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…

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…

McAlister Musings: Well, the season is underway

Previously: My preview of the season

Links of interest:

Chuck Driesell inks four players in the early signing period

The Citadel loses to VMI, 66-65

Bulldogs defeated by Air Force, 68-55

The Citadel wins its home opener over Toccoa Falls, 71-58

Bulldogs pull away in second half and beat Bob Jones University, 81-50

Four games are in the books, and the Bulldogs are 2-2. The Citadel’s two victories came at home against non-D1 competition, while its two losses were in neutral-site games versus D-1 squads.

– Against VMI, the Bulldogs controlled the pace. The result was a 60-possession contest, the fewest possessions in a game involving VMI since Duggar Baucom took over in Lexington as head coach.

The Citadel won that battle, but couldn’t win the contest. The Bulldogs led by 11 points with 4:41 remaining in the first half, but started the second half so poorly that VMI had a seven-point lead with ten minutes to play.

After a nice comeback, The Citadel played the last 2:02 like a team that didn’t know how to win, with two turnovers sandwiched around a VMI possession that featured four offensive rebounds by the Keydets. The three-pointer with 15 seconds remaining that won the game for VMI seemed inevitable.

Of 58 VMI field goal attempts, 29 (exactly half) were from beyond the arc. Conversely, The Citadel only attempted four three-point shots. That shooting philosophy was reflected in the free throw totals for the two teams (only four for the Keydets; twenty-two for the Bulldogs).

The Citadel did a lot of things right against VMI, but didn’t rebound well enough and couldn’t close the deal when the opportunity was there. Also, for the umpteenth time in the last season-plus, the Bulldogs gave up a halftime buzzer-beater (admittedly, on something of a circus shot by the Keydets’ Q.J. Peterson, but still).

– While the Bulldogs probably should have won the game against VMI, the next day’s matchup against Air Force was a different story. The Falcons were in control throughout most of the contest, leading by as many as 16 points midway through the second half.

The Citadel did keep the tempo in its (apparent) comfort zone, as the game against AFA was a 57-possession contest. The Bulldogs also won the turnover battle (18-11).

However, Air Force shot 56% from the floor, 45% from three-land, and outrebounded The Citadel 34-22. That included a less-than-stellar performance on the defensive glass by the Bulldogs, only corralling 9 rebounds from 21 missed AFA shots (the Falcons actually missed 22 total shots, but one resulted in a “dead ball” free throw rebound).

Also on the negative stat report: The Citadel was only 9-19 from the foul line against Air Force. That didn’t help.

– Individual numbers are basically meaningless after just two games (as are comparing team numbers). I did think it was interesting that through Sunday’s games, Ashton Moore ranked second in the nation in percentage of shots taken by a player for his team while that player is on the court.

Moore took 33 shots in the first two games of the season. His totals from the second two games don’t count towards that statistic (because they were versus non-D1 opponents), but for what it’s worth, he kept firing, with 37 combined shots in those two contests.

– I’m not going to get into much detail about the games against Toccoa Falls and Bob Jones University. Neither was exactly what Chuck Driesell or the fan base wanted, other than two victories.

I attended the Toccoa Falls matchup. The Citadel raced out to a 16-0 lead, and then proceeded to be outscored 58-55 over the last 34 minutes of the game.

That wasn’t what I thought I was going to see, given the recent history of the Eagles’ basketball program, which included a 141-39 loss to Western Carolina less than two years ago. Last season, Toccoa Falls lost to Georgia Southern by 54 points.

Driesell said during his postgame radio interview that Toccoa Falls was “much improved”, but he was still disappointed in his team’s play (as well he should have been). The Bulldogs were too sloppy on both ends of the floor and did not shoot particularly well, either (43%).

Toccoa Falls plays Presbyterian on November 25. It will be interesting to see if the Eagles are competitive in that game as well (last year, PC only beat Toccoa Falls by ten points).

The Citadel outscored Bob Jones University 40-16 in the second half, which was fine. It was the first half that was a bit disquieting, as the Bruins only trailed 41-34 at the break. In its previous game, BJU had lost 107-41 to USC-Upstate (the Spartans led by 32 at halftime in that contest).

The Bulldogs again did not shoot well from outside (6-19 from beyond the arc). The Citadel turned the ball over on more than 20% of its possessions, very poor when considering the competition.

Did The Citadel give up yet another buzzer-beating halftime shot to BJU? Yes, it did — this time on a layup, after a Bulldog turnover with six seconds remaining in the half. Unbelievable.

Next up for The Citadel is a game in Tallahassee against Florida State on Tuesday. The Seminoles lost on Sunday to Massachusetts to fall to 1-3 on the season; FSU has dropped three straight contests, having also lost to Northeastern and Providence after opening the season with a victory over Manhattan.

On Saturday, November 29, the Bulldogs are back at McAlister Field House to play Warren Wilson College, a school that Toccoa Falls defeated 66-62 last week.

The following Tuesday, The Citadel plays at College of Charleston. The Cougars are currently 2-3 and have a game at West Virginia before the matchup with the Bulldogs.

Navy comes to town on December 6 for a Saturday afternoon game that should be a lot of fun. The Midshipmen are currently 0-4, but will play four more games before making an appearance in McAlister Field House.

Odds and ends:

– The new video scoreboard is fantastic.

– There were about 250-300 cadets in attendance (I may be slightly underestimating the total) for the game against Toccoa Falls. They were fed at McAlister Field House (the mess hall being closed on Wednesday night).

For future games, I would like to see the cadets seated behind the scorer’s table as opposed to in the rafters.

– For first-time buyers, season tickets can be purchased for $75. Another promotion: at Saturday’s game, fans received a free t-shirt that will get them admitted to all Saturday home games for free.

I like both ideas. This strikes me as a good season in which to experiment and see what works and what doesn’t, in terms of promotion.

– The halftime entertainment for the Toccoa Falls game was a stepshow performance by students from Lower Richland High School. The crowd (particularly the cadets) thoroughly enjoyed it.

– I assume the pep band will make its debut for the Navy game. Its absence for the home opener was noticeable.

I took a few pictures. If you thought my football photos were bad, wait until you get a look at some of these turkeys…

Gobble Gobble!

 

 

 

 

2014 Football, Game 12: The Citadel vs. VMI

The Citadel vs. VMI, to be played on Alumni Memorial Field at Foster Stadium in Lexington, Virginia, with kickoff at 1:30 pm ET on Saturday, November 15. The game will not be televised, but will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Pete Yanity providing play-by-play and Will Merritt supplying the analysis.

Note: the contest will not be streamed on the SoCon Digital Network.

The game can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Mike Legg (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze. It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for The Citadel Sports Network. The pregame show and game broadcast will be produced by Jay Harper, who will also provide updates on other college football action.

Links of interest:

Game notes for The Citadel and VMI

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston’s 11/18 press conference

Mike Houston on the SoCon media teleconference

Sparky Woods on the SoCon media teleconference

WCSC-TV interviews Mike Houston about The Citadel-VMI

The Citadel’s football team has a “ticked off, mad as fire attitude”

It’s too bad Aaron Miller can’t play another season for the Bulldogs

Does Sparky Woods need to win on Saturday to keep his job?

The former Clemson radio tandem of Pete Yanity and Will Merritt will be handling play-by-play and analysis for ESPN3.com’s streaming coverage of the game. Yanity and Merritt have worked two other ESPN3.com productions involving SoCon teams this season, earlier calling Samford-Furman and Wofford-Chattanooga.

A few weeks ago, I wrote an essay about VMI’s football history and its re-entry into the Southern Conference for the premier Navy football blog, The Birddog (the Midshipmen were playing the Keydets that week). In lieu of me detailing the program’s recent history on the gridiron, as I tend to do in this space, you can read that piece here: Link

One thing I wrote about VMI for The Birddog last month that did not come to fruition:

Every coach VMI has had since 1953 has suffered through at least one winless or 1-win campaign, with the exception of current head coach Sparky Woods…Woods has yet to suffer through a winless or 1-loss season, but he has had four 2-win campaigns. This year, there is a chance VMI’s victory over Davidson in its home opener may be the only win the Keydets enjoy all season.

Of course, VMI defeated Furman three weeks ago, giving the Keydets their second victory of the 2014 campaign. Sparky Woods remains the only VMI coach of the past 60 years to never have a winless or one-win season while in charge of the Keydets.

VMI opened its season at Bucknell, losing 42-38 in a game the Keydets never led (but tied on four separate occasions). Bucknell’s winning score came on a punt return TD.

Al Cobb’s debut at quarterback for the Keydets was a good one, as the redshirt freshman threw for 308 yards and four touchdown passes. Running back Deon Watts ran for 97 yards.

Incidentally, Bucknell has gone on to have a fine season, as the Bison are 8-2 and have an outside shot at an at-large bid to the FCS playoffs.

In its second game, VMI was whipped 48-7 by Bowling Green. The Falcons became the second team in as many weeks to return a punt for a touchdown against the Keydets, and added a blocked-punt TD for good measure.

Bowling Green would go on to upset Indiana the following week and would eventually win the MAC West division title, clinching a berth in that league’s championship game.

VMI played its home opener against a much easier opponent, Davidson, and crushed the Wildcats 52-24. The Keydets finished with 597 yards of total offense.

Aaron Sanders had ten receptions for 215 yards, and Jabari Turner had three TD runs. VMI also picked up a punt-block TD of its own, courtesy of Chris Copeland.

Of some concern for the Keydets, however, was Davidson rolling up 531 yards of offense. The two teams combined for 1,128 yards of total offense; both teams had over 200 rushing yards.

The next week, VMI made the long trip to Birmingham to face Samford. The Keydets suffered through a nightmarish first half, allowing a touchdown on the second play of the game and committing four turnovers. Samford led 49-0 at the break, going on to win 63-21.

A different kind of frustration would come for VMI in its next game, a tough 27-24 home loss to Mercer. A potential game-winning drive in the last two minutes of the game was ended by a Mercer interception. Cobb was 30-44 for 324 yards, but threw two costly picks.

In its next two games, VMI was manhandled 55-7 at Chattanooga and 51-14 at Navy. Against the Mocs, the Keydets only put up 165 yards of total offense.

VMI recovered a fumble for a touchdown against the Midshipmen, but allowed Navy to run for 352 yards on 49 carries (7.2 yards per attempt). I suspect The Citadel’s coaches have watched a lot of video from that particular game.

The Keydets returned home and suffered a double-overtime loss to Gardner-Webb, 47-41. That game featured the largest attendance for a game at Foster Stadium (6,624) since VMI hosted The Citadel two years ago (when 7,863 fans, a fair number clad in blue, were on hand for The Military Classic of the South).

Cobb was 34-53 passing for 351 yards and six touchdowns, each to a different receiver, as VMI made a stirring comeback after being down 18 points in the fourth quarter. It just wasn’t quite enough for the victory.

Wofford then thumped the Keydets 38-3 in a game played in Spartanburg. VMI was outrushed by the Terriers 374-58.

Back at Foster Stadium the following Saturday, VMI would get its first SoCon victory of the season, beating Furman 31-15 in a game not really as close as the score might indicate. The Keydets had lost 21 straight games to the Paladins, but raced out to a 17-0 halftime lead and then forced three Furman turnovers in the second half.

The Keydets had a 14-minute edge in time of possession, helped by converting 12 of 19 third-down attempts. Greg Sanders intercepted a pass for VMI, the third consecutive game he had done so.

After a bye, VMI lost last week at Western Carolina, 42-27. The game featured 1,111 yards of total offense, including 640 by the Catamounts. WCU had over 300 yards rushing and passing, which isn’t something you see every day.

The next three sections include statistical team/conference comparisons for SoCon games only (unless otherwise indicated). Both VMI and The Citadel have played six league contests, obviously against the same teams.

The Keydets’ offense has thrown the ball (or been sacked attempting to pass) 57.5% of the time, the highest percentage in the conference. Passing yardage accounts for 67.7% of VMI’s total offense, also the league high by percentage.

VMI is last in total offense (4.9 yards per play), scoring offense (18.8 points per game), and rushing offense (3.5 yards per carry). The Citadel is next-to-last in total defense, with a league-worst 6.9 yards allowed per play.

The Bulldogs are also next-to-last in rushing defense, but are actually middle-of-the-pack in scoring D (allowing 21.5 points per game in league action).

VMI is fourth in passing offense, but next-to-last in offensive pass efficiency, with the latter ranking being affected by the Keydets’ league-worst ten interceptions. VMI is averaging 35.3 pass attempts per game in SoCon play, the most in the conference.

The Citadel is sixth in pass defense, but dead last in defensive pass efficiency, allowing 9.1 yards per attempt. The Bulldogs’ D is tied for the league low in interceptions, with three.

When both conference and non-conference games are counted, the Keydets are 28th nationally in passing offense (out of 121 FCS teams), while the Bulldogs are 83rd in passing yardage allowed.

VMI is fourth in offensive third down conversion rate, at 43.5%, while The Citadel is third in the league in defensive third down conversion rate (42.3%). VMI has only attempted five 4th-down plays in conference action, the fewest in the league.

The Keydets have an offensive red zone touchdown rate of 78.6%, the best mark in the conference, though VMI has been in the red zone fewer times than any other team in SoCon play. The Citadel has a defensive red zone TD rate of 50% (11-22), which is third-best in the league.

VMI is last in the league in scoring defense (allowing 40.0 points per game), total defense, and rushing defense (giving up 6.2 yards per carry). The Citadel is fifth in scoring offense (21.5 points per contest) and third in total offense. The Bulldogs lead the league in rushing offense (5.2 yards per attempt).

Including all games, VMI is next-to-last in FCS football in rushing defense (ahead of only winless Nicholls State), while The Citadel is second nationally in rushing offense (trailing only Cal Poly of the Big Sky).

The Citadel is next-to-last in passing offense and sixth in offensive pass efficiency (having only thrown one interception in league play). VMI is fifth in passing defense but next-to-last in defensive pass efficiency.

The Bulldogs are second in the conference in offensive third down conversion rate (46.9%), while VMI is sixth in defensive third down conversion rate, at 48.8%. The Citadel is tied for the most fourth-down attempts in the conference, with 18.

VMI has allowed 19 touchdowns in 23 trips by its opponents inside the 20-yard line (82.6%), the worst defensive red zone TD rate in the league. The Citadel has an offensive red zone touchdown rate of 66.7%, fourth-best in the SoCon.

The Citadel is +1 in turnover margin in conference play, while VMI is -7 (worst in the conference). VMI has actually forced more defensive turnovers than the Bulldogs (11-8), but the Keydets have 18 offensive turnovers, by far the most in SoCon action.

VMI is sixth in the league in time of possession (28:53), while The Citadel is second (32:28).

The Citadel has run 455 offensive plays in its six SoCon games (75.8 per contest), while VMI’s offense has run 388 plays from the line of scrimmage (64.7 per game). In terms of pace, The Citadel runs its plays faster (2.34 snaps per minute) than does VMI (2.23).

The Bulldogs have committed the second-fewest penalties in the league, while VMI is tied for fifth in that category. However, the Keydets’ opponents have committed more penalties than any other team’s opponents. The Citadel is next-to-last in having flags thrown on its behalf, a season-long issue with officiating that has been a constant source of frustration for its fans.

Al Cobb (6’3″, 190 lbs.) is a native of Pulaski, Tennessee who redshirted last season for the Keydets. In his first season as VMI’s quarterback, he is completing 61.3% of his passes, averaging 6.5 yards per attempt, with eighteen touchdowns and ten interceptions.

Cobb has completed eight passes this season of more than 35 yards, including two 44-yard completions in his most recent game against Western Carolina.

VMI lists three tailbacks on its two-deep; all three have started at least one game this season for the Keydets. Deon Watts (5’11”, 197 lbs.) is VMI’s leading rusher, with 450 yards (and the senior has also caught 34 passes out of the backfield). Fellow tailback Jabari Turner has seven rushing touchdowns to lead the team.

Aaron Sanders (6’2″, 185 lbs.) is Cobb’s top receiving target, with 51 catches (including a 60-yarder against Davidson). The sophomore hauled in three passes for the Keydets in last season’s game versus The Citadel.

Redshirt senior Doug Burton leads VMI in receiving touchdowns, with four. VMI uses a three-receiver, one-back offense with a tight end, though starting TE Andrew Lewis only has five receptions all season.

Average size of the projected starters on VMI’s offensive line: 6’4″, 294 lbs. Redshirt freshman center Patrick Doucette and redshirt senior right tackle Andy Marcotte have started every game this season for the Keydets.

Marcotte, at 6’8″, 325 lbs., is the biggest VMI player on the roster, and was a preseason second-team All-SoCon selection. He set a team record in the weight room with a 635-lb. squat.

VMI operates out of a 3-4 defense when not facing the triple option. When it does, in recent years the Keydets have featured a five-man front.

Nosetackle Joe Nelson (6’3″, 265 lbs.) is one of three Keydets on defense to start every game. The redshirt sophomore has five tackles for loss, including two sacks, and also blocked a PAT against Mercer.

The Keydets’ four starting linebackers rank 1-4 in the team in tackles. Miller Williams, a 6’1″, 220 lb. senior, leads the way with 66 tackles.

Redshirt freshman Ryan Francis (6’1″, 200 lbs.) has three sacks, most on the squad. He is also tied for the lead in tackles for loss, with 6.5.

Francis shares that team lead in tackles for loss with 6’1″, 241 lb. redshirt senior Logan Staib, who has been a mainstay for VMI over the past four seasons. Staib has saved some of his best football for games against The Citadel, having made 14 tackles against the Bulldogs in both 2011 and 2013.

From his position as one of the Keydets’ starting cornerbacks, redshirt sophomore Damien Jones (6’1″, 190 lbs.) has two interceptions and leads the team in passes defensed, with ten. He also recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown against Navy.

The other starting cornerback, James Fruehan (5’10”, 187 lbs.) is a senior who has appeared in 44 games for VMI over the course of his career. He is sixth on the team in tackles.

Strong safety Alijah Robinson, a 6’0″, 185 lb. sophomore, is fifth on the squad in tackles. His backup, Greg Sanders, leads the Keydets in interceptions with three.

VMI placekicker Dillon Christopher, a sophomore from Newport News, Virginia, is 7 for 13 on field goal tries this season, with a long of 49 against Mercer. He kicked a 45-yarder against Western Carolina.

Christopher is 32-33 on PAT attempts. He is also the Keydets’ kickoff specialist, with 18 touchbacks in 53 kickoffs.

Punter Hayden Alford is averaging 37.0 yards per punt, with a long of 69. He has had 17 of his 53 punts downed inside the 20.

VMI has allowed three punt return TDs this season and ranks in the bottom 10 nationally in punt return defense, allowing an average of almost 14 yards per return.

The Keydets’ primary punt returner is wideout Dana Forlines, who is averaging 3.9 yards per return. Taylor Stout and Greg Sanders have returned almost all kickoffs for VMI; each has a kick return average of 19.2 yards.

Odds and ends:

– This week in the Capital One Mascot Challenge, Spike The Bulldog faces Cocky, the overexposed mascot for South Carolina. It’s a quarterfinal playoff matchup in the Challenge.

Vote for Spike!

– Tickets go on sale this Saturday for the Medal of Honor Bowl, the all-star game being held at Johnson Hagood Stadium on January 10, 2015: Link

– As pointed out in The Citadel’s game notes, The Citadel is 4-0 when it gains more than 500 yards of total offense. When it doesn’t, the Bulldogs are 0-7.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 12-point favorite on Saturday. The over/under is 63.

– VMI has two players on its team from South Carolina. Not surprisingly, most of the Keydets are from Virginia (53). Other states represented on the VMI roster: Tennessee (10), Pennsylvania (7), Georgia and North Carolina (4 each), Alabama (3), Maryland (2), and one each from Texas, California, Ohio, West Virginia, and Washington, DC.

I’ve said this before, but if you are a graduate of The Citadel, a trip to VMI should be on your personal “bucket list”. It’s interesting to compare and contrast the two military schools.

Every alum should travel to Virginia at least once to see the campus, watch a parade, and check out the gameday experience:

The VMI Corps of Cadets marches from barracks onto the field as The Regimental Band plays “Shenandoah”. The Corps welcomes the team onto the field, as “Little John,” a ceremonial cannon, joins the cheers with a thundering boom. The Rats come out of the stands with every Keydet score, and do a pushup for every point on the VMI side of the scoreboard. The familiar strain of “The Spirit” plays to stir the hearts of the Keydet faithful.

Completed in 1962 at a cost of approximately $250,000 through funds allocated by the General Assembly of Virginia and the VMI Alumni Association, the stadium contains 54 rows, is 173 feet high (not including the press box) and has a seating capacity of 10,000. Fiberglass seats were installed in 1974 and refurbished in 1985.

A new Brute Bermuda grass playing surface was initially installed during the summer of 1998, and the crown on the field was elevated to improve drainage.

I was there two years ago to watch The Citadel (barely) clinch a winning season. I won’t be able to make it this Saturday, alas.

I anticipate Saturday’s game will be fairly high-scoring (and judging from the over/under, so does the gambling community). In VMI, you have a passing team that can’t stop the run. The Citadel, meanwhile, is a running team that has struggled against the pass.

Al Cobb is averaging over 35 pass attempts in SoCon play, and I would be surprised if he doesn’t throw at least 40 passes against the Bulldogs. The best way for The Citadel to prevent that is for its offense to control the game on the ground and completely dominate time of possession.

In his press conference on Tuesday, Mike Houston mentioned that the Bulldogs have not had “great, consistent starting field position” this season. That affects the offense’s ability to regularly mount scoring drives, because there is that much further for it to go.

The game last week versus Samford was a good example of this. One of The Citadel’s drives lasted for 17 plays but produced no points; it was one of two possessions for the Bulldogs that lasted for more than five minutes but did not lead to a score.

Special teams can make a difference in that aspect of the game, but so can the defense. One thing the Bulldogs’ D has not done this season is consistently force turnovers. As I mentioned earlier, The Citadel has only forced eight turnovers in six league games.

If the Bulldogs are to retain the coveted Silver Shako on Saturday, forcing multiple turnovers is almost a must for the defense. To do that, The Citadel likely has to get more pressure on the quarterback.

VMI has come close to winning this matchup in recent years, leading at halftime last season and falling just short of a comeback victory the last time the Bulldogs made an appearance at Foster Stadium. The Keydets’ record is not particularly meaningful when The Citadel is the opponent (the reverse is also true).

Several of VMI’s games this season should give fans of the Bulldogs pause, particularly its convincing victory over Furman. The Keydets’ competitive losses to Mercer, Western Carolina, Gardner-Webb, and Bucknell are also noteworthy.

There are several positives to take from this season for The Citadel. It has been an instructive (and often entertaining) year, as a new head coach has begun to put his stamp on the program.

The biggest positive of all would be to keep the greatest trophy in all of sports in Charleston, where it belongs.

2014 football: what teams will The Citadel’s opponents play before facing the Bulldogs?

Is this relatively unimportant? Yes. Are we still in the month of July, and football season for The Citadel doesn’t start until August 30, and that day can’t get here soon enough, so any discussion about football right now is good discussion? Yes.

I posted about this topic last year too, for the record.

Anyway, here we go:

August 30: Coastal Carolina comes to Johnson Hagood Stadium for the first meeting ever between the two programs. It’s the season opener for both teams, so the Chanticleers obviously won’t play anyone before squaring off against the Bulldogs.

Coastal Carolina’s last game in 2013 was a 48-14 loss at North Dakota State in the FCS playoffs.

September 6: The Citadel travels to Tallahassee to play Florida State. It will be Youth and Band Day at Doak Campbell Stadium, and also the first home game for the Seminoles since winning the BCS title game in January.

FSU warms up for its matchup against the Bulldogs by playing Oklahoma State in JerrahWorld on August 30, and then Jimbo Fisher’s crew get a much-needed week off following the game against The Citadel before hosting a second consecutive Palmetto State squad, Clemson.

September 13: No game, as this is The Citadel’s “bye week”.

September 20: Ah, it’s the Larry Leckonby Bowl, as The Citadel travels up the road to play Charleston Southern, a much-criticized scheduling decision by the former AD. This will be the fourth consecutive home game for the Buccaneers, though they don’t actually play on the Saturday before this game. That’s because CSU’s game against Campbell will take place on Thursday, September 11.

September 27: The Citadel’s first three home games in 2014 all feature opponents that have never faced the Bulldogs on the gridiron. The second of these encounters comes against another band of Bulldogs, the “Runnin’ Bulldogs” of Gardner-Webb. On September 20, G-W will host Wofford.

October 4: Speaking of Wofford, The Citadel will travel to Spartanburg on October 4. It will be the first home game of the season for the Terriers against a D-1 opponent. Wofford tangles with UVA-Wise the week before facing The Citadel.

October 11: The Citadel plays Charlotte, which has back-to-back road games against Bulldogs, as the 49ers play Gardner-Webb before making the trip to Charleston.

October 18: Chattanooga has a very tough stretch in this part of its schedule. The week before matching up with The Citadel in Johnson Hagood Stadium, the Mocs will make the journey to Knoxville to play Tennessee.

October 25: The Citadel travels to Cullowhee to play Western Carolina. It’s Homecoming Week for the Catamounts, which play at Mercer before hosting the Bulldogs.

November 1: Another road trip for The Citadel (and another week as a Homecoming opponent), as the Bulldogs play a conference game against Mercer for the first time. The Bears are at Chattanooga the week before this game.

November 8: VMI is the Paladins’ opponent on November 1, so Furman will play military school opponents in consecutive weeks — both on the road. Furman will play The Citadel in Charleston this year, just as it did last season, due to the turnover in the conference (which resulted in some scheduling adjustments).

November 15:  Samford hosts Western Carolina the week prior to its game against The Citadel. The following week, SU plays at Auburn.

November 22: The Citadel finishes its regular season campaign with a game in Lexington, Virginia, versus VMI. The coveted Silver Shako will be on the line.

On November 15, VMI faces Western Carolina in Cullowhee.

Since Georgia Southern has left the league, there are now only two triple option teams in the SoCon. Only once will a league team face The Citadel and Wofford in consecutive weeks. Furman will play the Bulldogs before facing the Terriers.

Some people think it is important to be the first triple option team on an opponent’s schedule. That is the case for The Citadel when it meets Chattanooga, Mercer, and Furman, but not for its games against the other four league opponents.

Wofford itself will play a triple-option squad before its game against The Citadel, as the Terriers play Georgia Tech on August 30.

VMI actually faces two triple option teams before it plays The Citadel. The Keydets travel to Annapolis for a game against Navy on October 11, and will play Wofford in Spartanburg on October 25.

C’mon, football. Get here…

Schools that have never made the NCAA Tournament — the 2014 edition

Now updated: The 2015 edition

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

All records are through March 2

March Madness is on the horizon. Conference tourney time is almost at hand. Schools far and wide will strive to make the NCAAs.

Most will fail. When it comes to making the NCAA tournament, some have known nothing but failure.

There are 34 schools that have been in Division I for at least a decade that have yet to make a trip to the Big Dance. Now, it is one thing to be UC-Riverside or Gardner-Webb and to have not made your tourney debut, since neither of those schools moved up to D-1 until the dawn of the 21st century.

However, 16 of those 34 schools have been in Division I for 30 years or more and have never received an NCAA tournament bid. For fans of New Hampshire, or Youngstown State, or Stetson, the annual exercise of watching the tourney from the outside looking in has become more than a little frustrating.

Can any of them finally break through? That’s the subject of this post. The short answer, however, is that the odds are not favorable.

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 2014, 19 of those schools are still waiting. The twentieth, Centenary, has left Division I.

There are actually around 54 schools (give or take a transitional member or two) currently in D-1 that have never made the Big Dance, but my focus is on schools that have been in the division for more than 10 years without receiving a bid. It’s too early to worry about making the tournament if you’re UMass Lowell or Incarnate Word.

Of course, last year one of those newly minted D-1 schools took the nation by storm, as FGCU (only in the division since 2008; heck, only a functioning school since 1997) dunked its way into the Sweet 16. This season, the “newbies” with the best chances of making a move into the field of 68 are probably Bryant, North Carolina Central, North Dakota, USC-Upstate, and Utah Valley.

Before I run down the longtime hopefuls, though, I want to mention another subset of schools, namely those institutions that have played in the NCAA Tournament, but have not made an appearance in the event for at least twenty years. Some of them have waited for a return trip longer than most of the never-beens.

First on this list is Dartmouth, a two-time national finalist (!) that hasn’t been back to the NCAAs since 1959. The Big Green won’t be in the tourney this year, either, having already been eliminated in the race for the Ivy League title (as there is no post-season tournament in that conference).

Next in this group is another member of the Ivies, Yale, which has not appeared in the NCAAs since 1962. That streak is likely to continue for at least one more year, as the Elis are all but mathematically eliminated from league title contention (with Harvard set to clinch the auto-bid with one more victory).

Other schools that have made at least one NCAA trip but haven’t been back since 1994 (or earlier) while continuously in D-1: Tennessee Tech (no appearances since 1963), Columbia (1968), Bowling Green (1968), Rice (1970), VMI (1977), Duquesne (1977), Furman (1980), Toledo (1980), Mercer (1985), 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), Coastal Carolina (1993), East Carolina (1993), SMU (1993), Rider (1994), and Tennessee State (1994).

Of note: Seattle (a finalist in 1958 thanks to Elgin Baylor, but which last made the NCAAs in 1969) 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.

Last year, a couple of schools with long breaks between appearances broke through (Middle Tennessee State and La Salle). This season, things are looking very good for Larry Brown’s SMU squad to grab a spot in the field. Others to watch in this group: Coastal Carolina, Louisiana Tech, Mercer, Toledo, Towson, and VMI.

Among the power conference schools, Oregon State’s 24-year drought is currently the longest, not counting Northwestern…and that’s our cue to begin the rundown of schools that have never made the tournament. As is traditional, we start with The Forgotten Five.

The NCAA Tournament began in 1939. In 1948, the NCAA reorganized into separate divisions (university and college) for its member institutions. Of the schools that since 1948 have continuously been in what is now Division I, there are five which have never made the tournament field. All five of those schools theoretically could have been in the tournament beginning in 1939, actually, so for them the wait is longer than their history as official members of D-1.

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

– Northwestern: According to the Helms Foundation, Northwestern actually won the national championship in 1931. Of course, that’s a retroactive ranking, not an actual on-court result.

At 12-17, the Wildcats can only make the NCAAs this season by winning the Big 10 tournament, which is unlikely. However, Northwestern has shown a little bit of moxie in Chris Collins’ first season as head coach.

I think the Wildcats are perhaps two years away from finally breaking through. Maybe next season, even. Not this year, though.

– Army: Last season, the Black Knights enjoyed their first winning campaign in almost three decades. Army is currently 14-15 and has concluded regular season play.

To make its first NCAA trip, a Patriot League tourney title is necessary. It’s not inconceivable, though Boston University and American are the league favorites.

– St. Francis College: The Terriers (18-13) are going to qualify for the NEC tourney, but need a lot of luck to grab the auto-bid from league heavyweight Robert Morris (not to mention second-place Wagner). SFC hasn’t been very close to making the NCAAs since it lost in the 2003 NEC title game.

It’s too bad. I bet even Jim Rockford would root for the Terriers, despite the fact that Lt. Chapman played for SFC.

– William & Mary: Three times, the Tribe has advanced to the CAA final. Three times the Tribe has lost.

It isn’t out of the question that William & Mary (18-11) could find itself back in the league championship game again this season. Can it finally grab the brass ring?

– The Citadel: A win over Samford ensured that the Bulldogs would not go winless in the Southern Conference for the first time since 1955-56. That said, The Citadel is 6-25. This won’t be the year.

At one point during the season, The Citadel lost 17 consecutive games. That broke a single-season record originally set by the 1953-54 squad, a team that featured no scholarship players and also had to deal with things like frozen uniforms.

What about the other never-beens? Well, first up are two New England state universities still in search of a bid despite being members of D-1 since 1962. As a hardwood tandem, they are called “The Dour Duo”.

– New Hampshire: The Wildcats are 6-23 and tied for last place in the America East. It’s hard to imagine a team less positioned to make an NCAA run — well, except maybe…

– Maine: The Black Bears are 6-22 and share that last place spot with UNH in the America East. It’s hockey season (as always) for New Hampshire and Maine.

The rest of the rundown:

– Denver (D-1 from 1948 to 1980, then back to the division in 1999): The Pioneers are only 15-14 this season after back-to-back 22-win campaigns. At 8-6 in the Summit League, though, Denver still has a decent shot at finally advancing to the NCAA Tournament.

Joe Scott has continued his classical Princeton approach to coaching offense, as only one D-1 school (Miami-FL) plays at a slower pace than the Pioneers.

– UT-Pan American (class of 1969): The Broncs were 16-16 last year. Like several teams on this list, UTPA moved to the WAC for this season, giving it an opportunity to compete for an automatic bid that wasn’t available in the now-defunct Great West Conference. Unfortunately, this season UTPA is 9-21 and not a serious candidate to claim that automatic berth.

– Stetson (class of 1972): Ted Cassidy’s alma mater is 7-23. Even Gomez Addams couldn’t conjure up a way for the Hatters to win the Atlantic Sun tournament and grab an auto-bid.

– UC Irvine (class of 1978): UCI, currently 20-10 and in first place in the Big West, has a legitimate chance at making the NCAAs this year. The most recognizable of the Anteaters is 7’6″ Mamadou Ndiaye, the tallest player in Division I basketball.

– Grambling State (class of 1978): The Tigers do have two conference wins this year and three victories overall, a marked improvement from last season, when Grambling State went winless. However, GSU is ineligible for postseason play this year due to APR penalties (though the Tigers, like three other SWAC schools, will be allowed to compete in the conference tournament).

– Maryland-Eastern Shore (D-1 in 1974-75, then back to the division for good in 1982): UMES is 5-22. This is the 12th consecutive season the Hawks have lost 20 or more games. Ouch.

Last season, veteran coach Frankie Allen went 2-26 at UMES, and got a one-year contract extension. I don’t know if he will get another one. I don’t know if he wants another one.

– Youngstown State (D-1 in 1948, then returning to the division in 1982): The Penguins have been quietly respectable in recent seasons, and are 15-16 this year. They won’t be favored to win the Horizon League tournament (Green Bay has that distinction), but YSU has a puncher’s chance (along with every other league squad save UIC).

– Bethune-Cookman (class of 1981): In 2011, Bethune-Cookman won the regular-season MEAC title. Since then: 18 wins, 14 wins, and (so far this season) 6 wins. That’s not a promising trend when you’re trying to pick up an NCAA bid.

– Western Illinois (class of 1982): Last year, the Leathernecks won 22 games, the first time WIU had ever won 20 or more games in a season. The opportunity to win the Summit League was there, and then it was gone.

This year Western Illinois is 10-19. Back to square one.

– Chicago State (class of 1985): Another former Great West refugee that found its way to the WAC, Chicago State is 12-17. Don’t sleep on the Panthers’ chances of pulling an upset in the WAC tourney; Chicago State won the final Great West postseason tournament last year, so its players have tasted some success in a tourney format.

Even if the Panthers don’t win the WAC tournament this year, the program has already won one battle. After struggling with academic issues for several years, the men’s basketball team’s most recent APR score was a perfect 1,000.

– Hartford (class of 1985): While Dionne Warwick is Hartford’s most famous alum, its most passionate grad may be WCSC-TV (Charleston) sportscaster Kevin Bilodeau. Will he finally see his school appear in the NCAA tournament?

Probably not. The Hawks are 16-15 overall and are looking up in the league standings at Vermont and Stony Brook (more on SBU below). Perhaps Warwick could save Bilodeau unnecessary anguish and have one of her psychic friends tell him whether or not Hartford wins the conference tournament.

– UMKC (class of 1988): I’m not sure why the Kangaroos moved from the Summit League to the WAC, but the results are similar. UMKC is 9-18 and has the worst offense in the conference. Edie McClurg is not happy.

– Buffalo (D-1 from 1974-77, then back to the division in 1992): At 12-4 in league play (18-8 overall), the Bulls currently lead the MAC’s East division and can dream again of that elusive NCAA bid. Few schools on this list have come as close to crashing the Big Dance as Buffalo has over the last decade.

The first-year head coach of the Bulls, Bobby Hurley, is more than a little familiar with the NCAA Tournament.

– Sacramento State (class of 1992): As noted in last year’s edition of this post, Sacramento State is the alma mater of actor Tom Hanks, and plays its home basketball games at a 1,200-seat gym (Colberg Court, aka “The Nest”) named for a women’s volleyball coach.

Sacramento State didn’t qualify for the Big Sky tourney last season. This year the Hornets (13-14 overall, 9-9 in league play) may sneak into the eight-team event, but getting past Weber State or Northern Colorado to actually win the auto-bid is another story.

You never know, though. After all, Sacramento State has already beaten Weber State once this season, thanks to this amazing shot.

– UT-Martin (class of 1993): After starting the season with ten consecutive losses, things really haven’t improved for the Skyhawks (8-23). UTM will not qualify for the OVC tournament, so the NCAA dream will have to wait at least another season.

– Cal Poly (class of 1995): The alumni list for the Mustangs includes such sporting notables as John Madden, Ozzie Smith, and Chuck Liddell. However, no NBA player lists Cal Poly as his alma mater, so there isn’t a huge hoops tradition in SLO land.

It doesn’t appear that this year will change that. The Mustangs are currently 10-18, 6-9 in the Big West.

– Jacksonville State (class of 1996): Like UT-Martin, Jacksonville State plays in the OVC. Also like UT-Martin, the Gamecocks (10-21) will not qualify for the OVC tournament this year.

– Quinnipiac (class of 1999): Last year, after detailing a few near-misses for the Bobcats in the NEC tournament, I wrote that “one of these years, Quinnipiac is going to win that league tourney. It will probably happen sooner rather than later.”

Ah, the dangers of prognosticating during this era of massive conference realignment. Quinnipiac has since moved to the MAAC, so the Bobcats certainly aren’t going to be winning the NEC tourney anytime soon.

They could win the MAAC tournament, though. QU is 19-10, and in third place in the league standings (trailing regular-season champ Iona and second-place Manhattan). We’ll have to wait for the exit polls to get a better idea on Quinnipiac’s chances of breaking through.

– Elon (class of 2000): At 18-13, Elon is having a season similar to last year’s solid campaign, though not as good a year as its fans may have wanted. The SoCon’s preseason favorite in some precincts finished fourth in the league standings.

There was no Southern Conference tournament title for the Phoenix last season, but Elon is a not-unreasonable pick to win the league tourney this year. Getting past Davidson is going to be a challenge, however.

This is Elon’s last chance at the SoCon auto-bid. Next year, the Phoenix move to the CAA.

– High Point (class of 2000): The Panthers are only 16-13 overall, but a 12-4 conference record was good enough to win the Big South’s North division.

(What division do you think sounds better, the Big South North or the Big South South? I can’t decide.)

Last year, an injury to a key player late in the campaign derailed High Point’s season. The Panthers are hoping for better luck in this year’s Big South tournament.

– Sacred Heart (class of 2000): 5-26 overall, just two wins in NEC play, losers of 13 of their last 14 games, eliminated from the league tournament…ugh. Let’s move on.

– Stony Brook (class of 2000): Last year, the Seawolves won the America East by three games but was tripped up in the league tourney semifinals by Albany. The game was played at Albany, because that’s how the America East rolls.

This season, Stony Brook (21-9) is second in the league behind Vermont but will avoid drawing a homestanding Albany in the conference tournament semifinals again. That said, getting a first-ever NCAA berth is not going to be easy.

– UC Riverside (class of 2002): The Highlanders are 9-19, have lost five of their last six contests, and are tied for last in the Big West. Last year, UCR was ineligible for the league tourney due to APR issues. That isn’t the case this season, but the Highlanders need to beat UC Davis in their next game in order to guarantee qualification for this year’s event, as only the top eight squads advance to the Big West tourney.

– IPFW (class of 2002): IPFW is short for Indiana University-Purdue University Ft. Wayne, so the acronym is a necessity. The schools’ teams are known as the Mastodons, one of the more distinctive nicknames in Division I.

This year, March Madness could become Mastodon Madness, as IPFW is 22-9 and tied for second place in the Summit League. The program has already set its high-water mark for victories as a D-1 member, but looks to top that achievement with an appearance in the NCAAs.

– Gardner-Webb (class of 2003): The Runnin’ Bulldogs (17-13) tied for second place in the Big South South, and have a decent chance to win what should be one of the most competitive conference tournaments in the country. Last year, Gardner-Webb won 21 games but bowed in the conference semis to eventual champ Liberty.

– Savannah State (class of 2003): It’s been a tough year for the Tigers. After winning 21 and 19 games the previous two seasons, Savannah State is 11-17, including a 10-game losing streak in non-conference play.

However, SSU is 9-5 in the MEAC and could be a dark horse in the league tourney. As always, the MEAC tournament is one of the nation’s more oddly constructed postseason events.

– Lipscomb (class of 2004): The Bisons have won two regular-season titles in the Atlantic Sun (2006 and 2010), but have never won the league tournament, and thus have yet to make the NCAA Tournament. This year, Lipscomb (15-14) is a middle-of-the-pack team in the A-Sun, and it would be a huge surprise if the Bisons snagged the auto-bid from the likes of Mercer or FGCU.

Well, that’s the roll call for 2013-14. Will any of those teams get to the promised land?

Usually, I say no. This year, though, I think at least one of the never-beens is going to make it. UC Irvine, Stony Brook, William & Mary (now that would be a story), Quinnipiac, Denver, Elon, IPFW, Buffalo — at least one of them is going to be dancing.

I hope so, anyway. I also hope that if any of the aforementioned schools qualify, that they aren’t shunted off to the play-in games, which shouldn’t exist in the first place. These long-suffering programs deserves a presence in the main draw.

The play-in games limit the tournament experience of the automatic qualifiers, and that’s unfair. The tourney should really revert back to a 64-team field. At least talk of expanding the tournament to 80 or 90 teams has stopped (for now).

It’s an accomplishment to make the NCAA Tournament. It means something to a program, especially when that school is a first-timer. It should continue to mean something.

Best of luck to all the dreamers.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 720 other followers