Not saying Grace, but playing Grace

The regular season in hoops starts today for The Citadel, which played one official exhibition game (a one-point win over Georgia Southwestern).  The opponent is Grace Bible College, a school of about 180 students, located in Wyoming – not the state, but a suburb of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

I had, not surprisingly, never heard of Grace Bible College before seeing the school listed on The Citadel’s basketball schedule.  Grace (the school athletic teams, rather boringly, are nicknamed the Tigers) is a member of the National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association.  Grace is stepping up in competition, and the folks there are very excited by this (they seem particularly hopeful of making ESPN’s “Bottom Line” sportsticker).  Grace takes its basketball seriously enough to have a 38-page media guide, with this season’s edition already online.  From the guide:

Coach Gary Bailey has always believed a strong regular season prepares his charges for post-season play but this year’s competition is exceptionally challenging. For the first time in school history Grace will play a NCAA Division I program as they take on the Bulldogs of The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina for the host team’s home opener on November 14. “It will give our players the opportunity to see what major college basketball is all about,” says Coach Bailey, “and we are thrilled to be the guests of The Citadel.”

Grace has won three NCCAA Division II national championships, the last in 2006.  What I find curious about this is that Grace’s record that year was 20-20.  (Last season Grace finished 19-19 after reaching the regional finals.)

Grace has already started its season this year and is 3-1 after a win over Andrews on Tuesday.  On Wednesday, Grace was scheduled to travel to Charleston by bus, a journey of 16 hours.

In terms of common opponents, Grace has played Atlanta Christian four times in its history, winning three of those games.  The Citadel played Atlanta Christian in four consecutive seasons, winning last year 79-55 (scores of the other three games against Atlanta Christian:  113-59, 126-43, 75-49).  Interestingly, the other non-D1 opponent on the Bulldogs’ schedule this year, Cincinnati Christian, has played Grace Bible 40 times over the years, with the Cincinnati school winning 33 of those matchups.

I have no idea what style of play Grace will employ.  I am guessing that the Tigers won’t have much of an inside game, as they only have one player over 6’6″, and he’s a freshman.  Also, one of Grace’s best players is out for the year with an injury.

I’m going to wait until Sunday to post my hoops preview for The Citadel.  I want to wait until the Bulldogs are about to play Division I competition (that will be the second game of the regular season, at Virginia Commonwealth).  The exhibition game against Georgia Southwestern had some unexpected elements to it, at least when compared to last season’s statistical tendencies.  I don’t know that tonight’s game will tell us much, if anything, about how the Bulldogs will play this year, either.  All I know is that it isn’t likely to be very competitive.  At least, I hope not…


Chattanooga has become a homecoming opponent

I remember when UT-Chattanooga was good…

UTC joined the SoCon in time for the 1977 football season.  In that first year, under Joe Morrison, the Mocs won the league.  In fact, UTC won or tied for the title the first three years it competed in the conference.

Morrison moved on to New Mexico and UTC brought in Bill “Brother” Oliver to coach.  Oliver was there four years.  He never won the league championship, but his teams were good – he won at least 7 games in each of those years.

Oliver left, to be replaced by Buddy Nix.  Nix was at UTC for nine seasons, and in his first year, the Mocs won the conference title again, albeit with a 6-5 overall record.  Nix went 6-5 in four of his nine years, and 7-4 in another, but wasn’t able to maintain the 7-8 win standard established by Morrison and Oliver.  Three of his final five seasons were losing campaigns, and the bottom dropped out in 1992, when the Mocs were 2-9 overall and winless in SoCon play.

Old-timers who remember UTC coming into the league and consistently challenging for the conference title might be surprised to know that the Mocs haven’t had a winning record in SoCon play since 1991 and in that same time period have only managed two winning seasons overall.  The coaches who have tried to restore the program to its former glory since the departure of Nix:  Tommy West (4-7 in one season before taking the head coaching position at Clemson), Buddy Green (one winning campaign in six seasons), Donnie Kirkpatrick (three seasons in which he won fewer games each year), and Rodney Allison (one winning season in six years).

Allison is the current coach, although he is playing out the string, as UTC has already announced he won’t be back next year.  UTC is 1-9 this season, with the only win over Cumberland (yes, the same school that lost 222-0 to Georgia Tech in 1916).

Chattanooga’s opponents are averaging over 40 points per game against the Mocs.  UTC is only scoring 12 points per game.  In other words, it’s not one of those “close but no cigar” seasons.  The nine losses are all by at least 20 points.  UTC quarterbacks have thrown 16 interceptions in 10 games while maintaining a completion percentage of 46%.  (It’s possible that Allison’s son, Sloan, may start at QB against The Citadel.  He has been a backup most of the season but has seen time in most of the Mocs’ games.)   UTC is averaging only 2.3 yards per rush.  Its opponents are averaging 6.2 yards per rush.

You know it’s been a bad season when the beat writer for the local paper notes that “punter Jeff Lloyd, who lost his starting job for three games, may be the Mocs’ most productive player.”

Later in the column he writes that Lloyd has been effective “when he has been able to get a punt off.”

UTC’s struggles have presented an opportunity for assorted anti-football advocates to step forward and call for the program’s elimination.  The loudest of these voices is a computer science professor at UTC named Joe Dumas.  From the link:

“This is a perfect time for UTC to get out of the football business for good and concentrate on academics while maintaining successful athletic programs like basketball, golf, tennis, etc.”

I’m not sure the professor has considered the possibility that those other “successful athletic programs” might have a harder time staying successful after the Southern Conference boots UTC out of the league, which it almost certainly would do if the school dropped football.

Allison also has claimed that the publicity surrounding Dumas and company’s efforts have hurt the program, making it harder to recruit, etc. – in other words, a self-fulfilling prophecy.  I don’t know if I buy that.  At almost every school there are always a few spoilsports and malcontents who want to drop all sports (except for the ones they like, naturally).  UTC’s problems in football started long before the get-rid-of-pigskin bandwagon built its first wheel.

As far as Saturday is concerned, it’s Homecoming and The Citadel’s opponent has already mailed in the season.  The Bulldogs’ next opponent is Florida.

The Citadel better win this game.