McAlister Musings: It’s time for The Citadel’s 2013-14 hoops season, ready or not

Note: this season, I am again participating in a cross-blog/forum exercise known as “Scanning the SoCon”. As part of this, there will be a preview for each league school. I am writing the preview for The Citadel, which you can read below (it is being posted on Mocs Mania! as well). Previews for the other conference schools can be found here: Link

- The Citadel’s 2012-13 record: 8-22, 5-13 in the SoCon (next-to-last)
– Chuck Driesell’s record at The Citadel (three seasons): 24-68, 14-40 in the SoCon
– Biggest positive from the 2012-13 campaign: The Citadel swept Furman!
– Possibly related development: Furman hired a new basketball coach
– Negatives from 2012-13: Horrific defense, and an offensive turnover rate that was almost as bad

After a 6-24 season in 2011-12, there was a belief that The Citadel would substantially improve on the hardwood last year. That didn’t happen.

While there was a modest two-game upswing in both The Citadel’s overall and league records, that was largely due to a slightly softer out-of-conference schedule and a down year in hoops for the Southern Conference as a whole. Make no mistake, last season was a significant disappointment for the Bulldogs.

Note: the statistics in this section do not include the two games The Citadel played last season against non-D1 opponents.

The Bulldogs had enormous defensive problems. Per KenPom, The Citadel ranked 346th in adjusted defensive efficiency last year, ahead of only one other Division I team, Grambling State (which had a historically awful season).

The numbers on defense were bad across the board. The Bulldogs could not control the defensive glass (bottom 25 nationally), had no shotblocking presence (bottom 25 nationally), and weren’t particularly good at forcing turnovers as a team, all of which led to an opponents’ eFG of 55% (bottom 10 nationally).

Teams shot well against The Citadel from inside (53.6%) or outside (38.2%). Most of the damage, though, was done in the paint.

Not surprisingly, when the Bulldogs defended fairly well, they were much more likely to win. The Citadel’s three best defensive performances against D-1 teams all resulted in victories. The Bulldogs only won once when they finished a game with well below-average defensive numbers (a ludicrous comeback victory at Furman).

The Citadel’s offensive numbers weren’t good, either, almost entirely because of an alarming tendency to throw the ball away. The cadets committed 436 turnovers last year in their 28 games against D-1 competition, averaging 15.6 per game, a particularly high number given the number of possessions involved (less than 65 per contest).

Almost one out of every four Bulldog possessions ended in a turnover. Only thirteen teams in the entire country had a worse turnover rate.

It wasn’t just about the amount of turnovers, either. The types of turnovers committed hurt the Bulldogs too. The Citadel was victimized by steals at a rate higher than all but three other teams in Division I. That clearly had an impact on the defensive end, as teams were often able to convert those steals into easy transition baskets.

The Citadel will now begin a new season without its best player over the past two years, Mike Groselle. Someone (or multiple someones) will have to replace his offensive productivity (including an eFG of 57.4% while taking almost 28% of the team’s shots).

The other senior on last year’s squad was graduate student Stephen Elmore. In spot duty (13.7 minutes per game), Elmore provided a little muscle and some defensive rebounding.

The Bulldogs suffered a very tough blow with the loss of junior forward P.J. Horgan, a solid presence in the frontcourt whose basketball career has officially ended because of back problems. Horgan would have been a sure-fire starter if he had been healthy.

There is also a possibility that The Citadel will be without the services of 6’7″ forward C.J. Bray, who missed almost all of last season with an ankle injury. Bray now has nerve damage in his arm.

If Bray is unable to recover, the Bulldogs would be essentially bereft of experienced frontcourt players. For a team that already struggled to defend the post, it could be a recipe for complete disaster.

That is what can happen when a program struggles with attrition issues. There are no seniors on the Bulldogs’ roster this year (not counting Dylen Setzekorn, an academic senior who from a varsity athletics standpoint is a redshirt sophomore). Every recruit signed by Ed Conroy as part of his last recruiting class at The Citadel is gone.

Also no longer at The Citadel are two of the four post players signed by Chuck Driesell in his first class — and of the two who stayed, one is no longer on the roster (Horgan) and the other is injured (Bray). Driesell did not sign a PF/C type for his second class.

Lawrence Miller (who had just completed his sophomore campaign) and Janeil Jenkins (a freshman last year) also left school after the 2012-13 season. Both of them were guards. While they won’t be missed as much as the frontcourt players, their absence will certainly not help. The Citadel only has eleven players on its roster this season (and that includes Bray).

As a result of those personnel losses, this year’s freshmen will be expected to contribute right away. I think it’s tough to ask true freshmen (particularly at The Citadel) to take on such a significant load, especially those who will have to match up against older, bigger players close to the basket. Driesell has no choice, however.

Let’s take a look at the players who will actually suit up for the Bulldogs this season…

- Marshall Harris III returns as the starting point guard for the Bulldogs. Harris did a fine job distributing the basketball last season (a top 60 assist rate nationally) but committed too many turnovers, particularly for a pass-first PG (Harris had more assists than field goal attempts last season).

If he can cut down on the turnovers and elevate his shooting percentage (a woeful 29.9% last year), Harris could be a major plus for the Bulldogs. That possibility isn’t out of the question, as his totals improved markedly from his freshman to sophomore seasons.

Harris averaged an assist every 7.8 minutes and a turnover every 9.2 minutes in 2011-12; in 2012-13, he picked up an assist every 5.8 minutes while committing a TO every 11.9 minutes. He also managed to get to the foul line on a regular basis, one of the few Bulldogs to do so.

- Raemond Robinson missed the first eleven games of his freshman season while recovering from a broken foot. That may have set him back a bit last year, but he still had his moments.

If The Citadel is going to outperform its projections this season, it will need surprising performances from several players, and Robinson is as good a breakout candidate as any. In limited action, he shot 43% from beyond the arc. The former Goose Creek High football/basketball star is a solid passer and is also capable of picking up a few steals here and there.

Like most of the Bulldogs, he needs to lower his turnover rate. I would also like to see a bit more boardwork from Robinson (and The Citadel’s guards in general, as the backcourt players did not get their fair share of rebounds last year).

- Ashton Moore leads all returning Bulldogs in career points, with 394. Last season, he started exactly half of The Citadel’s 30 games, and played just over half of the minutes available. Moore and Mike Groselle were the only rotation regulars to post respectable turnover rates.

Moore is more of a scorer than a shooter, and to be successful this season he needs to get to the foul line a lot more often than he did last year. Some observers believe that Moore would be at his best providing an offensive spark in a sixth-man role, a la Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson or Jason Terry.

One somewhat curious factoid about Moore: he had fewer fouls per forty minutes than all but five players in the country last season. He only picked up three fouls in a game once. That happened at Furman, and it was arguably Moore’s best game of the season.

- Quinton Marshall was a late signee for Chuck Driesell last year. The native of Raleigh showed off his athleticism at times during his freshman season. He’s not afraid to dunk.

Marshall is a big guard with the ability to score inside. If he can develop a specialty, perhaps becoming a defensive stopper, Marshall could see more playing time (he appeared in 23 contests last season, averaging 11 minutes per game).

- Dylen Setzekorn redshirted during the 2011-12 season, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t busy. In his freshman year at The Citadel, Setzekorn took 40 hours of classes over two semesters.

Forty hours as a knob is…a lot. Last year, Setzekorn took 46 hours — and also played in 28 games for the Bulldogs, averaging 10 minutes per contest.

He’s a slender 6’7″ jump shooter who will light it up in a hurry if someone don’t get a hand in his face (11 points in 13 minutes against Furman, 13 in 18 minutes versus Wofford). He’s not an ideal one-on-one defender, but Setzekorn can help the Bulldogs in certain matchups, particularly if he can take advantage of his height and collect a few more rebounds.

- Warren Sledge is one of four freshmen on the Bulldogs’ roster. A 6’3″ guard, his bio on the school website states he was “known for his solid defensive presence” in high school. If true, he could break into the rotation sooner rather than later.

One thing Sledge has going for him is that he is a native of Keller, Texas. The Citadel has had a lot of luck with players from the Lone Star state in recent years. Among the Texans to have played for the Bulldogs: Cameron Wells, Zach Urbanus, and Mike Groselle.

- Matt Van Scyoc occasionally struggled last season, like a lot of freshmen. He would sometimes take bad shots. He had three games in which he committed 5+ turnovers.

When the dust cleared, though, Van Scyoc had put together an excellent first year, and was named to the SoCon’s all-freshman team. He had an eFG of 53.7%, helped by shooting 37% from three-point land. The 6’6″ swingman wasn’t afraid to hit the boards, blocked a shot every now and then, and had just a bit of an edge to his game.

This year, Van Scyoc should be the main man for the Bulldogs. The better he is, the better off the team will be.

Van Scyoc needs to shoot more free throws, avoid high-turnover games, and grab a few more offensive rebounds. There is a good chance he can, and will, do all those things and possibly more.

In the middle of last season, Van Scyoc was asked during an interview why he chose to attend The Citadel. His answer:

I really wanted to go someplace where I could make a difference. The Citadel is one of the few schools that has never been to the NCAA tournament. Winning hasn’t happened a lot here, and to be able to help them do that, that would be big for me.

I like that quote. I like it a lot.

- At this point, the status of C.J. Bray for this season is uncertain. It would be a big lift for the Bulldogs if he is able to contribute.

Two years ago, Bray started 18 games for The Citadel and was particularly effective on the defensive glass. He also showed flashes of a nice inside-outside game. Bray is athletic enough to have been offered a football scholarship by Arkansas.

- The Citadel’s basketball team traveled to Canada in August and played three exhibition games against Canadian universities. Perhaps the most intriguing performer in those three contests for the Bulldogs was freshman forward Brian White.

White is only 6’6″, 180 lbs., but early returns suggest he plays “bigger” than his size. As Van Scyoc noted, White “doesn’t look the part but he can get it in there and mix it up”.

- Another freshman post player who will get a chance to show his stuff is 6’8″ Dutchman Tom Koopman. I don’t know anything about him, but Chuck Driesell says Koopman “enjoys playing defense”, so he has that going for him, which is nice. Total consciousness for Koopman is sure to follow.

- Nate Bowser is a 6’9″, 210 lb. forward/center from Fort Worth. I am not sure if the original plan was to redshirt him (or Koopman) for this season, but the loss of Horgan probably ended any chance of that happening.

Like Sledge, Bowser is from Texas, so there is decent karma potential for The Citadel. Also, “Nate Bowser” is a great name for a menacing power forward. To become truly menacing, however, he probably needs to gain some weight.

The Citadel’s non-conference schedule includes road games against BCS opponents Nebraska, Tennessee, and Wake Forest, along with two in-season tournaments. The Bulldogs will again compete in the All-Military Classic, a non-exempt tournament featuring The Citadel, VMI, Army, and Air Force. This year, VMI is hosting that event.

Towson is hosting the “mainland” portion of the Battle 4 Atlantis. That tournament struggled to find D-1 opponents to play in the side event, which means the Bulldogs will play a neutral-site game against West Alabama, a Division II team.

Other teams of note that The Citadel will play out of conference: Navy and Radford (both on the road), and College of Charleston, Presbyterian, and Gardner-Webb (with those three schools coming to McAlister Field House).

West Alabama is one of four non-D1 squads that The Citadel has on its schedule, which is at least two non-D1s too many. It should be noted, however, that the military college is far from alone in filling out its home slate with such teams.

SoCon schools are playing a total of 32 non-D1 opponents in 2013-14, averaging just under three per school. Last season there were only 18 such matchups in the league (not including the CofC).

Clearly, the increase in non-D1 scheduling is partly about trying to fill out a home schedule as a low-major, with the reduction of the SoCon’s league schedule to 16 games probably a factor. I do wonder, though, if the conference is trying to “game” the RPI to a certain extent.

The Citadel was picked to finish last in the Southern Conference by both the league’s coaches and media members. It is hard to argue with that collective assessment.

The Bulldogs lost their top scorer and rebounder from a team that finished next-to-last in the league last season. There is a possibility that the Bulldogs’ 4 and 5 spots will be manned almost exclusively by freshmen.

In addition, the defensive woes for last season weren’t just a blip, but a pattern. The Citadel has been very poor on defense throughout Chuck Driesell’s tenure at the school, ranking 314th, 294th, and 346th nationally in defensive efficiency (per KenPom) in those three seasons.

Best-case scenario for the Bulldogs: the team’s turnover rate recedes to the national average. Matt Van Scyoc becomes an elite SoCon player, and at least two of his teammates become major offensive forces as well. The freshmen prove to be tougher-than-expected interior defenders, and The Citadel’s defensive eFG declines dramatically, falling to 48%.

A raucous crowd at McAlister Field House cheers on the cadets to victory after victory. Whenever Tom Koopman scores, the Bulldogs’ radio play-by-play man Danny Reed yells, “Koop with the hoop!” as love-struck CofC co-eds throw tulips in the air to show their appreciation for the Dutch sensation.

Worst-case scenario for the Bulldogs: the team remains unable to stop opponents from scoring at will. C.J. Bray is unable to play. The Citadel struggles in and out of conference play, and its win total from last season is cut in half, from eight to four.

I think it’s fair to say that The Citadel’s fan base is skeptical that the best-case scenario outlined above will come to pass. That is completely understandable.

However, games aren’t played on paper. The Bulldogs have an opportunity to prove a lot of people wrong.

Let’s see what happens.

McAlister Musings: A review of the season

The Citadel finished the year 8-22 (6-22 vs. D-1), 5-13 in SoCon play, losing in the first round of the Southern Conference tournament for a third consecutive season.

Defensively, the Bulldogs were terrible. There is no way to sugarcoat that. Of the 347 teams in Division I, The Citadel was 346th, or next-to-last, in defensive efficiency, only ahead of historically awful Grambling State (all numbers per kenpom.com). Components of that porous D included:

– 340th in effective FG% allowed
— 326th in offensive rebound % allowed
— 305th in % of 3FG allowed
— 336th in defensive 2FG%
— 332nd in defensive 3FG%
— 324th in defensive block %
— 281st in defensive turnover rate

The Citadel only did two things well on defense. The Bulldogs did not put opponents on the foul line, and did pick up more than their fair share of steals (despite the lack of forced turnovers).

The offense was a mixed bag. The Citadel was one of the most turnover-prone teams in the country, with an excruciating 23.9% turnover rate (334th nationally). Almost one out of every four Bulldog possessions resulted in a turnover, which is obviously unacceptable. The Citadel was only marginally better in SoCon play, with a 21.8% TO rate that was second-worst in the conference.

The Citadel suffered more steals against it in league play (by percentage) than any other team, and also had more steals on defense than any other team. If you went to see the Bulldogs play in conference action, you knew that you were going to see a lot of turnovers.

Most of the other offensive numbers were okay. In fact, the Bulldogs shot well from three-point land (top 100 nationally and second in conference play), had success in the paint (hello Mike Groselle, along with good buddy P.J. Horgan), and were decent (not great) from the free throw line. The Citadel’s 65% assist rate on made baskets ranked ninth in the entire country, and the Bulldogs were even better in the SoCon (68.8%). Marshall Harris should get a lot of credit for that.

When The Citadel didn’t commit turnovers, the offense was excellent. The problem was that it committed way too many turnovers, so many that the Bulldogs ranked 295th nationally in offensive efficiency despite excellent shooting numbers. It was very frustrating to watch; I can only imagine how frustrating it was for the coaches.

Chuck Driesell opined in an interview with The Post and Courier that The Citadel has to take “baby steps” in developing its basketball program. He also said this:

I feel great about where the program is going. I’m disappointed, we all are, that we haven’t won more games. It’s a process. This is not the kind of place where you walk in and sign a bunch of McDonald All-Americans or a bunch of junior-college transfers.

You look at Towson this year, they did a great job of bringing in transfers this year and flipping their roster. We can’t do that here. We have to take baby steps, and I think we did that last year and we’ll continue to do that next year.

It is quite true that The Citadel is not Towson, and cannot “turn over” its roster like a lot of other schools. On the other hand, there are baseline expectations for the basketball program, even one with the military college’s modest history on the hardwood.

Over Driesell’s three seasons as head coach, The Citadel has only won 21% of its games against D-1 competition. The Bulldogs have won 26% of their SoCon contests over that period. Even for “developing” a program, that really isn’t good enough.

Of course, what really hurts Driesell in the opinion of some observers is that the cupboard wasn’t bare when he arrived. He took over a program that had won 36 games in the previous two seasons. Many had high hopes for the 2010-11 season, and the resulting 10-22 campaign was extremely disappointing — arguably the most disappointing season in the program’s entire history.

It was not surprising when his second Bulldogs squad went 6-24 with a very young team. After that first season, though, there was a bit more to prove in his third year, and winning only eight games did not exactly thrill the fan base.

I want Chuck Driesell to succeed, not just because he is the coach of my alma mater, but because he appears to be a nice guy, a smart guy, and a hard worker. He says all the right things, and he seems to mean them. I think several of the players he has recruited have the ability to be impact performers in the Southern Conference. He had a good reputation for talent evaluation prior to arriving in Charleston, and I’ve seen nothing in three years to suggest that reputation wasn’t deserved.

Putting everything together, though, has been a difficult problem. He isn’t the first coach at The Citadel to face that reality. As Jeff Hartsell noted in the linked article:

The last four Citadel coaches had their first winning seasons in year 4.5, on average.

Indeed, Pat Dennis didn’t have his first winning season until his sixth year in charge. I don’t think Driesell can wait until his sixth year to clear the .500 barrier, but he has two years left on his contract, and he’ll undoubtedly have the opportunity to succeed or fail over those remaining years (as he should).

There is one thing that must improve along with the win totals, something that goes hand in hand with winning — home attendance.

This past season, The Citadel averaged only 1377 fans per game for the fourteen contests played at McAlister Field House. That is the third-lowest average per game over the last twenty years.

Obviously, the Bulldogs need to win more games, but I have a couple of other suggestions for improving attendance. I’ve mentioned some of this before, so apologies in advance for being repetitive…

- Corps attendance

I don’t understand why The Citadel requires the corps of cadets to attend all home football games but none of the basketball games — and no, I’m not advocating eliminating the marchover to Johnson Hagood Stadium.

In the Southern Conference, having a serious home-court advantage is extremely important, particularly given the state of the league’s officiating. Having a bunch of rowdy cadets (and there are ways to make sure they’re extremely rowdy) would be a big help to the team.

I also think an increased corps presence would also increase the number of “regular” fans who attend games, perhaps even lowering the average age of a Bulldog fan at McAlister to below 70.

I’m not saying the full corps needs to be at every home game. There are around fourteen home games per season. About half of them are during the week, and half on weekends. Weekend games are a problem; I don’t really expect the corps to be required to attend those games in great numbers. I think the school administration and department of athletics need to get together to figure out how to make it worthwhile for cadets to attend more weekend games.

On weekdays, though, I think it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a rotation among the battalions for attending home games. I also would like to see one or two mandatory early-season home games for all freshmen, just to fully indoctrinate them.

I should mention that there are great cadet fans, particularly in the outstanding pep band. Some of the football and baseball players are also high-quality supporters (and provocateurs).

- Scheduling

This year was a lesson in how not to schedule. No December home games, two non-D1s that no one cared about…it just didn’t work. I believe the key game in the entire season may have been the home game against Radford on November 24, which came after exams and was The Citadel’s first game against a Division I opponent in almost two weeks. In the first half, it appeared at times that the Bulldogs had never seen a basketball before.

Badly losing what was considered a “probable win” right before starting a stretch of six consecutive road games, including the league opener and three “guarantee” games, seemed to put a serious dent in the team’s collective confidence.

Next season, there will be only sixteen SoCon games rather than eighteen. That means there will be eight league games at home. There are two other expected home games, against the College of Charleston (rumored to be the season opener, and now a non-conference game as the CofC begins life in the CAA) and Presbyterian (the return game from this season’s “BracketBusters” matchup).

I suspect that Charleston Southern will also be on the home docket, although it isn’t a certainty. That would leave The Citadel with three or four more non-conference home games to schedule.

The Bulldogs will also be playing in the All-Military Classic for the third straight season. In 2013-14, the non-exempt tourney will be held at VMI. It’s also possible that The Citadel will play a third road game in the state of Virginia, assuming it plays at Radford in a return matchup.

Last year, the Bulldogs played two non-D1 opponents. That’s not terrible (better than four, which has been done before), but I would like to see that number cut back to one. I don’t think it’s a bad idea to schedule a non-D1 during/after exams, but other than that I don’t think those schools offer much value. They certainly don’t help attendance.

I realize it’s hard to fill out a home schedule at the low-major level, but the decrease in league games may make it a little easier to come up with some home-and-home arrangements that will be more appealing. It’s also up to the league (hi there, Dave Odom) to help its member schools in this area.

The Citadel will also play two or three guarantee games. My only suggestion on this front is to try to at least get on TV for these games. The game against Georgia Tech last year was on SportSouth, which was a positive. I’m not sure what the school got out of the game against St. Bonaventure, other than some money and a free tourist brochure from the Olean Chamber of Commerce.

I also would like to see The Citadel participate in exempt tournaments. Again, getting on TV (or at least ESPN3) would be nice. I have been very disappointed that The Citadel has not yet participated in the Charleston Classic.

On the other hand, it might be best to steer clear of exempt tourneys that result in the team playing South Carolina State in Las Vegas. If The Citadel is going to travel to play SCSU, it would be a lot simpler just to go up I-26 to Orangeburg, and the barbecue would be much better.

I’ll close by saying that I think The Citadel can be better in 2013-14, perhaps significantly so. The Bulldogs must replace the outstanding play of Mike Groselle, and that won’t be easy. Groselle had an outstanding (and at times unappreciated) career. It was a pleasure to watch him outfox and outwork many an opponent on the low block.

The coaches must figure out how to solve the team’s defensive woes. The returning players must get stronger and develop more confidence — and they must all return, too. Attrition is always an issue at The Citadel, and will be something to watch in the offseason.

There is talent in the program. Bulldog fans don’t really want to hear about that, however. They can see the talent. What they really want to see, though, are wins. Lots of wins.

McAlister Musings: Time to start winning

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

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

Davidson 70, The Citadel 38

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

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

The Citadel 70, Georgia Southern 55

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

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

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

College of Charleston 69, The Citadel 54

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

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

Now for a commentary on a commentary…

Gene Sapakoff, writing in The Post and Courier:

Town tournament, anyone?

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

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

I vote no.

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

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

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

Elon 70, The Citadel 66

This game annoyed me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McAlister Musings: Possession is nine-tenths of a win

The previous edition of McAlister Musings

The All-Military Classic has come and gone. Everyone involved is relieved that the original plan to play two of the games on an aircraft carrier did not happen…

The Citadel split its two games, beating VMI 84-76 on Saturday and losing to Air Force 77-70 on Sunday. I was at the latter game, along with luminaries like Len Elmore, Paul Maguire, Harvey Schiller, and the biggest celebrity of them all, General. Bulldog basketball is a hot ticket this season.

Chuck Driesell on the win over VMI (video): Link

Also included in that video are brief interview segments with Mike Groselle and Marshall Harris III. The most interesting comment came from Groselle, after it was pointed out to him that the Bulldogs had played a lot of zone defense. Groselle:

Well, statistically we’ve charted it…and [determined that] it’s our most successful defense.

Indeed. That explains in part why The Citadel never gave up on the zone against Air Force, a decision I would not be inclined to criticize despite the Falcons’ hot second-half outside shooting. Considering its personnel, The Citadel probably won’t fare too well playing man-to-man defense against most opponents. If a team gets hot from outside on a given night, the Bulldogs are just going to have to live with it.

Groselle had his 23rd career double-double against VMI, scoring 21 points and corralling 15 rebounds. He was his usual efficient self, only needing 11 shots to get those 21 points and committing just two turnovers.

Against the Keydets, Groselle got help from Harris (19 points, 9 assists) and freshman Matt Van Scyoc (17 points, 7 rebounds).

The Citadel had a 25% turnover rate against VMI, a statistic that usually would result in a loss. However, the Keydets’ helter-skelter style leads to lots of turnovers and lots of points, usually for both teams, as VMI is not a strong defensive squad. VMI did not shoot well against The Citadel’s 2-3 zone, particularly from inside the three-point line (13-31), and when the Keydets aren’t shooting well, they aren’t winning.

The turnover rate for the Bulldogs against Air Force was 27%, and The Citadel paid for it. Although the Bulldogs actually led the game at halftime (30-28), in my opinion that was the half that cost The Citadel the win. Air Force was within two points at the break despite shooting 9-27 from the field and being outrebounded 20-9.

The Falcons actually led for most of the first half, thanks to eleven Bulldog turnovers. Thirty possessions, and eleven gone to waste. Some of them led to easy baskets for Air Force, too.

The Citadel averaged 1.58 points per possession in the first half when a turnover was not committed. If you just cut the actual number of TOs in half, say from eleven to five, a similar rate of offensive success would have resulted in an additional nine points (9.47, actually, but I’m rounding down).

The Bulldogs could have been up double digits at intermission, and that may have allowed them to withstand Air Force’s three-point barrage in the second half. The Falcons were 10 of 17 from beyond the arc in that stanza, including several from the left corner.

I wanted the uniformed cadet in charge of securing the baseline on that side to hit one of the shooters with her waistbelt, just to see if it would throw them off.

Lawrence Miller had a good game for the Bulldogs, making six of his nine three-point attempts for a career-high 20 points, and CJ. Bray played very well (14 points, 5 rebounds). However, after an impressive debut the day before, Van Scyoc had a nightmarish game against Air Force, one filled with turnovers. Freshmen are going to have games like that, especially early in the season.

I will say that in person, Van Scyoc looks like a player. He is a legit 6’6″ and no beanpole, either. He should be able to mix it up in the SoCon without any problems. Another freshman, Quinton Marshall, had some good moments on Sunday and also looks physically ready to play at the D-1 level.

Odds and ends:

- The Bulldogs entered the court prior to pregame introductions through a veil of smoke. At least, I think that was the idea.

- All-Military Classic t-shirts were given away at the game. After every other timeout, one of the game administrators would throw a bunch of them into the crowd. I didn’t get one, but as it appeared the t-shirts were roughly the same size as my cellphone, it was probably just as well.

- VMI coach Duggar Baucom’s “I’m really angry” walk/stalk to the locker room at halftime of the Army-VMI game was a thing of beauty.

Next up for the Bulldogs are two non-Division I teams, Montreat (on Wednesday night) and Union College of Kentucky (Saturday night). I’m not crazy about playing non-D1 schools, but I understand that the team needs to continue to develop confidence, and winning games is part of that development. It’s also a chance for Chuck Driesell to tinker with his rotation and figure out who is going to be able to help the team once SoCon play rolls around.

As for the games themselves, I’m not too worried about them. I don’t foresee a Francis Marion situation; we no longer live in Dennisian times. Montreat is coming off an 86-54 loss at Appalachian State, and I think the Bulldogs could be better than App State this season. The Cavaliers have also lost to Webber International and Ave Maria.

Union College (also called the Bulldogs) looks like it may be a little better than Montreat, as it is currently on a four-game winning streak. One of its victories came against Cincinnati Christian, a school The Citadel has faced on the hardwood before.

I fully expect The Citadel to be 3-1 when Radford comes to town on November 24. It better be 3-1.

A few pictures from the Air Force game…yes, they’re terrible (though arguably not as bad as Air Force’s uniforms):

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.

Hope on the hardwood? The Citadel begins the 2012-13 basketball season

Note: as I mentioned earlier, I’m participating in “Scanning the SoCon”, a cross-blog/forum exercise. As part of this, there will be a preview for each league school. I am writing the preview for The Citadel, which you can read below (it is being posted on Mocs Mania! as well, of course). Previews for the other conference schools can be found here: Link

There were three topics (attendance, polls, and ratings) that I wanted to discuss in more detail but couldn’t quite fit into the preview. I’ve decided to write about them next week in a followup post.

The Citadel was 6-24 last season, 3-15 in the Southern Conference. Thus, it surprised no one that in the SoCon preseason polls (media and coaches)  the Bulldogs were picked to finish last in the South division of the league. Indeed, The Citadel received fewer votes than any team in the league, in either division.

The last time The Citadel finished dead last in both preseason polls was prior to the 2008-09 season. The Bulldogs had gone 6-24 the previous year, in head coach Ed Conroy’s second season at The Citadel. More of the same was expected, but instead the Bulldogs won 20 games for only the second time in school history, 15 of them coming in league play. It was the finest season on the hardwood for The Citadel in 30 years, and one of the best in school history.

Just like Ed Conroy in 2008-09,  Chuck Driesell is entering his third season in charge of the Bulldogs after enduring a 6-24 campaign. Conroy brought in eight scholarship freshmen for his second season; so did Driesell.

However, there are differences between then and now. Conroy’s batch of freshmen included a player who would be named Freshman of the Year in the Southern Conference, Cameron Wells, and another (Zach Urbanus) who finished the year as a solid contributor. None of the freshmen who played last year for The Citadel (two were redshirted) had a season as good as Wells’ initial campaign for the Bulldogs.

That isn’t to say that significant improvement can’t be made. I suspect it will. However, the same can be said for the Southern Conference in general. I expect the league to be better than it was last year, as many of the better players from last season are returning in 2012-13.

It’s only one statistical category, but I couldn’t help but notice that ten of last season’s top thirteen SoCon performers in Ken Pomeroy’s “offensive rating” system (minimum 20% possessions used) are back this year. That group of ten doesn’t even include established performers like Trevis Simpson, Lucas Troutman, Trent Wiedeman, and a couple of Cochrans (Wofford’s Karl and Davidson’s Nik).

The league is going to be tough this year. Can the Bulldogs hang in there? If they are going to do so, they must first address some obvious shortcomings.

The Citadel was a very poor defensive team last season. Mike Groselle was the only consistent rebounder on the squad (though he was good enough to lead the league), and only three teams in all of Division I allowed opponents to shoot a higher percentage inside the arc (55.7%) than the Bulldogs.

That carried over into league action, although The Citadel wasn’t the worst defensive outfit in the conference in SoCon play, in part thanks to opponents’ three-point shooting (only 30.3%). Three league teams allowed more points per possession than did the Bulldogs in conference games.

However, the Bulldogs struggled on the offensive side of the court in conference play more than any other SoCon team, and by a wide margin, scoring only .907 points per possession in 19 league games (18 regular season matchups plus the first round of the SoCon tourney). The Citadel shot just 31% from outside the three-point line in league action and also had the worst turnover rate in the conference.

One positive: when the Bulldogs did score, it often came as a result of good team passing (The Citadel was second in the league in its ratio of assists to made baskets).

Mike Groselle had an outstanding season in 2011-12. Groselle led the league in rebounding and was second in scoring, being edged for the SoCon scoring crown by UNCG’s Trevis Simpson (who attempted 151 more shots from the field). Groselle was a very efficient performer (59.1 eFG%), and persevered despite being the focus of every opponent’s game plan.

He did everything well, basically, and made the 10-man all-conference team selected by the league coaches. However, Groselle did not make the media’s All-SoCon first team, an omission that was not easy to understand.

For the Bulldogs to improve this year, Groselle is going to need help. Will he get any?

When I watched The Citadel’s freshmen in action last year, I came to the conclusion that while several of them had promising skill sets, they just weren’t strong enough to handle the adjustment to Division I hoops. There is a chance that a year of physical maturity (and a lot of work in the weight room) will improve the Bulldogs’ rebounding numbers and alleviate some of the turnover problems that plagued the team last year.

C.J. Bray is a good example. The 6’7″ Bray is athletic enough to have been offered a football scholarship to Arkansas, and he can present matchup problems with his ability to float outside and hit the three-point shot. I thought he showed good instincts on the boards, too, but he wasn’t able to corral every rebound chance that came his way.

That may change this year. If he can also provide solid post defense, he will be a great help to Groselle. Bray started more games than any other Bulldog freshman last season (18). Another rising sophomore who goes by his initials, 6’8″ P.J. Horgan, saw limited action last year and may also be a factor in the frontcourt rotation.

Lawrence Miller shot 42% from three-point land last season, better than his overall field goal percentage (39%). He will probably get first crack at the 2-guard spot for the Bulldogs. Ashton Moore, who started 14 games last season and played more minutes than any other freshman, will also be in the mix. Moore is capable of putting the ball in the basket (30 points against UVA-Wise) but needs to be more consistent.

The point guard for The Citadel will be Marshall Harris III, who started the final 11 games last season. Harris must cut down on his turnovers to succeed in that role, and it’s key for the Bulldogs that he do so. There is no other obvious candidate to play the point, as DeVontae Wright transferred to USC-Aiken this summer. Moore could be an option, and one of the freshmen may get a look.

Wright was one of three underclassmen to transfer after last season. Jordan Robertson, a forward who showed flashes of potential last year, is now at Davidson County Community College. He was the only one of last year’s group of freshmen to leave. The third player to transfer, Barry Smith, moved on to Bethune-Cookman.

The two seniors on last year’s team, Cosmo Morabbi and Bo Holston, both graduated. Holston had one year of athletic eligibility remaining, and elected to play as a graduate student at Anderson. In all, players no longer on the roster accounted for 42% of the minutes played last season.

There are seven players on this year’s roster who have yet to appear in a Division I game — four incoming freshmen, two redshirt freshmen, and a fifth-year transfer student.

The most heralded of the “knobs” is Matt Van Scyoc, a 6’6″ wing player who led the state of Wisconsin in three-point shooting last year. Van Scyoc averaged 24.3 points and 13.3 rebounds per game his senior season and was an all-state selection in Wisconsin’s Division 5 high school classification.

His fellow classmates include 6’3″ swingman Raemond Robinson, a Goose Creek product who was also an outstanding high school football player. Robinson is used to winning, both on the gridiron and on the court; perhaps he can bring that kind of positive energy to The Citadel’s hoops squad (much like John Brown did during that aforementioned 2008-09 campaign).

Janeil Jenkins and Quinton Marshall each signed late in the spring. They are both guards, but of markedly different sizes; Jenkins is 5’10”, while Marshall is 6’5″. Chuck Driesell mentioned Marshall in a recent interview with Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier as someone who might get to play early.

Two of the eight freshmen from last year did not see any action in 2011-12. Dylen Setzekorn is a 6’7″ wing on the slender side (194 lbs., per The Citadel’s website). 6’9″ forward Michael Hundley is even thinner (180 lbs.). It is easy to see why both were redshirted.

Hundley has a reputation as a shotblocker. If he could get on the court with that skill, it would be a huge boon for The Citadel, which hasn’t had a true shot-swatter since Kirill Misyuchenko patrolled the lane for the Bulldogs in the late 1990s.

The final player on The Citadel’s roster is something of a wild card. Stephen Elmore is a 6’6″, 220-lb. graduate student who saw limited action at Princeton…as a baseball player. The 2012-13 campaign will be his first (and last) taste of college basketball, at least as a player.

He is the son of Len Elmore, the well-known college basketball commentator who was an outstanding college player at Maryland (and who had a solid NBA career as well). Driesell described Stephen Elmore as “a power forward who can shoot the three-pointer”. I have no idea what kind of impact (if any) he will have for the Bulldogs.

The Citadel’s non-league slate is about what you would expect for a team that only won six games a year ago and includes two games against non-Division I competition. The Bulldogs will open the season by hosting the All-Military Classic, which also features VMI, Army, and Air Force.

The Citadel squares off with VMI in its first game, on the same day the Bulldogs play the Keydets in football — in Lexington, VA. It’s a scheduling quirk that I think is unfortunate.

There are no home games in December, which is a little strange. The Citadel is playing “guarantee games” against Georgia Tech, Clemson, and…St. Bonaventure. I’m not sure why the Bulldogs are making the trip to Olean, New York, but at least Andrew Nicholson has moved on to the NBA.

In what I believe is a first, The Citadel is participating in Bracketbusters this season. Other out of conference games include a home contest against Radford and road games versus Charleston Southern and Gardner-Webb.

I will be curious to see how Chuck Driesell handles tempo this season. Driesell prefers a faster pace than that implemented at The Citadel by Ed Conroy, but he was forced to slow things down last season in an effort to stay competitive. In that respect, he succeeded. The Citadel’s two late-season victories over Chattanooga and Appalachian State featured fewer possessions than any other games the Bulldogs played during the season.

I think a slower tempo is generally what works best for The Citadel, but it’s obviously not a style Driesell really enjoys, and I don’t know what his approach will be this year. His best player (Groselle) is probably best suited for games with a more restrained pace.

It’s just one of many things that makes this season for The Citadel a very interesting one. I’m not predicting a year like the 2008-09 campaign, but I believe the Bulldogs are going to surprise some people. The team has to make the leap from being competitive to winning games. It’s a difficult transition, but I think the talent is there to make that jump.

Hoops update: the SoCon tourney moves back to Asheville

Every year about this time I post about the upcoming SoCon tourney, and The Citadel’s less-than-stellar history in the event. Actually, I didn’t last year, for reasons neither here nor there, so perhaps it would be worthwhile to simply revisit my last piece on the subject. (Besides, not that much has changed.)

Thus, the first section of this post is an updated version of what I wrote previously on the origins of the tournament, and The Citadel’s particularly poor performance in it over the years. I’ll write more specifically about the SoCon’s return to Asheville (along with the current edition of the Bulldogs, of course) afterwards.

One of the more curious things about The Citadel’s horrid history in the SoCon tourney is that there is no firm answer to just how many times the school has lost in the event.  That’s because the league has mutated so many times there is confusion as to what year the first “official” conference tournament was held.

Before 1920, The Citadel was one of many schools in a rather loose confederation known as the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association.  (The Citadel initially joined in 1909.)  There were about 30 colleges in the SIAA by 1920, including almost every member of the current SEC and about half of the current ACC, along with schools such as Centre, Sewanee (which was actually a founding member of the SEC), Chattanooga, Wofford, Howard (not the school in D.C., but the university now called Samford), and Millsaps, just to name a few.  As you might imagine, the large and disparate membership had some disagreements, and was just plain hard to manage, so a number of the schools left to form the Southern Conference in late 1920.

In the spring of 1921, the SIAA sponsored a basketball tournament, which would be the forerunner to all the conference hoops tourneys to follow.  Any southern college or university could travel to Atlanta to play, and fifteen schools did just that.  Kentucky beat Georgia in the final.  The Citadel did not enter the event, but several other small colleges did, including Newberry (for those unfamiliar with Newberry, it’s a small school located in central South Carolina).  The tournament featured teams from the new Southern Conference, the old SIAA, and squads like Newberry, which wasn’t in either league (it would join the SIAA in 1923).

In 1922 the SIAA held another tournament in Atlanta, this one won by North Carolina, which beat Mercer in the final.  The Citadel entered this time, losing in the first round to Vanderbilt.  The SIAA tournament remained all-comers until 1924, when it was restricted to Southern Conference members.

Some sources suggest that the 1921 tournament is the first “official” Southern Conference tournament, some go with the 1922 event, and others argue for 1924.  From what I can tell, the league itself is a bit wishy-washy on the issue.  On the conference website, it states:

The first Southern Conference Championship was the league basketball tournament held in Atlanta in 1922. The North Carolina Tar Heels won the tournament to become the first recognized league champion in any sport. The Southern Conference Tournament remains the oldest of its kind in college basketball.

However, the conference’s own media guide lists Kentucky as having won the first tournament title in 1921.  The guide doesn’t include league standings from that year, starting those for the 1921-22 season (which is appropriate, given play in the new conference didn’t begin until the fall of 1921). It specifies that the 1921, 1922, and 1923 tournament results are for the “Southern Intercollegiate Basketball Tournament” but doesn’t distinguish those tourneys in any way when it lists the year-by-year champions (and includes the all-tournament team from 1923 in the listing of SoCon all-tourney squads).

Personally, I think that the idea of having a conference tournament is to determine a league champion, and it stands to reason that such a tournament would only include league members.  So the first “real” Southern Conference tournament, in my opinion, was held in 1924.

There is a point to this, trust me.  The difference between counting the Vanderbilt loss as a SoCon tourney loss and not counting it is the difference between The Citadel’s alltime record in the event being 11-58 or 11-59.  Not that they both aren’t hideous totals, but as of now The Citadel shares the NCAA record for “most consecutive conference tournament appearances without a title” with Clemson, which is 0-for-58 in trying to win the ACC tournament.  Counting the Vanderbilt game would mean The Citadel is alone in its conference tourney infamy.  No offense to the Tigers, but I don’t believe the 1922 game should count, because it wasn’t really a Southern Conference tournament game.

Incidentally, you read that correctly.  The Citadel is 11-58 alltime in the SoCon tournament.  That’s just unbelievably bad.  It comes out to a 16% winning percentage, which is more than twice as bad as even The Citadel’s lousy alltime conference regular season winning percentage (35%).  The Citadel lost 17 straight tourney games from 1961-78, and then from 1985-97 lost 13 more in a row.

Tangent:  The single-game scoring record in the tournament is held by Marshall’s Skip Henderson, who put up 55 on The Citadel in 1988 in a game Marshall won by 43 points.  The next night the Thundering Herd, which had won the regular season title that year, lost to UT-Chattanooga by one point.  Karma.

Those long losing streaks didn’t occur in consecutive years, as The Citadel didn’t always qualify for the tournament, particularly in the years before 1953, when there were up to 17 teams in the league at any given time, and only the top squads played in the tourney.  The Citadel’s first “real” appearance, in 1938, resulted in a 42-38 loss to Maryland.

The Citadel would lose two more tourney openers before winning its first game in 1943, against South Carolina.  That would be the only time the Bulldogs and Gamecocks faced each other in the tournament, and so South Carolina is one of two teams The Citadel has a winning record against in SoCon tourney play (the Bulldogs are 2-0 against VMI).

The next time The Citadel would win a game in the tournament?  1959, when the Bulldogs actually won two games, against Furman and George Washington, and found themselves in the tourney final.  Unfortunately, the opponent in the title game was West Virginia, led by Jerry West.  West scored 27 points and the Mountaineers pulled away late for an 85-66 victory.  This would be the only time The Citadel ever made the championship game; it’s also the only time the Bulldogs won two games in the tournament.

After a 1961 quarterfinal victory over Richmond, The Citadel would not win another tournament game until 1979, when the Bulldogs defeated Davidson before losing to Furman.  The game against Davidson was played at McAlister Field House and was the final victory of a 20-win campaign, the school’s first.

The Citadel would win single games in 1982 and 1985 before going winless until 1998, when it finally broke a 13-game tourney losing streak by beating VMI.  The Keydets would be the next victim as well, in 2002, and were apparently so embarrassed they left the league.  The Citadel’s last two wins in tourney play occurred in 2006 (against Furman) and 2010 (versus Samford).

Twenty-one different schools have defeated The Citadel in tournament play, with Davidson’s eight victories leading the way (against one loss to the Bulldogs).  East Tennessee State went 6-0 against The Citadel while in the league.

Norm Sloan, who had the best record as a head coach of The Citadel since World War II, was 2-4 in the tourney; his successor, Mel Thompson, was 1-6.  Dick Campbell did not win a tourney game (0-4).  Neither did George Hill (0-3).  Les Robinson was 3-10 (a record which by winning percentage leads all of the post-Sloan coaches).  Randy Nesbit was 0-7.  Pat Dennis was 3-14. Ed Conroy was 1-4. Current coach Chuck Driesell is 0-1.

The best record for a Bulldog coach in SoCon tourney play is that of Bo Sherman, who went 1-1 in 1943, his lone season in charge.  Sherman’s Bulldogs defeated South Carolina before losing to Duke.

The Citadel’s record against current SoCon teams in the tournament:  Furman 2-5, UT-Chattanooga 0-1, Elon 0-1, Samford 1-1, College of Charleston 0-1, Georgia Southern 0-2, Western Carolina 1-1, Appalachian State 1-7, Davidson 1-8.  (The Citadel has never played Wofford or UNC-Greensboro in the tournament.)

Asheville hosted the Southern Conference tournament from 1984 to 1995. It was a generally successful venue for the league, in part because of its relatively central location. As this article states, the league was mostly dominated by UT-Chattanooga, East Tennessee State, and Marshall during that period, and their fans came out in force, leading to good attendance for the majority of the tournaments held in Asheville. Those three schools won all but one of the title games held in Asheville (Davidson won the 1986 tournament).

However, the Civic Center (now called the U.S. Cellular Arena) was starting to show its age, and other cities offered the SoCon a better financial package, so the tournament left the city. Now it is back, for both the men’s and women’s tourneys. It has a new roof, which is good, since a few years ago the old roof began leaking during an Alison Krauss concert. By law, that should have resulted in the facility being burned to the ground and a ritual stoning of its maintenance supervisor, but compassion was shown.

The Citadel does not have fond memories of Asheville. The Bulldogs were 1-12 in tourney play during that era, with the lone win a 68-62 victory over Appalachian State in 1985. That came one year after The Citadel’s first Asheville tourney, when it lost to Appy. The Citadel also lost a second tournament game in Asheville to Appalachian State, to go with losses to Marshall (twice), Furman (twice), East Tennessee State (four times), Chattanooga, and Georgia Southern.

Having said that, I think it would be all right if Asheville becomes the regular home for the Southern Conference tournament. The league probably needs a permanent location to build local interest in the tourney on a year-by-year basis, and Asheville is a reasonable trip for fans of most of the current league schools. It was once the home base for the league itself, of course, until league offices moved to Spartanburg.

Tangent: Asheville also hosted the league’s baseball tournament for a time, until the debacle that was the 1989 SoCon baseball tournament directly led to that tourney moving to Charleston. Moral of that story: when it starts raining at a baseball park, it would be really handy if a tarp were available.

It’s going to be a busy week of hoops in Asheville, that’s for sure. Not only is the city hosting both the SoCon men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, but the Big South men’s tourney is being hosted by that league’s regular season champion — which happens to be UNC-Asheville. UNCA will host the quarterfinals and semifinals, and also the Big South title game if it advances that far.

Some of you might be wondering why I am rehashing The Citadel’s tournament foibles, and I can understand that. There are two reasons. First of all, there is no reason to hide from the truth. More importantly, however, I think a large part of the program’s problem with the SoCon tourney over the years is that it has never had anything resembling sustained success, or any kind of success for that matter.

No one who has played for The Citadel has any really good memories of the tournament, with the possible exception of some of the players from the late 1950s, and I’m afraid that positive vibe has long since evaporated. I think it is hard to expect success when all anyone surrounding the program has ever known at the SoCon tourney is failure.

In 2009, when the Bulldogs had one of their best seasons ever, winning 20 games and finishing second in the conference, they had a quarterfinal matchup with Samford, a team that The Citadel had beaten easily during the regular season. As soon as Samford took an early lead, though, The Citadel’s players started pressing. It was as if the tortured history of the program started preying on everyone’s minds. Naturally, the result was a loss.

This year’s team has not had one of the school’s best seasons ever. The Bulldogs are 6-23 and finished with the worst record in the league. They did win two of their last three games, however, and because of that I think they may have the ability to accomplish something important.

The Citadel is not going to win the Southern Conference tournament this year. However, what this team can do is lay a foundation for a future squad to do so, just by winning a game or two. That could give the current players confidence that they can do well in the tourney in the next two or three seasons, and make some (positive) history.

That’s why this tournament can be important for The Citadel. Win a game or two, and set the stage for something wonderful to happen in the 2013 or 2014 tournaments.

I’m hoping the team begins play on Friday with a little “edge” to them, for a couple of reasons. The opponent in the opening game, Western Carolina, basically manhandled the Bulldogs in their regular season matchup, dominating the glass so thoroughly that the Catamounts had more offensive boards than The Citadel had total rebounds.

Chuck Driesell used that as a motivational tool over the remaining three games of the season, and it seems to have had an effect, as has his slow-the-pace tactics. While WCU is arguably the worst matchup for The Citadel among SoCon North teams, maybe it’s good that the first game is against a team with which the Bulldogs should be able to compete, but which recently embarrassed them.

Also possibly out to prove a point could be Mike Groselle, who earned first-team All-SoCon honors for his outstanding play this season, but didn’t receive those deserved honors from the SoCon media writers. This was patently absurd. Clearly a number of voters didn’t actually watch many games or pay any attention to statistics, both basic and advanced. Groselle was also probably a victim of his team’s record.

The goal this week for The Citadel’s hoops squad is to prove something to itself, and to set the table for success down the road. Let’s hope it’s a good week.

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