Recognition Day at The Citadel: a report from campus

This past Saturday was Recognition Day at The Citadel. What is Recognition Day? From the school’s press release:

For freshmen, known on campus as knobs, Recognition Day marks the end of the highly regimented way of life that is The Citadel’s Fourth Class System, recognized as one of the toughest college military-training systems in the country.

The day begins at sunrise and includes hours of rigorous physical training tests and drills which are overseen by the regimental staff and the Commandant of Cadets. Those activities include an obstacle course nicknamed The Gauntlet, which will be set up on Summerall Field and will get underway at 10:30 a.m. It will be followed by one of the most iconic sights in Charleston – the Recognition Day March to Marion Square. The march begins at 3 p.m. at the college’s main gate. The freshmen will proceed in formation down Moultrie St., turning right on King St. to Marion Square, which was the college’s original parade ground in the mid-1800s.

A few years ago, Recognition Day underwent what might be called a “format change”. This has led to a fair amount of discussion on various social media outlets.

Normally there wouldn’t be any particular reason for me to be on campus during Recognition Day. However, several people suggested to me that I ought to see what the “new” Recognition Day was all about.

I arrived on campus early Saturday morning, and then observed the activities that make up ‘The Gauntlet’. I didn’t watch the march to Marion Square. Instead, I went to the baseball game at Riley Park (The Citadel beat Wofford 4-3, with a fantastic game-saving catch by centerfielder Clay Martin playing a major role in the victory).

Prior to “The Gauntlet” (which began at roughly 10:30 am), the freshmen went on an early-morning PT run, then were instructed in “leadership training” classes held in various buildings. After ‘The Gauntlet’, they went on yet another run across campus, then went back to the barracks, did the traditional pushups (I don’t know the exact number; maybe 118?), and then finally heard the announcement that all graduates still remember fondly: “The fourth-class system is no longer in effect.”

I’m an old goat, so my own Recognition Day was almost three decades ago. Afterwards, I mentally compared yesteryear to this year.

  • Was my Recognition Day different from this past Saturday? Yes.
  • Was my Recognition Day tougher than this past Saturday? No.
  • Was my Recognition Day more purposeful than this past Saturday? No.
  • Was my Recognition Day better than this past Saturday? No.

My general takeaway from Saturday’s events was that, on the whole, it’s a well-conceived way to end the fourth-class system in a given year. I think some alums have misgivings based on the fact that Recognition Day now actually has more order to it, but I believe the current well-structured setup is a good thing.

Again, the “modern” Recognition Day has a sense of purpose to it that hasn’t always been the case in prior years. Perhaps some might disagree, but I don’t really buy the notion that the point of Recognition Day is for freshmen to suffer some kind of physical abuse and/or to be demeaned in some fashion. In my opinion, those types of activities are unnecessary and largely counter-productive.

I remember several things about my own Recognition Day. One distinct memory: as we were lining up for the afternoon parade that immediately preceded the final burst of lunacy, a sophomore took the butt of his rifle and smacked it against my breastplate, leaving a large concave indentation.

I suppose I was lucky that the only thing that stayed concave was the breastplate.

At any rate, it didn’t enhance my experience at The Military College of South Carolina. It didn’t teach me a lesson about leadership, or provide an opportunity for team-building, or improve my physical fitness.

There are two other aspects of the “new” Recognition Day I want to mention. One is not really that big a deal; the other strikes me as more problematic.

Recognition Day is now held in early April, instead of just before Graduation Day. I think this is probably a good idea. From an academic perspective, ending the fourth-class system before final exams isn’t a bad thing at all.

Also, I would suspect that most upperclassmen are just as ready for recognition to take place as the freshmen are. Back in the day, even the most “moto” sophomores and juniors weren’t as enthused about challenging freshmen once spring break was over. Besides, during exams the knobs were always “at ease” anyway.

However, I am still coming to grips with Recognition Day’s now public nature. When I was in school, the idea that friends and family could watch you during Recognition Day events…well, there was no such idea.

Before arriving, I was a little worried that parents would show up in full-on cheerleading mode, with accompanying signage, etc. Thankfully, I didn’t see anything like that.

In terms of the audience and its relationship to the festivities, it was a lot like a parade. My (possibly faulty) estimation was that about 1,500 people showed up to watch Recognition Day activities (with ‘The Gauntlet’ being held on Summerall Field for four of the battalions, and on WLI Field for the other).

The crowd included parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, girlfriends, a few random alums, and at least two dozen dogs. Also in attendance: AD Jim Senter and new hoops coach Duggar Baucom, watching the action together.

I believe the unrestricted access for viewing the proceedings is unfortunate. Ideally, Recognition Day would be by the corps of cadets, for the corps of cadets, and mostly include just the corps of cadets.

At times, I felt like a voyeur — and I’m a graduate who had experienced Recognition Day as a participant.

I had a great deal of sympathy for the cadets who were really struggling. Not only were they going through something very difficult, but they were doing it in front of their families, and (I think this is important) other people’s families.

As a cadet, I wouldn’t have liked that at all. As an alumnus, I don’t like it now.

There is another side to the argument, of course. After it was all over, I expressed some reservations. I mentioned that I wouldn’t have enjoyed my mother attending Recognition Day, and that I didn’t think she would have wanted to be there either.

I was respectfully but firmly challenged on that line of thinking by a mother of a current freshman. She told me she was very glad to be there, and would have been unhappy not to have the opportunity.

One thing I sometimes forget (perhaps because I don’t have children) is that when a high school senior elects to go to The Citadel, he or she isn’t alone in being affected by that decision. In a certain way, the entire family goes to The Citadel.

For some families, it has been a long first year. In that sense, Recognition Day is important for them too.

When I think about it that way, it makes me a little more understanding. I feel a little better about the situation.

I am still not a big fan of “public” Recognition Day, but I can accept it. The bottom line is that it doesn’t detract from the accomplishments of the freshmen.

Also, it’s not going to change anytime soon. You will excuse the cynic in me for noting that the gift shop sold a lot of folding chairs on Saturday.

One final observation:

I didn’t watch the freshmen march to Marion Square on Saturday, because it conflicted with the baseball game (and you know which event I was going to attend). However, the march is an inspired addition to Recognition Day. The individual who came up with that idea should take a bow.

An aspect to the march which I particularly like is that it further connects the college with the city.

Congratulations to the Class of 2018. Just remember, you have three years left, and they aren’t easy ones. That said, you’ve accomplished one major goal. Well done.

Below are some pictures, most of which (as usual) aren’t very good. For much better photos, I recommend the work of Russ Pace and company.

I threw in a few non-Recognition Day shots at the beginning; the final picture is a nod to another day of note at The Citadel.

 

Duggar Baucom is The Citadel’s new hoops coach. Is he the right choice?

Links of interest:

School release

Article on Duggar Baucom’s hiring from The Post and Courier

Video report from WCIV-TV (with additional interview of Duggar Baucom)

Video report from WCSC-TV (with additional interviews of Duggar Baucom, Jim Senter, and Quinton Marshall)

On Monday, The Citadel hired Duggar Baucom as its new head basketball coach. Baucom is 54 years old, and a bit of a late bloomer in the coaching profession.

His story has been chronicled many times. To sum it up as succinctly as possible:

Baucom was a police officer, then a state trooper. He suffered a heart attack at age 30 that caused him to change careers, eventually going back to school and graduating from UNC Charlotte. Baucom worked as an assistant basketball coach at various colleges (starting as a GA under Bob McKillop at Davidson).

He got his first college head coaching gig at D-2 Tusculum, winning 37 games in two years there and parlaying that into the VMI job. In his second year in Lexington, Baucom decided (by necessity, he would say) to operate the dramatically uptempo style that would give him national notoriety.

After a decade at VMI, he is now in Charleston, charged with improving the hardwood fortunes of another military school. Baucom is a surfer and golf aficionado who is about to enjoy life on the coast, and with a little more cash in his pocket (an increase in salary of over $40,000 per year).

More than twenty years ago, I was talking to an assistant basketball coach at The Citadel when the subject of Loyola Marymount’s 1990 hoops squad came up. That was the year the Lions advanced to the Elite Eight after the death of star player Hank Gathers, a run that included a mesmerizing 149-115 obliteration of defending national champion Michigan.

LMU was coached at the time by Paul Westhead, who employed a run-and-gun style called “The System”. The result was an incredible scoring machine of a team, one that in 1990 averaged 122.4 points per contest, still the all-time Division I record. Earlier that same season, the Lions had lost an overtime game in Baton Rouge to LSU by a final score of 148-141 (the game was tied at 134 at the end of regulation), a simply astonishing game that had to be seen to be believed.

Those were fun games to watch. I asked the coach whether or not he thought that style would become more prevalent.

“I hope it doesn’t,” he said. “I think it reduces the importance of coaching.”

Duggar Baucom, it is safe to say, has a different point of view. From an article written two years ago:

“Coaches are a lot more control freaks than they’ve ever been,” says Baucom, which is not a complaint you hear very often from a coach at a school [VMI] that claims to foster “punctuality, order, discipline, courtesy, and respect for authority.”

“I call ‘em joystick coaches,” Baucom tells me. “They try to orchestrate every movement instead of letting ‘em play. It becomes kind of like a wrestling match. There’s teams in [the Big South] that run 20 seconds of false motion to get the shot clock down, and then run a set. I watch some teams play and it looks like the kids are in jail.”

Under Baucom, VMI led the nation in scoring in six of the last nine seasons. The Keydets were the last D-1 team to average over 100 points per game over a full season, doing so during the 2006-2007 campaign.

Can he recreate that kind of offense at The Citadel? More importantly, can he consistently win at The Citadel?

The answers to those two questions, in my opinion:

1) He might be able to produce an explosive offensive team, but it depends in part on the overall point-scoring climate of D-1 hoops, something which he obviously doesn’t control. Right now, averaging over 100 points per game over the course of a season is almost impossible due to the current state of the college game.

2) Baucom can consistently win games at The Citadel, but only if his teams’ historic defensive statistics significantly improve.

My statistical look at Baucom’s career at VMI encompasses his last nine seasons with the Keydets. I chose not to include the 2005-06 campaign, his first year as head coach. That season (in which VMI went 7-20), he had not yet installed the “loot and shoot” offense (that happened the following year). Baucom also missed 12 games in 2005-06 after complications arose during an operation to replace his pacemaker.

Year W-L LG Adj. O Adj. D Poss/gm Nat’l avg
2007 10-19 5-9 110 331 90.9 66.9
2008 10-15 6-8 126 331 79.2 67.0
2009 20-8 13-5 107 280 80.9 66.5
2010 6-19 5-13 195 346 84.2 67.3
2011 14-13 10-8 50 340 75.6 66.7
2012 14-16 8-10 180 311 73.6 66.1
2013 11-17 8-8 172 331 71.1 65.9
2014 18-13 11-5 90 306 74.7 66.4
2015 9-19 7-11 295 260 77.1 64.8

The win-loss column reflects Division I games only. “LG” refers to league games, all in the Big South with the exception of the 2014-15 season, VMI’s first in its return to the SoCon.

The “Adj. O” and “Adj. D” columns represent VMI’s national rank in adjusted offense and adjusted defense, per kenpom.com. “Poss/gm” refers to possessions per game, with “Nat’l avg” the national average in possessions per game for that particular season.

One of the things that interested me when I reviewed these numbers was that the “frenzied style” used by VMI wasn’t really quite as frenzied as advertised, at least when compared to years past. It is an indictment of the way the game is played today that 77.1 possessions per game would be enough to lead the nation in that category, but that’s exactly what the Keydets did last season.

In 1989-1990, 16% of the teams ranked in the final AP poll averaged more than 80 possessions per contest. That’s just the ranked teams, mind you — there were many other squads playing at that pace (though none matched Loyola Marymount’s 103 possessions per game, then and now a staggering total).

These numbers don’t include non-D1 games, a non-conference scheduling staple of Baucom’s tenure at VMI (as they are for many other low-major programs, of course). VMI regularly played three or four NAIA/D2 schools each season.

Looking at the results of those matchups, I wondered if Baucom scheduled some of the teams in part because they were willing to run up and down the court with the Keydets. There weren’t any Wimp Sanderson types opposing VMI in these games, that’s for sure.

VMI had a 116-possession game during the 2007-2008 season against Southern Virginia, a 144-127 Keydet victory that must have been fascinating to watch, if only from an academic perspective. Incidentally, that’s the same number of possessions (in regulation) that occurred during the famed LMU-LSU game in 1990 I referenced above.

Starting in the 2006-2007 season, here are the points scored by VMI against non-D1 foes: 156, 144, 135, 125, 135, 156, 112, 123, 118, 133, 113, 113, 111, 108, 99, 99, 106, 120, 94, 151, 101, 109, 122, 116, 102, 110, 121, 112, 110, 128, 124, and 133.

That is one reason why I didn’t concentrate on yearly scoring averages when reviewing the overall statistical record.

The 2006-2007 season may have been Baucom’s Platonic ideal in terms of pace of play. VMI averaged over 90 possessions per game (the only D-1 team to do that over the course of an entire season since at least 2002). Beginning on January 10, 2007, VMI embarked on a 13-game stretch against Division I competition in which its point totals were as follows: 104, 116, 97, 102, 103, 117, 96, 99, 105, 102, 107, 108, and 92.

Alas, the Keydets only won five of those thirteen games.

That last loss, 109-92 to High Point, was the final game of the regular season. Then a funny thing happened. VMI dialed down its pace of play to more “normal” levels, started playing a sagging zone defense, and promptly won consecutive games in the Big South tournament, beating two teams (Liberty and High Point) that had swept the Keydets during the regular season.

In the conference title game, VMI continued to slow things down, and wound up narrowly losing to Winthrop (84-81).

Maybe that led to a slight adjustment by Baucom in the years to follow. I don’t know.

It’s possible, though, that he infused his philosophical approach to hoops with a dose of practicality. VMI didn’t approach the 90-possession plateau after that season, with its highest per-game rate since then being 84.2 in 2009-2010, a year in which the Keydets only won six D-1 contests.

The success in that 2007 Big South tournament was not a fluke. While VMI never won the tourney under Baucom, the Keydets generally fared well in the event during his time in Lexington (making the final three times), a marked contrast to The Citadel’s continued struggles in the SoCon tournament.

With a little luck, Baucom may well have led VMI to the tourney title at least once. He had a very good record in tournament play when the Keydets hosted a game or were playing at a neutral site. Most of the time, VMI only lost in the Big South tournament when it had to play on an opponent’s home floor.

VMI’s record in the Big South tournament, 2007-2014

  • Home (3-0)
  • Neutral (6-1)
  • Road (1-7)

The Keydets lost the aforementioned 2007 Big South final to Winthrop in Rock Hill; lost the following year to Liberty in Lynchburg; lost at Radford in the 2009 Big South title game; lost games in Conway to Coastal Carolina in 2010, 2011, and 2014; and lost the 2012 final to UNC-Asheville at Kimmel Arena in Asheville.

Since it appears the Southern Conference tournament is going to remain in Asheville for the next few years, The Citadel needs to make sure UNC-Asheville is not allowed to join the league.

In 2007, VMI finished 331st nationally in adjusted defense. Only six teams in all of D-1 were worse on defense (in terms of points per possession, and further adjusted for schedule) than the Keydets.

That began a pattern under Baucom. He produced high-scoring teams generally better-than-average in terms of offensive efficiency, but saddled with defenses that were not very good, even taking into account pace of play.

Two years later, the Keydets won 20 D-1 games, including a memorable 111-103 victory over Kentucky at Rupp Arena. Surprisingly, VMI’s successful campaign occurred despite having a below-average defense (280th out of 344 D-1 squads).

The win over Kentucky (which came in the season opener) was a 93-possession game, the most possessions in any of VMI’s games that season against D-1 opponents. The Wildcats decided they could run with the Keydets. That was a mistake.

The following season, VMI was the second-worst defensive outfit in the country, and the record reflected it. The Keydets would continue to be a bottom-50 team in adjusted defense every year until last season, when the team finished a slightly more respectable 260th (out of 351 D-1 teams).

In case you were wondering, The Citadel’s defensive efficiency was better than VMI’s in five of those nine seasons. This past season, of course, the Bulldogs were the worst defensive squad in the country.

While the Keydets were never a good defensive rebounding team under Baucom, they also struggled for several years on the offensive glass. However, in the last three seasons, there was a distinct improvement in offensive rebounding percentage.

  • VMI’s national rank in offensive rebounding percentage by year, 2007-2012: 232, 254, 320, 326, 264, 303
  • VMI’s national rank in offensive rebounding percentage by year, 2013-2015: 150, 136, 131

I don’t know if there was a concerted effort to get better in that area, or if the increased offensive rebounding totals are simply a product of changing personnel.

I tend to agree with those who believe that for The Citadel to be successful in hoops, it needs to be different. The Bulldogs either need to use a patterned, deliberate style (such as the “Princeton offense”), or do the exact opposite and run-and-gun for forty minutes. Pick an extreme, and gravitate to it.

While I’ve been critical of the current state of college hoops, with its clutching and grabbing and incessant timeouts, that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a slower-paced game, especially when it is of high quality. I was a big fan of Ed Conroy’s teams. This past season, I enjoyed watching Tony Bennett’s Virginia squad, which played a muscular-but-skillful brand of basketball.

If anything, I thought The Citadel would be best served “going slow”. Clearly, Jim Senter had other ideas.

Part of his reasoning, I’m sure, is about the box office. He wants more people in the seats, and probably figures that a perpetual scoreboard explosion is a good way to attract curious onlookers to McAlister Field House.

With that in mind, Baucom will have more on his plate than just coaching the team. He has to sell his program to the local community, and to the corps of cadets as well.

As far as the local scene is concerned, this may not be a bad time to make a renewed effort to attract fans, with College of Charleston scuffling a bit, still trying to find its way with a relatively new coach and league. There is plenty of room for both of the college basketball teams in the city, but becoming the lead hoops story in town wouldn’t hurt any.

Regarding the corps, I was encouraged by this season’s cadet presence. It can still get better, and I think it will. There is momentum on that front.

Baucom might also consider reaching out to some of the more recent graduates from the basketball program. Several of them were hoping that former assistant coach Doug Novak would get the job, and were understandably disappointed when that didn’t happen.

I’ve seen a couple of criticisms of Baucom’s preferred style of play that I wanted to quickly discuss, mainly because I think both are misguided.

1) This style of basketball is just a “roll the balls out” type of coaching, or non-coaching

I think an actual “roll the balls out” coach would be a very static, middle-of-the-road operator. He certainly wouldn’t be interested in pressing, trapping defense, or approaching the game from a mathematical point of view:

“Its basketball inflation,” Baucom said. “The more possessions we can create the less value they have. We’re trying to get more shots than the other team, force more turnovers, get offensive boards. The key is passing and catching and spacing.”

2) This style of basketball is at odds with The Citadel’s institutional history

Honestly, I don’t get this at all. I guess the argument is that it is undisciplined basketball, but I don’t think that’s true. At its very core, it seems to me that it requires a great deal of discipline. To be conditioned well enough to play this way takes discipline. To never take a play off while on the court takes discipline. To get in the proper defensive position while pressing takes discipline.

The best argument against Baucom’s style of play, in my opinion, is that it may be difficult to recruit players who can flourish in his system.

I think it’s possible that one reason Baucom’s teams never approached the 90-possession days of 2006-2007 in subsequent seasons was that the coach realized he didn’t “have the horses” to run quite that fast and still win games. If so, I believe that presents a potential issue.

That’s because I believe the best chance for this system to work at The Citadel is if it is stretched to its natural limit. In other words, if the team is going to play this way, it needs to strive for 90+ possessions per game on a regular basis.

Instead of having a possession differential when compared to the rest of the country of between six and twelve possessions per game (as was the case for VMI over the last five seasons), The Citadel should have a possession differential of between fifteen and twenty possessions per game. That’s the best way, employing this system, for the program to become an upper-echelon Southern Conference outfit. It’s the best way, employing this system, for the Bulldogs to win the league.

To do that, though, The Citadel has to bring in players capable of handling that pace and doing the things that have to be done to win games. Rebounding, three-point shooting, superior point guard play, the ability to defend — those elements are requirements if the team is going to be successful.

Of course, that’s true regardless of how fast or slow a team plays. It seems to me, though, that a higher level of athleticism is needed to play at a supercharged pace.

I think back to that 1989-1990 Loyola Marymount squad. LMU wasn’t exactly the “little engine that could”. It may have been an upstart program from the West Coast Conference, but the Lions had two NBA-caliber players, Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble. Both were transfers, having been originally recruited to play for Southern Cal by George Raveling, one of the great basketball talent evaluators of his era.

Also on that LMU team: an elite college jump shooter (Jeff Fryer) and a better-than-you-realized rebounder/post defender (Per Stumer, who played professionally in Europe for over a decade). Backup point guard Terrell Lowery later played major league baseball. Yes, that team had some great athletes.

Can the Bulldogs’ new coach bring in the talent necessary to win this way? That’s the big question. One thing is for certain, he’s not wasting any time. On the day Baucom was introduced at The Citadel, he got a commitment from a 6’7″ sharpshooter from Virginia.

I don’t know if The Citadel can win playing racehorse basketball, but we’re about to find out.

I’ll be watching with interest when next season rolls around. We all will…

Riley Report: The Citadel begins SoCon play

Previously: Previewing The Citadel’s 2015 baseball season

The Citadel begins league play in the Southern Conference after a fairly lengthy pre-conference schedule (23 games). The Bulldogs are 14-9 as they enter their first SoCon weekend series, travelling to Cullowhee to take on Western Carolina.

The rest of the league opened conference action last weekend. Western Carolina, the preseason favorite to win the SoCon, got off to a stuttering start, splitting a pair of blowouts with UNC-Greensboro before losing the rubber game of the series in Greensboro to fall to 1-2 in the league.

I think it would be fair to describe the Bulldogs’ campaign to date as encouraging. A lot of young players have played significant roles for The Citadel, and on the whole they have acquitted themselves quite well.

I decided to compare this year’s start to last season’s pre-league slate. It’s an inexact comparison for several reasons, including the number of games (last year the Bulldogs played 17 games before beginning SoCon play) and different opponents (this year’s schedule was, by design, a little less challenging).

Weather is also a factor. For example, The Citadel’s February 28 game versus Alabama State was played in conditions that were not really conducive to quality baseball.

That said, I thought it would be interesting to see where things stood as of today versus the way things were in 2014 (when the Bulldogs were 8-9 prior to beginning conference action).

Batting

Considering the returning Bulldogs combined for only 282 at bats in SoCon play last season, The Citadel’s offense was the biggest unknown entering 2015. So far, so good.

Through 23 games this season, The Citadel has a team OBP of .381 and is slugging .394, which results in an OPS of .775. Those numbers after 17 games in 2014 were .365 (OBP), .348 (SLG), and .713 (OPS).

The team batting average is up slightly (.277 versus .275), but the Bulldogs are walking at a higher rate. Through 23 games this season, The Citadel is averaging 4.7 free passes per game, solidly above 2014’s pre-SoCon rate of 3.9 walks per contest. That doesn’t count the “bruise factor”, either — Bulldog players have been hit by pitches 27 times, more than one per game.

As far as slugging is concerned, the Bulldogs averaged 1.65 extra-base hits per game in last season’s first 17 games. In 23 contests in 2015, The Citadel is averaging 2.83 extra-base hits per game.

The top 5 Bulldogs in terms of OPS, minimum 20 at bats: Connor Walsh (.983), Stephen Windham (.982), Johnathan Stokes (.872), Jason Smith (.777), and Drew Ellis (.771).

Stokes is a veteran with a lot of experience, but the other four players had a combined 65 at bats (30 in SoCon play) last season. Ellis is one of several freshmen who have been solid contributors thus far.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the young season is the play of Windham, who had a career batting average of .179 (5 for 28, no extra-base hits) entering 2015. Windham is slugging .508 through 23 games this year.

One thing the Bulldogs could do a better job of going forward is making consistent contact at the plate, as the team is averaging almost nine strikeouts per contest. Given that the squad is not really made up of big boppers, that needs to be a priority (though it should be noted that eight different cadets have homered so far this year).

Pitching

There were plenty of 2015 returnees on the pitching staff with experience. However, not all of that experience had produced good results.

Early on, it appears the pitching has improved. The team ERA is 4.39, which is a much better performance than that from last season’s pre-conference slate (5.23).

Potentially, the news could be even better. The staff has walked fewer batters (BB/9 of 3.03) this year than it did in the first 17 games of last season (3.93) and has dramatically increased its strikeout rate (K/9 of 9.44 this year; K/9 of 6.19 in early 2014).

The jump in opponent whiffs is important, particularly given the Bulldogs’ fielding issues (more on that subject below). Last year, The Citadel had a K/9 rate in SoCon action of 6.50. The Bulldogs need to continue picking up those strikeouts as they enter league play while not issuing too many walks.

The Citadel has allowed ten home runs in 23 games, which isn’t great, but isn’t terrible either. It’s a slightly higher rate (0.43 per game) than what was given up in last year’s pre-conference schedule (0.35).

James Reeves has been a dependable anchor in the weekend rotation, with a 2.81 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 32 innings (and only four walks). If Reeves stays healthy, he should continue to be a very effective pitcher for The Citadel. Another left-handed starter who has impressed is freshman J.P. Sears. The native of Sumter has looked very good in almost every one of his appearances.

The bullpen has held things together for the most part, with occasional hiccups (which have usually featured too many bases on balls). Skylar Hunter already has nine saves; with his next save, he will set the all-time career saves record in the Southern Conference.

Fielding

This is an area of concern. The raw numbers are, well, raw.

The Citadel has allowed 39 unearned runs in 23 games; that’s a not-so-hot 1.7 unearned runs per contest. The Bulldogs are averaging over two errors per game.

The problems on defense also show up in categories other than errors committed. For instance, The Citadel has given up 55 non-homer extra-base hits in 23 games this season. Last year, the Bulldogs allowed 26 non-homer extra-base hits in the first 17 games.

A lot of the doubles and triples are on the pitching staff, of course. Anyone who has watched The Citadel play this season, however, is well aware that defense has affected those statistics as well, and not in a positive manner.

If The Citadel hopes to be a contender in the Southern Conference this season, the Bulldogs need to at least maintain their batting and pitching rate statistics while substantially improving on defense. It is hard to imagine the squad making a move to the top of the standings with subpar defensive play.

It has been a promising start to the season for The Citadel. With the calendar turning to April, fans should come out in force to Riley Park and cheer on a hard-working, entertaining bunch of Bulldogs.

At the very least, portable space heaters won’t be needed any more…

The Citadel begins its search for a new basketball coach

After five seasons, Chuck Driesell will no longer be the head coach of The Citadel. In his statement announcing the decision, director of athletics Jim Senter said:

We are most appreciative of the hard work and tireless effort that Chuck and his staff have put into Bulldog basketball over the past five years. His impact on the young men he recruited and coached is admirable, and their efforts represent our core values of Honor, Duty and Respect.

This was a difficult decision, but in the end our won-loss record was not where we believed it should be. We will begin our search immediately to find a coach who is the right fit and will support our mission of educating and developing principled leaders while directing The Citadel basketball program to a more competitive level.

Well, that’s honest. Simply put, Driesell didn’t win enough games.

Senter’s decision may have been difficult on a personal level, but as a practical matter it should have been easy. If he had kept a coach who in five years had only won 27% of his games (25% in SoCon play), in effect Senter would be telling the world (and the fan base) that basketball at The Citadel was of no consequence whatsoever.

Historically, The Citadel has struggled on the hardwood. Everyone knows this. That doesn’t mean the school shouldn’t try.

Senter did not meet with the media on Monday, instead choosing to stand behind a written statement. That drew some criticism from a few members of the fourth estate.

I can understand their frustration. After all, TV guys need their visuals; a press release doesn’t do a lot for them in that respect.

I do wonder, though, if Senter simply elected to give Chuck Driesell a final day in the sun. If Senter had spoken publicly at the same time as Driesell (or shortly thereafter), then the coach wouldn’t have received nearly as much “face time“.

Monday was about Chuck Driesell. Going forward, it will be about finding a new coach.

Speculation about the identity of that new coach began approximately 0.3 seconds after the news broke that Driesell wouldn’t be back at The Citadel. Jeff Hartsell gave a quick rundown, but also noted one difficulty when it comes to divining who the legitimate candidates might be:

…it’s difficult to tell from where The Citadel’s next coach may come. [Jim] Senter’s experience includes nine years at Colorado, two years as AD at Idaho State and a stint at San Diego State, so he has many connections out West. But his first coaching hire at The Citadel was in volleyball, and he stayed in-state to choose Craig Mosqueda from Division II Anderson University.

Senter could hire someone familiar with the local scene, or someone who now resides in Coeur d’Alene, or someone from somewhere in between.

Hartsell mentioned most of the names thrown around on Monday. They include:

– Pat Beilein, mentioned by ESPN college basketball writer Jeff Goodman. Beilein was formerly the head coach of West Virginia Wesleyan, a Division II school. He won 20 games in his final campaign there.

On the one hand, Pat Beilein is the son of Michigan head coach John Beilein, and if he’s half the coach John Beilein is, he would be a great choice. The elder Beilein is one of the nation’s outstanding coaches.

On the other hand, Pat Beilein isn’t a college head coach right now. He was a video coordinator with the Utah Jazz, a job he took after his second year at West Virginia Wesleyan, but he doesn’t seem to have that job anymore either.

I’m not sure what the younger Beilein is doing right now, to be honest. He was recently seen with his father, watching a recruit.

My guess is that Goodman tossed Pat Beilein’s name out into the media ecosystem as a favor.

– Duggar Baucom, the head coach of VMI. Baucom has a respectable record of 151-159 in Lexington, and that includes a win in the *other* Lexington — a 2008 victory over Kentucky at Rupp Arena. Even if Billy Gillispie was the Wildcats’ head coach at the time, that’s still a victory to put on the mantel.

Baucom employs a run-and-gun style at VMI. He is reportedly underpaid. However, would Baucom really want to leave VMI to rebuild a program at another military college? He might be more interested in another kind of challenge.

Also, VMI and The Citadel are not the same. Each school has certain specific advantages and disadvantages when it comes to general operations and recruiting. What has worked for Baucom at VMI may not necessarily work at The Citadel.

Baucom was interested in the job in 2010, when it last opened. Another coach who had interest was…

– Doug Novak, who was Ed Conroy’s right-hand man at The Citadel. More than a few people were disappointed that Novak wasn’t more seriously considered for the job; he got a lot of credit for the team’s success in Conroy’s last two seasons.

Novak has something else in common with Baucom, as neither man played college basketball. Novak was a tennis player at Tennessee before transitioning to basketball during a couple of junior college stops.

Currently, Novak is the head coach at Division III Bethel College (MN). Bethel was 19-9 this past season.

Incidentally, Jim Senter’s first coaching hire at The Citadel was volleyball coach Craig Mosqueda, who was previously the head volleyball coach for six seasons at Anderson. Before Novak became an assistant coach at The Citadel under Ed Conroy, he had been the head basketball coach for six seasons at…Anderson.

Other names bandied about in various places:

– A pair of former South Carolina players (B.J. McKie and Michael Boynton)

– Two more ex-Bulldog assistant coaches (Ken Potosnak and Marty McGillan)

– Newberry’s Dave Davis, a longtime D-2 and NAIA head coach

– Luke Murray, a Rhode Island assistant who is the son of part-time Charleston resident Bill Murray; presumably, he would be Gene Sapakoff’s choice, which would understandably hurt his candidacy

– Duffy Conroy, a longtime assistant at UW-Milwaukee, and the brother of Ed Conroy

It’s disappointing that the “coach killer” phrase has been thrown around with regards to this job. Among those who apparently feel that way is former Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg, who tweeted (regarding The Citadel, Army, William & Mary, St. Francis-NY, and Northwestern) that “a good assistants job that you are getting paid is better than a bad head coaching job that you will fired from in 4 years”.

Of course, The Citadel has never fired a coach after four years. In fact, from 1973 to 2006, The Citadel only had three head coaches.

Four of the eight coaches preceding Chuck Driesell actually left to coach other Division I schools. One of them, Norm Sloan, later won the national title. Driesell’s immediate predecessor, Ed Conroy, is enjoying life in New Orleans as the head coach at Tulane.

Indeed, all five schools in question have shown some patience with coaches. William & Mary head coach Tony Shaver has been at that school for eleven seasons; Northwestern employed Bill Carmody for thirteen years; St. Francis-NY has had three coaches since 1991. As for Army, it does not appear that the careers of Bob Knight or Mike Krzyzewski suffered from their respective stints at West Point.

Meanwhile, after an eight-year run that included an NCAA bid and five NIT appearances, Greenberg was fired by Virginia Tech. He will not be a candidate at The Citadel.

Jim Senter has probably known for a while that he was going to be bringing in a new basketball coach. That doesn’t mean the hire will happen right away. I wouldn’t be surprised if the wait lasted until around the time of the Final Four.

We’ll be waiting…

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

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

All records are through March 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rest of the rundown:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe both.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck, dreamers.

Riley Report: Previewing the 2015 baseball season for The Citadel

BASEBALL BASEBALL BASEBALL BASEBALL BASEBALL BASEBALL

Links of interest:

Schedule and Roster

Season tickets are on sale now

“Quick facts” from the school website

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

Preview article in The Post and Courier

Preview article from 843Sports.com

College Baseball Today‘s national rundown (The Citadel is picked to finish 5th in the league, and is ranked 193rd out of 301 D-1 teams)

SoCon preview, Baseball America (Drew Ellis is BA‘s preseason Freshman of the Year)

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

SoCon preview, D1Baseball.com (The Citadel is picked to finish 8th in the league)

SoCon preview, Perfect Game (The Citadel is picked to finish 6th in the league)

SoCon preseason polls (The Citadel is tied for 7th in the coaches’ poll, and is 6th in the media poll)

SoCon preseason all-conference teams (Skylar Hunter and Johnathan Stokes made the second team)

Skylar Hunter named to the preseason NCBWA All-America third team

Two quick comments before getting started:

1) Unless I state otherwise, all statistics that follow are for Southern Conference games only. That’s because A) it is easier and generally fairer to compare teams within a specific subset, and B) ultimately, conference play is what most of the season is all about. I do recognize the limitations of the sample size when making comparisons or analyzing trends (The Citadel played 26 league contests in 2014).

2) This year’s preview includes the return of SS+ and SS-, the most meaningless SoCon baseball stats ever created by yours truly. They are also the only SoCon baseball stats created by yours truly. As a bonus, the SS numbers are based on another statistic that is currently out of date!

I’ll explain in detail later in the post.

The last five seasons for The Citadel’s baseball program have gone like this:

– 2010: League champions in the regular season; won the conference tournament
– 2011: Last place
– 2012: Transition season
– 2013: Good year; just missed winning the SoCon tourney
– 2014: Last place

Last year wasn’t a lot of fun for the Diamond Dogs. Expectations were fairly high, but actual results were rather low.

It isn’t like the league got a lot better last year, either. Here are the conference RPI rankings for that same five-year period:

– 2010: 10th
– 2011: 14th
– 2012: 7th
– 2013: 12th
– 2014: 13th

(Note: the numbers in this section are for all games.)

What must The Citadel do to improve in league play? Well, before answering that question, it might be instructive to see just what kind of league the SoCon was in 2014. I’m not talking about power ratings; no, I’m talking about…power.

I’ll put it like this: in 2014, the SoCon was college baseball’s version of a slow-pitch softball league.

The conference led all of D-1 in runs scored per game. SoCon teams averaged 6.05 runs per contest, the only league to break the six-run barrier (the national average was almost a full run less, at 5.08 runs per game).

How did league teams score those runs? By swinging from the heels. SoCon squads averaged 0.73 home runs per contest, again leading the nation.

They also struck out 7.06 times per game, most in D-1 (okay, maybe that wasn’t quite like slow-pitch softball). There were plenty of pitches thrown when SoCon teams were playing, as when not striking out or hitting homers batters were willing to take a walk. The league was fifth (out of 31 conferences) in walks per game.

Oh, and forget about bunting: no conference averaged fewer sacrifice hits.

Four SoCon teams finished in the top 10 nationally in home runs per game: Davidson (3rd), Georgia Southern (6th), Samford (8th), and Western Carolina (10th). Appalachian State and Wofford finished in the top 25 in that category as well.

Meanwhile, The Citadel was last in the league in home runs per game. Obviously, a good part of that is a function of park effects. Not all of it, though.

Given the style of offense employed by most of the league’s teams, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that SoCon pitchers piled up lots of strikeouts, with a K/9 that ranked third nationally (and that almost one-third of those strikeouts came on called third strikes, the fifth-highest percentage among conferences).

Okay, now for some SoCon-only statistics (with innings pitched totals, “0.7” equates to two-thirds of an inning; “0.3” equals one-third of an inning).

Here are batting totals for the league teams in 2014 in conference action:

TEAM AVG AB R HR SLG BB HBP SO OBP OPS
UNCG 0.322 867 163 19 0.461 85 11 141 0.384 0.845
Davidson 0.308 906 182 29 0.472 96 24 218 0.384 0.856
Furman 0.305 920 169 17 0.435 123 20 173 0.391 0.826
App St 0.294 934 176 26 0.454 100 17 165 0.369 0.823
Samford 0.279 941 193 29 0.446 98 28 205 0.361 0.807
W. Carolina 0.279 870 177 28 0.441 108 30 195 0.372 0.813
Elon 0.278 927 151 21 0.412 105 14 205 0.357 0.769
The Citadel 0.277 881 131 17 0.381 95 30 167 0.361 0.742
Wofford 0.251 844 136 22 0.374 89 38 167 0.344 0.718
Ga Southern 0.248 899 135 18 0.364 110 26 215 0.344 0.708
TOTALS 0.284 8989 1613 226 0.425 1009 238 1851 0.367 0.792

 

Pitching totals, 2014 league games only:

TEAM ERA IP R ER BAA WP HBP BB/9 K/9 HR/9 BABIP
Ga Southern 2.82 239 107 75 0.248 11 22 3.01 7.53 0.64 0.299
W. Carolina 4.32 231 128 111 0.265 32 23 3.90 8.38 0.86 0.323
Samford 4.81 236 157 126 0.273 22 31 4.27 7.25 0.84 0.318
Davidson 4.82 222 147 119 0.268 22 19 3.53 7.30 1.01 0.304
Wofford 5.59 227 168 141 0.294 26 20 4.28 8.13 1.15 0.348
Elon 5.75 234.7 180 150 0.288 24 29 3.95 5.91 0.92 0.313
UNCG 6.13 211.3 188 144 0.310 26 40 4.73 7.20 0.51 0.367
Furman 6.15 228.3 173 156 0.288 35 17 4.26 8.12 0.91 0.346
App State 6.27 224 186 156 0.306 28 20 3.17 6.79 1.13 0.346
The Citadel 6.51 225.7 179 163 0.304 26 17 4.83 6.50 0.96 0.343
TOTALS 5.30 2279 1613 1341 0.284 252 238 3.98 7.31 0.89 0.331

 

Fielding totals, 2014 SoCon games:

Team Chances PO A E FLD% DP SBA CSB SBA% PB DER
W. Carolina 984 693 265 26 0.974 18 15 13 0.536 4 0.6824
Furman 993 685 281 27 0.973 18 28 10 0.737 3 0.6614
Wofford 942 681 235 26 0.972 17 25 11 0.694 1 0.6604
G Southern 1046 717 295 34 0.967 19 34 17 0.667 6 0.7078
The Citadel 964 677 255 32 0.967 22 29 8 0.784 2 0.6605
Elon 1005 704 264 37 0.963 17 19 5 0.792 19 0.6939
Samford 1046 708 297 41 0.961 28 19 10 0.655 4 0.6897
UNCG 897 634 227 36 0.960 25 22 12 0.647 7 0.6385
Davidson 920 666 216 38 0.959 16 22 8 0.733 3 0.6994
App State 1009 672 293 44 0.956 28 37 6 0.860 1 0.6573
TOTALS 9806 6837 2628 341 0.965 208 250 100 0.714 50 0.6752

 

I thought it was interesting that the defensive efficiency rating in conference play (.675) was lower than when all games played by league teams were taken into consideration (.688). Of course, park effects would be one potential reason for the discrepancy.

Speaking of park effects, that brings me to my fabled statistical concoctions, SS+ and SS-, and an explanation.

It’s obvious that statistics can be skewed by park effects. The Citadel plays in a “pitcher’s park”. Western Carolina quite clearly does not. I try to account for this.

First, I use the Park Factors calculated by college baseball statistics guru Boyd Nation. His numbers are based on all games played at a school’s home park over the four seasons from 2010-2013. That gives us a chance to make a valid comparison, based on the “building blocks” of the game — runs. Teams want to score runs, and teams want to prevent them. How they do so doesn’t really matter in the long run.

There are a couple of caveats. One is relatively minor, while the other may or may not be.

The four-year period in question includes one year in the pre-BBCOR era, and three years after the new bat standards went into effect. That could have a marginal impact on the ratings, though to be honest I don’t think it’s that big a deal.

However, a slightly larger problem is that these aren’t the updated park factors. Ideally, I would base 2014’s numbers on park factors from 2011-2014, but Nation hasn’t released the data from last year yet (and probably won’t for another month or two). Despite that, I forged ahead.

Riley Park has a Park Factor (PF) of 83, by far the lowest in the league. Childress Field at Hennon Stadium, home of Western Carolina, has a PF of 123, which is the highest in the SoCon for the 2010-13 period.

I took the PF for every team’s home park, came up with a “road park factor” based on the different road stadia each team played in during the 2014 season, and combined them. Each school thus has a total park factor that is based on where it actually played all of its conference games.

Keep in mind that teams played an odd number of home/road games (and some games were rained out, so not every team played the full allotment of 27 league contests). In my formula, I do account for the different number of home/road matchups.

Okay, here we go:

TEAM Home PF Road PF Combined PF Runs SS+
Samford 102.00 94.20 97.66666667 193 1.976109215
Davidson 92.00 111.25 101.24000000 182 1.797708416
App State 115.00 102.80 107.96153850 176 1.630210189
UNCG 106.00 99.25 102.62500000 163 1.588306943
Furman 108.00 105.80 106.73076920 169 1.583423423
W. Carolina 123.00 102.25 113.42307690 177 1.560528993
Elon 99.00 101.00 99.88888889 151 1.511679644
Wofford 88.00 100.91 93.46153846 136 1.455144033
The Citadel 83.00 105.82 92.65384615 131 1.413864674
Ga Southern 102.00 94.00 97.55555556 135 1.383826879
TOTALS 101.08 101.47 101.27692310 1613 1.59266292

Samford, which scored more runs than any team in the league, did indeed have the best offense, even taking park factors into account. This table also suggests that despite finishing third in the league in runs scored, Western Carolina’s offense was actually slightly below league average.

To have had an offense that would essentially match Samford’s production, The Citadel would have had to score 183 runs in conference play last season (7.03 runs/game). The Bulldogs actually scored 131 (5.04 runs/game).

To be a league-average offense, The Citadel needed to score 148 runs (5.69 runs/game).

Now for the pitching/defense:

TEAM Home PF Road PF Combined PF RA SS-
Ga Southern 102.00 94.00 97.55555556 107 1.096810934
W. Carolina 123.00 102.25 113.42307690 128 1.128518142
Davidson 92.00 111.25 101.24000000 147 1.451995259
Samford 102.00 94.20 97.66666667 157 1.607508532
Furman 108.00 105.80 106.73076920 173 1.620900901
App State 115.00 102.80 107.96153850 186 1.722835768
Wofford 88.00 100.91 93.46153846 168 1.797530864
Elon 99.00 101.00 99.88888889 180 1.802002225
UNCG 106.00 99.25 102.62500000 188 1.831912302
The Citadel 83.00 105.82 92.65384615 179 1.931921959
TOTALS 101.08 101.47 101.27692310 1613 1.59266292

Ugh. Not a good look for The Citadel, which allowed the seventh-most runs in SoCon play, but was in reality the worst team in the league at preventing them. Wofford also fares a bit worse when using this metric.

To match the pitching/defense of Georgia Southern, The Citadel would have had to allow only 102 runs in league action (3.92 runs allowed/game). The actual total: 179 (6.88 runs allowed/game).

For league-average pitching/defense, The Citadel’s number was obviously the same as the offensive break-even point, 148 runs (5.69 runs allowed/game).

Now it’s time to take a look at The Citadel’s prospects for 2015. The difference in experience between the position players and pitchers is noticeable.

SoCon-only batting statistics (from 2014) for returning Bulldogs. It’s not a long table:

Player AB R HR BB K AVG OBP SLG% OPS
J. Stokes 97 13 2 11 15 0.289 0.351 0.412 0.763
Bret Hines 57 7 0 2 3 0.281 0.290 0.333 0.623
R. Kilgallen 63 10 1 9 16 0.254 0.365 0.333 0.698
Austin Mapes 14 2 0 2 2 0.286 0.375 0.286 0.661
C. Walsh 20 1 0 1 4 0.200 0.227 0.300 0.527
S. Windham 10 1 0 4 5 0.200 0.400 0.200 0.600
Bailey Rush 18 1 0 1 6 0.167 0.211 0.167 0.378
B. Charpia 3 0 0 0 3 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000
S. Hansen 0 2 0 1 0 0.000 1.000 0.000 1.000
Totals 282 37 3 31 54 0.259 0.328 0.337 0.665

– Total SoCon at bats in 2012 for 2013 returnees: 705
– Total SoCon at bats in 2013 for 2014 returnees: 900
– Total SoCon at bats in 2014 for 2015 returnees: 282

Now that’s a dropoff. There are opportunities galore for position players in 2015. Basically, the Bulldogs appear set at shortstop (with Johnathan Stokes), catcher (Ryan Kilgallen) and maybe third base (potentially a platoon situation). That’s about it.

In 2014, Bulldog returnees had hit 30 home runs in SoCon play during the previous season. This year, that number is three.

From the school’s preview:

The offense will rely on the tradition hallmark of Citadel baseball – doing the little things which produce runs in a variety of ways but does not rely on the long ball – as the departed players accounted for 75 percent of the team’s extra base hits and nearly 70 percent of the RBIs.

Not relying on the long ball definitely goes against the grain when it comes to playing in the Southern Conference. While most of their league opponents will zig, the Bulldogs plan to zag.

Last season, The Citadel had an OBP of .361 in conference play, 7th-best in the league. If the Bulldogs are going to succeed at “small ball” in 2015, they will need to get on base at a better clip, something closer to the team’s OBP in 2013 SoCon action (.404).

Johnathan Stokes had one stolen base in 2014 SoCon play, the only steal in a conference game among Bulldog returnees. Overall, The Citadel was 12 for 20 in stolen base attempts in SoCon action last year, after going 33 for 48 in league games in 2013. It’s hard to swipe a bag when you don’t get on base.

A couple of names to watch who aren’t listed in the above table:

– Drew Ellis was named the preseason SoCon freshman of the year by D1Baseball.com. Ellis (6’4″, 225 lbs.) is a native of Columbia who swings the bat from the left side (but throws from the right). He’ll be competing for a spot at first base.

Shy Phillips played this fall on the football team, of course, but the freshman is also a talented baseball prospect who committed to The Citadel in that sport before his senior season on the gridiron (where the Hartsville resident promptly played well enough to make the Shrine Bowl). Phillips (6’0″, 165 lbs.) will be in the mix for a place in the outfield.

SoCon-only pitching statistics (from 2014) for returning Bulldogs:

Pitcher ERA IP R ER HR BAA K/9 BB/9 BABIP
Austin Mason 5.20 36.3 23 21 3 0.271 6.19 4.46 0.313
L. Meachem 1.69 5.3 1 1 0 0.200 8.44 3.38 0.267
Zach McKay 1.93 9.3 5 2 0 0.222 6.75 4.82 0.267
Skylar Hunter 2.65 17.0 5 5 1 0.155 7.41 6.88 0.186
P.J. Krouse 3.18 5.7 2 2 0 0.333 3.18 1.59 0.350
James Reeves 3.44 18.3 7 7 2 0.253 12.76 1.47 0.362
Zach Lavery 4.50 8.0 6 4 0 0.300 4.50 0.00 0.333
Nate Brecklin 9.66 4.7 7 5 1 0.440 3.86 7.71 0.455
Zach Sherrill 10.44 14.7 19 17 3 0.385 6.14 6.14 0.400
Ross White 11.00 9.0 11 11 0 0.429 6.00 9.00 0.500
Brett Tompkins 12.38 8.0 11 11 3 0.303 4.50 7.88 0.269
A. Livingston 12.94 16.0 26 23 1 0.400 7.88 6.19 0.468
Kevin Connell 15.89 11.3 21 20 4 0.407 5.56 8.74 0.400
C. Walsh 40.91 0.7 3 3 1 0.500 13.50 40.50 0.500
Totals 7.24 164.3 147 132 19 0.313 6.97 5.32 0.356

– Total SoCon innings pitched in 2012 for 2013 returnees: 225.7
– Total SoCon innings pitched in 2013 for 2014 returnees: 197.0
– Total SoCon innings pitched in 2014 for 2015 returnees: 164.3

There are spots to be won on the pitching staff, too, but for another reason. Plenty of Bulldog hurlers got a taste of the action in 2014. However, there weren’t many who had a great deal of success in league play.

As a group, The Citadel’s pitchers didn’t strike out batters as much in 2014 league games (K/9 of 6.50) as they did in 2013 (7.42). Worse, the BB/9 rate went up dramatically (from 2.56 to 4.83).

The gopher ball was also more of a problem in 2014, with an significant increase in HR/9 (from 0.73 to 0.96). Add it all up, and you get a team ERA (6.51) almost two runs per game higher than it was in 2013 league play (4.69).

There are several freshmen who will be candidates for the bullpen, and possibly the starting rotation. I want to make a couple of quick observations about two of the returning hurlers, though:

James Reeves only threw 18.3 innings in SoCon play due to injury. He is back this season, and if his elbow is okay the Summerville native should be a dependable fixture in the weekend rotation.

Reeves pitched very well last year before being shut down. The lefty was also solid in league play in 2013, with a 2.53 ERA that year, allowing just one home run in 32 innings.

Zach Sherrill had knee surgery in the offseason. Sherrill was a very effective (and frequently-used) reliever in 2013, but struggled last season. If he can return to his form of two years ago, he will once again be a weapon in the bullpen.

While Sherrill clearly got rocked at times in 2014 (allowing 3 homers in SoCon play after giving up none in league action the year before; he also walked too many batters), it’s also true he could use a little more defensive help. Sherrill’s BABIP in 2013 was .281; last year, that shot up to .400 (which was also reflected in his batting average against).

A few defensive numbers on which to ruminate:

– The Citadel’s DER in 2012 SoCon play: 68.8% (league DER: 68.4%)
– The Citadel’s DER in 2013 SoCon play: 68.9% (league DER: 66.1%)
– The Citadel’s DER in 2014 SoCon play: 66.0% (league DER: 67.5%)

– Double plays turned by The Citadel in 2012 SoCon play: 25
– Double plays turned by The Citadel in 2013 SoCon play: 14
– Double plays turned by The Citadel in 2014 SoCon play: 22

– Stolen bases allowed by The Citadel in 2012 SoCon play: 47 (78.3% success rate for opponents)
– Stolen bases allowed by The Citadel in 2013 SoCon play: 29 (74.4% success rate for opponents)
– Stolen bases allowed by The Citadel in 2014 SoCon play: 28 (80.0% success rate for opponents)

– Errors committed by The Citadel in 2012 SoCon play: 39
– Errors committed by The Citadel in 2013 SoCon play: 57
– Errors committed by The Citadel in 2014 SoCon play: 32

I should point out that the DER numbers mentioned above are not park-adjusted. Given the spaciousness of Riley Park, it may be that the Bulldogs were a little better defensively than the seventh-best defensive squad in a ten-team league (Georgia Southern led the SoCon with a DER of 70.8% in conference games).

Having said that, even if you bump the Bulldogs up a notch or two, they still wind up average or slightly below average defensively. Average or slightly below average is simply not good enough.

We’ve got to pitch and defend,” [Fred] Jordan said. “We feel like we should have enough starting pitching, and the back end of our bullpen is very experienced. We hope we will pitch extremely well. Defending? Some of the new faces are going to have to get their feet wet, and we’ll have to be patient with that. But if you can pitch and defend, you have a chance.”

The SoCon’s reshuffling means that this year three new schools are in the league (Mercer, East Tennessee State, and VMI), while four have departed (Georgia Southern, Appalachian State, Elon, and Davidson). The conference now has nine baseball teams (Chattanooga dropped its program over thirty years ago).

Mercer and East Tennessee State were most recently in the Atlantic Sun conference, and both made regional appearances two years ago (2013). That season, the Bears were the regular season league champions, while ETSU won the A-Sun tournament under the tutelage of noted clutch hitter Tony Skole.

The Buccaneers had a losing season last year, though they were competitive (27-30). Mercer won 38 games (the fifth consecutive season the Bears had won at least that many games), but went 2-and-BBQ in the conference tourney.

Both East Tennessee State and Mercer should fit right in with the bombs-away nature of the SoCon. Mercer was 15th nationally in home runs per game last season, while ETSU was tied for 24th overall in the category.

VMI was 25-23 last year, with an 11-16 record in the Big South. In stark contrast to the Bucs and Bears, the Keydets hit just 11 home runs in 48 games. The paucity of circuit clouts was a two-way street, however, as VMI’s pitchers only allowed 16 homers in 2014.

In December, VMI named Jonathan Hadra as its new baseball coach, after Marlin Ikenberry unexpectly resigned. Hadra, a 2004 graduate of the school, is the only first-time head baseball coach in the SoCon this season.

ETSU has a relatively new park, Thomas Stadium (referred to colloquially as “The Thom”; at least, that is what Wikipedia claims). It opened in 2013. In a bit of a scheduling fluke, The Citadel’s baseball team will not travel to any of the three new members in 2015. Mercer, ETSU, and VMI all play the Bulldogs in Charleston.

Of course, those three schools will make a return trip to Riley Park for the 2015 Southern Conference baseball tournament, which returns to the Holy City this season.

With eight league opponents this season, The Citadel will play 24 SoCon contests, twelve at home (ETSU, Mercer, VMI, Wofford) and twelve on the road (Western Carolina, UNCG, Samford, Furman). The league opener for the Bulldogs is March 27 in Cullowhee, against WCU.

The non-conference schedule is interesting. There are no early-season “tournaments” at Riley Park this season, however.

The Citadel’s non-league slate includes a fair share of games against former league opponents (College of Charleston, Georgia Southern, and Elon). Air Force comes to town for the opening weekend. The Bulldogs also have three-game home series with Lafayette, UMBC, and Alabama State.

The Citadel plays midweek games against North Florida and several in-state squads, including Coastal Carolina, Winthrop, and Charleston Southern. As always, The Citadel has a home-and-home with South Carolina.

Also as always, there will be no games versus Clemson. The Tigers have not played the Bulldogs in Charleston since 1990.

Boyd Nation put together a preseason “strength of schedule” feature on his website for this season. Of course, no one knows in February what a team’s actual strength of schedule will be.

That said, I was curious as to how programs put together their non-conference schedules. Ranking the preseason SoS numbers, this is how it shakes out for the SoCon:

119 – Samford
149 – UNCG
180 – VMI
184 – Furman
186 – The Citadel
187 – East Tennessee State
197 – Western Carolina
208 – Mercer
280 – Wofford

The two teams that finished 1-2 in the preseason SoCon media poll have two of the three (presumed) weakest OOC schedules.

Just in case you were wondering, here are a few other teams’ non-conference SoS rankings:

1 – Stanford
2 – Cal State Fullerton
3 – Fresno State
4 – Pacific
5 – San Diego

(1 through 5 are California Dreamin’)

25 – Coastal Carolina
38 – Indiana (Chris Lemonis, immediately followed by…)
39 – Louisville (…Dan McDonnell)
45 – Liberty (ranked in Baseball America‘s preseason Top 25)
51 – Georgia Southern
55 – Clemson
59 – Appalachian State
85 – Kennesaw State (also ranked in Baseball America‘s preseason Top 25)
87 – College of Charleston

128 – Vanderbilt (the defending national champion, almost immediately followed by…)
130 – Virginia (…last season’s runner-up)
132 – Elon
168 – North Carolina
172 – North Carolina State
176 – South Carolina
237 – Winthrop
258 – Charleston Southern
296 – Army
300 – Lehigh
301 – Navy (there are 301 D-1 teams)

In the end, none of that will likely mean anything. It’s just early-season fun.

Odds and ends:

– Just like last season, this year’s edition of the Bulldogs will include three Austins and three Zachs. Five of the six Austins/Zachs are pitchers.

– In a further attempt to encourage fans to buy scorecards, The Citadel will also feature twins, freshmen Philip and Jacob Watcher. Both are expected to see plenty of time in the infield and on the hill.

– Zach Sherrill and the Watcher brothers are three of seven players on the roster from Sumter, which appears to be making a 21st-century attempt to become the Official Small Town of The Citadel. I am sure that Orangeburg, Camden, and possibly Kingstree will continue to battle for that title, however (although there is no player from Orangeburg on this year’s roster, which could come back to haunt Fred Jordan).

– The tallest of the Bulldogs is senior righthander Brett Tompkins, who is 6’5″. There are seven players listed on the roster at 5’9″; I bet at least one of them is shorter than that.

– Of the 45 players on the roster, 38 are from South Carolina. Of the seven Bulldogs from out of state, freshman catcher Justin Craft‘s hometown (Waldorf, Maryland) is the longest distance from Charleston.

– There are eighteen “true” freshmen among the Diamond Dogs, along with three redshirt freshmen.

– New volunteer assistant coach Aaron Gershenfeld was a catcher at Louisville, where he played for former Bulldogs Dan McDonnell (the Cardinals’ head coach) and Chris Lemonis (now helming the program at Indiana). Gershenfeld is slated to be the team’s hitting coach and will also work with the catchers.

I’m looking forward to the 2015 campaign. Unfortunately, I’ll have to be a bit of a fair-weather fan (literally) for the first month or so, as my blood is still a bit thin. I’ll be faithfully watching the SoCon Digital Network, though, and listening to cult faves Andy and The Chief (“This is the out we came here for!”).

Having said that, the weather for the opening weekend looks promising, and I plan to be at Riley Park for at least one game of the series against Air Force. I hope a lot of other fans make an appearance, particularly on Opening Day — which also happens to be Friday the 13th. Don’t let triskaidekaphobia stop you from seeing the Diamond Dogs.

The Citadel is not favored to win the Southern Conference this season. Truth be told, the Bulldogs are not expected to be serious contenders for the title, as this year’s team will feature a lot of players who weren’t starters in 2014, along with a bunch of freshmen. Rebuilding is a word being thrown around in some circles.

A lack of experienced players, some freshmen, rebuilding. Hmm…that reminds me of something:

We are not reloading; we are in a rebuilding process.  Our team is made up of reserves of past years and freshmen who will get the opportunity to play this year and hopefully be up to the challenge…Our baseball accomplishments measured by victories this year could be moderate.  From our players we need a dedication of purpose, firm self-discipline and tenacious determination.  Hard work and aggressive play must overcome our limitations.

We will be playing off the enthusiasm of youth, and that should result in some entertaining baseball.  We must judge this team on the basis of their performance, according to their individual abilities and improvement throughout the season.  We want to teach them not to beat themselves and to always play with a fighting spirit and essential mental toughness.

We need to stay out of the way of line drives and recover foul balls so that we can stay within our budget.

– Chal Port, from The Citadel’s 1990 Baseball Media Guide

Go chase down those foul balls. It’s time for baseball season.

SoCon football recruiting: a quick look at the 2015 signees

National Signing Day has come and gone. Naturally, most of the attention around the country was focused on the recruits who signed with schools in the power five conferences. However, there is still plenty of interest in the recruiting hijinks taking place in other leagues, including the Southern Conference.

This is just a short post to make a few observations about the SoCon’s 2015 football signees.

First, here is a list of the league’s recruits: Link

I decided to make the list a bit more visual, and created a map with placemarks for every 2015 signee. I’ve embedded it below:

You can check and uncheck each school’s recruits if you want to make different comparisons, etc. Each placemark includes the player’s name, position, and hometown.

Last January, I wrote about an article in the analytics website Mode that featured an interactive map showing the hometowns of every Division I (FBS and FCS) football player. I thought it was interesting to compare that with the geographical distribution of this year’s recruits.

There has been quite a bit of “transition” in the SoCon, of course, with three football schools leaving (Appalachian State, Elon, and Georgia Southern). They have been replaced by East Tennessee State, Mercer, and VMI, and it’s not surprising that the recruiting territory for the conference has possibly changed as a result.

There have also been some coaching changes among the schools that remained in the league (including Samford this year and The Citadel last season), and that has probably had an effect as well.

Odds and ends about a few of the SoCon’s newest football players:

– More 2015 recruits hail from Knoxville, Tennessee (13) than any other city. Ten of those players signed with East Tennessee State.

– There were ten other cities that provided three or more SoCon recruits: Nashville, TN (6); Columbia, SC (5); Cincinnati, OH (3); Chattanooga, TN (3); Greenville, SC (3); Atlanta, GA (3); Murfreesboro, TN (3); Spartanburg, SC (3); Charlotte, NC (3); and Salem, VA (3).

– Those three recruits from Salem, Virginia? They all went to Salem High School, and all three signed with VMI.

Hardin Valley Academy in Knoxville, Tennessee, also had three SoCon signees. All three of those recruits inked with East Tennessee State.

– ETSU had 45 signees, by far the most among SoCon schools. Wofford had 24; Mercer, 21; The Citadel, 17; Samford, 16; Chattanooga, 15; Western Carolina, 14; Furman, 14; and VMI, 13.

– Eleven of VMI’s thirteen recruits are from the state of Virginia, with the other two signees coming from much farther away — Maryland. By any measure, VMI’s recruiting class was the most compact in the league, at least in terms of geography.

– It appears there are nine transfers in the various classes, including seven from FBS schools. Four of those seven are from the now-extinguished UAB program.

Chattanooga picked up two former Blazers; Samford and ETSU each signed one. The UAB transfer who may have the most immediate impact in the SoCon is offensive lineman Hayden Naumann (now of Samford), who started twelve games at right tackle last season for the Blazers.

Several other transfers not listed among Wednesday’s signees will eventually appear on various league rosters. One of them is Ellis Pace, a running back who began his college career at East Carolina. Pace is transferring to Wofford.

– The “northernmost” 2015 SoCon recruit is Brandon Zamary, a defensive lineman from Aurora, Ohio, who signed with Wofford. The “westernmost” signee is running back Justin Curry, a native of Ft. Smith, Arkansas. Curry will play for Samford.

The “southernmost” recruit is from way down under. Mercer signed Australian punter Matt Shiel, a transfer from Auburn.

– Speaking of punters from southern regions, Samford inked George Grimwade of Miami, Florida, who is a dual-threat player — but not your typical dual threat. Grimwade is a 6’6″, 280 lb. offensive lineman who averaged 47 yards per punt for his high school (where he also plays basketball).

Grimwade and fellow Samford signee Vaquan Small (a wide receiver) are the two southernmost SoCon recruits from the continental United States.

– None of Furman’s 14 signees are from the state of South Carolina, so the Paladins are basically the bizarro version of VMI in terms of 2015 football recruiting. Furman’s press release included this interesting line:

Tight end Riley Gessner (Atlanta, Ga./Dunwoody H.S.) was Furman’s most heralded recruit, choosing the Paladins after receiving scholarship offers from 13 schools.

It struck me as a bit unusual that a school release would say a signee was its “most heralded recruit”.

– I usually disregard the blurbs about a player being “also recruited by” or “chose [our school] over [other schools]”. The reason I don’t pay attention to them is because they are often (if not always) bogus.

That said, I thought it was curious that two different schools in the SoCon (Mercer and Western Carolina) signed placekickers who were “also recruited by/chose us instead of” Penn State. Congratulations for whipping James Franklin on the recruiting trail, I guess.

Incidentally, Penn State did not sign any kickers on Wednesday.

– Miles Brown, a defensive lineman who signed with Wofford, is a student at Sidwell Friends, a well-known private school in Washington, DC. Sidwell Friends is perhaps better known for educating the children of well-known public figures than it is for football (both of President Obama’s daughters go there, as did Chelsea Clinton, Tricia Nixon, and Archie Roosevelt).

The Citadel signed two brothers, Jalon and Jordan Williams, from Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina. Jordan Williams is one of three players with the first name “Jordan” to sign with The Citadel, along with Jordan Black and Jordan Thomas. It is, to be sure, a name associated in recent years with winning.

Now that the dust has settled, we’ll get to find out just how good these players are. Of course, September is still too far away…

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