Cancun Challenge matchups (that are actually in Cancun!)

It’s time for the Cancun Challenge to reach its highly anticipated climax.  All the excitement moves to Mexico, where The Citadel will play two games in two days this weekend in pre-determined, non-televised matchups.  On Saturday the Bulldogs play Central Arkansas.  On Sunday, the opponent will be Grambling State.  The games will be played at the Moon Palace Resort in Cancun.  Incidentally, this tournament is run by Triple Crown Sports, the same outfit responsible for the women’s NIT (pre-season and post-season).

Central Arkansas is a school with an enrollment of about 13,000 students.  It’s located in Conway, a city with a population of around 55,000, about 25 miles north of Little Rock.  UCA was an NAIA school for many years, then moved to NCAA Division II, and four years ago began its transition to NCAA Division I.  It’s in year three of that transition, and has a year to go before becoming a full-fledged D-1 member.  Thus, it isn’t eligible for its conference tournament until next season.

That conference would be the Southland.  UCA just completed a football season in which it went 10-2, 7-1 in the league, but it wasn’t recognized as conference champion because the league feared it would lose its automatic bid to the FCS playoffs if its champion was ineligible to compete in the postseason.

There are two other facts about Central Arkansas worth mentioning.  One is that Scottie Pippen went to UCA, where he was a two-time NAIA All-American before winning six NBA titles with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.  Pippen actually started his career at UCA as a 6’1″ walk-on (with team manager responsibilities), but then he grew to 6’7″ and the rest is history.  The other thing you need to know about Central Arkansas is that while its men’s teams are called the Bears, the women’s teams are known as the Sugar Bears.

The Citadel and Central Arkansas have never met in hoops.  So far this season UCA is 2-2, with home wins over Bacone (an NAIA school in Muskogee, Oklahoma) and UNC-Greensboro, and road losses to Northwestern and Vanderbilt.  The loss to Northwestern was just horrendous (81-39).  On the other hand, beating UNCG should be more than enough to impress The Citadel, which was swept by the Spartans last season.

UCA returns three starters from last year’s 14-16 squad (which went 4-12 in the Southland) and adds a couple of key players to that mix.  6’6″ Mitch Reuter missed most of last season for the Bears with an injury.  He’s off to a nice start this season, as is Chris Brown, a 6’8″ transfer from Wichita State.  Other players of note for UCA include Marcus Pillow, a 6’0″ guard who leads the team in scoring and minutes played, and Mike Pouncy, a 6’1″ guard who exploded for 26 points against UNC-Greensboro.  Also part of the Bears eight-man regular rotation are a pair of centers, 6’9″, 260 lb. Brian Marks (leading the team in rebounding) and 6’8″ Landrell Brewer.

There is one player from South Carolina on UCA’s roster, the wonderfully named King Cannon, a 6’5″ forward and graduate of York High School who is averaging 13 minutes per game.  Not seeing much action but worth mentioning is 6’1″ sophomore guard Imad Qahwash, who went to high school in Canada but played this summer for the Jordanian national team.  That’s not Michael Jordan’s house team, by the way.

So far this year UCA has not shot the ball particularly well, a carryover from last season when the Bears were among the poorer shooting teams in the country.  Central Arkansas is currently shooting less than 40% from the field and less than 30% from beyond the arc.  UCA shoots only 65.3% from the foul line.  So far this season, UCA’s defensive FG% stats are rather hideous in four games (opponents are shooting better than 50% from the field), but that’s obviously a small sample size.  Last year the Bears were okay defensively.

After its game against The Citadel, the Bears will play on Sunday against South Dakota State.

Grambling State is famous for its football.  Basketball, not so much (although the school does have one famous hoops alum, Willis Reed).  Grambling has been in Division I since 1978 and has never qualified for the NCAA tournament.  Only eleven schools can claim a longer (continuous) drought without an initial tourney appearance.  One of those schools, of course, is The Citadel.  The game on Sunday will be the first between the Tigers and Bulldogs.

In the last 15 years, Grambling has only enjoyed two winning seasons (14-12 in 2005 and 16-12 in 1998).  The Tigers followed up that 1997-98 season with a six-win season and a three-win campaign.  Maybe even more disappointing for a Grambling fan is that over that same time period, only three times have the Tigers had a winning conference record.  Considering that the SWAC annually ranks near or at the bottom of conference RPI ratings, that doesn’t say much for GSU.  Last year Grambling finished with a 7-19 record and an RPI of 328.  In other words, when it comes to hoops, Grambling State and The Citadel are peers.

Grambling’s new coach is Rick Duckett, who has been around.  He’s a UNC grad who had successful stretches as a head coach at the Division II level, and was most recently an assistant to Dave Odom at South Carolina.  He’s probably a good get for the school, but he has his work cut out for him.  In three games so far this season Grambling has lost a close home game to Louisiana Tech and has been blown out in two road games against New Mexico (96-50) and Oklahoma State (91-60).  Duckett wants to employ an up-tempo style, but he may not have the players to do that yet (in the three games the Tigers are averaging a slightly-above-average 72.5 possessions).

Grambling lost three starters from last season and two other key contributors.  Duckett does have Andrew Prestley, a 6’5″ forward who in three games so far this season is putting up a 17-8 line, and JC transfer Ibrahim Kpaka, a 6’4″ guard who is averaging 13 points per game.  Grambling has very little size; the biggest player in its seven-man rotation is 6’7″, 240 lb. Jamal Breaux.  Breaux is the SWAC’s leading returning rebounder and came into this season averaging 52% from the field for his career, but in three games so far this season he is shooting 36% and only collecting 4.3 boards per game.  Grambling as a team is shooting just 33% from the field and an abysmal 55% from the foul line.  Conversely, its opponents are shooting 50% from the field (43% from 3-land).

The day before playing The Citadel, Grambling State takes on Morehead State, another winless team (0-5).

It will be interesting to see how the Bulldogs fare in neutral-site games against teams with at least similar talent levels.  Playing two games in two days will be a good warmup for the Southern Conference tournament (although assuming the Bulldogs might play more than one game in that tourney is always dangerous).  I will be disappointed if The Citadel doesn’t win at least one of these two games.  Central Arkansas is probably a slight favorite, but the Bulldogs likely would get the edge over Grambling.

No points for Curry, no sense for Patsos

I just had to briefly comment on last night’s Loyola (MD) – Davidson basketball game, as Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos took the early lead in the “strangest coaching strategy of the season” competition.  As you probably have heard by now, Davidson All-American Stephen Curry did not score in this game, because Patsos had two of his players shadow Curry for the entire game, regardless of whether or not he had the ball.  This was called a “triangle and two” defense, but in your typical triangle-and-two the defenders not in the triangle are guarding different players, not the same guy.  I propose the formation used by Loyola last night should henceforth be called the “Pitiful Patsos” defense. 

Curry spent a good portion of the game standing in a corner of the court, allowing his teammates to go 4-on-3, much like a power play in hockey.  Patsos continued to employ the double-shadow defense after it became apparent his strategy wasn’t going to work, or even come close to working, as Davidson went on an 18-0 run during the first half en route to a 39-17 lead.   Davidson eventually won the game, 78-48.

Some people have noted that Davidson had been averaging 87.5 points per game against Division I competition before this game, and so have argued that Loyola’s bizarre doubling on Curry was, from a defensive point of view, successful (since Davidson only scored 78 points in this game).  That is wrong, however.

In its four previous games against Division I teams, Davidson had averaged 87. 5 points while averaging 75.725 possessions per game, or 1.1555 points per possession, which is outstanding (that number would have led the country last season).  Against Loyola, the Wildcats may have scored “only” 78 points, but those points came on an estimated 67 possessions, for a points-per-possession average of 1.1641, which is actually better than what Davidson had been averaging before the game.  Davidson’s output of 78 points simply reflects the pace of the game, not a decline in its offensive production.

Meanwhile, Loyola’s own leading scorer, Brett Harvey, got shut out in this game (Harvey only played 13 minutes), and the Greyhounds were so discombulated on offense that they committed 21 turnovers while only having 16 made field goals.  Davidson made almost as many three-point shots (14).  Loyola hadn’t been a particularly good offensive team prior to last night, but the performance against Davidson was truly putrid.  Of course, the Wildcats were also the best team Loyola had played so far this season, so maybe that was to be expected.

My biggest problem with Patsos is that he continued to “roll the dice” (as he called it) even after it became obvious his strategy was failing, and that in the end, he seemed more determined to keep Curry from scoring than actually win (or stay competitive in) the game.  That isn’t what college basketball is about.  He made the game a farce, and for what benefit?  He’ll get some publicity (almost entirely negative), but his team will get nothing out of the game.  Instead of getting the chance to measure themselves against a quality non-conference opponent, and take that experience into Metro Atlantic conference play, it’s a waste of a game and a waste of time for the players.

It’s nice to be road warriors instead of road kill

On January 6, 2007, The Citadel won at Wofford, 74-71.  That was actually the Bulldogs’ second straight road win, having defeated Elon 53-50 three days before.  It would be the last time The Citadel won a road game…until last night.

The Bulldogs had lost 20 consecutive road games, but Tuesday night at the North Charleston Coliseum, The Citadel led throughout the entire second half and eventually outlasted Charleston Southern, 84-80.  The Bulldogs had a strong offensive showing, scoring those 84 points on 71 possessions, led by a superb game from Cameron Wells  (26 points, 11 rebounds, and only one turnover in 38 minutes).  The Citadel generally took good care of the basketball (with one area of exception – I’ll mention that later) and did a reasonable job of controlling the pace of the game. 

Shot selection was a major part of that, as the Bulldogs did not rely quite as heavily on the three-pointers as they have had a tendency to do (although the percentage of made threes was excellent).  The longer the offensive possession for the Bulldogs, the better off they were.  The Citadel also got to the foul line with regularity and converted those opportunities (84% FT).

Defensively, The Citadel did just enough to win, although there are still issues to address.  Down the stretch the Bulldogs committed a few silly fouls, allowing CSU to score points while the clock was stopped.  The three-point defense was actually pretty good.  With the way Jamarco Warren has been shooting so far this season, holding him to 4-9 shooting from beyond the arc isn’t that bad, and his teammates combined to go 3-11.  In general the Bucs didn’t shoot well, but almost made up for it with all those free throws (both teams did a great job shooting foul shots).    

The Citadel also struggled a bit with inbounding the basketball.  CSU put its 6’10” center, Billy Blackmon, on the baseline to guard the inbounds passer on made free throws and other dead-ball situations, and the Bulldogs seemed to have a hard time dealing with his size.  That’s something that is correctable, though, with instruction.  

I’ll say this (as I look around for a handy piece of balsa or oak):  it’s not a bad thing at all to root for a team that can actually make free throws, particularly down the stretch of a tight game.  I could get used to that.

Last year The Citadel beat Charleston Southern on November 26.  Its next (and final) win against a Division I opponent came on February 14, against Western Carolina.  Let’s hope that doesn’t happen again.  The Bulldogs’ next opportunity to win a game will be Saturday in the Cancun Challenge, with the game actually in Cancun this time.  The opponent is Central Arkansas.  No word on whether Scottie Pippen will be cheering on his old school.

Charleston Southern isn’t in Charleston

Not only is Charleston Southern not in Charleston, it’s not south of Charleston, either (unless you’re talking about the Charleston in West Virginia).  CSU is in Ladson, about 18 miles northwest of the Holy City.  Ladson is not exactly a suburb of Charleston.

That doesn’t prevent the school from emphasizing its connection to Charleston, however tenuous that connection may be.  The media guide, for example, has this fine example of glossing over the fact the school really isn’t in the city:

“the University is strategically located near Charleston, South Carolina, in the center of the modern growth patterns of the tri-county area. Students take advantage of the cultural, historical and recreational opportunities the city offers. Charleston is a city famous for its well-preserved colonial houses, famous gardens and plantations, miles of wide sandy beaches, and major fine arts events…”

CSU has been CSU since 1990.  The school was originally founded in 1964 as Baptist College, but as it got larger, the powers-that-be decided to change its name.  Part of this had to do with people confusing it for a seminary.  CSU (as Baptist) had been an NCAA Division I member for 15 years at the time of the switch, which occurred around the same time the College of Charleston became a full-fledged member of the division, leading to occasional confusion when the likes of ESPN or the AP reported scoring updates, as people mixed up the two schools regularly.  More than once a reference to “College of Charleston Southern” was made as well.  The national befuddlement has largely subsided now, however.

(I was a little amused to notice, though, that in CSU’s game notes there is a breakdown of the school’s alltime record under each of the school’s names.  The school recorded 285 wins as Baptist College, and has 207 so far as Charleston Southern.)

Charleston Southern (the school teams are nicknamed the Buccaneers, or the “Bucs”) has won the Big South tournament twice, but the first time the conference did not have an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.  CSU did go to the tourney in 1997, when it won the league tournament for the second (and to date, last) time.  Charleston Southern lost to UCLA that year in the first round.  Probably the most well-known CSU hoopster, at least in the Lowcountry, is longtime Charleston TV personality Warren Peper, who played basketball at Baptist College in the 1970s.

Although The Citadel and Charleston Southern are less than twenty miles apart, the two schools have had stretches of not playing each other that have lasted for several years at a time.  There were no games between the Bulldogs and Bucs from 1987 through 1992, from 1999 through 2001, and again from 2003 through 2004.  Part of this has been due to personality conflicts between various individuals, and part of it has to do with CSU’s home court situation (there is a chicken-and-the-egg aspect to the conflicts/court issue).

Charleston Southern’s on-campus “arena” is the CSU Fieldhouse, which according to a Wikipedia entry (why is there a Wiki entry for the CSU Fieldhouse?) seats 790 fans, and is reportedly the smallest home gym in Division I.  Now, to be honest, I think it can seat more than 790 (the announced attendance for the Bucs’ home opener against Furman was 846), but it is a really small gym.  Thus, CSU plays select “home” games at the North Charleston Coliseum, which seats over 13,000 in its basketball configuration.

As you might imagine, the Bucs never draw close to that many people for any of their home games, no matter the opponent (Clemson played CSU at the Coliseum about a decade ago; the game drew less than 4,000 fans).  I once went to a game at the Coliseum between CSU and Furman that could not have had more than 200 spectators in attendance, and that was counting the operations staff.  Tonight’s game should be a little better than that, but I would be surprised if more than 2,500 people are at the game.

However, the Coliseum is a selling point for the Bucs when recruiting (“see, if you’re good we’ll fill this arena with thousands of screaming fans!”).  What CSU really needs is a place to play bigger than its current home gym but not as gargantuan as the North Charleston Coliseum.  An arena with around 5,000 seats would do the trick.

The Citadel leads (!) the alltime series with CSU 18-13.  The Bucs have won five of the last six games in the series, but the one loss came last year at McAlister Field House, 76-73.  That game was typical of The Citadel’s season (poor defensive statistics across the board, heavy reliance on the three, etc.) except that The Citadel shot 50% from behind the line (11-22) and attempted (and made) a lot more free throws than normal.  Those two elements contributed to one of the Bulldogs’ two wins last season against Division I competition (late in the season, The Citadel notched its only conference victory, over Western Carolina).

Zach Urbanus went 5-6 from three-land, scoring 21 points, and the Bulldogs also got good games from Cameron Wells (15 points, 7 assists) and Demetrius Nelson (12 points, 8 rebounds in one of his last games before taking a medical redshirt).  Phillip Pandak made three 3-pointers, finishing with 11 points.  For CSU, Jamarco Warren was a force, scoring a game-high 22 points while making six 3-pointers and dishing out 5 assists.  Omar Carter added 17 points.  All of those players return for Tuesday night’s game.

This season, CSU is 2-2, with losses at Iowa (by 68-48; The Citadel lost at home to the Hawkeyes 70-48) and to the College of Charleston (at the North Charleston Coliseum).  The Bucs have defeated Toccoa Falls (a non-Division I school) and Furman, both at home.  The game against the CofC was an up-and-down affair, while the Iowa and Furman games were slower-paced.  I think CSU would probably like to play a little faster against The Citadel than it did against the Hawkeyes and Paladins.  CSU takes care of the basketball and shoots fairly well from behind the arc (and was 8-12 from that distance against Toccoa Falls, so it comes into tonight’s game confident in that respect).  The Bucs are only shooting 46.7% from inside the 3-point line, though, thanks mainly to a poor night against Iowa.  CSU has not been particularly good defensively (especially inside).

Warren is averaging 23.5 points so far this season and is red-hot from outside (64.5% from 3-land).  Carter is averaging 16.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per contest.  Freshman Kelvin Martin is a 6’5″ forward pulling down 9 rebounds per game.  He’s also in double figures in points (11.5).  The Bucs also have a 6’10” center, Billy Blackmon, who is shooting 68% from the field while averaging 7.5 boards.

Charleston Southern has lost a combined 42 games the past two years and would like to reverse that trend.  Losing again to The Citadel would be a bad sign, especially considering the Bulldogs have yet to show sustained improvement on defense and (except for the game against Cincinnati Christian) have been much more turnover-prone than they were last season.  That’s not to say the Bulldogs aren’t better than they were last season.  It’s just that it may be later in the year before The Citadel starts demonstrating that overall improvement by winning games.

However, if Nelson and Wells have good games, which I think is quite possible, and at least one other Bulldog chips in offensively, The Citadel has a decent chance of making it two in a row over CSU.  For that chance to become reality, though, the Bulldogs must control the game’s pace (in part by avoiding turnovers), do a better job defending the three, and contain the Bucs (especially Martin) on the glass.  Easier said than done.

Mike Mussina and Bob Caruthers

Mike Mussina retired last week.  Mussina finished his career with a 270-153 record and a 3.68 ERA, pitching his entire career in the American League for two teams, the Baltimore Orioles and the New York Yankees.  He won 20 games this past season, the first (and as it turns out, only) time in his career he reached the 20-win milestone.

There has been considerable discussion in the press about whether or not Mussina deserves to be in baseball’s Hall of Fame.  In an article by Tyler Kepner of The New York Times, several writers interviewed by Kepner expressed reservations about voting for Mussina, mostly because he wasn’t perceived as a dominant pitcher.  One of them, Dom Amore of The Hartford Courant, stated that while he hadn’t ruled out voting for Mussina, “his candidacy would be based on longevity, and longevity candidates need 300.”

This is probably the typical line of reasoning behind people not supporting Mussina’s candidacy, but there is a problem with it, namely that Mussina isn’t strictly a “longevity candidate”.  Rather, he is a different sort of peak candidate.  He never had a big-win season or won an ERA title, but he was really good almost every season, and as a result posted a career .638 winning percentage, which is extremely impressive.  Sometimes you hear longevity-type Hall of Fame candidates dismissively referred to as “compilers”.  A pItcher with a career winning percentage of .638 is definitely not a compiler.  As pointed out in the article, the only pitchers with as many wins as Mussina and a better winning percentage are his former teammate Roger Clemens and four immortals of the distant past: Lefty Grove, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Christy Mathewson, and Walter Johnson.

Of course, all of them were demonstrably better than Mussina, with longer careers, but it speaks to the unusually successful nature of his career.  Wins aren’t everything, obviously, and are often overrated, particularly in individual seasons, but over a long career wins generally give you a good idea of the value of a pitcher.

Even if you dispute that, there is no arguing that wins and winning percentage are key considerations for most writers who have a Hall of Fame vote.  That leads me to this point:  Mussina, by the Hall’s own standards, is a no-questions-asked Hall of Famer.  He is 113 games over .500 in his career as a pitcher.  That’s a very large win-loss differential, and every Hall-eligible pitcher who has finished his career at least 100 games over .500 has a plaque in Cooperstown.  Every pitcher except one, that is.  The lone exception, the man on the outside looking in, is Bob Caruthers, who had a career win-loss record of 218-99.

Caruthers debuted with the St. Louis Browns of the American Association late in the 1884 season, after starting his pro career with Grand Rapids, a minor league club in the Northwestern League.  He was only 5’7″ and weighed less than 140 pounds, but the 20-year-old Caruthers impressed his new team immediately, appearing in 13 games with 7 starts and compiling a 7-2 record (125 ERA+).  St. Louis finished fourth that season, but thanks to Caruthers and teammate Dave Foutz, the Browns would dominate the AA in 1885, winning the pennant by 16 games.  Caruthers went 40-13 (158 ERA+), pitching 482 innings.  He started and completed all 53 games he pitched.  He led the league in wins, ERA, shutouts, and winning percentage.

During the winter he held out for more money.  Caruthers had traveled to Europe, and did his negotiating from Paris via telegraph.  That aspect of the contract dispute led to his nickname, “Parisian Bob”.  Caruthers eventually returned and led the Browns to another pennant, with a 30-14 record and 148 ERA+ in 387 innings.  Caruthers led the league in winning percentage and was second in ERA.  He was more than just a pitcher, though — a lot more.  That season, Caruthers played 43 games in the outfield when he wasn’t pitching (and also made two cameo appearances at second base).  He batted .334 (with a .448 OBP) and a .527 slugging percentage.  That added up to an OPS+ of 200.  Caruthers led the league in OBP, OPS, and OPS+, was second in slugging, and was fourth in batting average.

Caruthers missed three weeks of the 1887 season with malaria, but still managed a 29-9 record with an ERA+ of 138 (341 innings), leading the league in winning percentage.  As a batter, he continued to shine, batting .363 with a .453 OBP and a slugging percentage of .547, playing 54 games in the outfield and 7 games at first base when he wasn’t pitching.  Caruthers finished third in OPS, OPS+, and OBP, and fifth in batting.  The Browns won their third consecutive pennant.

The Browns lost a postseason exhibition series to the NL’s Detroit Wolverines, which angered eccentric (I’m being kind here) St. Louis owner Chris Von der Ahe.  He accused the players of playing too hard off the field, and sold the contracts of those he considered blame-worthy.  One of those players was Caruthers (a known cardsharp and an excellent pool player).  Caruthers went to Brooklyn with Foutz and catcher Doc Bushong for $18,500.

Brief digression Number One:  Bushong was a dentist as well as a catcher, and is credited by some sources as the inventor of the catcher’s mitt.  Bushong was an alumnus of Penn who never let anyone forget that dentistry was his longterm career path, not baseball.

In 1888 Caruthers went 29-15 for Brooklyn (128 ERA+), pitching 391 innings.  Caruthers also played 54 games in the outfield, but his batting declined substantially, with a .230 batting average (still an OPS+ of 111, though).  Brooklyn finished second in the AA, as St. Louis managed to hang on for its fourth straight pennant.

The next season, Caruthers would win 40 games for the second time in his career.  His 40-11 record wasn’t quite as impressive as his sensational 1885 season.  In 1889 his ERA+ was only 112, although that was in 445 innings.  He finished in the top three in the league in WHIP for a fifth consecutive season.  He led the AA in wins, winning percentage, and shutouts.  Caruthers rarely played the outfield this season, although his hitting was still quite respectable (OPS+ of 126).

Brief  (okay, maybe not so brief ) Digression Number Two:  The pennant race in 1889 would be a memorable one.  Brooklyn had to play all its games on the road for a month after its home grandstand burned to the ground, but recovered to catch St. Louis in the standings in August.  A crucial two-game series at home in early September against the Browns would turn into a farce.

In the first game, St. Louis led 4-2 in the eighth, with darkness approaching.  Von der Ahe set up a row of lighted candles in front of the visitors bench in an effort to intimidate the umpire into calling the game for darkness, which would have given the Browns the victory.  The umpire refused to take the bait, and the game continued even after Brooklyn fans threw beer at the candles and started a small fire.  The Browns refused to take the field for the ninth inning, and the game was forfeited to Brooklyn.  In protest, Von der Ahe also would not allow his team to play the next day.

After considerable deliberation, the AA president decided to call the two-game series a split, with the first game awarded to the Browns (because of darkness) and the second to Brooklyn (because of forfeit).  Brooklyn would eventually win the pennant by two games, but in part because of the club’s unhappiness over how the situation was handled by the league office, Brooklyn resigned from the AA after the season and joined the National League.

In his first year in the NL, Caruthers went 23-11 in 300 innings (112 ERA+).  He would finish in the top 10 in wins, winning percentage, and WHIP.  Caruthers also played 39 games in the outfield.  His batting average for the season was .265, with a high OBP (.397) and an OPS+ of 114.  Brooklyn would win the pennant in its first season in its new league.

Caruthers would slip to 18-14 in 1891, although his pitching statistics were very similar to the year before, with the exception of WHIP (which rose noticeably).  Caruthers only played 17 games in the outfield, although his batting improved from the 1890 season (.281 BA and an OPS+ of 120).  Brooklyn would collapse to sixth in the standings, 25 1/2 games out of first.

Caruthers returned to St. Louis (which had by then joined the NL) in 1892, but he could no longer pitch effectively.  His pitching career ended ignomiously, with a 2-10 record.  However, Caruthers could still hit, and he wound up playing 122 games in the outfield.  He compiled an OPS+ of 120 in over 600 PAs.

Caruthers would finish his major league career in 1893 with one appearance for Chicago and thirteen for Cincinnati, all in the outfield.  He would play a few more years in the minors, and also umpired in the American League for two seasons.  Caruthers died at age 47 in 1911 after a long illness (at least one source suggests he had a nervous breakdown).

The three main arguments against Caruthers’ candidacy for the Hall of Fame are 1)  his career length, 2)  the fact he played most of his career in the American Association, which while designated a major league (in retrospect) is generally considered to have been inferior to the National League, and 3) he won a lot of games because his teams were a lot better than their competition.  Of the three arguments, I think the third is weakest, partly because Caruthers wasn’t just winning those games as a pitcher – he was helping his team at the plate, too.  I’m not going to say he was Babe Ruth before there was a Babe Ruth, but he was a remarkable two-way player.  His value to his club was enormous.

He did have a short career, but so did Addie Joss, and Dizzy Dean, and Sandy Koufax (no, I’m not saying he was as good as Koufax).  None of them could hit like him, either.

What is held against Caruthers the most, though, is the level of play in the American Association.  It’s a legitimate point (as is noting the shortness of his career), but if Caruthers is not a Hall of Famer because most of his career was in the AA, then why is the AA considered a major league?  Also, his rate stats from 1889 (when he pitched in the American Association) and 1890 (when he pitched for the same team, but in the National League) are very similar.  The difference is that he only pitched 300 innings instead of 445, which is a significant difference to be sure, but it seems obvious to me that by 1890 he was already on the downside of his career (even though he was only 26 years old).  I suspect that he would have been dominant in the NL in his early years, probably to a similar degree as he was in actuality in the AA.

I’m not saying that Caruthers definitely should be in the Hall, but he is certainly a serious candidate, right on the border.  The main thing held against him is the quality of his competition.  Mike Mussina, on the other hand, pitched his entire career in the AL East.  Nobody’s going to argue about the level of his competition.  Given that, and the history of the Hall voters when considering pitchers with similar numbers, there shouldn’t be any question that Mussina will be (and by the Hall’s own standards, should be) enshrined shortly after he becomes eligible for election.

Seeing both sides of a mismatch on the same day

The bad side

Well, the football game went about as expected.  I was hoping that Florida wouldn’t get to 70, but The Citadel really didn’t make that much of an effort to shorten the game (in terms of play calling).  On the other hand, scoring three touchdowns was a pleasant surprise.  Unfortunately, the Bulldogs went 1-for-3 on extra points.  Kevin Higgins is going to have to do something about the placekicking before next season.

The placekicking was the only negative from the special teams, which were otherwise solid across the board yesterday.  The defense was completely overmatched, but the offense didn’t do all that badly.  While there were three turnovers, at least none of them were converted by Florida’s defense into touchdowns.  In that respect The Citadel fared much better than South Carolina did the previous week against Florida.  It’s also worth noting that due to injury, The Citadel actually inserted its backup quarterback, Cam Turner, into the game before Florida replaced Tim Tebow.

From the strange-but-true department (I guess I’m channeling Jayson Stark here):  South Carolina QBs Stephen Garcia and Chris Smelley both failed to throw a touchdown pass against the Gators.  The same was true for highly-touted Georgia QB Matthew Stafford.  Wide receiver and former walk-on Scott Flanagan of The Citadel, however, threw a TD pass against Florida on only one attempt.

Also, I would say that losing 70-19 is better than losing 56-6.  My reasoning is as follows:  Florida outscored South Carolina by more than an 9-1 ratio, but only outscored The Citadel by a little more than a 3.6-1 ratio.  Advantage, Bulldogs.

The good side

The basketball game also went about as expected, and this was a good thing.  The Citadel was never threatened by Cincinnati Christian and pulled away down the stretch for a convincing victory.  CCU had no answer for Cameron Wells, who had a good game not only on the stat sheet, but in terms of letting the game come to him.  Zach Urbanus had a strong first half and a solid overall game.  The Bulldogs did a good job in this game of getting to the foul line and converting.  Getting their fair share of free throw attempts has to be a priority for the Bulldogs, especially when shooting foul shots is one of The Citadel’s strengths.

Speaking of that, Phillip Pandak got into the game late, and was almost immediately fouled.  I was rooting for him to make both foul shots, and he did.  By doing so he equaled his number of made free throws from all of last season.  He only had four attempts at the line last year, which was amazing, because he attempted 101 field goals during the course of the season.  Now this year in two games he has one field goal attempt and two made free throws…

The Citadel took care of the ball in this game, a welcome change from the previous three games, and the pace of the game was in line with where the Bulldogs want to be.  The Citadel allowed CCU to grab a few more rebounds than I would have liked, and didn’t defend the three-point shot in the first half as well as it should have (the defense on the perimeter noticeably improved in the second half).

It was the second, and final, game of the season against a non-Division I opponent.  Now it’s time to try to win a game against a D-1 foe.  The Citadel’s first opportunity to do so will come on Tuesday night at the North Charleston Coliseum against Charleston Southern, one of two Division I teams the Bulldogs actually beat last season.

Live from Charleston, the Cancun Challenge

I’m still amused (or perhaps bemused) by the format of the Cancun Challenge.  Basically, it’s a four-team tournament with guests…

Vanderbilt, Virginia Commonwealth, New Mexico, and Drake are in the actual bracketing for the tournament.  Drake-Vandy and VCU-New Mexico are the first round matchups, with the winners and losers playing each other the next day.  All of that makes sense.

What doesn’t make a lot of sense is that six other teams are part of the Challenge, but won’t compete in the mini-tourney outlined above.  Those six schools are The Citadel, Grambling State, Central Arkansas, South Dakota State, Central Florida, and Morehead State.

Basically, what happens in this “tournament” is that the Vandy-VCU-UNM-Drake group each host two games in the U.S. against two opponents from the six-pack mentioned in the previous paragraph.  It doesn’t really matter which two, because they don’t impact the tournament brackets for any team.  Then all ten teams will go to Cancun, with the four host schools playing an actual tournament while the remaining squads play two pre-determined matchups against other members of the “lesser six”.  The Citadel, for example, will play Central Arkansas and Grambling State in Cancun.

Further confusing things is that there were only eight available spots for the six-pack against the “fab four” in those U.S.-based matchups, so a couple of teams had to play “filler” schools for their second game.  The Citadel thus needed another opponent as part of the Challenge, and Cincinnati Christian is it.

All of this is an effort to cram as many games into an official tournament as possible, because they all count as two games (instead of four) for scheduling purposes.

At any rate, the bottom line is that The Citadel plays Cincinnati Christian tonight.  This will be the first time the two schools have met in hoops.  Cincinnati Christian is an NCCAA school (like Grace Bible College, the opponent in The Citadel’s season opener) and is also a member of NAIA Division II.  CCU, which has about 1100 students, is a member of the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, which includes schools such as Asbury, Berea, Alice Lloyd, and the St. Louis College of Pharmacy.  (The Citadel has played Asbury twice in recent years, winning those two games by scores of 75-48 and 81-60.)  I am not sure, but I think this is Cincinnati Christian’s first year in the KIAC.  In a preseason poll listed on the KIAC website, the Eagles are picked to finish next-to-last in the league, just ahead of SLCOP.

The Bulldogs will be the first of two Division I opponents for Cincinnati Christian this season.  The Eagles will also play Liberty in late December.  The Flames were the opponent the last time CCU played a D-1 team, which was two years ago, Liberty winning 101-65.  Liberty and Cincinnati Christian also met the year before that, an 81-51 triumph for the Flames.

Cincinnati Christian was 23-14 last season.  CCU had been the top seed in the NCCAA national tournament, but lost in the quarterfinals.  Two games later, the Eagles finished their season by winning a consolation game against none other than Grace Bible College, 104-87.  That was the 40th time the two schools had met on the court, with CCU winning 33 of those contests.

This season Cincinnati Christian is 4-1, with victories over Ohio Chillocothe, Kuyper College, Boyce College, and Kentucky Christian, the last two wins coming after the lone loss, 104-67 to Mount Vernon (OH) Nazarene.  Mount Vernon Nazarene was the preseason #3 team in NAIA Division II.

It’s hard to get a read on CCU when you examine the box scores from its first five games.  The Eagles’ first three games were played at a breakneck pace (82, 91, and 92 possessions).  That included an easy win, a close win, and a blowout loss (the 92-possession game).  Then either the Eagles or their opponents lowered the throttle, as the last two games have been played at a more normal pace (71 and 73 possessions).  CCU has occasionally been turnover-prone, but has also forced its fair share of TOs.

The best player for the Eagles is probably Trenton Calloway, a 6’6″, 260 lb. center averaging 15.6 points (on 71% shooting) and 9.8 rebounds per game.  Calloway is not a good free throw shooter (38%).  Chris Scott, a 6’0″ guard, is averaging 11.2 points per game and 4.4 assists per game.  Scott also averages over 3 turnovers per game, as opposed to Tommy McGuire, a 5’10” guard who has almost as many assists as Scott (22 to 18) but has a solid 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.  The Eagles don’t have much of a rebounding presence aside from Calloway.  Their other frontcourt players include Drew Ellis, a slender (215 lbs.) 6’7″ forward, and 6’9″, 265 lb. center Luke Mace.  CCU has played at least 12 guys in each game, incidentally.

That’s about all I have on Cincinnati Christian.  The Bulldogs should win this game, and I believe they will.  I expect a more coherent performance than in The Citadel’s win over Grace Bible College.  I think if the Bulldogs stay within themselves and avoid turnovers, victory should be assured.