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…

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