Why exactly is The Citadel playing Arizona in the first place?

I didn’t touch on this in my preview of the game between The Citadel and Arizona, but I figured I could make a quick post out of the question:  why exactly is The Citadel playing Arizona in football in the first place?  I’m sure fans of both schools are a little curious about that.

Well, for money, of course.  The Citadel has to play at least one football “guarantee” game every season to balance (or attempt to balance) its budget for athletics.  On the other hand, surely The Citadel could find an FBS opponent a little closer to home, an ACC or SEC team, or even a Big East squad.  After all, the Bulldogs have played teams from all those leagues in the last few seasons, along with a Big XII team (Texas A&M), a Big 10 outfit (Wisconsin)…oh, wait a second.  I see a pattern — a pattern created by none other than Les Robinson.

That’s right, The Citadel’s national tour of BCS conferences is a result of one of former AD Les Robinson’s grand ideas.  You can read about it here:  Link

The game against the Pac-10′s Arizona is the last of the “BCS series” for The Citadel, which in the past five years has traveled to play against the aforementioned Texas A&M and Wisconsin, along with Pittsburgh of the Big East, Florida of the SEC, and North Carolina and Clemson of the ACC.

Just prior to that five-year run the Bulldogs traveled to Oxford to play Mississippi and Tallahassee to tangle with Florida State.  The coach for all these games has been Kevin Higgins, so keep that in mind when evaluating his 25-32 record at The Citadel. I think there is a good chance Higgins is the only head coach in the country to have played teams from all six BCS conferences in the last five seasons.

After this game the Bulldogs will have completed the Robinson Quest, having played teams from all six BCS leagues.  Robinson even set up a “bonus” two-game series with Princeton of the Ivy League.  I am not sure current AD Larry Leckonby is crazy about scheduling the likes of Arizona or (to a lesser extent) Wisconsin, as the travel for those games eats into the guarantee.  It was also a significant issue for the game at Princeton.

I can certainly understand that, and in the future I expect most, if not all, of The Citadel’s football guarantee games to come against SEC/ACC schools.  However, I don’t think it hurts the school to travel out of its home region on occasion.  I agree with the comment Robinson made in the linked article about such games providing needed national exposure.  Another thing they provide is an opportunity for alums living outside the southeast to attend a game.

The Citadel brought a very good crowd to the Princeton game last year.  I can attest to the number of PA/NJ/NY alums in attendance, most of whom showed up with their families, and some with friends too.  We need to play games like that once in a while, if only for those fans.

The game against Arizona will give some of our alums on the west coast a chance to see their team in action.  Admittedly, a game against UCLA or Stanford might have been a better bet in terms of Bulldog supporters showing up — I’m not sure how many alums live in Arizona — but still, it’s in the general area.

Anyway, I hope the following gives a little insight into how this game came to be.  I don’t think we’ll be seeing any other matchups on the gridiron between The Citadel and Pac-10 teams in the near future, but you never know.

Football, Game 2: The Citadel vs. Arizona

Gametime:  10 pm ET, September 11.

Telecast:  KWBA, local channel 58 in Tucson, and on Fox College Sports Pacific (FCS-Pacific), joined in progress; announcers are Dave Sitton, John Fina, and sideline reporter Glenn Howell

There won’t be many schools this season who will face in consecutive weeks opponents as different as Chowan and Arizona.  Chowan is a small Division II school in North Carolina.  Arizona is a large Division I (FBS) school, the flagship university of a populous western state.  Chowan has about 1,100 undergraduate students. Arizona has 30,000.  Indeed, Arizona has more undergraduate and graduate students than The Citadel has living alumni.

The difference is reflected in the football teams as well, of course, and thus The Citadel’s football team has its work cut out for it this week as it ventures to Tucson, the longest trip in program history.  Since The Citadel has never played Arizona (or any Pac-10 school) before, let’s take a brief look at the history of the University of Arizona’s football team.

The Wildcats (originally just known as the “Varsity”) started playing football in 1899, 14 years after the school’s founding.  Keep in mind that Arizona didn’t become a state until 1912 (it was the 48th and last of the contiguous states).  It had been a recognized U.S. territory since 1862.

The first official coach of the football team was “Pop” McKale, for whom the McKale Center (UA’s basketball arena) is named.  McHale also coached the basketball team for a time and was the school’s longtime director of athletics.

McHale was also a central figure in the story of Arizona’s great tradition, its motto “Bear Down”.  In 1926, Arizona quarterback and student body president John “Button” Salmon was critically injured in a car accident after the first game of that season. McHale regularly visited Salmon in the hospital until Salmon’s death on October 18.

During the coach’s final visit, Salmon told McHale to “tell them…tell the team to bear down.”  McHale reportedly told the team just that, repeating Salmon’s words during a game against New Mexico State which the Wildcats managed to win, 7-0.  It’s a tale not unlike Knute Rockne’s “Win one for the Gipper” speech for Notre Dame.

Ever since, “Bear Down” has been the official slogan for all of the university’s athletic teams.

Salmon is one of two players to have his jersey retired at Arizona.  The other, running back Art Luppino, led the nation in rushing twice in 1954 and 1955.

Arizona first joined a conference in 1931, becoming a charter member of the Border Conference, and remaining in that league until it disbanded in 1961.  Other schools in the league included Texas Tech, UTEP, New Mexico, New Mexico State, and Arizona State.  They were joined at various times by Hardin-Simmons, Northern Arizona, and West Texas A&M.  The Wildcats won three league titles while in the Border Conference and played in one bowl game during that time, losing the 1949 Salad Bowl (yes, Salad Bowl) to Drake (yes, Drake).

Arizona then became a founding member of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC). That league was basically a merger of the Border and Skyline Conferences, except not every school in those leagues was invited (New Mexico State, for example).  Also in the original WAC:  Arizona State, BYU, Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming.  Arizona won two league titles in the WAC and played in one bowl game, the 1968 Sun Bowl (losing to Auburn).

Arizona and Arizona State gradually outgrew the WAC, mostly because the state of Arizona was outgrowing (by percentage) most of the other states in and around the mountain time zone.  The development of air conditioning helped produce a population boom in the state, and the increase in population/resources trickled down to the state universities.  The two schools joined the Pac-8 (renamed the Pac-10) in 1978, and have remained in that conference since then.

The hallmark of the program in that time, much to the frustration of  Arizona’s fans, has been its inability to make a trip to the Rose Bowl.  Its rival, Arizona State, has been to the big game twice (winning once), but the Wildcats have never been.  Arizona has come close on two occasions, both times under the direction of Dick Tomey.

In 1993, Arizona shared the Pac-10 title with UCLA and Southern California, but lost a tiebreaker to UCLA for the Rose Bowl berth.  This is the only time the Wildcats have claimed even a piece of the Pac-10 crown.  Arizona had lost earlier in the season to UCLA, but as late as November 14 still had a shot at Pasadena after a UCLA loss. However, the Wildcats blew a 20-point lead and lost to California, 24-20, eliminating them from Rose Bowl consideration.

The Wildcats did rebound from that disappointment, beating their rivals in Tempe and then dominating Miami 29-0 in the Fiesta Bowl to finish the season 10-2, with the bowl game arguably being the pinnacle of Arizona’s “Desert Swarm” defense, which was the national identity of the program in the mid-1990s (and personified by Tedy Bruschi).

The Fiesta Bowl victory was a major reason why Sports Illustrated ranked Arizona No. 1 in its 1994 preseason issue, but after starting the campaign 4-0 the Wildcats were upset at home by Colorado State.  Arizona also suffered road losses to Oregon and Southern California and finished with a Freedom Bowl loss to Utah and a disappointing 8-4 season.

In 1998, Arizona finished 12-1, losing only to UCLA (albeit at home by four touchdowns).  However, the Wildcats were looking good for a Rose Bowl appearance anyway, as the Bruins completed their Pac-10 schedule undefeated and were poised to play for the mythical national title at the Fiesta Bowl.  That would have sent Arizona to the Rose Bowl.

Unfortunately for Arizona (and the Bruins, as it turned out), UCLA had to play a December game originally delayed by a hurricane against the Hurricanes — and lost to Miami, 49-45.  That result meant the Bruins took the berth in the Rose and the Wildcats had to settle for the Holiday Bowl (which they won, beating Nebraska).

When I was looking at Arizona’s football history, and wondering what was preventing Arizona, a big school in a BCS conference with success in a lot of sports other than football, from grabbing the brass ring, one thing stood out.  It must have stood out to Joe Tessitore and Rod Gilmore too, because while calling the Wildcats’ 41-2 dismantling of Toledo last Friday on ESPN, they mentioned (and marvelled at) the following factoid:

Arizona hasn’t had a quarterback drafted by the NFL since 1985.

Think about that.  There can’t be that many BCS programs who have gone that long between QB draft picks.  In fact, that QB (10th-round pick John Conner, who did not throw a pass in the NFL) is the only quarterback out of Arizona drafted since 1972 (when another Wildcat signal-caller who never played in the league, Brian Linstrom, was selected in the 16th round).  It’s not like Arizona’s been running the wishbone all this time, either.

Arizona’s football program has had three different quarterbacks make a total of 29 starts in the NFL, none since 1974.  So in all the time UA has been in the Pac-10, it’s never developed an NFL quarterback.

It’s hard to win big games, or even get to big games, without a pro-caliber quarterback.  Since 1975, only one Arizona alum has thrown a TD pass in the NFL — a punter, Josh Miller, who did it for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2003 (an 81-yard pass play, incidentally).  Here is a little chart comparing alums from Arizona, The Citadel, and a mystery school:

TD passes thrown in the NFL since 1975

Arizona — 1

The Citadel — 1

Mystery School — 0

If you’re wondering, the graduate of The Citadel with a touchdown pass is Stump Mitchell.  Now, that mystery school that hasn’t had a grad with a TD toss in the NFL in the last 35 years?  Well, it’s a school that has quite a bit in common with Arizona on the athletics front.  It’s a “basketball school” that has won multiple titles in other sports, but hasn’t been able to parlay its success in those sports into a nationally prominent football program.

Like Arizona, a good argument can be made that the reason for that has a lot to do with never having an “NFL ready” quarterback.  What school is that?  Why, it’s the BCS school The Citadel played last season.

North Carolina.

I wrote about UNC’s football history in my preview of The Citadel’s game against the Heels last year.  At the time, I noted that the overall QB rating for players from The Citadel to have thrown a pass in the NFL (which would be just two, Mitchell and Paul Maguire) was exactly 100 points better than their UNC counterparts (119.6-19.6). Arizona is a little better than North Carolina in this respect (47.7), but again the mighty Bulldogs prevail.

What will this mean on Saturday?  Not much, since it’s probable the Wildcats have finally found themselves an NFL prospect at QB in Nick Foles.  Foles is a native of Austin (went to the same high school as Drew Brees) who began his collegiate career at Michigan State before transferring to Arizona after one season.

He has NFL size (6’5″, 245 lbs.) and a good arm.  Last season he completed 63% of his passes for 19 TDs (9 interceptions).  His yards per attempt was not that high (just over 6 yards), but he was only sacked 13 times all season (so not a lot of negative plays).  His three 300-yard games included a 4-TD effort against league champion Oregon.

Foles isn’t the only impressive skill-position player on the Wildcat offense.  Nic Grigsby, when healthy, is an outstanding running back.  Grigsby averaged over seven yards per carry last season.  His problem was a bad shoulder that cost him three games and limited him in several others.  He appears to be healthy now.  Then there is Juron Criner, a rangy 6’4″ wideout who hauled in nine touchdowns last season.

Criner had a ridiculous game against Toledo on Friday, catching eleven passes for 187 yards and a touchdown.  Forty-five of those reception yards came on a one-handed, falling-down circus catch in the third quarter.  His TD grab was almost as good.

Arizona had to replace seven defensive starters from last season, but you would have never known it against Toledo, which did not score on the Wildcat defense (the Rockets’ only two points came on a safety called for offensive holding in the end zone).

Arizona is as good a bet as any team to make a run at the Pac-10 title.  Oregon, the defending champ (and coming off a 72-0 demolition of hapless New Mexico), probably has to be the favorite, but if the Ducks slip it’s possible the Wildcats could be the team to make the move to the top and claim the school’s first Rose Bowl trip.

Arizona was picked in the middle of the conference pack in most preseason polls, likely thanks to getting manhandled 33-0 in the Holiday Bowl by a certain Mr. Suh and Nebraska.  Its most recent impression among those who vote in pre-season polls was not a good one.  Otherwise, I think a team with the talent (particularly on offense) that Arizona has might have been nationally ranked to start the season.

Arizona’s coach is Mike Stoops, also known as “Bob Stoops’ brother”.  He has very slowly built the program since arriving in 2004 (wins per year:  3, 3, 6, 5, 8, 8).  Some Arizona supporters have become a bit impatient.  He needs to have a good year this year.  He’s probably going to have one, so I wouldn’t assign him “hot seat” status, but if the Wildcats were to tank this season, I think he would be out the door.

It could be a long night for The Citadel.  In fact, it would be surprising if it weren’t.  The problem is that the defense is going to have some matchup problems (particularly with Criner), and will not be likely to get much help from the offense.

Last season against BCS foe North Carolina the defense got no help from the offense either, but the UNC offense wasn’t dynamic enough to take full advantage of its field position and time of possession.  As a result, the Bulldogs lost, but only by a 40-6 score.  Arizona may not have as good a defense as UNC did, but The Citadel’s offense will be worse (as it is still in its embryonic stage in the triple option) and the Wildcat offense is considerably more talented than the Heels’ O was.

I wrote about some on-field things that concerned me in my review of the Chowan game.  I am hoping that the blocking improves, that the quarterbacks get more comfortable taking the snap and making the proper reads, and that the defense does a better job in assignments and tackling.   Against Arizona, I don’t really expect to see much visible progress from the offense, although I am willing to be pleasantly surprised.

I do think that the one player who might not be physically out of place in the game for The Citadel’s offense is Domonic Jones.  I could see him making a play or two.  First, of course, the QB has to get him the ball, or at least give him a chance to get the ball.

On the other hand, I do expect the defense, even against a squad as talented as the Wildcats, to avoid multiple mental errors and not miss tackles.  That should happen. If it doesn’t, things could get ugly.

I’ll be watching anyway…

Variety Pack: The Citadel’s uniform follies, another transfer, a tough loss ESPN left out, Plant of the Week

Yes, it’s another edition of the Variety Pack, a new TSA series that debuted a couple of weeks ago.  The idea is to write briefly (I hope) on a few different topics without having to be mindful of the 140-character limit of my Twitter tweets.

Last year, I wrote what amounted to a manifesto on The Citadel’s uniform history.  I concluded the screed with this:

To sum up:  simple is best, get the name of the school right, and don’t screw up the colors.  That’s all.

I haven’t seen pictures of this year’s jerseys/pants yet, but according to some folks in the know who post on TCISN, The Citadel will feature (at least in some games) navy jerseys this year, with light blue numerals and “CITADEL” across the front in white.  I would like to think this isn’t true, but I’m sure it is, since North Carolina wore a similar jersey last season.  (We are apparently one year behind UNC in all things Nike-related.)

Navy is an accent color for The Citadel’s athletic teams, not a primary color.  Light blue and white are our primary athletic colors.  Last season, of course, the football team broke out navy pants, wearing them with both white and (most memorably) light blue jerseys.  This season the Bulldogs will apparently have the opportunity to wear an all-navy ensemble on occasion (with a light blue helmet).

Basically, it’s the exact opposite of what I would have liked.  The Citadel will have uniforms that do not include the proper school name, and that do not feature the appropriate school colors.  I apologize in advance if I’m jumping the gun on this, but that’s the information I have at present.

Tangent:  speaking of UNC, I’m not sure why that school is so willing to move away from its traditional color combination, which is very popular. I guess there is money to be made in mixing it up a little, but I think it detracts from a classic look.

As far as the helmets go, some pictures of the new helmet design popped up earlier this spring on TCISN.  The “regular” one reminds me of The Citadel’s helmet design during the Charlie Taaffe era.  It’s not bad, and in fact is a probably a little better than the Taaffe helmets.  You could do worse (and The Citadel certainly has).

There will also be a special helmet for Homecoming featuring “Big Red”.  I like the concept and the execution isn’t terrible, but it’s basically a copy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers helmet.  I could do without the sword (incorporating a rifle might have been a better idea).  You can see pictures of both helmets on this thread.

You know, if you wanted to design a distinctive jersey to go with the special Homecoming helmet, and you wanted to also honor the past, this photo might be a good place to start.

When I wrote about graduate student transfers a few weeks ago (and I appreciate the comments, by the way — always good to get feedback), Chuck Driesell had just signed a transfer from Belmont, Mike Dejworek.  Evidently Driesell was not satisfied with just one European-born grad student big man named Mike, because a couple of weeks later he brought in another.

Morakinyo “Mike” Williams is an Englishman who started his career at Kentucky (recruited by Tubby Smith) before transferring to Duquesne, where he played one season before moving again, this time to The Citadel.  Not everyone at Duquesne was expecting his latest move.

It will be interesting to see how Williams does.  He reportedly did not get along with former UK coach Billy Gillispie, which is probably a positive.  I think it’s safe to say that he will be the first player in Bulldog hoops history to have previously been deported from the United States (that had to have been tough).  Also, in his year at Kentucky he picked up a nickname — he was known as “The Member”.  I’m afraid to ask.

ESPN.com, setting the stage for another college football season, ran a series last week called “House of Pain”, featuring the 50 toughest losses in college football history.  It wasn’t a bad list, but there were two minor problems with it (in my opinion):

1)  It focused a little too much on recent history.  It wasn’t terribly slanted, but there was some TV-era bias.  I’m sure Beano Cook would agree (although I was glad to see that the Boston College-Holy Cross game from 1942 made it; an underappreciated game with an epilogue worthy of O. Henry).

2)  More importantly, most of the losing teams involved in the games on ESPN’s list could always take solace that on other occasions they had won the big game.  Maybe Miami and Ohio State and Alabama and Nebraska and Southern Cal have all lost tough games — but they’ve also won big games, on multiple occasions.  To me, a truly tough loss is when a school with limited success has a chance to climb the mountain, and then falls flat on its face.

West Virginia losing to Pittsburgh a few years ago was a good example, and made the list.  Another game that made the list, but which should have ranked much higher, was Missouri-Iowa State (from 2004).  How often are the Cyclones going to have a chance to play in a conference title game?

The game I immediately thought about when the list began to be released, though, is nowhere to be found….this one.

Navy 38, South Carolina 21.  November 18, 1984.

South Carolina was, incredibly, 9-0.  Black Magic!  The Gamecocks could have accepted a bid to the Sugar Bowl after beating Florida State the week before, but held out for a trip to the Orange Bowl and a potential (mythical) national title game.  All they had to do to clinch the Orange Bowl was beat a Navy team coming off a 29-0 loss to Syracuse.

It didn’t happen.  South Carolina lost the game, the chance to be ranked #1 for the first time (which would have occurred had the Gamecocks won), a shot at a national title, and a berth in a major bowl for the first time in school history.

Twenty-six years later, and Gamecock fans are still waiting for their first ticket to a major bowl.  That game is the very definition of a painful loss.

Finally, it’s time for the Plant of the Week.  This week’s honoree is the Rubrum Lily, which made its way to Europe from Japan in 1830 (or thereabouts).

Until next time…

Rubrum Lily

Thoughts on The Citadel and transfers

When I write about The Citadel and transfers, I want to first distinguish between basic types.  One of them is the three-year transfer.  It’s a little bit unusual, but not rare, for someone to spend his or her freshman year at another school, and then transfer into The Citadel.

Now, the “system” at The Citadel is designed for a four-year student.  In other words, the typical member of the corps of cadets spends four years at the school, and those four years have very specific benchmarks.  However, it is possible (and not particularly difficult) for a student to transfer in and spend three years in the corps, and have essentially the same experience as a four-year student.  Basically, the sophomore/junior years are combined.

I don’t know anyone associated with The Citadel who has a problem with a three-year transfer athlete representing the school.  I certainly don’t.  It doesn’t happen often, to be sure.  Recently Kenny Manigault, who played high school basketball in the Charleston area for Pinewood Prep, announced he was transferring from Wichita State to The Citadel. Manigault will have three years of athletic eligibility, and will presumably be spending (at least) three years in the corps of cadets.

Another athlete who will be transferring in to The Citadel is Blane Woodfin, who originally committed to Air Force, but was not admitted to the AFA (reportedly because of a physical problem).  Woodfin attended Montana State last year but did not play football, and will thus apparently have four years of athletic eligibility remaining at The Citadel, not three.

These are not transfers likely to cause any cantankerous old alum heartburn, even though Manigault called Chuck Driesell “real laid back”, which is the first time I’ve ever heard anyone call Driesell laid back.  The Citadel as an institution, as Manigault and Woodfin will soon learn (if they don’t know already), is certainly not laid back…

However, there is another type of transfer that has been popping up more and more at The Citadel in recent years, the “fifth-year” transfer.

This started in football, where a player can transfer from an FBS school to an FCS school and play immediately.  The “trailblazer” in this category for The Citadel was Jeff Klein, a quarterback who transferred from Auburn and played one year for The Citadel (2002).

He was followed the next season by former Clemson QB Willie Simmons and ex-Duke defensive back Anthony Roberts.  Those three players played for The Citadel under former coach (and alum) Ellis Johnson.  In recent years, Kevin Higgins has had two fifth-year transfers — his son, wideout Tim Higgins (who originally played for Florida), and tight end B.J. Phillips (North Carolina).

All of these guys graduated from their original schools and played one year as graduate students for The Citadel, except for Phillips (who had two years of athletic eligibility in football remaining after graduating from UNC).

As students in The Citadel Graduate College, none of these players were members of the corps of cadets (indeed, it’s possible none of them even attended classes with cadets, as graduate classes at The Citadel are held at night).

Reports vary on how seriously these graduate student athletes attempted to bond with their teammates, tried to understand/appreciate what cadets go through, etc.  My general impression, which could be wrong, is that Simmons and the younger Higgins made an effort to try and “jell” with the team and school; Klein, not so much.  Phillips, of course, still has one year left on the football team.

These one-year-only players were not a factor in basketball at The Citadel because there was no lower classification within Division I for them to transfer to without penalty (in other words, no FBS/FCS distinction).  At least, they weren’t a factor until last year, when Joe Wolfinger transferred to The Citadel after graduating from Washington.

Wolfinger had his degree and one year of athletic eligibility in basketball remaining, and he used that year to play basketball at The Citadel, thanks to a technicality.  As this article explained:

Wolfinger will be a fifth-year senior next season and is apparently eligible to play immediately at The Citadel because he has graduated from UW and will enter a Master’s program at The Citadel that is not offered at Washington.

Wolfinger is gone, and so is Ed Conroy, but Chuck Driesell has decided to bring in his own tall transfer for this upcoming season:

Mike Dejworek, a 6-11 center from Belmont University, will play one season for the Bulldogs as a graduate student, new coach Chuck Driesell confirmed…

…Dejworek, a native of Ulm, Germany, sat out last season with a shoulder injury after playing three years for Belmont. In 2008-09, he played in 24 games and started one for a 20-13 Belmont team, averaging 1.7 points and 1.6 rebounds. He was a reserve on a Belmont team that made the NCAA tournament his sophomore season.

I presume that, like Wolfinger, Dejworek will be enterering a Master’s degree program at The Citadel that is not offered by Belmont.

There are plenty of alums who are less than crazy about athletes competing on varsity teams without ever being part of the corps of cadets.  Ken Burger, then the sports editor of The Post and Courier, wrote about this as far back as 2003:

…the school’s old guard is very vocal about this troublesome trend. They say these young men never spent a single day at The Citadel and don’t deserve the privilege of wearing the school’s uniform. Even its football uniform…

…Over the next three months we will find out how this experiment works out for [Ellis] Johnson’s program and The Citadel. And, there will be plenty of people watching and judging from the sidelines…

…While it’s easy to say the old school should stick to the old ways, there’s another side of this controversy that can’t be ignored.

The Citadel’s military counterpart, VMI, recently left the SoCon and downgraded to the Big South Conference because the Keydets could no longer compete…

Ah, yes, the old “we just can’t compete” crutch.  Poor, pitiful puppies; how can our coaches ever win?

First, the obvious.  Charlie Taaffe won a Southern Conference title in football without any non-cadet help.  He beat South Carolina and Arkansas and Army and Navy, and all of his players were in the corps of cadets.

Brief tangent:  Just for clarification, Taaffe did occasionally have some fifth-year guys who had already graduated and had an extra year of eligibility remaining after redshirting, but all of them had spent four years in the corps.  That is a completely different situation than the fifth-year ‘program’ I’m discussing in this post, of course.

Eddie Teague won a SoCon title back in the day, too, with members of the corps of cadets.  It’s not easy (after all, The Citadel has just those two league titles in football), but it can be done.

Meanwhile, the fifth-year recruits have not exactly led to dramatic success on the gridiron.  Klein set lots of passing records in 2002, but the team went 3-9.  With Simmons at quarterback (and Roberts in the defensive backfield)  in 2003, the Bulldogs improved to 6-6.  Tim Higgins’ one season at The Citadel came in 2007, the only season since 1997 in which the Bulldogs have finished with a winning record (7-4).

In hoops, Wolfinger did not prove to be a difference-maker last year, as The Citadel went 16-16, a season that followed a 20-13 campaign.  Wolfinger got progressively less playing time as the year went on, as he turned out not to be a particularly good fit for The Citadel’s style of play.

There is another aspect to this, the “recruited over” concern.  If you are a promising high school football player and you are considering The Citadel, should you be worried about the possibility that down the road, when it’s finally time for you to become a regular, the coach will suddenly bring in some graduate student to take your position?  Being recruited over is something normally associated with players at big-time college basketball programs, not The Citadel.

Those are the on-field results and issues.   What about the off-the-field repercussions?

– The essence of The Citadel, the part that differentiates it from other schools, is the corps of cadets.  Our athletic teams are supposed to represent the students at the military college.  What statement is the school making when it elects to offer opportunities to varsity athletes who have never been a part of the military environment?

– For that matter, the athletic teams represent the alumni as well.  Am I supposed to identify with varsity athletes who did not go through the same experiences that I did?

– If I have misgivings as an alumnus about identifying with these athletes, just imagine how the current members of the corps of cadets must feel.

– There is also the public perception.  Many outsiders are impressed that The Citadel can compete at all with the inherent disadvantages of being a military school.  When you bring in players from outside that environment, do you know what the general public calls them?  Ringers. (So do some alums.)

At that point The Citadel becomes “just another school” in the minds of some people.  Is that something that the powers-that-be at The Citadel want?

I might add that the perception issue is magnified when the player plays a high-profile position (like quarterback) in football.  In basketball, there aren’t that many players, so almost any player is highly visible.

Having said all that, I don’t blame any of the individual coaches for bringing in graduate students.  Coaches are trying to win.  Winning is not easy to do at The Citadel, so it’s not surprising that coaches try to work the system as much as possible.

Coaches also tend to have a narrower focus; it’s hard to expect Chuck Driesell, for example, to consider how a graduate student playing basketball may affect the school, in terms of the big picture.   Driesell is just trying to find a big man who can rebound.

The administration has the responsibility of telling the coaches to focus solely on recruiting players who will be part of the corps of cadets.  It appears that, for whatever reason(s), the current administration does not share the concerns that have been expressed by some alums.

Maybe the thinking from General Rosa and company is that one or two exceptions don’t really matter.  I don’t know.  It’s also possible that the school wants to have occasional graduate student varsity athletes, in an effort to promote the Graduate College.

I tend to doubt that having an occasional hoopster or football player in the graduate school is going to raise the profile of the CGC, although I couldn’t blame the school for trying every avenue to promote it.  The CGC is an opportunity for The Citadel to make money, which the school needs to do.

Over the past few years, the military college has gradually become simply a state school, as opposed to a state-supported school.  That’s because the State of South Carolina continues to cut back on funding for higher education (in general, the state legislature believes higher education should end after the third grade).

[Sorry for the political jibe, but honestly, our state's lack of commitment to education is embarrassing.]

In closing, one thing I want to emphasize is that I don’t have anything against the players who enter the school as graduate students.  They are taking advantage of a great opportunity, as well they should.  I wish them well, and I hope they are successful in class and on the field of play.  I will be rooting for them, as I do anyone who represents my alma mater.

I just wish the administration would revisit the current policy.  I strongly believe that varsity athletes at The Citadel should all come from the corps of cadets.  I know my opinion doesn’t really matter, but I also know that I’m not the only person who feels this way about transfers and varsity athletics.

Yes, I’m ready for football season…

Reviewing the NCAA baseball tournament selection committee’s work

The verdict:  well, it wasn’t awful.

I realize that other observers have been more positive.  Kendall Rogers of Yahoo! Sports stated that the committee made “few puzzling decisions”.  Aaron Fitt of Baseball America thought that the committee “did better this year than it has in years.”

I won’t argue with that — after all, the committee did do the most important thing right, which is get the correct teams in the tournament.  This isn’t like last year, when Tim Weiser (the Kansas State AD) and his crew handed out bids to every Big XII outfit it could, only failing to pick Iowa State and Colorado because those two schools no longer field baseball teams.  No, it’s a justifiable field.  I actually correctly predicted the 64 teams in my previous post.  Maybe I wouldn’t have taken these exact 64 teams myself, but there were no shocks, no outrages.

However, I get the sense that everyone is so relieved the committee didn’t completely screw up that they are overlooking the errors that were actually made.  Let me list a few:

– Naturally, I’m going to complain about the ludicrous decision to slot The Citadel as a 3 seed in Columbia, while giving the College of Charleston a 2 seed and sending the Cougars to Myrtle Beach.  The two schools had similar RPI numbers (32 for The Citadel, 26 for the CofC).   More to the point, The Citadel won the regular season AND tournament titles in the Southern Conference.  The Cougars finished second (by two games) in the regular season and went 1-2 in the tournament.  Fitt did mention this anomaly in his BA post.

I am now not completely sure that The Citadel would have received an at-large bid had it failed to win the SoCon tourney.  Maybe it would have, but I’m not too confident, and just that sense of the unknown completely justifies Fred Jordan’s decision to start ace pitcher Asher Wojciechowski in the championship game on Sunday.  Imagine if Wojo had not pitched, The Citadel had lost, and then the Bulldogs had not received a bid.  Jordan would have second-guessed himself for the rest of his life.

Also, while we all have to accept the geographic constraints the committee has when setting up regionals, it would have been nice to send the Bulldogs somewhere other than Columbia, which is starting to get very old (and I say that as someone who lives in Columbia).  Why not flip The Citadel with Elon or Oregon State?  There wouldn’t be any more trips by airplane that would have had to be made.  Another option would have been to flip the 2-3 seeds in the Columbia and Myrtle Beach regionals.

–  California is a 2 seed.  Now, I think Cal belonged in the tournament, but as a 2? Also, the Golden Bears will play North Carolina in the first round, another bubble team, so Oklahoma, one of the weaker 1 seeds, gets the weakest 2 (in my opinion) and one of the weaker 3s.

I’m guessing the committee couldn’t quite figure out how to slot Cal as a 3 seed without causing another 3 seed travel issues, and so bumped the Bears up to a 2.  It still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  The committee could have made Oregon a 2 and Cal the 3 in the Norwich regional, which would have been at least marginally better, but maybe the Ducks are going to wear some crazy new Nike duds when they travel to Connecticut and the committee wanted more buzz in its northeastern regional.  I don’t know.

– The geographical decisions really cause some inequities in the matchups.  Georgia Tech is a national seed, but gets Alabama as its 2 seed; just to give you an idea, GT had an RPI of 11, ‘Bama 12 (and the Tide had a strong finish to its season).  TCU isn’t a national seed, but gets Baylor (35 RPI) as a 2 seed and Arizona (one of the last teams in the field) as a 3.

I already mentioned Cal in the Oklahoma regional; Arizona is similar in that I don’t think the committee could figure out where to stick the Wildcats, and so sending them to Ft. Worth became a default selection.  Maybe they were just trying to cut TCU a break for slotting the Horned Frogs (potentially) against Texas in a super-regional.

Of course, RPI isn’t necessarily indicative of quality (and I should mention Arizona actually had an RPI of 24), but it’s used as a crutch so often by the committee that when it isn’t, its absence is glaring.

– I don’t get the geographic thing for super-regional matchups.  You aren’t talking about that many more airplane flights even if the expected matchups actually occur, and sometimes they don’t anyway.  Why make TCU (a contender for the last national seed) have to play a super-regional at national 2 seed Texas?  Another team that had an argument for a national seed was Cal State Fullerton; at least with UCLA as the #6 national seed, that potential matchup is more fair (if also more convenient).

Really, though, if South Carolina (the other team in the national seed mix) is close to being #8, it shouldn’t be in a bracket opposite #4 Coastal Carolina.  It should be in the bracket opposite Georgia Tech (the team that did get the final national seed).  Would setting Oklahoma up to play Coastal Carolina be so terrible?  TCU-Louisville?  Florida State-Texas?

I think it’s time for the top teams to be seeded 1-16.

Well, that’s enough carping.  I’m just ready for the regionals to begin.

College baseball bubble, 5/30

Prior two posts on the baseball bubble:

College baseball bubble, 5/29

Examining the college baseball “bubble” with one week to go

All the league tourneys have ended now, as the SEC has finally escaped Mother Nature.  LSU won the tournament (again).  With all of the conference tournaments completed, there are no more bids to “steal”.

In my opinion, this is what we have…

Locks (including teams that have received automatic bids):  Louisville, Connecticut, Virginia, Georgia Tech, Miami, Clemson, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Coastal Carolina, Cal State Fullerton, Rice, TCU, Arizona State, UCLA, Washington State, Oregon, Florida, South Carolina, Auburn, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Mississippi, Alabama, LSU, College of Charleston, Florida Atlantic, Louisiana-Lafayette, Kansas State, UC Irvine, The Citadel, New Mexico, Stanford, Baylor, Southern Mississippi, Rider, Grambling State, Jacksonville State, Illinois State, Hawaii, Mercer, Stony Brook, Bethune-Cookman, Kent State, Dartmouth, Virginia Commonwealth, St. Louis, Bucknell, Central Connecticut State, Lamar, Minnesota, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Oral Roberts, Florida International, St. John’s, San Diego

58 teams in.  6 spots to fill.  Who fills them?

I believe those six spots will come from a group of 12 teams.  They are:  North Carolina State, North Carolina, California, Oregon State, Arizona, Kentucky, Elon, Florida Gulf Coast, Pittsburgh, Liberty, Texas State, and Wichita State.

Of those twelve, I believe that NC State is best positioned to receive a bid, and that Liberty is in the worst shape.  I would put them in this order:

North Carolina State
Oregon State
Arizona
North Carolina
Elon
California
———
Kentucky
Wichita State
Texas State
Pittsburgh
Florida Gulf Coast
Liberty

Note that this is not the order I think they should be in, but my guess as to what the committee will do.  I would not be completely shocked to see any of these teams in or out (although it’s hard to imagine NCSU not making it at this point, and Liberty has very little chance).  If I am wrong, it most likely will be Kentucky getting in at the expense of one of the Pac-10 schools (probably Cal).

We’ll find out tomorrow at 12:30 pm ET.

A few more quick predictions:

– Arizona State will be the #1 national seed.

– The committee will choose geography over results, and not give national seeds to both UCLA and Cal State Fullerton (and likely set them up to potentially play each other in a super-regional).

– At least one of the western regionals will be completely insane.

– Florida State goes to UConn as the 1 seed.

– There will be two TV-friendly regionals (one on each coast) for the folks at ESPN, and I am guessing that one of them will be in Miami and feature the ‘Canes, FIU and 54-game hit streak maven Garrett Wittels, and (oh yes) defending national champion LSU.  Perhaps Big 10 champ Minnesota will be thrown in for good measure to appeal to midwestern viewers.  (This potential scenario, or at least part of it, was mentioned today by Aaron Fitt in a post on Baseball America.)

– The Citadel will be a 2 seed.

Just a few hours to go…

College baseball bubble, 5/29

Just a quick update…for the breakdown prior to conference tournament play, see this post:  Link

The Saturday morning report, with changes noted from what I wrote in midweek:

– Locks (36):  Louisville, Connecticut, Virginia, Georgia Tech, Miami, Clemson, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Coastal Carolina, Cal State Fullerton, Rice, TCU, Arizona State, UCLA, Washington State, Oregon, Florida, South Carolina, Auburn, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Mississippi, Alabama, LSU, College of Charleston, Florida Atlantic, Louisiana-Lafayette, Kansas State, UC Irvine, The Citadel, New Mexico, Stanford, Baylor

Change: Six teams that were not locks earlier in the week are now:  Kansas State, UC Irvine, The Citadel, New Mexico, Stanford, and Baylor.

– Champions from “one-bid” leagues:  15

Congratulations to Stony Brook and Rider for clinching automatic bids on Friday out of the America East and MAAC, respectively.

– Champions from leagues likely to get just one bid, but that do have bubble teams (but no locks):  4 (the leagues in question are the A-Sun, Big 10, MVC, and Southland)

Change: Florida Gulf Coast did lose in its tournament.

That means 55 spots are taken, with 9 still to go.

– Florida Gulf Coast University’s loss in the Atlantic Sun tournament will hurt, but it may still draw an at-large bid, making the A-Sun a two-bid league.  Could be close for the Eagles.

– The Big 10 is not likely to be a two-bid league.  Minnesota is in the driver’s seat for the auto bid.  I won’t completely discount this league getting a second team (Michigan), only because it’s the Big 10, and not because it deserves one.

– Wichita State is in the final of the MVC tournament and plays Illinois State for the title on Saturday.  The Shockers could lose today and still get in the NCAAs, but I tend to doubt it.

– Texas State is still alive in the bloodbath that has been the Southland tournament.  Could Texas State get an at-large bid, if needed?  Possibly.  Like FGCU, it would be a close call.

– The Big East has two locks and likely will get a third team in the field.  That team would have been Pittsburgh, but the Panthers went 1-2 in the tourney.  Also, St. John’s could steal a bid.  If the Johnnies win the tournament, is this a 4-bid league?

– Results in the Pac-10 on Friday broke almost perfectly for that league getting 8 teams in the field.  Stanford locked up a bid, and there were big wins for Oregon State and California.  Washington also won, but I think the Huskies are the ninth team and will not make it.  Oregon State and Cal both probably need one more win.  Arizona is still in good shape, but the Wildcats need to beat the Beavers at least once during the weekend to feel 100% secure.

– The Big XII is going to be a five-bid league.  It also has four completely meaningless games in its tournament today, thanks to the wonder that is pool play.

– The Southern Conference will be at least a three-bid league.  Elon should be that third team, despite losing a fight and a game on Thursday.  The Phoenix can still win the SoCon tourney, but if Elon doesn’t and either Western Carolina or Appalachian State does, I’m not sure the committee is taking four teams from this league.  The Citadel and the College of Charleston will be in the field of 64.

– Southern Mississippi plays Rice in the C-USA title game on Saturday, and the Golden Eagles probably have to win that game to get a bid.

– Liberty is still alive in the Big South tournament, but with more conference tourney upsets looming, it looks like the Flames must win that tourney to snatch a bid.  That will be a tall order, as Liberty will have to beat High Point once and Coastal Carolina twice.

– The Sun Belt could become a three-bid league if a team other than Florida Atlantic wins its tournament.  Either Arkansas State or Troy will be in the final, and FAU has to beat Florida International to get to the other side of the title matchup.  It would be interesting to see Garrett Wittels continue his hit streak in the NCAAs, but I think FIU has to win the SB tourney to make it.  Of course, they may just do that.

– Boston College is probably out of the mix for an at-large after going 1-2 in the ACC tourney (a result that helps North Carolina).  North Carolina State beat Clemson in its opener and probably needs one more win to feel good about its chances.  At this point, I think the Wolfpack might need that win only to further differentiate itself from BC.

– I still think the SEC will get 8 bids.  Kentucky is still in the mix, but I just don’t see it.  I wouldn’t be shocked if Kentucky’s name popped up on the selection show, though.

So, there are nine spots to fill.  As of Saturday morning, I think they might go like this:

Arizona, North Carolina, Oregon State, FGCU, Pittsburgh, North Carolina State, California, Elon, Liberty

Still alive:  Texas State (if needed), Southern Mississippi, Washington, Michigan, Boston College, Wichita State (if needed), Kentucky

Examining the college baseball “bubble” with one week to go

This will be a huge week in the college baseball world, obviously, with conference tournament action all over the country (along with some key regular season games in the Pac-10, which does not have a league tournament).  I decided to break down the potential field and see what teams are in, what teams are out, and what teams have work to do.  Admittedly, I’m not the only person who does this — you can read fine efforts from the folks at Baseball America and Yahoo! Sports, just to name two — but I’m the only person who will do it on this blog.  So there.

I’m going to approach this from the point of view of a fan of a “bubble” team who wants to know the ideal scenario by which his team can make the field, by the way.  The Citadel, while not a true “lock”, is probably safe at this point (and well it should be). However, I would like to see any potential roadblocks to the NCAAs removed.  In other words, I’m for the chalk.

RPI numbers mentioned below are as of May 23 and are from Boyd Nation’s website.  For the uninitiated, the regionals include 64 teams, 30 automatic qualifiers (by winning their respective league bids) and 34 at-large selections.  Three leagues do not hold post-season tournaments, so their regular season champs get the auto bid. Several smaller conferences have already held their post-season events and so we know what teams will be representing those leagues.

There are 15 leagues that will definitely only have one team in the field, the so-called “one-bid leagues”.  Dartmouth, Bethune-Cookman, Bucknell, and San Diego have already qualified from four of these conferences.  The other eleven leagues are the America East, Atlantic 10, CAA, Horizon, MAAC, MAC, NEC, OVC, SWAC, Summit, and WAC.  That leaves 49 spots for the other 15 leagues.

(There are also a few independents, along with the members of the Great West, a league that does not get an automatic bid, but none of those teams are serious candidates to make a regional.)

There are several leagues that will also be “one-bid” conferences, unless the regular season champion doesn’t win the conference tournament, and even then the favorite might not be good enough to get an at-large bid anyway.  Bubble teams should definitely be rooting for the top seed in these leagues, just to make sure no spots are “stolen”.  These leagues are as follows:

– Atlantic Sun – Florida Gulf Coast University dominated this conference.  With an RPI of 40, FGCU probably stands a decent (not great) shot at getting a bid even if it loses in the A-Sun tourney.  This is unfamiliar ground for the Eagles, as the A-Sun tourney will be their first post-season experience in Division I.

If you’re wondering why you have never heard of Florida Gulf Coast University, it’s because the school (located in Fort Myers) has only existed since 1997.  The baseball team has only been around since 2003, first as a D-2 program and now at D-1.  It’s an amazing story, really; there are a few more details to be found here.  It just goes to show you how many good baseball players there are in Florida, and for that matter how many young people there are in Florida (FGCU has an enrollment of over 11,000).

– Big 10 – Michigan has an RPI of 65, which isn’t really that great, and didn’t even win the regular season title (Minnesota, with a losing overall record, did).  It’s barely possible the selection committee will throw a bone to the all-powerful Big 10 and give a “snow bid” to a second team from the league, but I doubt it.   Incidentally, the Big 10 tournament will be held in Columbus, but Ohio State did not qualify for the event.

– Big South – Coastal Carolina will almost certainly be a national seed.  If the Chanticleers win the league tourney, the Big South is probably a one-bid league. Liberty has an RPI of 51 and has beaten no one of consequence.  Bubble teams should definitely root for CCU.

– Conference USA – Rice will be in the tournament.  The only other team with a shot at a potential at-large bid is Southern Mississippi, but with an RPI of 67, it’s likely the Eagles need to win the C-USA tourney.  Otherwise, it could be bad news for the Minnesota Vikings.

– Missouri Valley – Wichita State will be the top seed at the MVC tourney, tying for the regular season title with Illinois State but holding the tiebreaker.  If the Shockers (RPI of 56) don’t win the league tournament, they could get an at-large bid, but I don’t see it. Still, you have to watch out, given the tradition of Wichita State, that the committee doesn’t give a “legacy” bid.

– Southland – There are three teams (Texas State, Southeastern Louisiana, and Northwestern State) that are semi-viable at-large candidates, but I suspect all of them really need the auto bid.  Texas State won the regular season title, has an RPI of 50, and probably would be the one best positioned for an at-large spot, but I don’t think that would happen. Bubble teams should pull for Texas State anyway, just to make sure.  Southeastern Louisiana has an RPI of 48 but dropped all three games of its final regular season series to Northwestern State, at home, and thus finished third in the league.

Let’s look at the remaining “mid-majors”:

– Big East – Louisville should be a national seed.  Connecticut has had a great year and may wind up hosting (but as a 2 seed).  Pittsburgh doesn’t have a great RPI (53), but has a fine overall record, will get the benefit of the doubt for its power rating because it is a northern school, and is probably in good shape.  The Big East appears to be a three-bid league.  St. John’s has a good record but an RPI of 74.

– Big West – Cal State Fullerton will host and could be a national seed.  UC Irvine should also make it out of this league (which does not have a post-season tournament).  I don’t see anyone else getting in.  It’s a two-bid league.

– Mountain West – TCU will probably host a regional.  I think New Mexico (RPI of 42) is getting in, too, although an 0-2 MWC tourney could make the Lobos a little nervous.  The MWC should get two bids.

– Southern – The Citadel (RPI of 37) won the regular season by two full games, winning its last seven league games (and its last eight games overall).  It was the only school in the SoCon to not lose a home conference series, and went 8-4 against the schools that finished 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th in the league, with all of those games being played on the road.

What The Citadel was not good at was winning on Tuesday.  It was 0-7 on Tuesdays until winning at Winthrop in its final Tuesday matchup.  On days other than Tuesday, the Bulldogs were 37-13.

Regionals are not played on Tuesdays.  The selection committee is aware of this, and probably aware that The Citadel has a top-flight starting pitcher (potential first-round pick Asher Wojciechowski) and a very good Saturday starter (6’7″ left-hander Matt Talley) who pitch on Fridays and Saturdays.

That’s a lot of verbiage to say that, even if the Bulldogs go 0-2 in the SoCon tourney, I expect them to be in the NCAAs. They better be.

The College of Charleston should be in the NCAAs too, with an excellent record and RPI (24).  The only other team with a shot at an at-large bid out of the SoCon is Elon (RPI of 43), which tied for third in the league (but is the 4 seed in the conference tourney).  The Phoenix had a better record against the ACC (6-1) than in the SoCon (19-11).  The SoCon should get at least two bids, and possibly three.

– Sun Belt – Florida Atlantic and Louisiana-Lafayette will be in the NCAAs.  Then there is Western Kentucky, with an RPI of 36 and some nice non-conference wins (Texas A&M, Texas State, Baylor, Vanderbilt, Kentucky).  However, the Hilltoppers finished 16-14 in league play, tied for sixth, and will be the 8 seed at the Sun Belt tournament. Can an 8 seed out of the Sun Belt get an at-large bid?  I’m not sure about that.

That leaves the four leagues that will send the most teams.  The easiest of these to evaluate, in terms of at-large possibilities, is the SEC.  The other three are a bit more difficult to figure out.

– Southeastern – Alabama’s sweep of Tennessee in Knoxville locked up a berth in the SEC tourney (and the regionals) for the Tide and also knocked the Vols out of both events.  LSU took care of business against Mississippi State, and then got the benefit of Kentucky’s meltdown against cellar-dweller Georgia.  The Wildcats were eliminated from the SEC tourney (and likely the NCAAs) after a 20-0 loss in Athens on Friday night.  Ouch.  The SEC, which some were suggesting could send ten teams to the NCAAs, will send eight — the same eight teams playing in the league tournament.

– Atlantic Coast – Six teams are locks (Virginia, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Miami, Virginia Tech).  Then there are the other two teams in the league tournament (Boston College and NC State) and one that isn’t (North Carolina).

I think it’s possible that two of those three get in, but not all three.  North Carolina didn’t even make the ACC tourney, but has a really good RPI (21) and just finished a sweep of Virginia Tech.  The Heels actually tied for 8th with BC, but the two teams did not meet during the regular season, and BC wound up prevailing in a tiebreaker, which was based on record against the top teams.  That’s also UNC’s biggest problem — it was swept by all three of the ACC heavyweights (Virginia, Georgia Tech, Miami).  It also lost a series to Duke, which is never a good idea.

On the other hand, UNC did beat NC State two out of three games (in Chapel Hill). The Wolfpack has an RPI of 49, not quite in UNC’s range, thanks to a strength of schedule of only 77 (per Warren Nolan).  By comparison, UNC has a SOS of 15 and BC 16, typical of most ACC teams (Miami has the #1 SOS in the nation; UVA is 9th, Clemson 11th).

The records for the two schools against the top 50 in the RPI are similar.  Both are better than Boston College (8-20 against the top 50).  BC, which is only 29-26 overall and has an RPI of 45, would be a marginal at-large candidate but for its quality schedule and, of course, its sweep of NC State in Raleigh.

What NC State does have to offer for its consideration is series wins against UVA and Georgia Tech.  That’s impressive, but it’s probably not enough to get the Pack an at-large berth on its own.

I suspect that UNC will get in, despite not making the ACC tournament, but it will be close.  BC and NC State both need to do some damage in the ACC tourney, which is a pool play event, meaning each team will play at least three games. The Eagles and Wolfpack each need to win at least twice.  UNC fans need to root against both of them, because even though at-large bids (supposedly) aren’t doled out by conference, a run to the ACC title game by either BC or NCSU probably would move them ahead of the Heels in the at-large pecking order.

– Big XII – Texas, Oklahoma, and Texas A&M are locks.  Kansas State (RPI of 35) is on the bubble but is in good shape.  Baylor (RPI of 41), Texas Tech (RPI of 54, and now with a .500 overall record), and Kansas (RPI of 52) are also in the running for an at-large bid, although the latter two schools hurt themselves over the weekend and are in now in serious trouble.  Both must have good runs in the Big XII tourney (which, like the ACC tournament, is a pool play event).

Baylor, Kansas, and Kansas State are all in the same “pod” for the Big XII tournament, so they may be able to separate themselves from each other (in a manner of speaking) during the tourney.  How that will affect the total number of bids for the Big XII is hard to say.  It wasn’t a banner year for the league, but I could see as many as six bids.  I think, barring some upsets in the league tournament, it’s going to be five.

– Pac-10 – Arizona State, UCLA, Washington State, and Oregon are locks.  Arizona (RPI of 19) probably is too, although the Wildcats would do well not to get swept next weekend at Oregon State.

There are nine teams in the conference still fighting to make the NCAAs.  In this league, there is only one punching bag — Southern California.  Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Washington has the worst RPI of the contenders (55) and is only one game over .500 overall.  The Huskies play Southern Cal in their final series, which will probably help Washington’s record but may not help its NCAA case.  Oregon State, as mentioned, hosts Arizona and may need to win twice.  The Beavers (with a solid RPI of 32) did get a much-needed win on Sunday at Arizona State to improve their conference record to 10-14.

Stanford (RPI of 44) looks to be in good shape; the Cardinal host Arizona State next weekend and likely need to win just one of the three games (and may be able to withstand a sweep).  On the other side of the bay, however, things are not as promising, as California (RPI of 39) has lost seven straight and finishes the season at Oregon needing to show the selection committee a reason to believe.

At least seven teams from the Pac-10 are going to make the NCAAs, and possibly eight.  I don’t think all nine contenders are going to get the call, though.

Okay, now let’s break things down.  Just my opinion, of course.  Here we go:

– Locks (30):  Louisville, Connecticut, Virginia, Georgia Tech, Miami, Clemson, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Coastal Carolina, Cal State Fullerton, Rice, TCU, Arizona State, UCLA, Washington State, Oregon, Florida, South Carolina, Auburn, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Mississippi, Alabama, LSU, College of Charleston, Florida Atlantic, Louisiana-Lafayette

– Champions from “one-bid” leagues:  15

– Champions from leagues likely to get just one bid, but that do have bubble teams (but no locks):  4 (the leagues in question are the A-Sun, Big 10, MVC, and Southland)

– Bubble teams that are in good shape (6):  Arizona, Kansas State, UC Irvine, New Mexico, The Citadel, Pittsburgh

That’s 55 teams in total.  If there are no upsets (hah!), then nine other bubble teams will make the NCAAs.  I’ve got them listed in two groups; the “decent chance” group, and the “need some help and/or no conference tourney upsets for an at-large” group.

Decent chance for an at-large:  Stanford, North Carolina, Baylor, FGCU (if needed), Oregon State, Elon, NC State

Need a lot of things to go right:  Boston College, Liberty, Wichita State, Western Kentucky, Michigan, Texas Tech, Kansas, California, Washington, Texas State, Southeastern Louisiana, Northwestern State, Southern Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee, St. John’s

That’s how I see things, as of Sunday night.  Most of the action this week begins on Wednesday.  Let the games begin…

Random bubble thoughts and theories, 3/8

I’m going to wait a few days before writing a post-mortem on The Citadel’s hoops season.  It was a little bit of an odd year.  Part of me is disappointed in the overall record (16-16, 9-9), but another part of me remembers that in the last two years the Bulldogs have won 24 SoCon games.  In the six previous years, The Citadel had won 15.  Total.

The past brings perspective.

Sometimes the past also helps when trying to evaluate bubble teams and seeding scenarios.  The membership of the selection committee has changed over time, of course, but that doesn’t mean you can’t look back and see what the committee did when presented with certain situations.

– Let’s face it, the Pac-10 is wretched this season.  California won the outright Pac-10 title.  Is that good enough to guarantee the Bears an at-large bid if they don’t win the Pac-10 tourney?

History says yes.  Exhibit A:  Air Force, 2004.  That season the Falcons were 22-5 during the regular season and won the Mountain West, but did almost nothing outside the league, managing to beat no one of consequence and losing games to UT-Pan American and Belmont.  However, Air Force was 12-2 in league play and won the MWC outright by two games.

Air Force lost in the quarterfinals of the MWC tournament to Colorado State (by 12 points).  Despite that, the Falcons still made the NCAAs.  When asked about it, selection committee chairman Bob Bowlsby noted AFA’s less-than-stellar profile, but pointed out that the Falcons had been the regular-season champion of a top-10 league — and that achievement, in the opinion of the committee, merited Air Force’s inclusion.

I can’t say I disagree with that argument.  (It’s certainly a better line of reasoning than the one Bowlsby’s successor as committee chair, Craig Littlepage, gave for the committee’s absurd decision to put Air Force in the field two years later.  I still have no idea how that was justified.)

If winning a top-10 league is good enough, then Cal is safe.  Admittedly, it’s not quite the same situation; Air Force won the MWC in 2004 by two games, while Cal edged Arizona State by just one game in the standings.  Also, 12-2 is better than 13-5.  Still, it’s a factor, as is the fact we’re talking about the Pac-10, and not one of the “mid-major” leagues (even if it isn’t as good as some of those leagues this season).  Cal better not lose in the Pac-10 quarterfinals, though.

Incidentally, the same argument would presumably work in the favor of Utah State.

– Could last-second seeding adjustments actually happen?

This season there will be four conference title games played on Selection Sunday.  The SEC, ACC, and Atlantic 10 title games will all tip at 1 pm ET, while the Big 10 final will start at 3:30 pm ET.

Let’s say that Duke and Ohio State are both in their respective conference finals. Would the committee wait until the end of the Big 10 game to finalize the seeding?

Someone asked Joe Lunardi about this in an ESPN “chat session” :

A lot of experts think that Ohio State has the best shot this side of Durham to collect the final 1-seed if they win the Big Ten tournament. Isn’t there a good chance though that they could get screwed by the schedule. The Big Ten final doesn’t start until 3:30 on Sunday and the ACC championship is at at 1:00 on Sunday. I know that the brackets take a long time to put together and the top seeds are placed first. If Duke lost in the Final and Ohio State won, is it possible that their fates would already be set before those games finish?

Joe Lunardi:  It has happened this way in the past…More recently, however, the Committee has built multiple brackets accounting for the various Sunday scenarios. I would be disappointed in this group if they bailed on the process and didn’t finish the job (and I do not expect they will).

Lunardi may be right, but I think most of those “various Sunday scenarios” have revolved around teams playing on Sunday who were “auto bid or bust” types — like Mississippi State last season, or Georgia the year before that.  I’m less than sure the committee is going to wait until the last moment (or prepare alternative brackets) for a question of one seeding line.  Besides, should one game really be the difference between a team getting a 1 or a 2?  What about the previous 30+ games?

This reminds me that in the past, there were occasionally conference tournaments still going on when the selections were announced.  The Big West did this several times (this was back when UNLV was in the league).  It invariably led to scenarios where the committee would have either/or bracket lines where a team would be in the field, unless the Big West had a surprise champ (in other words, if  Vegas didn’t win).

This finally ended after the committee basically decided to hose any at-large hopeful out of the Big West until it quit playing its tourney so late.  I recall Long Beach State being a bubble team that found out at halftime of the conference final that it had to win, or else.

Another league that at one time played its final after the pairings was the SWAC.  Now, with the SWAC there wasn’t any at-large issues; it was just a question of what team would advance.  However, it did pose a problem for the committee when trying to seed.  These days the SWAC is an easy 16 (if not play-in game) pick, but back then it wasn’t always the case.

One year the committee puzzled just about everyone by deciding the winner of the SWAC title game would get a 13 seed.  Nobody could believe the SWAC got so high a seed, especially because no one knew yet which team would be the league representative.

As it happened, Southern won the tournament final (televised immediately after the selection show), and the lucky 4 seed it drew as an opponent was ACC tournament champ Georgia Tech.  Well, maybe not so lucky.  Ben Jobe’s Jaguars shocked Bobby Cremins’ Yellow Jackets in the first round, 93-78.

– This season, there seem to be several “as long as they don’t lose to a really bad team, they should be okay” situations.  It’s all right if Virginia Tech loses to Wake Forest in the ACC tournament, but if Miami upsets the Demon Deacons and then beats the Hokies, VT is in trouble.  Washington might get an at-large bid if it loses to Cal in the Pac-10 final, but can’t afford to lose to another school — and it also would hurt the Huskies if their semifinal opponent wasn’t Arizona State.

As mentioned earlier, Cal can’t afford to lose in the Pac-10 quarters.  Utah State needs to avoid losing until it plays Nevada in the WAC final, because Nevada is hosting the event, and a loss then would be more acceptable.  However, Utah State couldn’t afford to lose to another school in the final, because then it would be a neutral-site loss.  Also in the same position, perhaps, is UTEP, which could face host Tulsa in the C-USA semifinals.

Conversely, Mississippi needs to beat Tennessee in the SEC quarterfinals — but it does the Rebels no good at all if the Vols are upset by LSU in the first round.  If that happened, then Mississippi would have to beat LSU and (presumably) Kentucky to get the needed big-win bounce.  Mississippi State is expected to play Florida in a “play-out” game in the SEC quarters, but if Auburn upends the Gators, then Mississippi State would have to beat the Tigers and Vanderbilt (if form holds) to reach the final — and it still would not have a strong enough at-large case.

Then there is Illinois, which is a good example of a team that would probably be better off not playing a game at all.  As it is, the Illini play Wisconsin for the second time in a week in the Big 10 quarterfinals — and for Illinois, it’s probably a win-you’re-in, lose-you’re-out situation.

– Memphis is starting to show up on some bubble watches.  I’m trying to figure out how a team that has not won a game this season against a prospective tournament team (unless Oakland wins the Summit League tourney) is a viable at-large candidate.

– If the tournament would have been expanded to 96 teams for this season, we would be discussing the bubble candidacies of North Carolina, South Carolina, Arizona, and St. John’s.  There is a good chance all four would have made the field of 96.

Expansion is such a dumb idea, it’s inevitable that it will happen…

Southern Conference tourney time

Last year, I wrote about The Citadel’s abysmal record in the Southern Conference tournament.  The next few paragraphs are an updated version of that piece.  Feel free to ignore them if you have a weak stomach.  The preview for this year’s tournament (from The Citadel’s perspective) follows the history lesson.

One of the more curious things about The Citadel’s wretched 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 a dispute 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 (later a member of the SEC  – seriously!), Chattanooga, Wofford, Howard (now called Samford, of course), 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 tiny 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.

That’s great, but the conference’s own record book lists Kentucky as having won the first tournament title in 1921 (on page 113; oddly, that year is excluded from the game-by-game tournament results that begin on page 114).  Of course, the edition of the record book on the conference website is several years old and lists The Citadel as having once lost 37 straight games, which is incorrect, so take it for what you will.

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 10-56 or 10-57.  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-56 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.

By the way, you read that right.  The Citadel is 10-56 alltime in the SoCon tournament.  That’s just unbelievably bad.  It comes out to a 15% 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 latest win in conference tournament action came in 2006 against Furman.

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.

Ed Conroy is 0-3 in the SoCon tourney as head coach of The Citadel (he was also 0-4 as a player).  If The Citadel were to win its conference tournament opener against Samford, and then lose the next day to Appalachian State, Conroy’s record would improve to 1-4.  That would be the second-highest winning percentage in the tournament for a Bulldog coach since the days of Norm Sloan.

Sloan was 2-4 in the tourney; his successor, Mel Thompson, won his first tournament game as head coach.  He would never win another, finishing with a record of 1-6.  Dick Campbell was 0-4.  George Hill was 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.

(By the way, 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 0-1, College of Charleston 0-1, Georgia Southern 0-2, Western Carolina 1-1, Appalachian State 1-6, Davidson 1-8.  (The Citadel has never played Wofford or UNC-Greensboro in the tournament.)

Last season The Citadel was flying high, having won 20 games for only the second time ever, and had high hopes entering the tournament.  Those hopes came crashing down against Samford, a team The Citadel had defeated by 25 points during the regular season.  Samford’s patient, Princeton-style offense scored 76 points on only 55 possessions, as the Birmingham Bulldogs got off to a great start and never really let The Citadel into the game.  It was a very disappointing finish to an otherwise outstanding season.

This season The Citadel appeared on the verge of making a nice run into the SoCon tourney, having reeled off five straight victories, and needing just one more to clinch a winning season, both overall and in  league play.  It didn’t happen, though, as the Bulldogs lost their last three games. The loss at Furman, in particular, was very poor.  The Citadel is now 15-15 for this year’s campaign, and would have to win at least two games in the tourney to garner its first back-to-back winning campaigns since 1980.

Instead of a bye into the quarterfinals, The Citadel finds itself playing in the first round on Friday, finishing as the 4th seed in the South division.  Friday’s opponent, Samford, struggled to an 11-19 record (5-13 SoCon) and is the 5th seed from the North division.  The winner will play Appalachian State, which finished first in the North, on Saturday night.

The two teams met twice during the regular season, with The Citadel winning both games.  The first game, played in Birmingham on January 16, was the definition of slow tempo, with The Citadel’s patient motion offense (61.4 possessions per game, 8th slowest nationally) outlasting Samford’s Princeton-style attack (58.1 possessions per game, slowest in the country).

The cadets had but 51 possessions in the contest, and made just enough of them count to prevail 51-50.  Cameron Wells had 19 points, while Austin Dahn had 17 (making 4 three-pointers).  For Samford, Bryan Friday and Andy King combined for 28 points.  The Citadel’s edge on the boards (26-20) proved critical.

In the rematch in Charleston, Samford led by 10 points with less than 10 minutes to play but was unable to hold on, thanks to a fine outside shooting performance in the second half by The Citadel.  Freshman Ben Cherry had his best game of the season with 3 three-pointers, including two big shots late in the game.

Austin Dahn, who had made 4 three-pointers in the first meeting, hit four more in the second game to finish with 15 points and offset a poor shooting night for Wells (2-10 FG).  Harrison DuPont added 13 points and 7 rebounds, good enough to survive an excellent game by Samford’s Josh Davis (24 points on only 11 FG attempts).  The Citadel had 54 possessions in that game.

For The Citadel, the key to beating Samford for a third time this season is confidence. Last year in the tournament game, Samford ran out to an early lead.  I think The Citadel’s players got a little nervous, especially because trying to play from behind against a team as patient as Samford can be very frustrating (just like it can be for teams playing The Citadel).  The fact that the game was an elimination game in tournament play just exacerbated the tension.

It cannot help that The Citadel has no history of success in the SoCon tourney on which to build.  That is why I think it is important for the Bulldogs to win this game. Even if The Citadel does not go on to win the tournament (winning four games in four days is extremely unlikely), enjoying just a taste of victory in the tourney may go a long way next season, when The Citadel figures to field a squad capable of contending for the SoCon title.  This current crop of players needs to know it can win games in the tournament.

One thing working in The Citadel’s favor is that while it has lost three straight games, so has Samford.  Also, while Cameron Wells did not shoot well in the latter part of the season, he was 10-16 from the field in the season finale against Wofford.  That bodes well for the Bulldogs, which will need point production from Wells in the tournament.

The Citadel needs to start well, maintain its confidence, and not spend the whole night in “here we go again” mode.

If the Bulldogs advance, the next opponent would be Appalachian State, a team The Citadel defeated 62-58 in Boone early in the season.  Appy star Donald Sims scored 22 points, but got no help from his teammates, none of whom scored more than 7 points, while Wells had 21 and Dahn 14 for the Bulldogs.  Since then, the Mountaineers have fashioned an excellent season, and if not for the draw would be my pick to win the league tournament.

Wofford won the regular season and has the best draw, and I suppose should be the favorite, but for some reason I’m not quite convinced the Terriers have what it takes to win three straight games in three days.

It should be an interesting four days in Charlotte.  It would be nice if The Citadel added to the interest.

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