAlister Field House, where the Bulldogs should have a better chance of success.

Odds and ends…

– I am continuing to contribute to a roundtable discussion (more or less) about the SoCon. The latest edition for this season has been posted to a Chattanooga blog, Mocs Mania, and can be found here:  Link

— I was at McAlister Field House for the Clemson game. So were lots of Clemson fans. I would say almost half the fans in attendance were wearing orange. That’s okay (for now), though. We’ll gladly take their money. I took a few pictures. As always, keep in mind that I’m a less-than-scintillating photographer with an iffy camera, which is one reason you won’t see any action photos. All the pictures are from the pregame scene.

SoCon hoops season begins for The Citadel

On Thursday, The Citadel begins play in the Southern Conference with a home game against Georgia Southern.  Before discussing that game and the two matchups that follow, I want to take a look back at the first five games of the season.

I figured that at worst The Citadel would be 2-3 after five games.  There was only one game (Richmond) that I did not think The Citadel had a good chance of winning, and even there I thought the senior-laden Bulldogs would be competitive.

As it happens, The Citadel was blown out by Richmond in an embarrassing fashion (79-37).  The Bulldogs then lost at Charleston Southern (a very disappointing result) and dropped their home opener to James Madison (which I would have rated as a tossup game).  Chuck Driesell finally got his first career win against High Point, an “expected” win, but then The Citadel blew a second-half lead and lost at Coastal Carolina.

The Bulldogs have had serious issues on the defensive end, especially in the second half.  The Citadel led at the half against Charleston Southern, James Madison, and Coastal Carolina, and lost all three games.  The Bulldogs are allowing opponents to shoot exactly 50% from the field, which is the bottom 20 nationally.

Breaking it down a little further, The Citadel’s opponents are shooting 54.4% from 2-point range (bottom 40 nationally).  That suggests a lack of presence on the inside, which is borne out by below-average rebounding numbers and the fact the Bulldogs have blocked a grand total of two shots in five games.

In the second half, the defensive FG% numbers are beyond terrible. In The Citadel’s four losses, opponents are shooting 62% from the field after the halftime break, which is a good reason why the Bulldogs lost those leads.  For example, a five-point halftime lead over JMU dissolved when the Dukes shot 71% in the second half.  The three-point shooting numbers for opponents haven’t been that bad (not great, but reasonable), but The Citadel has just been abused in the paint.

On offense, the Bulldogs are also struggling, with an eFG of 42.1%, which is 306th out of 347 Division I teams.  Zach Urbanus, a mainstay for The Citadel for four years, is shooting just 30.9% from the field and 29.6% from 3-land (last year those numbers for Urbanus were 38.9% and 40.0%, respectively).  Cameron Wells and Austin Dahn are near their 2009-10 numbers, with Wells starting to get going (enough to be the latest SoCon Player of the Week).

Those three have scored 204 of The Citadel’s 300 points, which is 68% of the Bulldogs’ scoring offense.  Last season, they accounted for 57% of The Citadel’s points, so a little extra offensive help for them would be nice.  However, getting the defensive deficiencies straightened out has to come first.

One issue is that the “big three” are playing a lot of minutes.  They always have, but it’s even more pronounced this season.  Urbanus is averaging 38.6 mpg, an increase over his workload of 36.1 mpg last season.  Wells is averaging 35.2 mpg (34.9 in 2009-10), and Dahn 32 mpg (26.1 last season).

I believe that for The Citadel to have a successful season, those numbers have to go down a bit.  I was hoping, actually, that they wouldn’t be so high so early in the season, but Driesell’s rotation has been fairly tight so far.  Only eight players have seen action in all five games.  Going forward, the Bulldogs need to get quality minutes out of some other backcourt performers.

The Citadel also needs to get increased productivity from its big men, on both ends of the court.  So far the only frontcourt player getting the job done is Bryan Streeter, who has been basically all you could ask of an undersized “4”, except for the fact he can’t shoot free throws at all.  Being so foul from the foul line has been problematic at times, and obviously down the stretch of close games is a real liability, but aside from that he has been solid — arguably the second-best player on the team after Wells.

Streeter has had to be solid, because he hasn’t had a lot of help down low.  In particular, the much-discussed 7-foot transfers, Morakinyo Williams and Mike Dejworek, have yet to make an impact.

Dejworek did not play in the last two games, and in the games he has appeared has averaged fewer than two rebounds per contest.  He has scored two points in 32 minutes of play.  Williams is shooting only 26.3% from the field, which is remarkably poor for someone who plays so close to the basket.  He is a decent defensive rebounder, but has not shown an affinity for the offensive glass (a Streeter specialty). Williams also has more turnovers in 68 minutes of play than Wells does in 176 minutes of action.

Chuck Driesell promised a more up-tempo style this season.  The Citadel is averaging 7.6 more possessions per game so far, but seems to still be searching for an offensive identity.  The defense would be a problem regardless of the game’s pace.

While being interviewed postgame on the radio after the loss to Coastal Carolina, Driesell openly wondered if fatigue was affecting the team’s defensive play.  He may have a point, and it’s just another reason to watch individual players’ minutes, but I think post play is a bigger factor (although that doesn’t completely explain opponents’ second-half success).  I’m not watching the practices, so I’m not going to advocate for individual players to get more time, but I have to admit there are two or three players who I would like to see on the court more often.

I am a little worried this is going to turn into a true “transition” season, one in which a new coach establishes his style of play at the expense of wins and losses.  I hope that doesn’t happen, for two reasons.  The first is that this is as good a senior class as The Citadel has had in many, many years, and I want to see them succeed.  I think they have a chance to build upon the previous two seasons and win a lot of games.

The other reason is that I believe, based on what has happened so far this season, that the SoCon is there to be had.  This is not going to be a vintage year for the league (not that any year ever is).  The league has gone 21-44 in non-conference action (through November play).

That includes a 3-20 mark against major conference opponents, with the three wins coming against BCS bottom-feeders Auburn, DePaul, and Nebraska.  The league’s best OOC victory is probably Appalachian State’s 89-86 win over Tulsa.  It could be argued the SoCon’s best performance came in a loss — Wofford’s 3OT defeat at Xavier.

There is an opportunity for The Citadel to make some noise in the league.  That needs to start on Thursday.

Georgia Southern is struggling.  The Eagles’ record is 2-5, and the two wins are both over non-Division I teams.  GSU has lost consecutive neutral-site games to Chicago State and Mississippi Valley State; the other losses were drubbings by Notre Dame, South Florida, and Texas Tech.

It should be pointed out that none of GSU’s five losses came at home, but the statistics indicate that the Eagles greatly resemble last season’s squad, one that went 9-23 and played terrible defense.  That 9-23 mark included a split with The Citadel, with the Bulldogs hammering the Eagles at McAlister Field House in the first game, and then blowing a 21-point second half lead and losing the second.

Willie Powers scored 19 points to lead GSU in that matchup, but unfortunately won’t be playing this season.  The star-crossed Powers has been a fine player when healthy, but he suffered his second major knee injury in August and is out for the year.

Without him, the Eagles appear to be a similar outfit to last year’s edition.  GSU averages 77.6 possessions per game, has a turnover rate among the bottom 40 nationally and shoots poorly from beyond the arc (28.1%).  It’s hard to play racehorse basketball without the horses.

Davidson was 16-15 last year in Year 1 A.C. (After Curry).  I think the Wildcats could be a sleeper pick to win the league this year, assuming Davidson can ever be a sleeper pick in the SoCon.  I’m not sure the Wildcats were completely prepared to play without Stephen Curry last season, but this year should be a different story.

Davidson is 3-3.  None of the losses are bad, and the Wildcats do have a win over a major conference team (Big XII caboose Nebraska). Davidson has four players averaging double figures in scoring, including center Jake Cohen, who as a freshman scored 39 combined points in two games against The Citadel last season.  Cohen will again be a difficult matchup for the Bulldogs.

The Wildcats are not yet locked in from beyond the arc (28.8%), but that was true last year as well until Davidson made 15 three-pointers at McAlister Field House.  The Wildcats are holding opponents to 40.4% shooting from the field, which includes excellent interior defense (at least statistically).  Davidson does foul a lot, averaging 23 per contest.

Before playing The Citadel, Davidson will travel to the College of Charleston.  It’s the second year in a row the Wildcats have opened SoCon play by making the Low Country swing.

The Citadel’s third game in five days (and last before an 11-day break for exams) is a non-conference matchup with St. Mary’s.  That’s not the St. Mary’s in California that made last year’s Sweet 16; no, this St. Mary’s is a Division III school in Maryland.

Some fast facts about the school, for those unfamiliar with St. Mary’s:

— Like The Citadel, St. Mary’s has about 2000 undergraduates, was founded in the 1840s (1840 for St. Mary’s, 1842 for The Citadel), is a public school that is often mistaken for a private institution, and is big on history.

— The “big on history” thing is a little different, though.  St. Mary’s is located in St. Mary’s City (hence the name of the school), which was once the capital of Maryland. There is a significant archaeological site in the area; actually, the town is basically the school and that site.

St. Mary’s City was the fourth British settlement in North America, and founded as something of a test case for religious tolerance.

— St. Mary’s was a junior college for most of its existence; it has been a four-year college since 1966.

— Notable alums include professional wrestler Scott Hall (also known as Razor Ramon, and an original member of the New World Order!) and trailblazing female baseball player Julie Croteau.

— The Seahawks play in Division III and are members of the Capital Athletic Conference.

One of St. Mary’s fellow CAC schools is Marymount, which was once coached by…Chuck Driesell.  That may go a long way towards explaining how this game with St. Mary’s came to be.  Of course, it may have nothing to do with it, for all I know.

One thing Driesell will be sure to tell his players is that they can’t take St. Mary’s lightly. This is a solid Division III program.  The Seahawks were 26-4 last season and made the D-3 Sweet 16.  They are a cut above The Citadel’s normal non-Division I fare and should be respected as such.

St. Mary’s has won four of its first five games this season to date (and will play another game, against Stevenson, before facing The Citadel).  The Seahawks are led by 6’1″ guard Alex Franz, a two-time All-CAC selection who is averaging 15.5 points per game.  Statistically, St. Mary’s doesn’t have any extraordinary numbers, although the three-point differential is curious — the Seahawks are shooting 38.4% from beyond the arc, while their opponents are shooting just 22.9% from 3-land.

To get off to a good start in the league, The Citadel must improve defensively and needs contributions from a wider variety of players on its roster.  I will be disappointed if the Bulldogs do not win at least two of the three upcoming games.  Winning all three would make up for the slow start.

Football, Game 4: The Citadel vs. Appalachian State

It’s time for the games that matter to begin.  League play, SoCon style.  First up for the Bulldogs:  Appalachian State, winner of three of the last four FCS championships and four-time defending conference champs.  Basically, the league opener is as big a challenge as The Citadel will have for the rest of the season.

This will be the 38th clash on the gridiron between the two schools.  Appy leads the all-time series 26-11; the Mountaineers are 10-8 in 18 previous trips to Johnson Hagood Stadium.    Appalachian has won 14 of the last 15 games in the series, with the one Bulldog victory coming in 2003, shortly before the Mountaineers began their run of conference and national titles.

That 2003 victory (24-21) is one of only two times in that 15-game stretch in which The Citadel held Appalachian State to fewer than 25 points; the other exception came in 2001, when the Mountaineers slipped past the Bulldogs 8-6.  In the thirteen other games played since 1994, Appalachian State has averaged 41.5 points per game.  The last four meetings have resulted in Appy point totals of 45, 42, 45, and 47.

Perhaps the most curious thing about the history of the series between the two schools is that prior to 1972, there was no history.  The Citadel and Appalachian State had never played each other in football until Appy joined the Southern Conference in 1971.  The two schools then began the series in 1972, and have met every year since.

The never-and-then-always aspect of the series is not particularly surprising when juxtaposed against the backdrop of the Southern Conference, a way station of a league since its founding in 1921.  Schools have come and gone, and sometimes come back (hello again, Davidson).  The conference has routinely featured schools that in many cases don’t have much in common.  The Citadel and Appalachian State, fellow members of the SoCon for four decades, make for a good example of this phenomenon.

Appalachian State University has origins dating back to 1899, and would eventually become a four-year college in 1929.  It was at that time a teachers’ college, designed to educate future instructors in northwest North Carolina.  By the late 1920s the school was also fielding a football team and playing similar two- and four-year institutions like High Point and Lenoir-Rhyne.

In the 1950s the school began to become more of a regional institution, with multiple degree programs.  By the 1970s the undergraduate enrollment had increased to over 9,000 (today it has 14,500 undergrad students).  As the school increased in size, the department of athletics left the Division II Carolinas Conference and moved up to Division I, joining the Southern Conference (essentially replacing George Washington, which had left the SoCon in 1970).

Appalachian State’s institutional history is not unlike that of fellow conference member Georgia Southern.  The two schools were both originally founded to educate teachers.  Appalachian State’s undergraduate enrollment began to increase before Georgia Southern’s did, and as a result Appy has about 20,000 more living alumni (95,000 to 75,000).  The two schools have the largest alumni bases in the SoCon (by a considerable margin) and also enroll the most students (ditto).

Georgia Southern’s fan base includes a sizable (and vocal) contingent of supporters who want the school to move to FBS status in football.  I wrote about this a few weeks ago; it doesn’t seem like a particularly good idea to me, and the GSU administration appears to oppose making the move.

Appalachian State, on the other hand, does not seem to have a significant (or at least loud) base of fans wanting to test the FBS waters.  This is probably wise.  While Appy does have the largest alumni base in the SoCon, it would not compare well to most FBS schools, at least in the southeast.  Only one of the ACC/SEC schools (Wake Forest) has a smaller alumni base, and eight of the twelve C-USA schools have more living alums.

The population base around the school isn’t that large, and the area’s average household income is less than that of the markets for every school in the Southern Conference except Georgia Southern.

My sense is that most Appy fans are very happy with their football program’s position in the NCAA universe right now.  Given the past two decades, who can blame them?

Jerry Moore has been the coach of the Mountaineers for the past 21 seasons (counting this one), but the run of success Appy has been on really began with the previous coach, Sparky Woods.  Woods would preside over the Mountaineers’ first two SoCon titles (in 1986 and 1987).  He was also the coach when Appalachian State started beating The Citadel on a regular basis; after losing his first game against the Bulldogs, Woods won four straight games in the series to close out his career in Boone.

Of course, as all fans of The Citadel know, Woods faced the Bulldogs on one other occasion as a head coach, in 1990.  Woods had taken the South Carolina job following the death of Joe Morrison.  In his second year in Columbia, the Gamecocks would lose to The Citadel 38-35.  I will never forget watching his coach’s show the next day; he looked like he had been embalmed.  Woods is now the head coach of VMI; he will get another crack at the Bulldogs next season.

Moore had once been the head coach of North Texas (where his record was mediocre) and Texas Tech (where his record was abysmal).  After two years out of coaching, he got a break when Ken Hatfield invited him to join the coaching staff at Arkansas, first on a volunteer basis and then as a salaried assistant.  Moore spent five years in Fayetteville before being offered the job in Boone after Woods left.  He decided to take another shot at being a head coach.  It would prove to be a good move for him and for Appalachian State’s football program.

Moore would win a SoCon title of his own at Appy in 1991, but then hit a brief rough patch that included his only losing season with the Mountaineers in 1993.  During that stretch Appalachian State would lose three straight games to The Citadel (which was fielding some of its best teams at the time, including the 1992 SoCon championship squad).

That is the only period in the series to date in which The Citadel has won three consecutive games.  In the 1992 season, the Bulldogs beat the Mountaineers in Boone 25-0, one of only three victories by The Citadel in Boone and the only time Appalachian State has ever been shut out by The Citadel.

  • October 3rd, Note Number 1:  That 1992 game is also the only time the two schools have met on October 3rd — that is, until this Saturday.  Hmm…
  • October 3rd, Note Number 2:  On October 3rd, 1970, Appalachian State hosted Elon in the first football game in the Carolinas to be contested on artificial turf.

Moore’s Mountaineers would finish 4th in the league in 1993.  That season and the 1996 campaign are the only two seasons during Moore’s tenure in which Appy has finished lower than third place in the conference (and in between the Mountaineers would win another league title in 1995).  Since 1997, Appalachian State has five first-place finishes (two of those were shared titles), six second place finishes, and one third-place finish (in 2004).

After that third-place finish in 2004, the Mountaineers would win three straight FCS titles.  Breaking through in the postseason had proven to be very difficult for Appy, which would finally win the national championship in its 13th appearance in the I-AA playoffs.

The Mountaineers had never managed to get past the semifinals prior to 2005, but after getting by Furman in the semis, Appalachian State defeated Northern Iowa for the first of its three national crowns.  The change in postseason fortunes was attributed in part to a change in offensive philosophy, from a power-I formation to a spread look.

Last season Appalachian State averaged 37.3 points per game and 463.6 yards of total offense per game.  Its defense was decent but not spectacular (allowing 21.6 PPG and 334 yards per contest).  Appalachian committed 28 turnovers on offense, with 18 of those being lost fumbles (Appy recovered 12 of its own fumbles, so it put the ball on the ground 30 times in all in 13 games).

The Mountaineer defense intercepted 19 passes and recovered 8 fumbles, so Appalachian State had a turnover margin for the season of -1.  The fact that the Mountaineers could win the SoCon despite a negative turnover margin is a testament to just how explosive on offense Appy really was (averaging almost seven yards per play).

Appalachian State is 1-2 so far this season, losing to East Carolina 29-24 (after trailing 29-7, with its backup quarterback) and McNeese State 40-35 (with McNeese scoring five points in the final four seconds).  In its SoCon opener, Appy beat Samford 20-7, scoring the first 20 points of the game and keeping the Birmingham Bulldogs off the scoreboard until midway through the fourth quarter.  The games against McNeese State and Samford were played in Boone, with Appalachian State traveling to Greenville, NC, for the game against ECU.

(Incidentally, despite losing to the Pirates, the Mountaineers still lead the all-time series between the two schools, 19-11, a factoid that I found a little surprising.  Most of those wins over ECU came during the 1930s and mid-to-late 1950s.)

Appalachian State played East Carolina without its starting quarterback, Armanti Edwards, who was still recovering from a much-chronicled attack by a lawnmower.  His backup, Travaris Cadet, acquitted himself fairly well against the Pirates in the loss.  Edwards was back against McNeese State and so was the Appy offense (493 total yards), but the Mountaineer defense couldn’t contain the Cowboys’ offense (522 total yards), and Appy eventually lost a last-team-with-the-ball-wins type of shootout.

The game against Samford was played in a steady downpour, which apparently favored the defenses.  The Mountaineer D rose to the occasion and limited Samford to 188 yards of total offense (Appy’s O had 366 total yards).

For The Citadel to pull the upset on Saturday, it needs to control Armanti Edwards.  Not stop him, but control him.  In his three previous games against the Bulldogs, he has been completely uncontrollable, rolling up 317.7 yards per game of total offense; Edwards has been responsible for 12 TDs in the three contests.  That can’t happen again if The Citadel has any hope of winning the game.

Whether the Bulldogs are capable defensively of slowing down Edwards and company is debatable.  The results from the game against Presbyterian were not encouraging in this respect.  Previously run-challenged PC piled up 200+ yards rushing against The Citadel.  Appalachian State could have a field day.

On the bright side, I think The Citadel’s offense is capable of moving the ball against a good but not great Mountaineer defense.  The keys will be to A) control the ball, keeping Edwards and his friends off the field as much as possible, and B) put points on the board when in scoring position.  It will be important to score touchdowns in the “red zone” on Saturday.  Of course, you could say that about any Saturday.

The Citadel’s offensive line must protect Bart Blanchard.  Appalachian State had three sacks against Samford (after not having any in its first two games).  This is also a game that, for the Bulldogs to prevail, will likely require a special performance by Andre Roberts.  He’s certainly up to the challenge.

The Bulldogs cannot afford major special teams snafus.  Missing PATs and other misadventures in the kicking game will be fatal against a team like Appalachian State, which can and almost certainly will take advantage of any mistake.

I think this will be a fairly high-scoring game.  For The Citadel to win, I think the offense/special teams must score at least 30 points, because unless the defense creates a multitude of Appy turnovers, I believe the Mountaineers are going to score at a clip similar to what they have done in recent meetings.  It may well be that 30 points will not be enough for the Bulldogs.  Would 40 be enough?

I’m not overly optimistic about The Citadel’s chances on Saturday afternoon.  However, I’ll be there, part of what (if the weather holds up) promises to be a good crowd, cheering on the Bulldogs and hoping for the best.  They’ve got a chance against the Mountaineers.  I’m not sure you could have said that in the last few meetings.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 776 other followers