Port and Jordan

In the last four baseball seasons, The Citadel’s conference record by year is as follows:  14-16, 15-12, 12-15, 12-15.  That is not exactly what Bulldog fans have come to expect from the baseball program, which has historically been the school’s strongest varsity sport.  On the other hand, what should be expected?  I decided to check some numbers in an attempt to answer that question.  I concentrated on the team’s play since 1965, Chal Port’s first year as head coach.

One thing I want to make clear is that this discussion has nothing to do with the current Bulldog squad, which as of this writing is 9-9 overall, 5-4 in the Southern Conference.  This is more about the program’s history, and the current edition of the baseball Bulldogs is just beginning to make its own mark in the historical record.

One of the difficult things in trying to compare and contrast baseball teams of the past is that there have been a lot of variables over the years — in the scheduling, in the makeup of the Southern Conference, in how the conference determines its champion, even in the equipment used.  I made some decisions on how best to make comparisons.  The biggest decision I made was to concentrate solely on league play.

Nowadays the Bulldogs play a lot more games than they did 30 years ago.  In 1975, for example, Chal Port won his second conference title with an 11-3 league record.  His overall record that season was 21-9.  Twenty years later, in 1995, Fred Jordan won his first regular season SoCon title with a conference mark of 19-5, 39-21 overall.  The Bulldogs played exactly twice as many games in 1995 as they did in 1975, and almost twice as many league contests.

Comparing by league record is hard enough, what with more games and more/different schools in the league, but it’s almost impossible to make observations based on the non-conference slate, not only because of the number of games but because of the level of the competition.  Since 1994 The Citadel has played only three games against non-Division I opponents — a game against North Florida in 1995 (in a tournament hosted by UNF), and two games against Presbyterian in 1998 (scheduled after The Citadel won the league tournament in order to prevent an 18-day layoff prior to regional play).

The lack of non-Division I games is due to a SoCon edict handed out following the 1993 season.  For the 1994 season, the conference found itself in a situation in which it didn’t want to be, namely as a “play-in” conference.  The NCAA tournament was a 48-team affair at the time, and in 1994 there were 30 automatic bids.  However, the NCAA mandated that 24 berths for the tournament were to be at-large, which meant there were 6 auto bids too many.  As a result, the 12 lowest-rated conferences from the 1993 season each had to qualify for a regional by winning a best-of-three series against one of the other low-rated leagues.

If that sounds like the NCAA basketball tournament’s “play-in” game, it’s because that’s exactly what it was, times six.  The Southern Conference was one of the 12 leagues that had to play an extra round just to get in the main tournament, and the champion was drawn to face the winner of the Ohio Valley Conference.  The Citadel won the league tournament that year and beat Middle Tennessee State, 2 games to 1, in Charleston to advance to the regional held at Clemson.

To prevent this from happening again, the league determined that its schools should play a Division I-only schedule to improve the league’s power rating.  This was a marginally risky short-term strategy (what if the league had lost an overwhelming number of those extra D-1 games?)  but proved a benefit to the conference in the long run.  However, it meant that the days of The Citadel playing the likes of Hiram or Gannon were over.

As mentioned earlier, comparing eras by conference play is no picnic either.  In 1965, league schools included West Virginia, George Washington, William & Mary, Richmond, VMI, and Virginia Tech.  None of those schools are still in the SoCon.  You also have schools like East Carolina, East Tennessee State, and Marshall, which have come and gone, Davidson (which left and then came back), and schools making their debuts in the league in the 1970s (Western Carolina and Appalachian State), 1990s (Georgia Southern, UNC-Greensboro, and the College of Charleston), and 2000s (Elon and Samford, the latter beginning conference play this season).  UT-Chattanooga competed in the sport for six league seasons before the school dropped baseball following the 1982 campaign.  The conference has had as few as seven and as many as eleven baseball schools over the past 45 years.

Let’s look at Chal Port’s career SoCon record.   Port coached for 27 years and finished with an overall league mark of 253-156-1 (.618).  Port won seven conference titles and one tournament title (it should be noted that the conference did not have a tournament until 1984; five of Port’s league titles came prior to that season).  Port had a stretch of 10 consecutive winning conference records, with that run preceded by three winning records and a 7-7 season, so he actually had 14 straight non-losing seasons in SoCon action.  Overall, Chal Port had 18 winning SoCon seasons, 7 losing seasons, and 2 at .500 in the league.  Port had a winning record in conference play in exactly two-thirds of his seasons as head coach.

Incidentally, Port’s record in the conference after his first seventeen seasons was 143-98-1 (.593), with 12 winning seasons, four losing seasons, and one at .500 in SoCon play, with three league championships.  I mention this because Fred Jordan completed his seventeenth season as head coach last year.  Jordan entered this season with a record of 285-166 (.632)  in league play, with 13 winning seasons and four losing campaigns, and with four regular season titles and six tournament championships.

Jordan, like Port, also had a stretch of 10 consecutive winning seasons in conference play (from 1995 through 2004).  The problem, from the perspective of the program’s current status, is that since 2005, he has had just one winning league season, in 2006 (when the team was 15-12).  In the last four years Jordan’s conference record is only 53-58 (48%).  Did Chal Port ever have a stretch like that?

Well, yes.  After Port’s earlier-mentioned 10-year run of success, which lasted from 1975 through 1984, he had five conference seasons that went like this:  8-10, 9-9, 6-12, 12-6, 8-9.  Overall record during that five-year period:  43-47 (48%).  You may see a pattern developing.  You would be right…

Both Port and Jordan won four regular season titles during their respective 10-year winning streaks.  During those runs, Port won 73% of his league games.  Jordan won 72% of his.

The similarities in the two coaches’ records are striking.  Of course, it’s not that simple.  After those five relatively mediocre seasons noted above, Port finished his career with a run of 29 wins in 32 league games, with two regular season titles, a tournament crown, and a completely unfathomable trip to Omaha.  It’s that finish that people understandably tend to remember, even more so than the terrific teams he fielded during a good chunk of the 1970s and early 1980s.

It’s difficult for Jordan to compete with those memories, particularly since the conference has in recent years seen an influx of schools that take their baseball seriously (Georgia Southern, College of Charleston, UNC-Greensboro, and Elon).  The competition within the league is arguably tougher than it was two decades ago.

That’s not to take away anything from Port’s record, which is lauded with good reason, and in fact is probably even more impressive than a lot of people realize.  Port had to make numerous on-field adjustments during his tenure, including the change from wooden to aluminum bats, and the conference moving to divisional play (and then dropping the divisions), among other things.  Then there were the off-field adjustments, which included integration, and the fact that going to a military school wasn’t exactly the cool thing to do in the early-to-mid-1970s (not that it’s ever been the really cool thing to do).   Consider what the baseball program accomplished, especially when compared to The Citadel’s football and hoops programs of that decade:

From 1971-1979, the football team was coached by Red Parker, Bobby Ross, and Art Baker.  Ross in particular is known as having been an outstanding coach, with major success at multiple levels of the sport.  The football team had four winning seasons overall in those nine years, with no league titles and a conference mark of 26-29 (47.2%).  SoCon finishes:  3rd, 4th, 7th, 5th, 4th, 6th, 3rd, 5th, 3rd.

Tangent alert:  Ross was really good at putting together a coaching staff.  For example, his 1973 coaching staff included Frank Beamer, Ralph Friedgen, Jimmye Laycock, Cal McCombs, Charlie Rizzo, and Rusty Hamilton, along with none other than Chal Port (who doubled as an assistant football coach during his first decade at The Citadel; Port had been a fine football and baseball player for North Carolina in the early 1950s).  The team itself also had some future coaches, like David Sollazzo and Ellis Johnson.  Despite all that coaching talent, in 1973 The Citadel was 3-8 overall, 1-6 in the conference.

The basketball team was coached from 1971-79 by Dick Campbell, George Hill, and Les Robinson.  Robinson would later prove his worth as a coach with an oustanding rebuilding job at East Tennessee State, but during this period the hoops program had just two winning seasons, bookends on seven straight losing campaigns, and had an overall conference record of 43-69 (38.4%).  Conference finishes:  4th, 5th, 4th, 6th, 7th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 3rd.

Meanwhile, from 1971-1979 Port went 85-43 (66.4%) in conference play, with three championships, nine winning seasons overall, and eight winning seasons in the league (and the other was a .500 season).  His SoCon finishes during that time:  1st, 4th, 3rd, 4th, 1st, 3rd, 3rd, 3rd, 1st.  He finished in the upper half of the league all nine years.

He wasn’t done yet, either.  He had his best teams up to that time in 1982 and 1983, with the ’82 squad finishing 40-8.  At that point another power arose in the Southern Conference, as Western Carolina hired Jack Leggett to upgrade its already promising program.  The Catamounts would win five straight league titles, a stretch dovetailing almost exactly with a gradual decline in The Citadel’s fortunes on the diamond.

Port outlasted WCU’s run and (even more impressively) Hurricane Hugo, however, and orchestrated a season that won’t soon be forgotten, plus a very nice coda (the ’91 campaign).  That’s quite a legacy, one augmented by Port’s well-deserved reputation as a jokemeister and storyteller.

Jordan should be credited with maintaining the high standard of the program throughout much of his time as head coach, as the numbers rather clearly demonstrate that he has done so.  What he needs now is a “second wind”.  Port got his after a real-life gust of wind, Hurricane Hugo, blew through Charleston.  Then, rather amusingly (and appropriately), he capped a season for the ages by beating a team called the Hurricanes to reach the College World Series, giving a then up-and-coming Miami sportswriter named Dan Le Batard enough material for several columns in the process.

Jordan doesn’t need another hurricane (let’s hope not, anyway) to re-establish momentum.  He doesn’t even need to start making appearances on Le Batard’s radio show.  He just needs better pitching and defense (don’t sleep on the need for better defense).  He’s had championship-caliber pitching and defense in the past, and I see no reason to believe he can’t get the program to that championship level again.

I certainly hope so, anyway.  I would like to make another regional trip, preferably sooner rather than later…

C-I-T…wait, you mean this isn’t about the chant?

For the first time in this or any other century, The Citadel’s basketball team will be playing at least one game beyond the conference tournament.  It’s not the NCAA tournament, or the NIT, or even the CBI (although it may be more respectable than the CBI, quite honestly), but the CIT.  The CIT?

That’s right, the CIT.  It’s the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament, to be precise.  It’s been around for quite a while…since January!

The teams participating all hail from non-power conferences, which isn’t a bad thing, in the sense that for most of them, this tournament will be seen as worthwhile.  Also, unlike the CBI, every team in the field has a winning record (Oregon State got a bid to the CBI with a 13-17 record).

As you might imagine, the CIT has been rather hastily put together, as demonstrated by the scheduling of The Citadel’s opening-round game, against Old Dominion.  ODU is hosting the game, which was originally slated for Wednesday night.  Then it was apparently discovered that another commitment precluded the use of ODU’s arena on that day, so the game was quickly moved to Tuesday, but that posed a series of problems for The Citadel (mostly revolving around travel issues, from what I understand).  It is now going to be played on Thursday night, at 7 pm.  Luckily, there isn’t any other sporting event of national interest taking place on that day and night…

Old Dominion is one of three schools to have played in the NCAA, NIT, CBI, and CIT tournaments (along with Rider and Bradley).  The Monarchs have played in the NCAA tournament nine times since joining Division I in 1976, winning twice.  The second of those two victories was a memorable triple-overtime upset of 3-seed Villanova in 1995.  ODU played in the NCAAs as recently as two seasons ago, losing to Butler in the first round.

In other words, this is a school with a recent tradition of success in hoops, including four 20-win seasons in the last five years.  This season the Monarchs were 21-10 while playing in the rugged Colonial Athletic Association.  It finished 12-6 in conference action before losing to conference champ Virginia Commonwealth in the CAA tourney semifinals.  That was the third time the two teams had met during the season, with the home team winning the first two games.  The Rams are the only common opponent for ODU and The Citadel, which lost at VCU 82-59 early in the season.

Old Dominion and The Citadel play at a similar pace (the Monarchs actually average fewer possessions per game than the Bulldogs), so this is not likely to be a track meet.  ODU features 6’10” center Gerald Lee, a first-team All-CAA selection who averages 15.7 points and 5.6 rebounds per game.  Lee was born and raised in Finland (his father is an American who moved to Finland to play pro basketball, explaining his American-sounding name).  I look forward to listening to Darren Goldwater as he attempts to pronounce Lee’s hometown.  Lee will be a difficult matchup for The Citadel.  ODU has a lot of size in general.  Eight different players average 16 minutes or more for the Monarchs.

ODU has solid stats across the board, including an excellent turnover rate, and generally good defensive numbers.  The Monarchs do not shoot the ball particularly well from outside, and are a poor free throw shooting team (63.8%).

This is going to be a tough game for The Citadel.  It will be interesting to see how motivated each team will be for the game.  If the Bulldogs can contain Lee and shoot the ball well from three-point land, they have a shot.  It will be a tall order, though.

Still, just the opportunity to have a tall order to fill is something to enjoy.

Bubbling Basketball, 3/14

There is a lot more uncertainty than usual on the Saturday morning before Selection Sunday.  Part of that is due to several surprise conference tournament finalists, and part of it is due to a more-mediocre-than-normal bubble.  Combine that with the traditional difficulty of evaluating mid-majors against middle-of-the-road majors and you have a bit of a mess.

Locks by conference:

ACC (6):  North Carolina, Duke, Wake Forest, Florida State, Clemson, Boston College
Pac-10 (4):  Washington, UCLA, Arizona State, California
Big East (7):  Pittsburgh, Louisville, Connecticut, Villanova, Syracuse, Marquette, West Virginia
SEC (2):  LSU, Tennessee
Big 10 (4):  Michigan State, Purdue, Illinois, Ohio State
Big XII (5)  Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma State
Mountain West (2):  Utah, Brigham Young
Other conferences (3):  Memphis, Xavier, Butler

How things shape up going into Saturday’s action…

  • The Atlantic-10 is likely a three-bid league, with today’s Temple-Duquesne winner joining Xavier and (probably) Dayton in the field.  Dayton is not quite a lock, but a lot of things would have to happen for the Flyers not to make the NCAAs.  Temple does not have enough to get an at-large bid, despite last night’s win over Xavier.  It’s a win-and-you’re-in situation for the Owls and Dukes.
  • Utah State survived New Mexico State last night and now must beat Nevada in Reno to grab the WAC’s automatic bid.  I don’t think an at-large will be available for the Aggies, although it would be tough for the committee to leave out a team with 29 wins.
  • Tulsa must beat Memphis and garner the automatic bid for C-USA if it hopes to make the NCAAs.  An at-large bid is not a realistic option for the Golden Hurricane.
  • Likewise, Baylor must beat Missouri in the Big XII final to grab a spot and steal a bid from an at-large contender.
  • Southern California will have a shot at an at-large bid if it loses the Pac-10 final to Arizona State, but I think the Trojans have to win that game.  The run to the final has probably moved Southern Cal ahead of Arizona on the committee’s S-curve, but that isn’t going to be enough.  The Pac-10 may wind up with just four bids.
  • San Diego State can guarantee a bid by winning the Mountain West tourney today, but the Aztecs are in fairly good shape now even if they don’t beat Utah.  SDSU’s chances of making the field absent a victory on Saturday are probably in the 80% range.  New Mexico tied for the MWC regular-season title but has nothing else to offer to the committee, and I don’t see four teams getting bids in the MWC.  UNLV is out after wasting a solid non-conference effort by going only 9-7 in the league and losing at home in the first round of the conference tournament to SDSU, which beat the Rebels three times this season.
  • I still think the SEC will get three bids no matter what, but the worst-case scenario for the league has unfolded.  Auburn can get that third bid with a win today over Tennessee, but a loss to the Vols leaves the Tigers in a precarious position, with several other bubble teams having better resumes.  I suppose it’s possible the SEC will just be a two-bid league, but I find it hard to believe.  Florida is almost certainly out, and so if Auburn loses the choice for a potential third SEC team in the field comes down to Auburn and South Carolina.
  • Maryland’s victory over Wake Forest in the ACC quarterfinals gives it three wins this season over teams ranked in the top 10 of the RPI, with two of those on neutral sites, plus a handy win over Michigan.  The Terps still don’t have a true road win over a top 100 team, but no other bubble team has as many high-end victories.  Barring another embarrassing loss to Duke in the ACC semis, Maryland looks to be in good shape for an at-large bid.  Beating Duke would make a trip to the dance a lock, of course.
  • The Big 10 is still hoping to get eight bids, but I think it’s going to be seven, with Penn State being left out after getting blown out by Purdue in the conference quarterfinals.  Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan all have better resumes, and none of them are locks, either.

How I see the bubble as of Saturday morning:

Texas A&M
Dayton
Minnesota
San Diego State
Wisconsin
Maryland
Michigan
Auburn
Creighton
—-
St. Mary’s
Southern California
Penn State
Arizona
South Carolina
New Mexico
Providence
Tulsa
Florida

Utah State, if it were to lose tonight, would probably be slotted behind St. Mary’s but ahead of Southern Cal (assuming the Trojans don’t beat Arizona State on Saturday).  Temple would be in the New Mexico-Providence range with a loss.  Baylor is a pure bid thief, Southern Cal could be a bid thief, and Tulsa is a de facto bid thief as well.

A tradition that needs to stop

This season, The Citadel’s basketball team successfully broke a long cycle of losing, and did so in spectacular fashion, with an unprecedented number of league victories, the longest winning streak in over 80 years, and a record-tying 20 victories.  The team broke long road losing streaks at Appalachian State, Davidson, and the College of Charleston.  It got over the hump in every conceivable way except one.  Oh, but that one…

The conference tournament bugaboo struck again.

Samford became the 21st different team to beat The Citadel in the SoCon tourney (I think it’s safe to assume that’s a record), a little more than a month after The Citadel beat the Birmingham bulldogs by 25 points in a game at Samford.  It was, to say the least, a frustrating performance.  The Citadel’s defense was atrocious, as Samford scored 76 points on only 55 possessions.  The Citadel also got outrebounded by Samford, which is both terrible and amazing, given that Samford is one of the nation’s worst rebounding teams.  It was just a miserable night.

I don’t know why, no matter how good or bad the Bulldogs are in any season (and they’ve usually been bad), The Citadel comes up all thumbs every single time when the SoCon tournament gets underway.  You would think that in all those years that on occasion even one of the Bulldogs’ lesser teams would have done something to win a couple of games, even if it were just by accident.  Nope.  The Citadel is now 10-56 in the Southern Conference tournament.

Ed Conroy did a lot of things right this season, but I suspect he’s going to take a hard look at the performance of the team on Saturday night and try to figure out how to change the mindset of the squad entering tourney play.  The team has to play with purpose while remaining loose, something that never seems to happen, regardless of the year.

I don’t know if The Citadel has finished playing basketball this season.  It is possible that the Bulldogs will be invited to a post-season event, as college basketball appears to be going the way of college football, and eventually all 343 Division I teams will get to play in a post-season tournament.   Well, maybe not NJIT.  We’ll see what develops on that front.

If it does turn out to be the end of the season, I feel badly for the players that it ended so rudely, particularly the two seniors.  However, Demetrius Nelson and Jon Brick will depart knowing that in their senior year, they played on a basketball team at The Citadel that won 20 games.  That makes them members of a very, very small club.  Also, if the Bulldogs are able to maintain the positive momentum built up during this season, and parlay it into even more success, Nelson and Brick will know that they were major contributors to the building of that foundation. 

I’ve been asked by friends about two recent articles concerning The Citadel, a long and evocative piece in ESPN The Magazine (and ESPN.com) by the talented Wright Thompson, and a shorter feature in The New York Times, the latter of which could have used some editing.  However, as I have pointed out to people who have brought it up, the truth is that other than Ed Conroy, the basketball team didn’t get much publicity from either article, as both were about Pat Conroy.  The two pieces combined were over 5700 words in length, but despite all that verbiage no member of the current edition of the Bulldog basketball team was mentioned, not even once.

I was disappointed in that, because I’ve heard the Pat Conroy tale before.  While I mean no disrespect, I felt the focus should be on the current players and what they had accomplished, not just Nelson and Brick, but Zach Urbanus, Bryan Streeter, and Austin Dahn.  I wanted to read more about the terror of Beverly Hills, Cosmo Morabbi.  I was hoping someone would come up with a nickname for John Brown (besides just “JB”).

Instead, the national media turned to Pat Conroy as the story.  It’s always about Pat.

(Actually, contained within the Pat-and-Ed storyline was something that I thought was potentially much more interesting, the relationship between Ed and Don “The Great Santini” Conroy.  However, that angle would only have tangentially involved Pat Conroy, and the elder Conroy is dead, so it was just used as a way for the preferred narrative to connect Pat and Ed.  Oh well.)

Perhaps it’s just as well none of the players were mentioned, at least in the Times article.  Since that story referred to General Grinalds as the former commandant of the school, it’s possible that Urbanus would have been described as a 6’10” post player…

Finally, you have to hand it to the Southern Conference brass.  After taking the guaranteed money from Chattanooga to move the tournament to UTC’s home court, the conference leadership got exactly what it deserved.  The Mocs had the fifth-best record in the SoCon this season, but despite 20 conference games the league continued with its two-division format.  With the four best teams all in the South division, this enabled UT-Chattanooga (playing in the North division) to garner a bye in the first round while two other teams with better records had to play on Friday night. 

Then everything fell into place for the Mocs.  Not only did they survive a one-point victory over Elon in the quarterfinals (you think the home court was probably worth a few points there?), they only had to beat one of the four teams that finished ahead of UTC in the standings — and that was the third-place team, which had to play an extra game just to get to the final.

There is a good chance (better than 50%, at least) that Chattanooga becomes the first SoCon school to land in the dreaded play-in game, just one year after Davidson reached the Elite Eight.  That will do wonders for the league’s image.  However, it should have come as no surprise to anyone that Chattanooga won the tournament on its home court, since that’s exactly what happened in 2005, the last time the tournament was held at McKenzie Arena.

When the tournament was awarded to Chattanooga, SoCon commissioner John Iamarino noted that the arena would provide plenty of seating.  That’s great, except much of it wasn’t used, as even in the final, with its home team playing and a bid to the NCAA tournament on the line, the official attendance was only 5,042 (and who knows what the actual attendance was).   

It’s not surprising that a lot of the fans from other schools in the league didn’t show up, since Chattanooga isn’t a geographically ideal location to have the tournament (unless you root for UTC or Samford).  It doesn’t say much for the promotion of the event, though, when even the home team can’t put people in the stands.

Naturally, the tournament will return to Chattanooga next season…

Bubble Watch, 3/9/09

I’m posting this prior to the Portland-St. Mary’s game, for the record…

This is my first projection to include seeding and placement, and it’s possible there is an error or two mixed in, because the first go-round is always the toughest.  At any rate, here is how I see the NCAA tournament as of right now (projected automatic bids in all-caps):

South (Memphis, IN)

Greensboro sub-regional
1 North Carolina
16 Radford
8 West Virginia
9 Dayton
Boise sub-regional
4 Missouri
13 AMERICAN
5 Gonzaga
12 Michigan
Minneapolis sub-regional
2 Michigan State
15 ROBERT MORRIS
7 California
10 Oklahoma State
Philadelphia sub-regional
3 Villanova
14 BUFFALO
6 Tennessee
11 UTAH STATE

West (Glendale, AZ)

Kansas City sub-regional
1 Oklahoma
16 CAL STATE-NORTHRIDGE
8 Brigham Young
9 Wisconsin
Miami sub-regional
4 Louisiana State
13 WESTERN KENTUCKY
5 Florida State
12 Providence
Dayton sub-regional
2 Louisville
15 East Tennessee State
7 Purdue
10 St. Mary’s
Portland sub-regional
3 Washington
14 WEBER STATE
6 Butler
11 SIENA

East (Boston, MA)

Philadelphia sub-regional
1 Connecticut
16 MORGAN STATE
8 Texas
9 Ohio State
Portland sub-regional
4 Xavier
13 Northern Iowa
5 Clemson
12 VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH
Kansas City sub-regional
2 Memphis
15 Cornell
7 Arizona State
10 Minnesota
Miami sub-regional
3 Wake Forest
14 NORTH DAKOTA STATE
6 Marquette
11 New Mexico

Midwest (Indianapolis, IN)

Dayton sub-regional
1 Pittsburgh
16 Morehead State/ALABAMA STATE (play-in game; also in Dayton)
8 Boston College
9 Texas A&M
Boise sub-regional
4 Ucla
13 STEPHEN F. AUSTIN
5 Utah
12 Penn State
Greensboro sub-regional
2 Duke
15 UT-CHATTANOOGA
7 Syracuse
10 Arizona
Minneapolis sub-regional
3 Kansas
14 BINGHAMTON
6 Illinois
11 South Carolina

Notes:

  • As of now, North Carolina has the top overall seed in my projection, based on finishing first in the ACC, while none of the other three #1 seeds won their respective conference titles.  Louisville will be probably be battling Pitt and UConn for two available #1 seeds in the Big East tournament.  I think Memphis has a shot at a #1 if it wins the C-USA tournament and Oklahoma bows out early in the Big XII tourney.
  • The brackets are set up as follows:  South vs. West, East vs. Midwest
  • I had a lot of trouble deciding how the committee would place teams.  I think they are going to want to have at least one “draw” in the Portland and Boise sub-regionals, so putting Washington/UCLA in those sites seemed logical, and Gonzaga will probably be in one of them as well.  It’s a bit of a tough draw for Missouri in particular, but after the first round nobody is protected.  I don’t like putting Villanova in Philly — that struck me as not being in the spirit of things — but if the Wildcats get a 3 seed or better I can see it happening.
  • Every team on seed lines 8 and up is safe for the tournament, and the 9 seeds are all in decent shape.  The bubble action starts on line 10 and goes through line 12, with some automatic bids interspersed here and there.
  • Last six in:  South Carolina (last in), Penn State, Providence, New Mexico, Michigan, St. Mary’s
  • Last six out:  UNLV (last out), Creighton, Florida, Miami (FL), Maryland, Auburn
  • Also considered:  San Diego State, Virginia Tech, Davidson, Rhode Island, Kansas State, Southern California

South Carolina, to be perfectly honest, is a bit of a placeholder; I have the Gamecocks in the field based on my belief that at least three SEC teams will be in the tournament, no matter what happens.  As of right now, I give South Carolina the edge over Florida and Auburn for the third bid from that decidedly mediocre league.  It is possible for the SEC to get four bids, depending on how things shake out in that league’s tourney, as well as tournaments across the country.

At this point Siena and Utah State would be advised to win their respective conference tournaments.  I don’t see either grabbing an at-large bid if it needs one.

St. Mary’s is the toughest call in terms of evaluation/figuring out what the committee will do.  If the Gaels lose to Gonzaga in the WCC final, then I think they will get an at-large bid. Otherwise, I don’t see it happening.

Trying to rise above a history of misery

Yes, it’s Southern Conference tourney time.  If you’re a fan of The Citadel, you may want to cover your eyes while reading some of this.  If you’re not, you may want to cover them anyway…

First, the good news.  The Bulldogs rebounded nicely (literally and figuratively) from their loss to Wofford by beating a ragtag Georgia Southern squad 74-53 on Monday night.  The Eagles hung around a little too long for my liking, making two good runs in each half, and were down by just six points with over 13 minutes left in regulation.  In the next seven minutes of the game, however, Georgia Southern had more technical fouls (2) than made field goals (1).  It’s hard to complete a comeback when that happens.

The Citadel thus got a much-needed bye into the quarterfinals of the Southern Conference tournament.  Besides not having to play four games in four days in order to win the tourney, the extra day may also help the Bulldogs in their preparation for the event, as there are some on-court adjustments that need to be made.  Among other things, The Citadel committed 18 turnovers on Monday night, many of them unforced.

Demetrius Nelson and Cameron Wells each had five turnovers, which is too many, but they also combined for 42 points (Nelson had 11 rebounds as well).  John Brown had four, and that’s a bit more worrisome, as he isn’t in a position to handle the ball nearly as often in a scoring or closely guarded position (and thus shouldn’t have as many turnovers).  Brown forced things a bit on offense, particularly in the first half, which was a carryover from the Wofford game on Saturday.

In the Southern Conference tournament, teams are almost certainly going to employ Wofford’s strategy of doubling Nelson repeatedly while giving Brown space on the wing, because Brown is not yet an offensive threat unless he’s making layups or dunks.  How Ed Conroy and company adjust to this will go a long way to determining The Citadel’s tournament fate.

Having said that, it should be noted that despite those 18 turnovers and decent-but-not-great outside shooting, the Bulldogs went on the road and under a good deal of pressure (given the importance of winning the game) defeated a conference opponent by 21 points.  The fact it’s actually possible to be disappointed in some aspects of The Citadel’s play after a result like that speaks volumes about how good this team has been, and the expectations it now has.

Those expectations include making a serious bid at a first-ever Southern Conference tournament title.  Before casting a forward glance towards Chattanooga, however, perhaps it’s best to realize just how arduous a task the Bulldogs face.  When it comes to The Citadel and its history in the Southern Conference tourney, a few paragraphs are in order, because just a few words cannot begin to adequately describe the horror…

One of the more curious things about The Citadel’s wretched history in the SoCon tourney is that there is no firm answer to just how many times the school has lost in the event.  That’s because the league has mutated so many times there is a dispute as to what year the first “official” conference tournament was held.

Before 1920, The Citadel was one of many schools in a rather loose confederation known as the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association.  (The Citadel initially joined in 1909.)  There were about 30 colleges in the SIAA by 1920, including almost every member of the current SEC and about half of the current ACC, along with schools such as Centre, Sewanee (somewhat amusingly, later a member of the SEC), Chattanooga, Wofford, Howard (now called Samford, of course), and Millsaps, just to name a few.  As you might imagine, the large and disparate membership had some disagreements, and was just plain hard to manage, so a number of the schools left to form the Southern Conference in late 1920.

In the spring of 1921, the SIAA sponsored a basketball tournament, which would be the forerunner to all the conference hoops tourneys to follow.  Any southern college or university could travel to Atlanta to play, and fifteen schools did just that.  Kentucky beat Georgia in the final.  The Citadel did not enter the event, but several other small colleges did, including Newberry.  The tournament featured teams from the new Southern Conference, the old SIAA, and squads like Newberry, which wasn’t in either league (it would join the SIAA in 1923).

In 1922 the SIAA held another tournament in Atlanta, this one won by North Carolina, which beat Mercer in the final.  The Citadel entered this time, losing in the first round to Vanderbilt.  The SIAA tournament remained all-comers until 1924, when it was restricted to Southern Conference members.

Some sources suggest that the 1921 tournament is the first “official” Southern Conference tournament, some go with the 1922 event, and others argue for 1924.  From what I can tell, the league itself is a bit wishy-washy on the issue.  On the conference website, it states:

The first Southern Conference Championship was the league basketball tournament held in Atlanta in 1922. The North Carolina Tar Heels won the tournament to become the first recognized league champion in any sport. The Southern Conference Tournament remains the oldest of its kind in college basketball.

That’s great, but the conference’s own record book lists Kentucky as having won the first tournament title in 1921 (on page 113; oddly, that year is excluded from the game-by-game tournament results that begin on page 114).  Of course, the edition of the record book on the conference website is three years old and lists The Citadel as having once lost 37 straight games, which is incorrect, so take it for what you will.

Personally, I think that the idea of having a conference tournament is to determine a league champion, and it stands to reason that such a tournament would only include league members.  So the first “real” Southern Conference tournament, in my opinion, was held in 1924.

There is a point to this, trust me.  The difference between counting the Vanderbilt loss as a SoCon tourney loss and not counting it is the difference between The Citadel’s alltime record in the event being 10-55 or 10-56.  Not that they both aren’t hideous totals, but as of now The Citadel shares the NCAA record for “most consecutive conference tournament appearances without a title” with Clemson, which is 0-for-55 in trying to win the ACC tournament.  Counting the Vanderbilt game would mean The Citadel is alone in its conference tourney infamy.  No offense to the Tigers, but I don’t believe the 1922 game should count, because it wasn’t really a Southern Conference tournament game.

By the way, you read that right.  The Citadel is 10-55 alltime in the SoCon tournament.  That’s just unbelievably bad.  It comes out to a 14% winning percentage, which is more than twice as bad as even The Citadel’s lousy alltime conference regular season winning percentage (35%).  The Citadel lost 17 straight tourney games from 1961-78, and then from 1985-97 lost 13 more in a row.  Incidentally, the single-game scoring record in the tournament is held by Marshall’s Skip Henderson, who put up 55 on The Citadel in 1988 (in a game Marshall won by 43 points; karma is a you-know-what, as the next night the Thundering Herd, which had won the regular season title that year, lost to UT-Chattanooga by one point).

Those losses aren’t all in consecutive years, as The Citadel didn’t always qualify for the tournament, particularly in the years before 1953, when there were up to 17 teams in the league at any given time, and only the top squads played in the tourney.  The Citadel’s first “real” appearance, in 1938, resulted in a 42-38 loss to Maryland.  The Citadel would lose two more tourney openers before winning its first game in 1943, against South Carolina.  That would be the only time the Bulldogs and Gamecocks faced each other in the tournament, and so South Carolina is one of two teams The Citadel has a winning record against in SoCon tourney play (the Bulldogs are 2-0 against VMI).

The next time The Citadel would win a game in the tournament?  1959, when the Bulldogs actually won two games, against Furman and George Washington, and found themselves in the tourney final.  Unfortunately, the opponent in the title game was West Virginia, led by Jerry West.  West scored 27 points and the Mountaineers pulled away late for an 85-66 victory.  This would be the only time The Citadel ever made the championship game; it’s also the only time the Bulldogs won two games in the tournament.

After a 1961 quarterfinal victory over Richmond, The Citadel would not win another tournament game until 1979, when the Bulldogs defeated Davidson before losing to Furman.  The game against Davidson was played at McAlister Field House, and was the 20th victory of the season, which until Monday was the most games ever won by a Bulldog squad (now tied, of course, by the current edition of the Bulldogs).

The Citadel would win single games in 1982 and 1985 before going winless until 1998, when it finally broke a 13-game tourney losing streak by beating VMI.  The Keydets would be the next victim as well, in 2002, and were apparently so embarrassed they left the league.  The Citadel’s latest win in conference tournament action came in 2006 against Furman.

Twenty different schools have defeated The Citadel in tournament play, with Davidson’s eight victories leading the way (against one loss to the Bulldogs).  East Tennessee State went 6-0 against The Citadel while in the league.

At least ETSU won’t be around this season.  The Citadel’s first game in this year’s tournament will come against either first-year league member Samford or Furman.  The Paladins are 5-2 alltime in tourney play against The Citadel, with the Bulldogs having won the first and most recent meetings.  Records against other tourney teams:  Chattanooga 0-1, Elon 0-1, College of Charleston 0-1, Georgia Southern 0-2, Western Carolina 1-1, Appalachian State 1-6, and Davidson 1-8.  (The Citadel has never played Wofford or UNC-Greensboro in the tournament.)

The very first game worries me.  If it’s Samford, don’t look for another 25-point win.  The Citadel caught that team on a bad night.  Samford is well-coached and its slow-slower-slowest offense can give even a patient team like The Citadel fits.  I am concerned about how the team will react when the bright lights come on for the first time and suddenly everything is on the line, especially when in the unfamiliar role of favorite.  If the opponent is Furman, it would be a much more confident Paladin squad (after coming off a victory) than the one which recently lost to The Citadel, and one that would be more than happy to end a rival’s dream season.

If The Citadel survives the opener and moves to the semifinals for only the second time in 24 years, the opponent could be one of three teams, a trio against which the Bulldogs had a combined regular season record of 1-4, with the one win coming at home by two points.  Of course, one of those potential opponents, Chattanooga, is also the host school for the tournament.

It has been fifty years since The Citadel made its first and only trip to the title game, and if the Bulldogs somehow win two games (for only the second time ever), the opponent will likely either be Davidson, with a healthy Stephen Curry in tow, or a red-hot College of Charleston squad ready to avenge two regular-season defeats at the hands of the Bulldogs.

It’s easy to see that winning the tournament will be a very tall order.  Combine that difficulty with the sordid history of The Citadel in the SoCon tournament, and it’s really hard to imagine the Bulldogs cutting down the nets on Monday night.  That’s a scenario that seems unlikely to unfold.

However, there is another way to look at things.  This isn’t your typical Bulldog squad.  This is a team that has the league’s second-best record, that has won 12 of its last 13 games, that has proven it can win away from home, and has demonstrated it can win even on nights when its key players aren’t at their best.  It has won close games and blowouts, is led by the newly minted coach of the year in the conference, and features an all-conference post player along with an outstanding, versatile group of guards.  If there ever was a team from The Citadel capable of overcoming all that negative history, and making some positive history of its own, this is the one.

Saturday night can’t get here soon enough…

Bubbling Basketball, 3/2/09

With two weeks to go until Selection Sunday, there is still a fairly large group of bubble teams, but the potential at-large pool has become more defined.  My current groups of eight:

Group 1:  Connecticut, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Memphis, Michigan State, Duke

I have three Big East teams in the top five of my S-curve, but it is unlikely that conference winds up with three #1 seeds.  UConn and Pitt still have to play again in the regular season (at Pitt), and then the Big East tournament will have a culling effect of sorts.  Memphis is also a strong candidate for a #1 seed.  Oklahoma may not win the Big XII regular season after losing two games due to Blake Griffin’s concussion, but I don’t think that is going to cost the Sooners much, if anything, in terms of grabbing a #1.

Group 2:  Kansas, Wake Forest, Washington, Missouri, Villanova, LSU, Purdue, Marquette

Kansas and Missouri both being on the 3 line after this weekend’s blowout win for the Jayhawks gave me pause, but that’s just the way it is.  Washington has made a strong push, with nine wins in its last twelve games (six of its last seven).  LSU is going to run away with the SEC regular season title, and even in a bad year for that league, it’s hard to see the Bayou Bengals not being rewarded with a top 16 seed.  If LSU chokes in the SEC tourney, though, that could change.

Marquette stays where it is, and will continue to do so, until it is demonstrated that Marquette is significantly affected by the season-ending injury to Dominic James.  I think it’s almost certain that his injury will have a negative effect on the team’s performance over time, but losing a competitive game to Louisville doesn’t really make it obvious.

Group 3:  Xavier, Florida State, UCLA, Clemson, Illinois, Butler, Gonzaga, Utah

I think you have to rate Florida State ahead of Clemson at this point.  The Tigers are only 6-6 in their last 12 games, which includes a loss at Virginia and a home loss to Virginia Tech, in addition to the sweep at the hands of the Seminoles.  Butler has eleven “true” road wins, including a victory at Xavier.  In other respects its profile does not really scream “6 seed”, though.

Gonzaga is going to play USC Upstate and its 290 RPI before beginning play in the WCC tournament.  It will be the sixth time Mark Few’s men have played a team with a current RPI of 276 or worse.  Four of those are conference games against Loyola-Marymount and Pepperdine.  Two other teams in the WCC also have RPIs below 200.  Keep that in mind, but not to hold against Gonzaga.   Just wait until we get to the bubble teams and one league in particular…

Group 4:  Arizona State, Syracuse, West Virginia, California, Dayton, Boston College, Tennessee, Texas

Most of these teams can just about book their tournament reservations at this point.  Syracuse is essentially a lock, and the rest probably need just one more win.  You could make a good argument that ASU and the ‘Cuse should be rated ahead of Utah.  Tennessee separated itself from the other SEC bubblers with its win on Sunday against Florida (completing a sweep of the Gators), thanks in large part to separating itself from its league brethren before the season started with its strong non-conference schedule.

Group 5:  Wisconsin, Brigham Young, Ohio State, UNLV, Creighton, Minnesota, Texas A&M, South Carolina

Ah, here is where the fun really starts…

Wisconsin played a very good schedule (currently rated sixth nationally).  Its biggest non-conference scalp came at Virginia Tech, which will come in handy, along with sweeps of Michigan and Penn State and a victory over Ohio State.  The Badgers next play Minnesota, and need to win to avoid being swept by the Gophers.  A win in Minneapolis won’t be easy, but if Wisconsin gets it and beats Indiana in its home finale, it should be set.  Even a loss to Minnesota won’t be fatal, although the Badgers may want to win a game or two in the Big 10 tourney just to be safe.  The average RPI of the teams Wisconsin has defeated is 104, which is a very impressive number.

BYU is 8-3 on the road this season, and also has a neutral-site victory over Utah State.  None of the road victories was a really good one, but on the other hand, BYU played a representative schedule and only has one serious flaw on its resume, a sweep at the hands of UNLV.  There are worse teams to have been swept by, though.  I’m not overly enthused by the Cougars’ profile, but they’ve done what they needed to do, which is why the RPI is 22, and BYU will make the NCAAs unless it badly stumbles down the stretch.  I will give BYU credit for not scheduling a lot of games against 200+ RPI teams.

Ohio State beat Butler at home, Notre Dame in Indianapolis, and Miami (FL) on the road (where it got lucky, frankly).  Those results and no bad losses will go a long way to getting an at-large bid, but the Buckeyes are only 8-8 in the Big 10 (including getting thumped over the weekend by Purdue) and probably need two more wins.  As it happens, they close with games at Iowa and home to Northwestern.

UNLV has the aforementioned sweep of BYU, a win over Utah, and most importantly, a win at Louisville.  The Rebels have also lost at Colorado State and at TCU, and as a result find themselves in fifth place in the Mountain West.  I think UNLV has the profile to get an at-large bid and become team #3 ouf of the MWC, but it needs to win its last two (including at San Diego State, which would get the Rebels at least a tie for 4th in the league), and then not fall apart at the Mountain West tournament, particularly since that tournament is in Vegas this year.

Creighton has won ten straight games and heads into the Missouri Valley tournament with the #2 seed (losing a tiebreaker after tying for the regular season title).  The Blue Jays don’t have a win on their resume that will make you stand up and take notice, but one thing Creighton apparently did was try to figure out what other mid-majors might be good this season, and then proceeded to schedule them.  In addition to the Bracketbusters game against George Mason, Creighton has also played Dayton, New Mexico, Arkansas-Little Rock, Oral Roberts, and St. Joseph’s, winning all of those games with the exception of a last-second lost to UALR.  I would like the profile a little better without the losses to Wichita State and Drake, but 25 wins while playing in the nation’s ninth-rated conference is worth serious consideration when doling out at-large bids.

Minnesota has a neutral-site win over Louisville, a win at Wisconsin, and a win over Illinois in one of the Big 10’s notorious “first to 40 wins” contests.  The Gophers are only 5-7 in their last twelve and really need a couple of wins down the stretch to feel secure.  They have two home games remaining, both of serious bubble interest, as they play Wisconsin and Michigan.  The Gophers are the quintessential major-conference bubble team.

Texas A&M has excellent computer numbers (RPI of 35).  The Aggies have a neutral-site win over LSU and home wins over Texas and Arizona.  The problem for A&M is that it is only 7-7 in a Big XII that no one is favorably comparing to the ACC or Big East.  Texas A&M is building momentum, though, with four straight wins, and it figures to be five after a game at Colorado on Wednesday.  The Aggies finish the regular season with a home game against Missouri and a chance to play its way into the NCAAs.

Before getting to South Carolina, let’s review Group 6, which has six teams, and then the rest of the hopefuls which as of right now aren’t in my tournament projections:

Group 6:  Oklahoma State, Miami (FL), Arizona, Maryland, Florida, Michigan

Also hoping:  Virginia Tech, St. Mary’s, Providence, Rhode Island, Utah State, Georgetown, Penn State, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Kentucky, Davidson, Siena, New Mexico, UAB, San Diego State

Oklahoma State is a lot like Texas A&M; I have a hard time separating them.  They split two meetings.  Oklahoma State has a one-game lead over A&M in the conference standings.  The Aggies beat LSU and Arizona; the Cowboys have neutral-site wins over Siena and Rhode Island.  Both beat Texas.  Okie State has won five straight and finishes with Kansas State at home and Oklahoma in Norman.

Miami (FL) and Arizona are similar in that they need to take care of business.  The Hurricanes have two very winnable games to get to 8-8 in the ACC; then Miami probably needs to win a game in the ACC tournament.  Arizona is 8-8 in the Pac-10 and is poised to get the fifth bid from that league, but needs to beat Stanford and either Cal or its first-round opponent in the Pac-10 tournament (which may in fact be Cal).

Maryland and Michigan have some similarities as well.  Both have played difficult schedules.  Both have major out of conference victories (North Carolina and Michigan State for the Terps; Duke and UCLA for the Wolverines).  Of course, Maryland beat Michigan earlier in the season, which is another solid OOC victory for the  Terps.  Maryland is 7-7 in ACC play; Michigan is 8-9 in the Big 10, with a game at Minnesota left to conclude its regular season.  I think Maryland needs to finish 8-8 in conference, and possibly (but not necessarily) win an ACC tourney game.  Michigan might be good to go if it can get that win against Minnesota (which would have the added benefit of hurting the chances of another bubble team).  Otherwise, the Wolverines may have to do some damage in the Big 10 tournament.

South Carolina, Florida, and Kentucky — let’s look at the SEC bubblers, shall we?

Earlier I noted that Gonzaga had played six teams with RPIs of 276 or worse.  Four of them are in the Bulldogs’ league, which means Gonzaga had no control over the scheduling of those games.  Because of these games, the average RPI of the teams Gonzaga has beaten this season is 160.

The average RPI of the teams Florida has defeated is 179.  Kentucky?  173.  South Carolina?  172.

Florida has actually played seven teams with RPIs worse than 276, all as part of its non-conference slate.  The Gators have 21 wins, but has beaten only two teams in the top 75 of the RPI — Washington (in Kansas City) and South Carolina.

The Gamecocks have not much more heft to their resume, with a sweep of Kentucky to go with a win over Florida and a victory at Baylor, all as part of a schedule not much stronger than that of the Gators.

Kentucky has swept Tennessee and beaten the Gators, and has a neutral-site win over West Virginia.  Kentucky also has six wins against teams with RPIs of 299 or worse, dragging down its computer numbers, which are also affected by home losses to Mississippi State and (especially) VMI.

Just to give you an idea of how the SEC teams compare with other teams in terms of scheduling wins, the average RPI of the teams defeated by some of their fellow major conference bubblers:

Michigan – 133, Arizona – 139, Miami (FL) – 139, Oklahoma State – 148, Texas A&M – 143, Minnesota – 142, Maryland – 146, Virginia Tech – 150, Cincinnati – 152, Georgetown – 110, Notre Dame – 167, Providence – 165, Penn State – 170

It’s rather striking when looked at that way.  It shows why Georgetown is still a bubbler despite all its losses, why Penn State has work to do (despite road wins over Michigan State and Illinois), and why Notre Dame is essentially done, especially after losing at home by 17 to Villanova.  Georgetown got its win over Villanova, and Providence still has a game to play against the Wildcats.

It also shows why the SEC resumes are less than the sum of their parts.  Florida and Kentucky face each other in what some are calling a “play-in” game; I would suggest it should be called a “play-out” game, with the winner still having work to do in the SEC tourney.

Rhode Island has played a lot of “close but no cigar” games, including a three-point loss at Duke, a one-point loss at Providence, and a two-point loss to Xavier.  The Rams have won 10 of their last 11 games and will get a look from the committee if they go deep in the A-10 tournament.  If you don’t take into account the close losses, though, URI’s profile isn’t quite good enough, and I’m not sure you should take into account close losses.

As to what the committee will do if St. Mary’s makes the WCC final and loses to Gonzaga, I really don’t know.  I suspect the Gaels, with a healthy Patty Mills, are at-large quality.  The resume doesn’t really bear that out, however.

I don’t think the remaining non-BCS candidates have much of a shot at an at-large bid.  Of the group, I like Davidson the best, but I don’t think Stephen Curry and crew can absorb another loss, even if it would be to one of the better SoCon teams, like The Citadel or the College of Charleston.  UAB had a chance to make a statement against Memphis; instead, Memphis made the statement.  The Blazers do have a win over Arizona, but have not really been dominant against the non-Memphis C-USA teams.

Siena’s loss on Friday to Niagara probably torpedoed any at-large hopes.  New Mexico, San Diego State, and Utah State all have less-than-imposing resumes with little to offer in the way of significant non-conference wins.  Utah State does have a win over Utah, and probably has the best shot of an at-large among the western non-BCS schools.

There is still a lot of action remaining in the regular season.  Not unlike the weather, if there is something you don’t like concerning the bubble picture, just wait — things will change.