Bulldog hoops: whoa, a real live winning streak

Well, in my last post I said it was time for The Citadel to go on a winning streak, and lo and behold the Bulldogs have delivered.  It’s a modest three-game stretch, to be sure, but it’s still two games longer than any previous winning streak the team has had this season.

Chuck Driesell is now employing a seven-man rotation.  He has elected to play mostly zone on defense, with a 1-2-2 as his primary look, although I guess you could call it a 3-2, or even a 2-3, depending on what the “point” defender does.  (In his postgame wrapup with Darren Goldwater after the Western Carolina game, Driesell was amusingly vague about the defense, as if he were concerned a future opponent was listening to the broadcast.)

Bo Holston or Austin Dahn seem to play that point spot the most.  They are both athletic and active, fairly long-armed defenders, so that makes sense.  My concern with the zone is that it tends to give opponents opportunities to create open three-point shots, but so far The Citadel has watched Samford, Appalachian State, and Western Carolina go a combined 15-70 (21.4%) behind the arc.  Donald Sims (of the Mountaineers) and Andy King (of the Birmingham Bulldogs) each went 4-8 from three-land; the rest of their teammates (and Catamounts) shot less than 13% from outside.

One of the things the zone has done, though, is slow the opponents down (well, Appy and WCU — Samford doesn’t need any help to slow things down).  I thought the Mountaineers and Catamounts were both lethargic on offense, especially in the first half.  To have success against the 1-2-2, you have to be patient, but you can’t be static. The players on those teams didn’t move particularly well without the ball, and the passing was less than crisp.

Sims (who was outstanding) was the only reason Appalachian State was not completely embarrassed in the first half.  Western Carolina wasn’t so lucky.

On the other side of the ball, I thought the Bulldogs played to their strengths.  There weren’t nearly as many contested shots taken early in the possession; the team usually worked the ball around until A) Mike Groselle got position inside; B) Cameron Wells saw an opening and took it; or C) Zach Urbanus got an open look for a three.

The best example of this was Austin Dahn’s game against Western Carolina.  Dahn got to 1000 points in his career at The Citadel in that game, which in my opinion was his best game of the season.  He didn’t take a single bad shot, and as a result scored 13 points on only 6 field goal attempts, an outstanding efficiency rate.

Dahn can be an effective offensive player because while he’s capable of making three-pointers, he has what I call a “semi-slash” type of game overall.  When he doesn’t take shots out of the offense’s natural rhythm, it can be tough for the opposition to account for him, what with it already having to deal with Wells and his driving ability, Groselle’s inside play, and Urbanus’ three-point shooting acumen.

Speaking of efficient play, Groselle’s breakout season has continued.  He was relatively quiet against Samford, but against Appy and WCU he was a combined 16-21 from the field.  Oddly, he only attempted three free throws in those two games, but I suspect he’ll start getting to the line more often if he keeps up his current Southern Conference shooting pace (72% FGA).  Also, Groselle’s teammates are getting better and better at finding him when he gets the little angles and creases that give him the upper hand in the paint.

Cameron Wells in the three victories:  68 points on 41 FGA (15-16 FT), 13 assists, 5 steals.  Alas, he also has 13 turnovers in those three games.  Other than that, he’s been the All-SoCon player we all know and appreciate.

The Bulldogs as a team were on their way to their best offensive performance of the season against WCU, but an alarming flood of second-half turnovers took care of that. The Citadel scored 43 points on 33 first-half possessions, but only scored 25 in the second half on 36 possessions, which is what happens when you have 14 second-half turnovers.  Luckily the Catamounts’ first-half miseries included scoring just 15 points on 33 possessions.

Against Appalachian State, on the other hand, The Citadel scored 81 points on just 64 possessions, the season’s top offensive effort.  This included shooting 62% from the field (Holston was 7-7).  Zach Urbanus was 5-8 from three-land in his best shooting performance to date.

The seven-man rotation does have a downside.  Because Cosmo Morabbi is injured and DeVontae Wright is apparently not quite ready yet for significant action, Wells and Urbanus in particular are having to log heavy minutes in the backcourt, which I think partly explains the turnover problems.  (It’s also a reason to play zone defense, as it helps keep them out of foul trouble.)

I hope Morabbi is able to come back and help out before the season ends, as an experienced guard is definitely a commodity the Bulldogs could use.

The Citadel plays Davidson at Belk Arena on Wednesday night before a break in the schedule.  Since 1961, the Bulldogs have only won at Davidson twice.  Two years ago, The Citadel turned the trick against a Wildcat team missing Stephen Curry, although even with Curry, Davidson arguably may have struggled that night (in a 64-46 Bulldog victory).  The game was the tenth of eleven straight wins for The Citadel that season.

Currently, Davidson is reeling, having lost six of its last seven games, including three in a row, but it’s still the same team that beat The Citadel 68-53 in December at McAlister Field House.  In that game, the Wildcats held the Bulldogs to 33% from the field, as the Cadets only made 13 of their 44 2-point attempts (The Citadel actually shot 43% from beyond the arc).

The Bulldogs also committed 18 turnovers and had no real answer for Davidson big man Jake Cohen, who scored 21 points (on only 8 FGA) while collecting 12 rebounds and blocking 3 shots.  Cohen can also hit the three-pointer (he made two in that game).  In other words, he’s a very difficult matchup.

I think The Citadel is playing much better basketball than it was when it played Davidson.  I also suspect Cameron Wells will score more than two points on Wednesday night (he fouled out after 19 minutes in the first game).  That being said, it’s a road game, the Wildcats are always well-coached, and Davidson usually seems to play at least one game each year against The Citadel where it shoots lights-out from outside the three-point line.

It should be interesting.  That’s a good thing.  It’s about time this season got interesting…

Bulldog hoops: time to go on a winning streak

I haven’t written about The Citadel’s hoops team in a while (then again, I haven’t had a blog post about anything in some time; I need to start cranking stuff out again). Honestly, though, there hasn’t been a good reason to write about Bulldog basketball, at least a good positive reason.

At least The Citadel won on Monday night, beating Samford 61-50 for the Bulldogs’ first road victory of the season.  A sign of things to come?  To be honest, I doubt it.

The Citadel is 6-13 overall, 2-5 in the Southern Conference, with home games against Appalachian State on Thursday and Western Carolina on Saturday.  Prior to the Samford win, the Bulldogs had lost five straight SoCon contests.

What is the difference between this year’s edition of the basketball Bulldogs and, say, last year’s squad?  I won’t compare them to the 2008-09 team that won 20 games, which included Demetrius Nelson and John Brown.  However, I think it is fair to compare the 2009-10 and 2010-11 outfits.

Last season’s team featured a rotation mainstay who is no longer in school, Harrison Dupont.  Dupont had a nice debut campaign (alas, there would be no followup season, at least in Charleston), averaging 14 points per 40 minutes of play and finishing with an eFG of 48.2%, highest of all the regulars and highest on the team overall, with one exception.

That one exception was Mike Groselle, who saw limited action due to injury/illness, but showed signs of being a very effective player when he saw action.  It really shouldn’t be a surprise that Groselle has had a fine sophomore season.  So far this year Groselle is averaging 19 points per 40 minutes of play with an eFG of 58.9%, leading the team (again).  That is good for 11th among Southern Conference players.

He is also averaging almost six rebounds per contest (Dupont was good for four boards per game).  Groselle’s FG% of 58.9 is good for sixth in the SoCon.

Groselle’s development has basically replaced the lost production of Dupont, if not surpassed it.  They aren’t really similar players, so it’s not a true like vs. like comparison (particularly from a defensive perspective), but I think it does make it easier to look at the rest of the team numbers and see where the differences lie.

One difference is the reduced contributions from Cosmo Morabbi, who played in all 33 games last season and averaged over 18 minutes per game.  Morabbi has been injured and has missed several games, but even when he was playing, his minutes had been cut in half.

Morabbi has struggled with his jumper this season.  Actually, struggle doesn’t really describe it; he hasn’t made a three-pointer yet this year (0-8) after shooting 37.9% (25-66) from beyond the arc in 2009-10.  In his previous two seasons for the Bulldogs, Morabbi was a dependable member of the rotation who wasn’t afraid to take big shots; not having his typical production has been a problem.

Then there is post play.  Last season Joe Wolfinger was the transfer hopeful who never quite fit into The Citadel’s offense.   However, Wolfinger’s offensive production compares favorably to that of “Big Mike Squared”, the duo of Williams and Dejworek.

Morakinyo Williams has missed time with injury (he has played fewer minutes than Morabbi), and Mike Dejworek hasn’t been a major factor, either.  The two have combined to score 47 points in 219 minutes of play, which per game is about half of the scoring output by Wolfinger last season.  Neither has been a force on the boards.

A few other odds and ends:

— Last season, 36.5% of The Citadel’s total points came via the three-point shot.  So far this year, that number is 23.2%.

— The Citadel’s eFG of 44.5% is in the bottom 50 nationally; last season, the Bulldogs had an eFG of 48.4% (middle of the pack nationally).

— The Bulldogs are not forcing turnovers this season.  Opponents have a turnover rate of 16%.  That puts The Citadel in the bottom 25 nationally. Last season’s opponent turnover rate was 19%. That’s a significant difference.

—  Defensively, The Citadel ranks in the bottom 50 nationally in defensive FG% and defensive 2FG%.  The Bulldogs have a defensive 3FG of 34.4%, which isn’t that bad, but not nearly as good as last season’s 32.4%, which was 80th-best in the country.

— In SoCon play, the Bulldogs currently rank last or next-to-last in defensive 2FG%, defensive turnover rate, and points allowed per possession.  The sample size is a little small, admittedly.

As noted by Jeff Hartsell, Zach Urbanus and Cameron Wells have been logging some serious minutes lately, thanks to a slender bench (Morabbi being unavailable really hurts there).

After a loss to Coastal Carolina earlier in the season, Chuck Driesell mentioned on his postgame radio show that he was worried about fatigue affecting the Bulldogs’ play.

In the SoCon teleconference this week, however, Driesell sang a slightly different tune.  He noted that the loss of Morabbi had impacted his ability to substitute players who had experience, and he also mentioned that a way to address concerns about too much game action for individual players would be to monitor (and presumably lessen) their work during practice.

However, Driesell stated during the teleconference that he saw “no signs of fatigue” and that Wells and Urbanus are “young guys [who] should be able to handle” increased minutes.

We’ll see.

— Six weeks ago, I wrote that the Bulldogs seem to lack an offensive identity.  Here is, to my mind at least, one example of that:

Last season, Zach Urbanus and Austin Dahn each averaged about one three-point attempt every five and a half minutes of playing time (5.7 for Urbanus, 5.6 for Dahn). This season, with an increased number of possessions per game (about five more), Dahn is averaging a three-point attempt every 5.1 minutes he is on the court.  And Urbanus?

He’s only averaging one three-point try every 7.5 minutes of play.

With the increase in tempo, Urbanus is averaging more total shots per contest this season than last year on a per-minute basis, as is Dahn.  Dahn, however, is taking more three-pointers than Urbanus (25 more, even while playing almost 100 minutes fewer than Zach).  Neither is shooting as well from beyond the arc as they did last season (Urbanus is at 36.7% after shooting 41.1% from three last year; Dahn is down from 34.7% to 28.6%).

That may be reflective of how other teams are playing them defensively, or it may be due to a lack of offensive cohesion, or perhaps it’s a combination of both. Regardless, it seems to me that the leading three-point shooter in The Citadel’s history needs to be leading the team in three-point attempts.

This has been a tough year so far for Chuck Driesell.  He’s learned that being the coach of The Citadel’s basketball team is not easy.  He knew that going in, obviously, but there is still a lot of on-the-job training at the military college.  He has to know that a lot of fans are disappointed in the way the season has gone.  There were high expectations for this team, and to date they haven’t been met.

It probably doesn’t help matters that his predecessor, Ed Conroy, is having a nice start to his tenure at Tulane, and recently was featured in a local article describing his salesmanship of the program.  Conroy has benefited from a relatively soft early schedule, but it’s also true that he’s already won two conference games in C-USA, only one fewer than the Green Wave won all of last season.

Tangent: in that article, the writer describes how Conroy somehow talked 80 Marquette students (in New Orleans as part of a volunteer group) into attending a weeknight game between Tulane and UTEP.  How many cadets will attend the Saturday game at McAlister Field House against Western Carolina?

There is still time, of course.  Maybe the win over Samford will be the start of something special.  The two upcoming home games are both winnable.

If Wells and Urbanus are going to play 38-40 minutes every night, it might be best for The Citadel to revert to its slow, slower, slowest style of play from the last two seasons.  Lowering the amount of possessions might serve to reduce the chances of either getting in foul trouble, and also could keep them from running out of gas, either in individual games or over the course of the season.

It also would have the potential of settling down the offense.  I don’t think it would hurt Groselle and Urbanus, in particular, if the tempo were decreased.  Wells (who had a “Cameron Wells game” against Samford, taking over the last 10 minutes of that contest) is capable of thriving in any offensive system.

Slowing the game down also increases the value of offensive rebounds and other possession-changing plays, which is to the advantage of players like Bryan Streeter and Daniel Eykyn.

I’m ready to see a long Bulldog winning streak.  How about eleven straight?  It’s happened before…