When a win is a win

I’ll start off by quoting…myself.  From the previous post:

I expect The Citadel to win the rematch, but it won’t be easy.  Nothing is ever easy at The Citadel.

It sure wasn’t easy; of course, the Bulldogs made it hard on themselves by playing the last 33 minutes of the game the way Elon wanted to play it.  The Citadel could have put the game out of reach early, especially against a low-scoring team that had not won on the road all season, but it wasted multiple possessions and let Elon crawl back into the contest.

Elon called a timeout at the 16:49 mark of the first half, trailing 12-2.  Over the next five minutes Elon could only muster four points, missing seven shots from the field and committing a turnover during that time.  That was when the Bulldogs should have put the Phoenix away, but over that same stretch The Citadel committed five turnovers and missed two out of three shots.

As it happened, The Citadel maintained the lead throughout the game well into the second half, leading 55-45 with 6:30 to play.  That was deceiving, however, because the Bulldogs had never been able to put any distance between themselves and the Phoenix after the initial run to start the game.  So it wasn’t a huge surprise when Elon finally put a run of its own together, and two and a half minutes later The Citadel found itself trailing for the first time.  The Bulldogs only made two more baskets (and no free throws) the rest of the game, but it was just enough to win.

Elon shot poorly for much of the game, and had almost no success running its normal offense.  The Phoenix scored mostly in transition and from the foul line.  The Citadel gave Elon a number of transition/free throw opportunities, though, by taking a lot of out-of-character shots and committing a slew of fouls (the officiating, which was somewhat inconsistent, did not help matters).

It was a very frustrating game to watch, and I kept thinking, “we’re going to get swept by Elon, and we’re better than they are.”   Then The Citadel actually won the game…

There haven’t really been too many times over the years when The Citadel has not played well and still won.  Thursday night was one of those times.  This is The Citadel we’re talking about, though, so every win is worth celebrating, no matter how ugly.

Maybe the Bulldogs were tired from playing their fourth game in eight days.  I hope not, because they’re about to play their fifth game in ten days.

The game against UNC-Greensboro on Saturday will be the eleventh game in a twenty-eight day stretch that started with a one-point escape over Bethune-Cookman.  The rest of the games have been in league play.  With a win over the Spartans, The Citadel would finish with an 8-3 record in January, with seven of those wins in conference.  However, the Bulldogs have to play better against UNCG than they did against Elon if they hope to win their fifth straight SoCon game.

The Citadel last won five consecutive league games during the 2000-01 season, which was also the last time the Bulldogs finished with a winning record in Southern Conference play.  That year The Citadel was 3-6 in the SoCon before winning five straight to move to 8-6.  It then lost once, won once, and then finished the season by losing in the first round of the conference tournament.

I could be wrong about this, but after doing some checking, I think that’s the only time in school history The Citadel has won five consecutive Southern Conference games.  That gives you a little perspective on what the team is trying to accomplish.

In the first meeting between the Spartans and Bulldogs, The Citadel pulled away early in the second half and held that lead for the remainder of the game.  UNCG never got closer than four points down the stretch, as the Spartans endured a miserable 5-29 night from beyond the arc.  The Citadel won the game despite committing 14 turnovers (in only 60 possessions), thanks to UNCG’s poor shooting and a solid shooting effort of its own (eFG of 51.3%).  This was the conference opener for both teams, and The Citadel outrebounded UNCG 37-30.  As I mentioned in the last post, John Brown did not make his conference debut until after the new year, which I think is something to consider when looking at the rebounding stats.

At the time the game was a bit of a surprise, as The Citadel won its conference opener (and on the road) after having only won one league game all season the year before.  However, as things stand today it isn’t nearly as surprising.  The Citadel has played well all year in conference action, while UNC-Greensboro is now 3-16 overall (2-8 SoCon).  Curiously, both of the Spartans’ conference victories have come away from home, including a 17-point win over Elon, so the Bulldogs have to be prepared for a team that isn’t going to roll over just because they’re on the road.

On Thursday UNCG dropped an 89-73 decision to the College of Charleston in a game in which the Cougars hit 12 first-half three-pointers en route to a 55-point half.  Ben Stywall scored 26 points in a losing cause; in the first game against The Citadel, Stywall scored six points in 36 minutes (he’s averaging 11 points per game on the season).

The Spartans are one of the nation’s poorest shooting teams (39.4 FG%) and also one of the country’s worst defensive teams (46.5%).  Defensively, the numbers for UNCG aren’t as bad defending the three, but opponents are making two-point shots at a 54.5% clip, which is atrocious.

If The Citadel stays within itself offensively (in other words, don’t play too fast), and maintains its excellent run of defending three-point shooting (a conference-best 28.3% against the 3 in league play), then the Bulldogs should win this game — and maybe make a little history in the process.

We won by HOW many points?

The Citadel 70, Samford 45.  At Samford.

Just to put that score in perspective, The Citadel last won a road game by 25+ points in 1960, against VMI (76-45).  In 1958, the Bulldogs beat the Keydets in Lexington, VA by 32 (86-54).

Other 25+ point road wins since 1940 (games are not listed by home/road in the media guide prior to that year, although it’s likely that there was no 25+ point road victory prior to 1940 anyway):  Furman in 1951 (62-36); Davidson in 1945 (60-26); and Clemson in 1943 (63-38).  All of these games were Southern Conference matchups (yes, Clemson was in the SoCon in 1943).

It’s not all that surprising that all of The Citadel’s lopsided road victories occurred in conference play, since A) most of the Bulldogs’ road games are against conference opponents, and B) a good chunk of The Citadel’s out-of-conference road games over the years have come against major-conference teams.  The Citadel isn’t going to play Piedmont, for example, on the road.

Tangent:  of all the games I’ve seen The Citadel play, Piedmont was the only opponent where I thought, “I could play for that team”.  I’m not saying I would have started or anything like that…

Let’s see, what else about this game is worth noting…Samford missed its last 10 three-pointers as part of its woeful 6-32 night from behind the arc…Samford made no field goals over the last 8:30 of the game, a stretch in which it only attempted two non-three pointers from the field…there were no fast break points for either team according to the “play analysis” stats…The Citadel scored 70 points in only 59 total possessions…John Brown had 12 rebounds despite playing only 15 minutes because of foul trouble, although part of that was having plenty of rebounding opportunities thanks to Samford’s poor shooting, not to mention Samford isn’t a good rebounding team anyway…10 of the 11 players seeing minutes for Samford had at least one three-point attempt (the one guy who didn’t only played three minutes)…Samford had an 80% assist-to-made basket ratio, which is great, except that it only had 15 made baskets…Samford was only called for nine fouls for the entire game.

So The Citadel is now 11-10 overall and 6-4 in the league.  The Bulldogs now have a reasonable chance at finishing with a winning record in league play, which hasn’t happened since the 2000-01 team finished 9-7 in the conference.  It would only be the second winning season in the league for the school since the 1984-85 team went 11-5 in the SoCon.

That 1985 team’s 11 wins is the school record for conference victories in a season, and obviously if The Citadel were to have a winning season this year in the league it would at least tie that mark for victories.  Of course, the difference is that there are 20 league games this season (which, as I’ve said before, is ridiculous).  Still, a SoCon win is a SoCon win, especially for this program.  Imagine if Ed Conroy and co. managed to go 12-8 in the league this season (which as of today is The Citadel’s projected conference record by Ken Pomeroy’s ratings system).  Those 12 wins would equal The Citadel’s total number of conference victories from 1946-56, an eleven-year stretch (the school lost 102 SoCon games over that period).

Before I get to the upcoming game, a note of caution.  The Citadel has played some good basketball over these last three games, but it’s not time to pencil the team into the Final Four just yet.  This is the same club that got thumped at home by UC-Davis, and was fortunate to escape a terrible Furman team in OT.  It’s also the same team that lost earlier this season to Elon, Thursday night’s opponent, one of only two league victories for the Phoenix so far this season.

Against Samford, the Bulldogs took advantage of a team that appeared to be leg-weary and could not throw the ball in the ocean in the second half, and while The Citadel played good defense, Samford did get some open looks.  Still, I don’t want to devalue that performance.  Cameron Wells was sensational no matter how poor Samford may have been, and it’s worth noting that it was the third straight game The Citadel had outstanding results in defending the three-point shot.  Samford, as mentioned above, was 6-32 behind the arc.  The College of Charleston was even worse (2-18), and Western Carolina was only 4-15 from three-land.  That’s an 18.5% three-point shooting percentage for Bulldog opponents over those three games.  For league games, The Citadel now leads the SoCon in defending the three (28.4%).

Last season The Citadel allowed opponents to shoot 40.0% from beyond the arc, which was in the bottom 15 nationally.  That contributed in a major way to opponents shooting an effective field goal percentage of 51.3%, worst in the entire country.  This year the Bulldogs have an OppeFG of 44.5%, a significant improvement, and that percentage is dropping even lower as the season progresses.

Okay, now to the rematch with Elon, which defeated The Citadel 56-54, a game marred in the closing seconds by a shaky shotclock operator.  Elon parlayed that win into the start of a three-game winning streak that left it 4-4, 1-1 in league play.  Apparently the Phoenix ate some bad turkey over Christmas, however, because since that third consecutive win Elon has lost eight of nine games, the only victory a one-point upset of Chattanooga last Saturday at the Koury Center.  Elon is now 5-12 overall and 2-7 in SoCon action.  Many of the losses have been competitive — the Phoenix lost at Wofford by three (same as The Citadel), by four to Samford, by four to Navy, and by seven at Western Carolina.  There isn’t any shame in losing at Davidson by 15, either.  However, Elon has also lost by 26 at Maryland (pre-Terp meltdown), by 24 at Appalachian State, and by 17 in a home game against UNC-Greensboro.

The first game between the Phoenix and Bulldogs was a very slowly paced affair (57 possessions for The Citadel) in which Elon won by shooting over 50% from the field (to The Citadel’s 42%).  The Citadel made only 5 of 21 three-point attempts and went to the foul line only eight times.  Interestingly, The Citadel outrebounded Elon 29-23 in that game, noteworthy in particular because rebounding savant John Brown did not play in that game.  (Ed Conroy waited until after the new year to unleash Brown on an unsuspecting Southern Conference.)

Elon was 10-14 from the foul line in the game, but that was an anomaly, as it is the conference’s worst free throw shooting team (just over 60% in league play).  Elon has not shot the ball well in conference action from the field, either.  Also, above I discussed The Citadel’s improvement in defending the three-ball.  Elon is just the opposite, as it has allowed its opponents to shoot a collective 38% from behind the arc, a percentage among the nation’s worst and last in the Southern Conference (and in conference games the number is even worse:  41.3%).

These two teams have gone in very different directions since December 6.  I expect The Citadel to win the rematch, but it won’t be easy.  Nothing is ever easy at The Citadel.  It will be interesting to see how the Bulldogs play as a solid favorite.  I’ll also be watching to see what the attendance figures are.  Previous attendance for home Thursday conference games:  845 against Georgia Southern on January 8, and 1133 against Western Carolina last week.

I anticipate the trend of rising attendance to continue.  I hope the level of play continues to rise as well.

In defense of Rabbit Maranville’s Hall of Fame plaque

A few weeks ago I was reading a column by Chicago-based sportswriter Rick Telander, who as a longtime member of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) gets a Hall of Fame vote every year.  This was his (presumably) annual column about his vote.  One of the benefits of being a BBWAA member is that every year you get an easy column by just writing about your ballot.

Telander’s column is a bit of a ramble.  He whines about steroids, decides he’s getting old, and also mentions the “grandeur” of the Hall.  He writes:

When you go to Cooperstown, there is not a player enshrined (other than maybe Rabbit Maranville) who doesn’t blow your socks off.

There it is again.  Somebody who doesn’t understand why Rabbit Maranville is enshrined in Cooperstown.

It’s not like Telander’s the only one.  I remember reading an article on the Hall of Fame back in 1989 by Steve Wulf, then writing for Sports Illustrated.  While leading up to a paragraph about Abner Graves (!), Wulf wrote:

Some are more deserving than others, but once you walk into the Hall of Fame Gallery—the wing that holds the famous bronze plaques—you know you are in a place of worship, and you could never begrudge a man his place there. You might wish that Phil Rizzuto, Richie Ashburn, Leo Durocher, Roger Maris, Nellie Fox, Bill Mazeroski, Ron Santo, etc., could be there too, but you wouldn’t wish to unscrew Rabbit Maranville’s plaque to make room for another, even if Maranville did hit just .258 lifetime.

Besides, there’s no sense in trying to read the minds of the baseball writers who vote for the Hall of Fame candidates (in the first election, in 1936, 11 of them left Ruth off their ballots). And there’s no benefit in chastising the veterans’ committee, which, in trying to undo past injustices, has perhaps relaxed the standards a bit; Jake Beckley may not be a household name, but that’s not to say his name doesn’t belong here. No, the overwhelming feeling you get in that splendid room is one of gratitude. Thanks, fellas, for filling up the afternoons and evenings of so many, for bringing them to their feet, for the memories.

The story was accompanied by a picture of Maranville’s plaque.  I don’t remember the caption under the photo, but I am fairly sure it was something along the lines of “he only hit .258 and shouldn’t really be in the Hall, but don’t sweat it”.

Re-reading that passage, I think it’s interesting that of Wulf’s list of players “you might wish” would also be enshrined, all of them have now been elected except for Maris and Santo.  (Poor Santo.  A quarter-century of being the woulda-coulda-shoulda guy when it comes to the Hall.)

The thing that kills me, though, is that he says that while Jake Beckley “may not be a household name” that doesn’t mean he doesn’t belong in the Hall, even though he mentions Beckley while mildly criticizing the Veterans Committee.  He says that and then talks about Maranville as something of a lesser pick than Beckley, despite the fact that Maranville wasn’t a VC pick — he was elected by the BBWAA.  It’s obvious that Wulf doesn’t know anything about Maranville either, other than his .258 career batting average.

Wulf was only three years old when Maranville was elected to the Hall (in 1954).  Still, a little research wouldn’t have hurt any.  Of course today finding out about past players is much easier than it was in 1989, so Telander has even less of an excuse.  The thing is, though, Maranville still comes up on lists of “least deserving” or “not deserving” Hall of Famers, even among people who follow the sport fairly closely.  At first glance he looks like a guy who didn’t hit for average, had little power, and just hung around a long time.  All of that is true, and yet…

Maranville debuted in the majors in 1912, for the Boston Braves.  He was 20 years old and appeared in 26 games that season.  In 1913, he became the everyday shortstop for the Braves, batting .247 in 143 games, with two homers.  His OPS+ that season was 83, right around his career average (82).  Not impressive, at first glance…but then you realize that in 1913, at the age of 21 and playing his first full season in the major leagues, Maranville finished third in the MVP voting, just ahead of the great Christy Mathewson (who won 25 games that year with a 2.06 ERA).  So how does a guy batting .247 with no power finish so high in the MVP voting?

Well, he was a great defensive shortstop, and a great defensive shortstop can be tremendously valuable, especially if he can hit just a little (and it’s arguable that such a player had more value in the Dead Ball era than at any other time in baseball history).  This was the first of several years in which Maranville fared very well in the MVP voting without obvious offensive numbers to justify it.  That in itself probably is a good indication of just how good a fielder Maranville was.

Another indication, of course, is just how long a career he had.  Maranville had a 23-year career in the majors, playing a total of 2670 games, all but four of which were as a middle infielder (80% of those appearances came as a shortstop).  Maranville held the record for chances for a shortstop for decades and still holds the record for putouts by a shortstop.  At age 41, Maranville batted .218 in 143 games, with no homers (OPS+ of 60)…and finished in a tie for 12th in the MVP voting, ahead of Frankie Frisch (who batted .303 that year with an OPS+ of 111).

Maranville was the runner-up in the MVP voting in 1914 to his middle infield partner, Johnny Evers, as the “Miracle Braves” won the pennant and swept the World Series.  Maranville batted cleanup on that team.  He also finished seventh in the voting in 1924 (OPS+ of 86) and had two other top-10 finishes.

From 1915 through 1923, there was no MVP award for the National League.  It just so happens that Maranville’s seven best offensive seasons (in terms of OPS+) came during that stretch.  I think it’s likely that he would have finished in the top 10 in the MVP voting (if not the top 5) in most, if not all, of those seasons.  If you add, say, five top 10 and two Top 20  finishes (which is probably a bit conservative) to his already impressive MVP history, you would have a player who in his career compiled ten seasons in which he finished in the Top 10 of the MVP voting and another five seasons in the Top 20.

I compared that to some of the players on his “most similar batters” list, courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.  Ozzie Smith finished second in the ’87 MVP voting (he probably should have won it; that was a weird year) and had three other Top 20 finishes.  Luis Aparacio had two top 10 finishes and four other finishes in the top 20.  Like Smith and Maranville, Aparacio was also an MVP runner-up, in 1959.

Tangent:  the top of the 1959 AL MVP vote mirrored the top of the 1914 NL MVP vote.  For both, the top three finishers played for the pennant winner, and the order was second baseman (Nellie Fox/Evers), shortstop (Aparicio/Maranville), and pitcher (Early Wynn/”Seattle Bill” James).  Also, the fourth place finisher both times was an outfielder.  The 1959 outfielder was Rocky Colavito, who played in 1841 career games.  The 1914 outfielder was George Burns, who played in 1853 career games.

Next on Maranville’s most-similar list is Omar Vizquel, who has one Top 20 MVP finish in his entire career.  Part of why I’m posting about Maranville is that I suspect Maranville’s name is going to pop up more and more as people continue discussing the Hall of Fame candidacy of Vizquel.  They are going to be compared, and my hope is that folks are able to start understanding Maranville’s career a little better.

Nellie Fox follows Vizquel on the comp list, and here finally we have a player who shares Maranville’s propensity for getting MVP votes.  Fox finished in the top 10 six times (as mentioned above, winning in 1959) and had three other Top 20 finishes.  Fox was elected by the Veterans Committee after narrowly missing election by the BBWAA; really, the writers should have elected him.  He’s not as big a miss by them as Arky Vaughan or Johnny Mize, but it was still a mistake.

One other player on the similar-list to note:  Dave Concepcion had two Top 10 MVP finishes and another in the Top 20.

I realize that the MVP voting is not the end-all and be-all.  There is a danger that you can compound a mistake by referencing an error of the past (i.e. the 1987 AL MVP vote, which still haunts Alan Trammell).  Still, when you have a player whose statistical batting line does not immediately suggest greatness, it’s worth it to check the historical record.  In the case of Maranville, in his time he was obviously considered to be something special.  Generally speaking, the MVP voting tends to favor offensive-minded players (especially HR-RBI guys).  This is why a comparison to Maranville’s peers is appropriate; I think most people consider Ozzie Smith to have been a great player, but other than one season he never did very well in the MVP race.  Yet despite the historical tendency by MVP voters to not recognize defensive specialists, Maranville still did well.

Of course, there was another thing about him that probably is reflected in his MVP voting — he was famous, for he was a great player who also happened to be a clown of the highest order.

There are many, many Maranville stories, and a lot of them are actually true.  If you needed a player to wax another player’s bat with soap, or swallow a goldfish, or jump into a hotel pool fully clothed, or offer a pair of eyeglasses to an umpire after a bad call, Maranville was your man.  If you needed a player to go drinking with Jim Thorpe, and swing through tree branches screeching like Tarzan, or to be dangled outside the 15th floor of a Manhattan hotel by Thorpe (with one arm), Maranville was your man.  If you needed a player to paint iodine streaks on a hapless ump, or to throw buckets of ice at fellow train passengers (which he did as a player-manager), or trick a teammate into thinking he had accidentally killed him, Maranville was your man.

Maranville once got a hit off Carl Mays by making him laugh so hard he couldn’t maintain his control.  He was in the dugout during the infamous Babe Herman-three men on third base play; when Wilbert Robinson asked Maranville what had happened, Maranville said, “There’s three men on third and if they hang on long enough I’ll go down and make a quartet out of it.”

Once during a pitcher-vs.-batter fight, Maranville distracted everyone, including the fans, by going into the first base coach’s box during the fracas and pantomiming a fight against himself, pretending to knock himself out.  (Judge Landis thanked him later for that one.)  Entertaining the crowd during a slow part of the game with various pantomime activities was one of his specialties.

When Maranville caught a popup, he usually caught it by holding his glove open at his navel, allowing the ball to strike him in the chest, and having it roll down his shirt into his glove.  He called it his “vest pocket catch”.

Bill James (not the Boston Braves hurler), in his New Historical Baseball Abstract, refers to Maranville having a “Marx Brothers life”, and I think there’s a lot of truth to that.  He was probably on Chico’s level, but definitely ahead of Zeppo.

Maranville was elected by the BBWAA in 1954, shortly after his death.  The fact he had recently died had little to no impact on his election; he had risen in the balloting gradually over the preceding decade, finishing tenth in 1949, ninth in 1950 and 1951, seventh in 1952, and fifth in 1953.  Two players were elected in 1953, meaning that Maranville was in the top three of those on the ballot who had not been elected, along with Bill Dickey and Bill Terry.  All three of those players were elected in 1954.  Maranville actually jumped ahead of Dickey and Terry in the voting to finish first overall that year.  Keep in mind that the Hall had only been around for a few years and there were many outstanding players on the ballot.  Nineteen of the top 20 vote-getters from 1954 are now in the Hall (the exception is Hank Gowdy).

After his career in organized baseball was over Maranville helped run youth baseball programs in Detroit and New York.  One of the kids he taught was Whitey Ford.

Anyway, to sum up:  Maranville wasn’t a great hitter, but he was a great player.  His specialty was in preventing runs as opposed to producing them, and this was recognized by his contemporaries.  He was considered something of a clutch hitter (although I tend to find most claims of being “clutch” not involving George Brett to be somewhat dubious).  He had an incredibly long career, and he was enormously popular.  Thinking of him as just being a .258 hitter is small-minded, to say the least.

I’m not saying he was the greatest player who ever lived.  All I’m saying is that if you’re a writer and you’re trying to reference a player who doesn’t belong in the Hall, Maranville is not the right guy to name.  Look, you want suggestions?  Try Chick Hafey or George Kelly, or Rube Marquard if you need a pitcher (don’t get him confused with Rube Waddell, though).  You’ll be safe criticizing those selections — unless a member of one of their families is reading your column.

Just leave Maranville’s plaque alone…

I could get used to rooting for a winning hoops team

The Citadel 72, College of Charleston 63.  Whoa.

Even better, it was broadcast to a regional audience by SportSouth, with the legendary Whit Watson on play-by-play (plus shiny-domed analyst Nate Ross — I remember when Nate actually had some hair).  The Citadel doesn’t play too many televised basketball games (this was the last of three such appearances this season, not counting any potential SoCon tourney games).  Playing well and actually winning a TV game — well, that’s even more unusual.

First, the atmosphere.  From my vantage point in front of my TV (and by the way, it’s time for SportSouth to go all-HD all the time; I want to see my team play in crystal-clear high definition when it’s on the tube), the crowd seemed reasonably energetic, but a little cautious.  The corps looked okay, but I think it needed to be a bit more raucous.  (I do want a “McAlister Maniacs” t-shirt, though.  They didn’t have those back in the Dark Ages when I was in school.)  5107 is about the number of people I expected at the game.

In the game story in The Post and Courier, you’re going to read a lot of good things said about John Brown.  If you watched the game on TV, you listened to Nate Ross extol Brown’s virtues throughout the broadcast.  All of the accolades are completely justified.

Now, Brown does not appear to have any go-to offensive moves other than layups and dunks.  He’s only 6’4″.  He desperately needs a nickname.  However, he demonstrates that it’s possible for a player to have a huge effect on a game without being a scorer or what the late, great Al McGuire called an “aircraft carrier”.

Brown may not be that tall (although he has long arms), and he may not be that polished an offensive player, but he is an instinctive rebounder and defender, and an all-around hustler extraordinaire.  He finished with nine points (layups, dunks, a free throw), three steals (and numerous deflections), and twelve rebounds, with a lot of his boardwork coming during the critical stretch in the first half  when The Citadel built its lead (a 12-0 run).  I guess you could say it was a Rodmanesque performance, but that’s a description that doesn’t really work at The Citadel (and it’s hard to imagine Brown with dyed hair or wearing a dress).

Brown wasn’t the only Bulldog to have a good game.  Cosmo Morabbi continued his good run at three-point marksmanship.  Zach Urbanus had another solid day distributing the ball and making open shots from beyond the arc.  Five different Bulldogs made three-pointers, including two that I thought were bigger than “normal” made threes — Cameron Wells’ shot to tie the game at 10 when The Citadel was struggling to put the ball in the basket (despite getting good looks), and Austin Dahn’s second-half three under pressure from his defender and the shot clock, which effectively stopped a would-be College of Charleston rally.

Basically, it was a well-played game for The Citadel from about every vantage point.  When you shoot 8-15 from three and commit only eight turnovers against a pressing team, you’re probably going to have a good night.  The Bulldogs kept the possession total where they wanted it (63) and did a very good job of defending, leading to the Cougars’ poor shooting night (preventing transition baskets by avoiding turnovers and forced shots on the offensive end contributed to the College of Charleston’s offensive woes).

The negatives?  Free throw shooting (only 12-19; in particular, Bryan Streeter is struggling right now from the charity stripe) and (to a lesser extent) rebounding, for despite Brown’s prowess on the glass (which included five offensive boards), The Citadel was decisively outrebounded, although part of that is reflected by the CofC having more opportunities at offensive boards because it missed so many shots.  (It also reflects a fine effort in a losing cause by the Cougars’ Jermaine Johnson.)

I’m glad to see Demetrius Nelson finally get a win against the Cougars.  His coach can relate to waiting until his last season to beat the College of Charleston…

Speaking of Ed Conroy, the team looked well-prepared for the Cougar press.  The Citadel again had success with inbounds plays under the basket (this time Brown actually made the dunk).  I thought Conroy did a good job calling timeouts when appropriate.  I also noticed that for this game he shortened his rotation.  In past games he hasn’t hesitated to play eleven or twelve guys in a game (that’s not counting the standard clear-the-bench routine at the end of blowouts; fourteen players actually saw action against Western Carolina).  I think this game’s eight-man rotation tells you all you need to know about who he thinks is ready for big games against good, athletic teams.  Some of the underclassmen who didn’t play yesterday are going to be major contributors down the road, but aren’t quite ready yet for these types of games.

Against the College of Charleston, Conroy played three guys at two frontcourt spots (Nelson, Streeter, and Brown), rotating them accordingly, and played five guys in a three-guard setup, with Urbanus and Wells playing most of the game, and Morabbi and Dahn essentially splitting time at the other spot.  Jonathan Brick got a few minutes as well, long enough to sink a why-are-you-shooting-oh-that’s-why three-pointer.

The players don’t have much time to celebrate, though.  Monday night, the Bulldogs will play at Samford.  This is Samford’s first season in the SoCon, and the Birmingham Bulldogs have been very competitive, perhaps more competitive than expected.  Jimmy Tillette’s squad is, like The Citadel, 5-4 in the league, and has won four straight games.  Samford runs a “Princeton-style” offense and as such averages less than 60 possessions per game, which worries me a little, because the only time this season the Bulldogs faced an opponent that played an offensive style that was demonstrably “slower” than that of The Citadel was against Iowa.  In that game, the Bulldogs seemed to force the action too much and paid for it.  Samford spreads the wealth (no player averages more than 12.4 points per game, nor does any player average 30 minutes per game of playing time) and is a fairly good shooting team.  Samford has improved its turnover rate in conference play (the difference in turnovers in and out of conference is marked).

Defensively, Samford  employs a matchup zone.  This brings up the Birmingham Bulldogs’ greatest weakness, namely that they are a poor rebounding team without much in the way of a post presence.  The Citadel needs to be patient on offense, work to establish an inside game, and then hit open three-pointers.  Of course, you could say that about a lot of games.  The Citadel needs to emphasize (even more than usual) crashing the boards in this game.

On defense The Citadel must watch for backdoor cuts, of course, and be prepared to play defense for 35 seconds at a time.  How well is Samford’s offense working right now?  In three of its last four games Samford has recorded at least 17 assists, especially impressive when you consider that in those four games Samford averaged less than 25 made field goals per game.

We’ll see which team maintains its momentum on Monday night.

The last TV appearance of the hoops season, unless…

It’s not often I get to post about a 14-point victory in SoCon play, but last night The Citadel pummelled Western Carolina in the second half en route to a 66-52 victory.  It’s easy to win games by double digits when you shoot 70% from the field in a half. 


I thought the key to the run, though, was John Brown’s spirited play.  He seemed to get every rebound and loose ball during the second half.  He also just missed on what would have been a SportsCenter-worthy jam; I suspect he’ll get teased by his teammates (and Ed Conroy) for that.  Good effort all around, though.  17 assists on 26 made baskets is a very good ratio.  The pace was solid (62 possessions), and the Bulldogs outrebounded WCU, which was a bit of a surprise.  Jonathan Brick made two three-pointers; that’s as many as he had made all season.


Congrats to Demetrius Nelson for being the 25th member of the 1000-point club at The Citadel, which is a testament to his perseverance as much as it is to his talent. 


With the win The Citadel moved to 4-4 in league play.  It’s been six years since the Bulldogs had a .500 record or better in the conference after eight games.  (It’s also been six years since The Citadel won more than four conference games in a season.) 


The one negative was the large number of turnovers (18).  Most of them came in the first half and, in retrospect, kept the Catamounts in the game.  The Bulldogs have to avoid committing turnovers.  They aren’t going to shoot that well every night.  At least in this game they avoided the first half blues that had plagued them recently.


Speaking of that, The Citadel was coming off a tough loss at Wofford where the Bulldogs had trailed by as many as 16 points in the first half before mounting a furious comeback, actually taking the lead briefly.  The Citadel could not maintain the momentum, however, and eventually lost by three.   That was another 62-possession game, which I was glad to see (although Wofford doesn’t run-and-gun at all, so it was also an expected total).  The Citadel had struggled in the first half against Furman too, but recovered to win that game in OT (it helps that the Paladins are horrendous).


Wofford’s not a bad club at all, but last night Georgia Southern clubbed them in Statesboro.  I’m not sure what to make of that, other than Junior Salters must have done too much celebrating against The Citadel, because he went 3-14 from the field against GSU.  That means that third place in the SoCon South Division is a three-way tie, with The Citadel and Georgia Southern both 4-4 in league play and Wofford at 3-3.  Davidson leads the division, of course; sitting in second place is Bobby Cremins’ crew from the College of Charleston, which is 7-1 in the league (losing only to Davidson) and 15-3 overall, including a win over South Carolina. 


As it happens, The Citadel will host the CofC at McAlister Field House on Saturday afternoon.  It’s going to be televised by SportSouth, the third and final time the Bulldogs will be featured on TV this season, unless the Bulldogs were to advance to the Southern Conference tournament semi-finals for only the second time in the last 24 seasons.  That would be…different.


The Cougars are one of the country’s better offensive squads, averaging 1.113 points per possession (17th nationally).  They shoot well from the field, whether inside or outside (38% from three-land), and take good care of the basketball.  The only thing offensively that qualifies as a weakness is their free throw shooting (65.9%).  Currently five College of Charleston players are averaging double-figure scoring, led by guard Andrew Goudelock (who is shooting 48.5% from beyond the arc).


Defensively the Cougars aren’t nearly as impressive.  CofC opponents are shooting 46% from the field.  Also, the Cougars are not a good rebounding team.  The College of Charleston is averaging over four blocked shots per game, however, and leads the SoCon in that category.


I would guess that at least 5000 people will be in attendance at McAlister on Saturday, including a goodly number of cadets.  It should be a great atmosphere.  I just hope the game is as good.

Reviewing The Citadel’s last three basketball games

Boring title for a post, but it’s the best I can do.  When the temperature drops below 25 degrees, I get less imaginative…

The Citadel is now 8-9 overall, 3-3 in the Southern Conference, after last night’s thank-God-and-Zach Urbanus-we-won 74-69 OT throwdown with the less than mighty Purple Paladins.  Furman came into the game ranked 341st in the RPI, ahead of only Alcorn State and Southern.  (Maybe there should be a SoCon-SWAC challenge next December.)  However, for a half The Citadel played like the team that hadn’t won a Division I game all season.  Furman changed defenses and forced the confused Bulldogs to commit 11 turnovers in the first half.  The Citadel finally figured out things early in the second half (and the shorthanded Paladins wore down a bit).  However, not being able to stand prosperity, The Citadel somehow blew a seven-point lead in the final four minutes.  Credit to Furman’s players for not giving up; credit to The Citadel’s players for recovering to take control in overtime.

The stats bear out that turnovers were the sole reason Furman was really even in the game.  The Citadel isn’t going to win many games when it commits 15+ turnovers (17 last night), especially when it forces less than 10 from its opponent (Furman only had 9).  The Bulldogs outshot the Paladins, outrebounded them (by 13) and did a good job both getting to the foul line and making the shots when they got there.  The pace of play was about where The Citadel wanted it to be, perhaps a little fast, but not overly so.  Speaking of pace…

My concern with the team as it continues on this long stretch of hoops (the upcoming game against Wofford will be The Citadel’s fifth in ten days; it starts another five-in-ten run on Thursday) is that the possession rate per game has increased to a level higher than where it best suits the Bulldogs.  Before the Davidson game, here were the possession totals for The Citadel’s games against D-1 competition:  72, 54, 70, 55, 53, 60, 57, 63, 70, 70, 56.   Two of the three 70-possession games came against Michigan State and South Carolina; the other was the road win at Charleston Southern, and included a lot of late-game free throw shooting.  The 72-possession game came against VCU.  In other words, in games where The Citadel could control the pace of play, 60 possessions was about where it wanted to be.

Against Davidson, in front of a large crowd, and with an aggressive opponent (and with way too many fouls being called, on both teams), The Citadel wound up with 84 possessions.  That may have been understandable, but when I watched the Chattanooga game two days later, I felt the Bulldogs weren’t patient enough on offense and played the game the way Chattanooga wanted to play it.  Ultimately, it resulted in a tough loss, and it bugged me a little because, honestly, I think The Citadel should have won the game.  That was a missed opportunity.

That missed opportunity made the Furman game that much more important.  Furman may be really bad, but The Citadel can’t count on any victories, especially conference road victories, and I was afraid the Bulldogs had blown it by playing such a poor first half.  Winning it means the Bulldogs won’t be as likely to press, as a loss would have resulted in a three-game losing streak and all the old doubts and fears and “here we go again” talk.  Now, The Citadel has a .500 record in league play heading into Saturday night’s game at Wofford.

Wofford has had an interesting season thus far.  It is currently 112th in the RPI despite a 6-7 overall record.  The Terriers lost at Dayton by three in their season opener (Dayton is currently 15-2), and then got shelled by still-undefeated Clemson.  Wofford then won a holiday tournament hosted by Air Force, beat UNC-Asheville, lost its conference opener at home to Appalachian State, waxed a non-D1 team, and then totally blew a chance at a BCS scalp, losing on a last-second OT shot to Georgia, 74-73 (the conference as a whole would have really liked that one).  In the month of January the Terriers have lost at Navy (which is now 13-4 and a serious contender in the Patriot League) and at South Carolina, won two league road games (including a win at Chattanooga), and on Thursday night lost a tough game at home to the College of Charleston, 65-63.  Wofford is 2-2 in SoCon play, with the two losses at home and the two wins on the road.

This should be a slow-paced game, since Wofford is eleventh in the conference in total possessions, both in league play and overall.  The Citadel is tenth overall, but fifth in league play (as per my point above).   The Terriers do not shoot the ball particularly well, but are one of the nation’s better defensive rebounding teams.  They also foul a lot.

Wofford has also had some injury problems.  Junior Salters was averaging 17.2 points per game through the Georgia game, but hasn’t played since.  Corey Godzinski has a broken hand and is out for four weeks.  The Terriers do have Noah Dahlman, a 6’6″ sophomore forward averaging 16.8 points per game, who despite all the injuries is still coming off the bench.  Tim Johnson is a 6’5″ junior forward avering 9.9 points per game who went for 21 against the CofC.  Dahlman and Johnson combine to average over 17 rebounds per game.

Side note for all you gambling types:  following up on a brief blurb in Jeff Hartsell’s Bulldog Bites, in games involving The Citadel in which the “over-under” has been available for betting, the “over” is now 8-1.  Last night’s OT foiled the under-wanters and resulted in another victory for the over-hopers.

Another road win in league play would be a nice way to close out this five-pack of games and would set the Bulldogs up nicely for the next five-pack.  I would say that it will be a hot time in Spartanburg on Saturday night, except that it’s going to be really, really cold…

Next year’s Hall of Fame disaster scenario: a party in Cooperstown with no guests of honor

Today, Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice were elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the former with near unanimity and the latter with a fair share of controversy.  With their election, along with the earlier selection of Joe Gordon by the Veterans Committee, there will now be 289 members of the Hall, 201 of whom were elected based on their playing careers.  The wait for Hall of Fame player #202 may be a while…

First of all, there won’t be any players elected next year by the Veterans Committee, because the committee won’t vote again on players eligible for selection by the VC until 2010 (and that’s just for post-World War II eligibles; the pre-World War II players won’t be up for consideration again until 2013).  That means that the only players who can be elected next year will be those on the BBWAA ballot.  The players on this year’s ballot who will return to the ballot next year (with this year’s voting percentage in parenthesis):

Andre Dawson (67.0%); Bert Blyleven (62.7%); Lee Smith (44.5%); Jack Morris (44.0%); Tim Raines (22.6%); Mark McGwire (21.9%); Alan Trammell (17.4%); Dave Parker (15.0%); Don Mattingly (11.9%); Dale Murphy (11.5%); Harold Baines (5.9%)

Now, here is a list of players who next year will be eligible for the BBWAA ballot for the first time and are likely to be on the list (courtesy of the Hall of Fame website):

Roberto Alomar, Kevin Appier, Andy Ashby, Ellis Burks, Dave Burba, Andres Galarraga, Pat Hentgen, Mike Jackson, Eric Karros, Ray Lankford, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Mark McLemore, Shane Reynolds, David Segui, Robin Ventura, Fernando Vina, Todd Zeile

There are several serious candidates for the Hall on the list on newly-eligibles, most prominently Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, and Fred McGriff.  I could also see some support (greater than 5% of the vote, at least) for Andres Galarraga and Robin Ventura.  However, none of those players is a “lock”.  I think the best candidate of the group is probably Alomar, and I would expect him to get a lot of votes — but I would be surprised if he received more than, say, 60% in his debut on the ballot.

That means that if anyone is to be elected, it has to be someone from the “holdover” group, and I think the only one of those players with a shot is Dawson.  He’s going to get in eventually, but I’m not sure if his support will jump from 67% to 75%+ in one year, especially since he’s not that close to his final year of eligibility, as was the case with Rice this year (who managed a 4% increase in his vote total from last year to this year).  At 63% of the vote, and with his support essentially unchanged from last year, Blyleven’s chances of being elected next year are remote.

Compounding the chances for the holdovers and the newly-eligible players is that there is a surplus of serious-but-not-automatic candidates who will almost certainly split up the vote.  Over the last two elections, an average BBWAA ballot has listed 5.35 names (last year) and 5.38 names (this year), historically low vote totals.  I don’t see that changing much, and so the “competition” for votes (a ludicrous concept, but unfortunately applicable in this situation) will likely depress individual vote totals across the board.  I think the only player with a shot next year is Dawson (unless I am seriously underestimating Alomar’s chances), and I don’t know if Dawson can make that big a leap in the voting.  I tend to think he won’t.

The last time the BBWAA failed to elect anyone was 1996 (Phil Niekro came closest; he was elected the following year).  However, in 1996 the Veterans Committee elected Jim Bunning, along with Negro Leagues star Bill Foster.  Earl Weaver and Ned Hanlon were also elected that year (as managers), so the traditional ceremony at Cooperstown had two living honorees (Bunning and Weaver).  At least one player has been elected by either the writers or the VC every year since 1960.

The committee that selects Hall of Fame managers, umpires, and executives does vote next year.  I think there will be some pressure on that committee to select somebody (Whitey Herzog?  Doug Harvey?) because that’s probably the avenue most likely to produce an enshrinee in 2009.  It won’t result in a player being elected, but it would be better than nothing.  Induction weekend is a boon to the local economy.  No enshrinee = no boon.

Cooperstown has already lost the annual Hall of Fame Game, which has been discontinued.  It may be time for the folks at the Hall to think of another attraction for next year (an Old-Timer’s game?) in case  its showcase event has no one to showcase.