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.

McAlister Musings: SoCon voting issues, preseason ratings, and corps attendance

Before I get to the three specific topics I am discussing in this post, some links of interest:

My preview of The Citadel’s 2012-13 basketball season

Chuck Driesell talks Bulldog hoops with Danny Reed (video)

More hoops talk with Chuck Driesell and Danny Reed (video)

Jeff Hartsell was there to Meet the Bulldogs, and was impressed with two freshmen

Mike Groselle is one of the candidates for the Senior CLASS award

Groselle is ready for the season to start (video)

Preview from The Post and Courier

Quick note: In that first Chuck Driesell interview, the coach mentions having had a bunch of his father’s old game reels converted to DVD. I bet a significant number of people (mostly Maryland fans) wouldn’t mind paying for copies of those.

Recently the Southern Conference released its annual preseason polls, both from the media and the coaches. The Citadel received the fewest votes in either poll, but that’s not what I’m writing about. My concern has to do with the way the polls were conducted.

I don’t have a major issue with the media poll, although I would like to know how the conference came up with a total of 30 voters. There are twelve schools in the league, so how were the votes apportioned?

Obviously it’s only a preseason poll and thus not a big deal, but I do have serious reservations about a media vote that did matter, namely last season’s all-conference team selections. I’ll get to that later.

However, first I want to take a look at the coaches’ poll, because it is a puzzler. All twelve coaches voted, but coaches could not vote for their own team. They also could not vote for their own players in the voting for the preseason all-conference team. I’m more interested in the breakdown for the team polling, however.

Total number of points for the teams in the North division: 246

Total number of points for the teams in the South division: 241

That makes no sense; both divisions should add up to the same number of points. Each division should have 246 points allocated to its six teams in some fashion. That is the case for the North, but the South somehow got shortchanged five points.

Because Davidson received all eleven possible first-place votes (Bob McKillop not being allowed to vote for his own team), the Wildcats should have received the maximum number of possible points, 66. Instead, Davidson got 65 points, so one of those five “missing” points belongs to Jake Cohen and company.

Conversely, the fewest possible number of points a team could get in this particular voting setup is 16. That would happen if a team were the last choice in a division by all the other coaches. The Citadel was the preseason last-place selection in the South division, and got, uh, 15 points.

The Citadel actually got fewer points in the SoCon preseason coaches’ poll than was technically possible. If that isn’t bulletin board material, I don’t know what is.

It’s only a preseason poll, though, so why should anyone care? I’ll tell you why. It is just part of a pattern of questionable polling/selection practices administered by the conference. Exhibit A in that respect is last season’s All-SoCon teams.

Last season there were four obvious choices for first-team honors in the Southern Conference: Jake Cohen, De’Mon Brooks, Mike Groselle, and Eric Ferguson. They were, by any legitimate measure, the league’s top four players. Cohen, Brooks, and Ferguson did make the first team, but Groselle was relegated to the second team in favor of Wofford’s Brad Loesing and UNCG’s Trevis Simpson.

Am I biased? Yes. However, check out this statistical comparison:

Player A Player B
Points 501 550
PPG 16.7 18.3
eFG% 59.1 44.5
Rebounds 288 127
Rb/g 9.6 4.2
Assists 54 22
A/g 1.8 0.7
Steals 43 23
S/g 1.4 0.8
Blocks 19 6
Turnovers 65 67

Player A is Mike Groselle. Player B is Trevis Simpson.

I’m not trying to knock Simpson, who is a good player, and one of the league’s better performers last season. I think you could make a decent case for him over Loesing, actually. I just find it hard to imagine how someone could vote for both of those players over Groselle.

Groselle was the league’s leading rebounder and finished second in scoring to Simpson, who took 151 more shots over the course of the season (which is reflected in his eFG%). I know that UNCG won the North division, and I suppose Simpson could get extra credit for that, but if the Spartans had been in the South they wouldn’t have finished in the top half of that division. They did lose 19 games last season, after all (The Citadel lost 24).

I can’t tell you how close the voting was, because the league didn’t provide voting totals for its all-conference teams, at least not publicly; it also didn’t release how many people voted for them. This stands in stark contrast to a conference like the ACC, which publishes that information.

I don’t really understand why the league releases point totals for the preseason polls (which are meaningless) but not for its all-conference teams (which are not meaningless). Maybe it is afraid someone will compare the number of voters to the point totals and discover a discrepancy. I don’t know.

I haven’t even discussed the qualifications of the voters. I can’t, since I don’t know who they are. I don’t know if they are actual media members or merely affiliated with one of the schools. I also don’t know if the voters are evenly distributed by region.

It would be nice to know these things.

If you have a statistical bent when it comes to college hoops, then you probably know who Ken Pomeroy is, and you may know who Dan Hanner is. Both are affiliated with Basketball Prospectus, although Pomeroy has his own site, which is very popular with the tempo-free stats crowd (Hanner writes for RealGM.com).

Anyway, both have released their preseason ratings. It is no surprise that The Citadel is not rated highly.  The Bulldogs are 297th out of 347 Division I teams in Pomeroy’s preseason ratings, and 292nd out of 345 in Hanner’s rankings (Hanner does not rank Northern Kentucky and New Orleans, which are transitioning to D-1).

The Citadel is the lowest-rated SoCon team in Pomeroy’s ratings, but is ahead of two league schools in Hanner’s rankings. Samford and Appalachian State are below the Bulldogs in the latter system.

While Hanner’s rankings are part of the just-published 2012-13 College Basketball Prospectus guide, The Citadel is still predicted to finish last in the league in the SoCon section of the annual. The writer for the SoCon section is Joey Berlin, a freelance writer from Kansas City.

In discussing last year’s Bulldogs, Berlin wrote that “Despite the school’s name, the only impenetrable fortress at Citadel games was the opposing team’s basket.”

Pomeroy rates the SoCon 20th overall among conferences, and the new-look CAA 16th. I’m not sure that will provide much comfort to the College of Charleston’s administration as that school prepares to change leagues (assuming it does eventually do so).

Another ratings system was recently released by David Hess, who is affiliated with TeamRankings.com. In Hess’ ratings, The Citadel is 314th out of 347 teams. The Bulldogs are projected to have a record of 9-18 (5-13 SoCon), with a 0.2% chance of winning 20 games and a 0.1% chance of finishing with the best record in the league.

When I looked at his list of The Citadel’s toughest and easiest games, I was mildly surprised to see that the Bulldogs’ toughest game (at least prior to the start of the season) is projected to be the game at St. Bonaventure, as opposed to the games against Georgia Tech, Clemson, or Davidson.

During the 2011-12 campaign, The Citadel averaged 1,840 fans per game over a 14-game home season. For conference games, the number was 1,813. When the Bulldogs played on the road in the Southern Conference, the average opposition attendance was 2,546.

The Citadel only outdrew two other league teams for SoCon home games, Elon and Samford. The Citadel’s numbers were very similar to those of Furman and Wofford.

That’s not a big surprise, as the Bulldogs went 6-24. However, The Citadel obviously needs to improve on that average. For one thing, I believe increased attendance can occasionally affect the results on the court, not only in terms of inspiring the team or intimidating the opponents, but in influencing SoCon officials (especially for weekend games). The Bulldogs need all the help they can get.

There is a built-in group of potential basketball attendees, though, who could really boost the totals and exponentially increase the support/intimidation factor. That would be the corps of cadets.

I have been at McAlister Field House on more than one occasion when a rowdy group of cadets managed to discombobulate the opposition. It doesn’t take a lot of them to have an impact, either.

(Incidentally, from personal experience during my cadet years, I can attest that natives of New York and New Jersey seem to be particularly good at annoying opponents.)

There are those in the corps who come to every game to support the team. Quite a few of them are athletes themselves, including members of the football and baseball teams. Then there is the pep band, which is traditionally outstanding.

The pep band and the “regulars” are great fans, and deserve credit for providing most of the atmosphere McAlister Field House has on game days.

I just wish that the basketball team got support in the same manner that the football team does for home games. Of course, attendance by the corps at football games is mandatory — which leads me to make a couple of suggestions.

I don’t know what The Citadel can do about league games played on Saturdays. I’m not about to advocate that members of the corps should be required to go to Saturday night basketball games (although of course they do attend football games on Saturday).

For Saturday games, I think it is important to make it really worthwhile for cadets to show up. Perhaps free overnights can be considered. At the very least, provide free food. That usually works.

Also, there are cadets who are stuck on campus over the weekend, serving tours or confinements. I would like to see those cadets in the stands cheering on their team, instead of walking on the quad while toting a rifle.

For weeknight contests, I advocate a rotation. The Citadel plays five league home games this season on weeknights. The “hardcore” plan would feature mandatory attendance at three of those five games (hey, it’s only a couple of hours). The “okay, we won’t bother you more than once” plan would have cadets attending at least one game.

For the one-game only plan, each battalion would attend one game. For example, on January 10th, the legendary 1st Battalion would go watch the Bulldogs battle Chattanooga. For the CofC game, 2nd Battalion would get the call. You get the idea.

I would set up the “hardcore” plan like this:

January 10 (Thursday) — Chattanooga — 3rd and 4th Battalions

January 14 (Monday) — College of Charleston — the entire Corps of Cadets

January 31 (Thursday) — Wofford — 1st and 5th Battalions

February 14 (Thursday) — Georgia Southern — 2nd Battalion

February 28 (Thursday) — Furman — the entire Corps of Cadets

Of course, any cadet who wanted to go to a game could go, even if his battalion wasn’t scheduled to attend. I think regulars would get to sit in specific sections for these games.

This setup would be worth at least two wins for The Citadel, in my opinion. I also believe it might increase attendance among the “non-cadet” crowd.

One other suggestion: I think it’s important to indoctrinate the freshmen cadets as quickly as possible. I understand that most of the freshmen were in attendance for “Meet the Bulldogs”, which was an excellent move. I would also make the November 14th contest against Montreat (a Wednesday night game) an “all knobs attend” affair.

I know I’m asking a lot here of the cadets. However, I think it’s important to help out the hoopsters, and jazz things up a bit. I also believe that the basketball program has a great deal of potential if The Citadel could ever turn the corner. The current average attendance is only about 30% of the capacity of McAlister Field House. Even doubling that (in terms of paying customers) would really do wonders for the bottom line.

The season is about to start. Saturday’s game on the hardwood against VMI will be here before you know it.

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.

We won by HOW many points?

The Citadel 70, Samford 45.  At Samford.

Just to put that score in perspective, The Citadel last won a road game by 25+ points in 1960, against VMI (76-45).  In 1958, the Bulldogs beat the Keydets in Lexington, VA by 32 (86-54).

Other 25+ point road wins since 1940 (games are not listed by home/road in the media guide prior to that year, although it’s likely that there was no 25+ point road victory prior to 1940 anyway):  Furman in 1951 (62-36); Davidson in 1945 (60-26); and Clemson in 1943 (63-38).  All of these games were Southern Conference matchups (yes, Clemson was in the SoCon in 1943).

It’s not all that surprising that all of The Citadel’s lopsided road victories occurred in conference play, since A) most of the Bulldogs’ road games are against conference opponents, and B) a good chunk of The Citadel’s out-of-conference road games over the years have come against major-conference teams.  The Citadel isn’t going to play Piedmont, for example, on the road.

Tangent:  of all the games I’ve seen The Citadel play, Piedmont was the only opponent where I thought, “I could play for that team”.  I’m not saying I would have started or anything like that…

Let’s see, what else about this game is worth noting…Samford missed its last 10 three-pointers as part of its woeful 6-32 night from behind the arc…Samford made no field goals over the last 8:30 of the game, a stretch in which it only attempted two non-three pointers from the field…there were no fast break points for either team according to the “play analysis” stats…The Citadel scored 70 points in only 59 total possessions…John Brown had 12 rebounds despite playing only 15 minutes because of foul trouble, although part of that was having plenty of rebounding opportunities thanks to Samford’s poor shooting, not to mention Samford isn’t a good rebounding team anyway…10 of the 11 players seeing minutes for Samford had at least one three-point attempt (the one guy who didn’t only played three minutes)…Samford had an 80% assist-to-made basket ratio, which is great, except that it only had 15 made baskets…Samford was only called for nine fouls for the entire game.

So The Citadel is now 11-10 overall and 6-4 in the league.  The Bulldogs now have a reasonable chance at finishing with a winning record in league play, which hasn’t happened since the 2000-01 team finished 9-7 in the conference.  It would only be the second winning season in the league for the school since the 1984-85 team went 11-5 in the SoCon.

That 1985 team’s 11 wins is the school record for conference victories in a season, and obviously if The Citadel were to have a winning season this year in the league it would at least tie that mark for victories.  Of course, the difference is that there are 20 league games this season (which, as I’ve said before, is ridiculous).  Still, a SoCon win is a SoCon win, especially for this program.  Imagine if Ed Conroy and co. managed to go 12-8 in the league this season (which as of today is The Citadel’s projected conference record by Ken Pomeroy’s ratings system).  Those 12 wins would equal The Citadel’s total number of conference victories from 1946-56, an eleven-year stretch (the school lost 102 SoCon games over that period).

Before I get to the upcoming game, a note of caution.  The Citadel has played some good basketball over these last three games, but it’s not time to pencil the team into the Final Four just yet.  This is the same club that got thumped at home by UC-Davis, and was fortunate to escape a terrible Furman team in OT.  It’s also the same team that lost earlier this season to Elon, Thursday night’s opponent, one of only two league victories for the Phoenix so far this season.

Against Samford, the Bulldogs took advantage of a team that appeared to be leg-weary and could not throw the ball in the ocean in the second half, and while The Citadel played good defense, Samford did get some open looks.  Still, I don’t want to devalue that performance.  Cameron Wells was sensational no matter how poor Samford may have been, and it’s worth noting that it was the third straight game The Citadel had outstanding results in defending the three-point shot.  Samford, as mentioned above, was 6-32 behind the arc.  The College of Charleston was even worse (2-18), and Western Carolina was only 4-15 from three-land.  That’s an 18.5% three-point shooting percentage for Bulldog opponents over those three games.  For league games, The Citadel now leads the SoCon in defending the three (28.4%).

Last season The Citadel allowed opponents to shoot 40.0% from beyond the arc, which was in the bottom 15 nationally.  That contributed in a major way to opponents shooting an effective field goal percentage of 51.3%, worst in the entire country.  This year the Bulldogs have an OppeFG of 44.5%, a significant improvement, and that percentage is dropping even lower as the season progresses.

Okay, now to the rematch with Elon, which defeated The Citadel 56-54, a game marred in the closing seconds by a shaky shotclock operator.  Elon parlayed that win into the start of a three-game winning streak that left it 4-4, 1-1 in league play.  Apparently the Phoenix ate some bad turkey over Christmas, however, because since that third consecutive win Elon has lost eight of nine games, the only victory a one-point upset of Chattanooga last Saturday at the Koury Center.  Elon is now 5-12 overall and 2-7 in SoCon action.  Many of the losses have been competitive — the Phoenix lost at Wofford by three (same as The Citadel), by four to Samford, by four to Navy, and by seven at Western Carolina.  There isn’t any shame in losing at Davidson by 15, either.  However, Elon has also lost by 26 at Maryland (pre-Terp meltdown), by 24 at Appalachian State, and by 17 in a home game against UNC-Greensboro.

The first game between the Phoenix and Bulldogs was a very slowly paced affair (57 possessions for The Citadel) in which Elon won by shooting over 50% from the field (to The Citadel’s 42%).  The Citadel made only 5 of 21 three-point attempts and went to the foul line only eight times.  Interestingly, The Citadel outrebounded Elon 29-23 in that game, noteworthy in particular because rebounding savant John Brown did not play in that game.  (Ed Conroy waited until after the new year to unleash Brown on an unsuspecting Southern Conference.)

Elon was 10-14 from the foul line in the game, but that was an anomaly, as it is the conference’s worst free throw shooting team (just over 60% in league play).  Elon has not shot the ball well in conference action from the field, either.  Also, above I discussed The Citadel’s improvement in defending the three-ball.  Elon is just the opposite, as it has allowed its opponents to shoot a collective 38% from behind the arc, a percentage among the nation’s worst and last in the Southern Conference (and in conference games the number is even worse:  41.3%).

These two teams have gone in very different directions since December 6.  I expect The Citadel to win the rematch, but it won’t be easy.  Nothing is ever easy at The Citadel.  It will be interesting to see how the Bulldogs play as a solid favorite.  I’ll also be watching to see what the attendance figures are.  Previous attendance for home Thursday conference games:  845 against Georgia Southern on January 8, and 1133 against Western Carolina last week.

I anticipate the trend of rising attendance to continue.  I hope the level of play continues to rise as well.

Verdict on the non-conference results: Not bad

After Saturday’s come-from-behind-then-almost-blowing-it-at-the-end 58-57 victory over Bethune-Cookman, The Citadel is 6-7 overall, with a 5-6 record in non-SoCon matchups.  For the rest of the year, the Bulldogs will only play Southern Conference foes, unless The Citadel receives an unprecedented bid to either the NCAAs or the NIT.  (Unprecedented doesn’t begin to describe that possibility, of course.)

Let’s compare this season’s non-conference results to non-conference games from the 2007-08 campaign…

Last season:

– Four home wins over non-D1 competition, including a near loss to Webber International (66-63); a 61-point loss at South Carolina; a televised beatdown at the hands of Washington State (67-45, and it was a lot worse than that); a 27-point home loss to Southern California (O.J. Mayo’s first college road game!); a 16-point loss in The Palestra to Penn; and a narrow home victory over Charleston Southern.  Nine non-conference games, a 5-4 record, but only 1-4 against Division I competition.

This season:

– Two home wins over non-D1 competition; a 14-point loss at South Carolina; a televised 14-point loss to Michigan State in which The Citadel held its own; a 22-point home loss to Iowa; a 23-point loss at Virginia Commonwealth; a split of two neutral site games in Cancun (loss to Central Arkansas, win over Grambling State); a dismal home loss to UC Davis; a road victory over Charleston Southern; and a one-point home win over Bethune-Cookman.  Eleven non-conference games, a 5-6 record (3-6 against Division I competition).

Not that it’s the resume of a Final Four team or anything, but this season’s non-conference results were much better than those from last year.  Only two of the games could be considered true disappointments (the home losses to Iowa and UC Davis).  Winning a road game of any kind would have bettered last season’s 0-fer away from home, and the Bulldogs already have two (one in conference play) plus a neutral-site win.  I think only having only two non-D1 games (instead of four) is also a plus.

So while last year’s team was 5-7 on this date in 2008, and this year’s team is 6-7, the improvement is obvious.  Last year’s 5-7 start included an 0-3 mark in SoCon play, while this year’s team is currently 1-1 in the league, with a win and a narrow loss, both on the road.  The Citadel is actually safely out of the 300s in the RPI right now (269).  Last year’s team, of course, would only win one more game the rest of the way and finished 6-24 (1-19), with an RPI of 334.

Total wins for The Citadel, last six seasons:  8, 6, 12, 10, 7, 6

This year the Bulldogs already have 6 wins with 18 games remaining (yes, SoCon teams are again playing 20 conference games, which is ridiculous).   According to Ken Pomeroy’s projection system, The Citadel is projected to win 7 of those 18 games.  That would result in 13 wins on the season for the Bulldogs, the most in seven years.  I wouldn’t mind if the team got a little greedier, though.

The next step in the pursuit of respectability comes Thursday at McAlister Field House, when the Bulldogs face a Georgia Southern squad that is already 2-0 in the conference, and which also has a neutral-site victory over Houston.

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