Room for improvement

The Citadel basketball 2007-08, statistics and rankings/ratings of note:

RPI:  334 (fifth consecutive season finishing with an RPI of 296 or lower)
Conference wins:  1
Division I wins:  2
Points allowed per possession:  1.145 (last in Division I)
Points scored via the FT line per possession:  0.098 (last in Division I)
Opponents effective FG%:  51.3% (last in Division I)

Uh, ouch.  Other things The Citadel didn’t do particular well included shooting from inside the arc (41.0%, which was in the bottom 10 nationally), defending opponents shooting from inside the arc (57.5%, bottom 3 nationally), defending opponents shooting from beyond the arc (40.0%, bottom 12 nationally), rebounding (25.3 per game, bottom 10 nationally), and blocking shots (1.2 per game, bottom 3 nationally).

You get the idea.  Defending the post was not a strength.  The problems in the paint were exacerbated when Demetrius Nelson was lost for the season early in the campaign, which meant that the post players were exclusively freshmen, who were generally overmatched and overwhelmed by the opposition (especially physically).  This had a carryover effect to the terrible 3-point defense numbers, because the perimeter guys had to constantly help on the inside, leaving outside shooters open on a regular basis.

As a result, The Citadel was the worst defensive team in the country.

The lack of inside play also meant that the Bulldogs got very few easy baskets from in close, and had a decided lack of free throw opportunities.  This resulted in The Citadel being one of the nation’s least efficient offensive teams as well.  The shame of this was that it hid a couple of things that the team actually did fairly well, like taking care of the basketball (18.7% turnover rate, top 60 nationally) and shooting threes (38.2%, top 50 nationally).

The Citadel had one player, Phillip Pandak, who had 101 field goal attempts but only  4 (!) free throw attempts.  I doubt that there was another player in the country who took over 100 shots but only made two free throws.  Pandak’s line was an extreme example, but it was a teamwide problem, and one The Citadel needs to address.  The Citadel made only 238 free throws last season; its opponents converted 366.

The Citadel’s possessions per game rate of 65.5 was on the low side, and the team’s pace of play slowed down as the season progressed, which I think was a good thing.  I would expect more of the same this year.

On to this season.  In both the one exhibition game and the regular season opener (against non-Division I Grace Bible College), Ed Conroy played a lot of guys (12 in each game), so it’s hard to tell what his regular rotation is going to look like.  Obviously he’s going to rely on Cameron Wells, Demetrius Nelson, Zach Urbanus, and Austin Dahn.  The other players are all going to have a chance to make a positive impression (like Daniel Eykyn did against GBC).  The most interesting name (literally and figuratively) among the newcomers is Cosmo Morabbi, who got 19 minutes against Grace Bible College.  In the exhibition game the Bulldogs seemed to make a concerted effort to get the ball inside, with only 19% of its field goal attempts from beyond the arc, but against Grace The Citadel reverted to last season’s bombs-away philosophy, with 49% of its shots from outside (last year 44% of the Bulldogs’ FGAs were from 3-land).

The defense against Grace was not good, as Conroy noted in The Post and Courier‘s game article.  It was disturbing to see a non-Division I team like GBC, playing its first game ever against a Division I opponent, shoot better than 50% from the field.  The Citadel did outrebound the Tigers, but the Bulldogs won’t play a team with as little size as Grace for the rest of the season.  I also noticed the pace was a little faster than The Citadel may have liked (69 possessions), but that’s probably a one-game blip.

The Citadel goes on the road on Sunday to play its second regular season game, and Virginia Commonwealth will be a formidable opponent.  VCU played in the NIT last season and the NCAA tourney two years ago, when it upset Duke in the first round.  The Rams were an outstanding defensive team last season, leading the CAA in defensive FG%, steals, and blocked shots.  VCU led the nation in 3FG% defense; in one three-game stretch Rams opponents missed 28 consecutive three-point attempts.

Eight of VCU’s top nine players from last year return, including outstanding guard Eric Maynor (who two years ago bedeviled the aforementioned Blue Devils).  VCU, which will be playing its season opener, is favored to repeat as regular-season champions of the CAA.  The game is part of the Cancun Challenge, which has a format I am still trying to understand.  The bottom line is that The Citadel will play one game in Richmond, one game in Charleston, and two games in Mexico, all against pre-determined opposition.

I’m not expecting a win over Virginia Commonwealth.  I’m just looking for signs of development and improvement.  It may be tough to demonstrate that such advances have been made, however, against a team like VCU.

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