Bulldog hoops: the most disappointing season

The Citadel’s last victory on the hardwood came at Davidson, on January 26.  As this post is going up on February 20, that is a problem.  The Bulldogs have lost seven straight games, with two regular season road games remaining before the Southern Conference tournament.

It is not out of the question that The Citadel could finish the season on a ten-game losing streak.  The last time the Bulldogs ended a season with a double-digit losing streak was 2005, when Pat Dennis’ team started 12-5 before losing its last eleven contests.

This is not what most people were expecting when the season began.  The Citadel returned many experienced players, including three mainstays (Cameron Wells, Zach Urbanus, and Austin Dahn) in its rotation.  While picked to finish fourth in the South Division of the SoCon in the preseason, many people expected at the very least a winning campaign, and possibly something more than that.

I was one of those people, as I thought The Citadel could win 17 or 18 games.  The Pomeroy Ratings also projected the Bulldogs to win 18 games.

It has been a tough season for new coach Chuck Driesell.  After a four-game winning streak pushed the Bulldogs to a still-not-great 9-13 record, the bottom seemed to fall out of the campaign.  Five of the seven losses in the recent run were at home.  Two of the defeats were particularly awful (Savannah State and the recent loss at Georgia Southern).

Driesell hasn’t had a lot go his way, but I think his decision to shorten his rotation to just seven players, which initially resulted in some impressive victories, ultimately torpedoed the season.

The Citadel has traditionally struggled at the end of basketball seasons, a phenomenon Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier recently called “getting heavy-legged” while speaking on the ‘Citadel Grayline’ radio program.  These end-of-year collapses are generally ascribed to the difficulties of competing in a long sport season while fulfilling the duties associated with being a cadet.

The historical numbers for the Bulldogs bear out the fact that it has been a problem. Just look at the last six years before this one, for example:

— 2010:  finished 16-16 after losing four of their last five games

— 2009:  finished 20-13 after losing three of their last four games (following an 11-game winning streak)

— 2008:  lost 18 of their last 19 games (of course, that team only won six games all year)

— 2007:  lost 12 of their last 13 games (a seven-win team)

— 2006:   lost 18 of their last 22 games (a ten-win team)

— 2005:  as mentioned above, lost 11 straight to finish 12-16

You can find more years like those, even when concentrating on some of the more respectable teams (like 1998, when the Bulldogs lost six of eight to finish 15-13).  The best evidence of “tired legs”, of course, is The Citadel’s stupefying lack of success in the Southern Conference tournament; even though the Bulldogs haven’t had that many good teams over the years, you would have thought The Citadel would have gotten lucky in the league tourney once or twice.  Nope.

Wells, Urbanus, and Dahn have combined to play over 82% of the minutes available to them over the last four years, which is amazing.  What’s not amazing is the rough finishes the team has had, perhaps as a consequence of that.  The trend has continued this season.

In conference play Urbanus has averaged over 38.5 minutes per game, tied for first in the league.  Wells is fourth in the league in minutes, with 36.5 per contest, while Dahn is 14th (32 mpg).  Early foul trouble in a couple of games is the only reason Wells and Dahn haven’t played even more (Urbanus, on the other hand, is one of two players in the entire country averaging less than one foul per forty minutes of play).

Driesell has tried expanding his rotation as the losing streak has continued, although he’s been hamstrung by Cosmo Morabbi’s injury and the general ineffectiveness of the two transfers he brought in for this season (Morakinyo Williams and Mike Dejworek).

I wish that Driesell had decided to wait a year before fully implementing his system. The current roster is obviously built for Ed Conroy’s slower-tempo style of play.  It has been frustrating to watch a team struggle so when it features seniors like the school’s alltime leading scorer and assist man (Wells), career three-point shooting leader (Urbanus), along with a versatile four-year starter (Dahn) and a handy post defender/offensive garbageman (Bryan Streeter).

Then you have the emergence of sophomore Mike Groselle, who has been a revelation in terms of offensive efficiency.  Yet with all that, the team is 9-20, and not by a fluke, either.  No, this is a team that has never put it together on either side of the court, save for that one four-game run in the middle of the season.

For most of the year, The Citadel has lacked an offensive identity and has been poor defensively.  I suspect the offensive problems have contributed to the defensive woes; that is the nature of the game.

I feel badly for the team’s seniors, who I think deserved to go out on a much better note, but at least they will always have memories of the 2009 season, one of the finest in school history.  I am glad they chose to come to The Citadel; it’s one of the best hoops classes the military college has ever had, if not the best.

As for Chuck Driesell, I certainly haven’t given up on him.  He’s got some work to do, however.  Next year’s recruiting class is supposed to be quite good, and Driesell has a well-deserved reputation as a solid talent evaluator.  Now he has to put that talent together (and keep it, never an easy thing at The Citadel).

Driesell seems to prefer outstanding athletes, which is fine, but he must also find room in his system for players like Groselle, whose eFG% in conference games is currently second in the league.  Groselle has a 66.9 FG% in SoCon play and a 3.7 GPA in Civil Engineering;  The Citadel needs as many players like that as it can get, whether they can jump or not.

Regardless, this season has to go down as the most disappointing season in the modern history of The Citadel’s basketball program.  Admittedly, that’s in part because it was the rare season where expectations were fairly high.  That doesn’t make it any less deflating, though.

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