The Citadel hoops it up: Basketball 2011-12

Yes, it’s basketball season!

Last year, there was a good deal of anticipation for Bulldogs basketball, as a senior-laden team was expected to contend for league honors, or at least compete in the upper echelon of the Southern Conference. It didn’t quite work out that way, to say the least.

The Citadel finished 10-22, 6-12 in the SoCon. The Bulldogs lost nine of their last ten games, and did not win a home game after January 22. Times were tough at McAlister Field House.

New coach Chuck Driesell wanted to play a more uptempo style, but the players seemed to have trouble adjusting after playing in Ed Conroy’s more deliberate system. In truth, though, The Citadel still played last season at a slower tempo than all but 35 schools in Division I. It wasn’t quite as slow as the year before (when the Bulldogs’ pace of play was in the bottom ten nationally), but it wasn’t exactly racehorse-style ball.

The raw numbers don’t necessarily reflect it, but once adjusting for tempo it is clear that much of The Citadel’s struggles, at least from a statistical perspective, came at the defensive end of the court. The Bulldogs allowed 1.112 points per possession, which ranked in the bottom 40 nationally (all numbers in this section per Pomeroy). The Citadel forced very few turnovers and allowed opponents to convert a way-too-easy 53.7% of all two-point baskets.

Given those statistics, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Bulldogs also fared poorly in categories like steals per game and blocked shots (though I can’t remember the last time The Citadel had a legitimate shot-blocker; it was probably back in the BRK days).

The team clearly suffered from the lack of a bigger presence in the post (two years after Demetrius Nelson had graduated, he had still not been effectively replaced). Another issue was a shortened rotation, as Chuck Driesell elected to go with just seven players (for the most part) over the latter part of the season. It’s my opinion (one shared by a number of other observers) that Bulldog hoops squads have a tendency to wear out over the course of a campaign, thanks to the rigors of the basketball schedule combined with the “being cadets and students too” thing.

Now most of the regulars from last year’s team are gone, and gone with them is a lot of experience (77% of the minutes played from last season). That experience provided the overwhelming majority of the team’s points (three career 1,000-point scorers, including alltime leading scorer Cameron Wells), three-point shooting (98.7% of all made threes, including career leader Zach Urbanus), and assists (83% of last year’s total).

Given all that, it’s not entirely surprising Driesell stated that “it almost feels like this is my first year.” He has had to do what Ed Conroy did four years ago, basically. Like Conroy, Driesell brought in an eight-man freshman class in his second season.

First, though, it’s worth noting the players from last season who are back, particularly 6’8″ junior forward Mike Groselle, who should be one of the SoCon’s best returnees. Groselle is a model of efficiency who shows particularly well in “advanced stats”, including effective FG% (60.1).

That would have been good enough for third in the SoCon among players who played at least 60% of their team’s minutes; Groselle narrowly missed that standard (59%). It will be important for him to play more minutes this season (he averaged just over 24 minutes per game last year).

Groselle also ranked in the top 10 in the conference in both offensive rebounding percentage and defensive rebounding percentage. With more playing time and a little more range on his shot, I think he would be a good match for Wofford’s Noah Dahlman over the last two years — in other words, a first-team all-league player and a candidate for player of the year. I’m not the only person who thinks Groselle could have a good year; College Basketball Prospectus suggested he “could be a trendy mid-major name four months from now.”

The lone senior on the Bulldogs’ roster is 6’2″ guard Cosmo Morabbi, who had an injury-plagued junior campaign after breaking his finger in the weight room. Morabbi was the player who I thought might benefit the most from a more-uptempo system, so his injury was doubly disappointing.

Before he got hurt, though, he had struggled with his shot. Morabbi is at his most effective when he is a threat from distance, especially the corner three-ball. He was 2-4 from beyond the arc in The Citadel’s exhibition victory over Tennessee Wesleyan, hopefully a good sign.

DeVontae Wright is a sophomore guard from Goose Creek who will have a chance to play more this season, provided he improves, among other things, his assists-to-turnovers ratio. He scored 13 points in 26 minutes of action in the exhibition game.

Bo Holston is a 6’4″ forward who is more of a 3-man; he was placed in the role of the 4 at times last season, a tough assignment. Holston is an “energy guy” who started 13 games last year.

There are a few other players returning from last year who may feature in the rotation. You never know when someone will suddenly get in the mix, as Holston did last season, or as John Brown did three years ago.

Driesell’s eight freshmen are a diverse lot, at least in terms of hometowns. He brought in eight players from seven different states (two are from North Carolina). The general consensus seems to be that the globe-trotting coach brought in a class with some athleticism, but which in at least a couple of cases will need time to develop.

I’m not going to pretend to know much about any of these guys. I also did not see the exhibition game (link: box score) in person, so I’m at a disadvantage in that respect as well. I’ll make a few comments anyway. Hey, it’s my blog…

C.J. Bray is a 6’7″ forward from Charleston (James Island High School) who turned down a football scholarship from Arkansas to plays hoops at The Citadel. At the very least, he should be an athletic presence down low. He started against Tennessee Wesleyan and played 19 minutes, scoring six points.

Ashton Moore is a 6’0″ guard from Virginia. He was the breakout star of the night in the exhibition game, going 6-10 from 3 and scoring 21 points. He also played 30 minutes, more than any other player.

When Moore wasn’t hitting from downtown in the exhibition, fellow freshman guard Lawrence Miller (4-7 from 3-land) was. The 6’1″ Miller is from Charlotte.

Marshall Harris is a 6’1″ point guard from San Antonio. He only played ten minutes in the game against Tennessee Wesleyan, but dished out five assists. I would not be surprised if his playing time increases once the season begins.

P.J. Horgan is a 6’8″ post player from New Mexico. The Blue Ribbon preview was high on Horgan, noting he led his high school team to the state semifinals and was second team all-state. He grabbed four rebounds in ten minutes of play against Tennessee Wesleyan.

Driesell didn’t skimp on signing size. Another example of that is 6’7″, 232 lb. Jordan Robertson, of Greensboro, NC. Robertson did not score in the exhibition game, but did reel in seven rebounds in 16 minutes of play.

Two other freshmen did not play against Tennessee Wesleyan. Dylen Setzekorn is 6’7″, but more of a swingman than a post player (at least, that’s my understanding). He’s described by Driesell as being a good shooter.

Michael Hundley is the tallest of the newcomers, at 6’9″, but only weighs 178 lbs. (according to his roster page on the school website). In the Blue Ribbon preview, Driesell said that Hundley “could be the sleeper of the bunch. He’s long and athletic and could be an excellent shot blocker. He’s got a chance, although he might need a year.” That suggests Hundley may be a redshirt candidate.

As expected, The Citadel is not expected to contend in the Southern Conference this season. The SoCon media picked the Bulldogs to finish last in the South division. College Basketball Prospectus rates The Citadel as the 10th-best team in the league (ahead of Georgia Southern and Samford). Ken Pomeroy’s preseason ratings rank the Bulldogs lower than any other team in the conference (298th in the nation). The Sagarin ratings are a little kinder, ranking The Citadel ahead of three other SoCon squads.

Blue Ribbon’s preview noted that it was “hard not to pick the Bulldogs at the bottom of the South Division because they have so little experience.” The Post and Courier also predicted a last-place division finish for the Bulldogs.

It’s hard to argue with those predictions and assessments, given The Citadel lost so much experience from a team that lost 22 games anyway. On the other hand…

One thing working in the Bulldogs’ favor is that The Citadel is not the only team that lost a lot of players. The College of Charleston lost three starters, including alltime leading scorer Andrew Goudelock and Jeremy Simmons, a key cog in the Cougars’ rotation. Wofford lost four starters, including Noah Dahlman (the best player in school history) and hardnosed rebounder Tim Johnson. Furman lost four starters too; one of them was All-SoCon forward Amu Saaka. That’s just from the South division.

The various polls and previews had a hard time trying to figure out the order of the SoCon South after the top two spots (Davidson and the CofC). While Wofford, Furman, and The Citadel all suffered heavy graduation losses, Georgia Southern only lost one starter, and also has Willie Powers III (an excellent scoring point guard) coming back after missing last season with a knee injury.

No one seems really confident in the Eagles, though. Part of that may have to do with Powers’ extensive injury history, but much of it is based on the fact that while GSU brought back a lot of players, those players only managed to win two Division I games last season (one of those, alas, was against The Citadel).

In other words, the SoCon South is wide open, other than the top spot (where Davidson seems to be a solid pick to not only win the division, but the league) and maybe second place (with the College of Charleston bringing in highly-regarded recruit Adjehi Baru).

As far as the rest of the conference is concerned, the SoCon North in general has more returning talent, and is perceived as being more settled as the season begins, with snakebitten Samford (literally!) a consensus choice to finish last (and that was before the Birmingham Bulldogs lost their starting point guard for the season with an achilles’ tendon injury).

Chattanooga is the favorite in the North, and generally considered the second- or co-favorite for the league title (with Davidson), though not everyone is on the Mocs’ bandwagon — notably the Pomeroy preseason ratings. Omar Wattad will fire from three-land all night long, sometimes forgetting the rules allow him to shoot two-pointers too. Keegan Bell is a fine point guard who will be first team all-SoCon if his field goal percentage improves.

Appalachian State lost alltime leading scorer Donald Sims, yet some observers think the Mountaineers may be better off. Ike Butts’ return is a major reason why; not every SoCon team has a viable post player who is 6’10”, 280 lbs. Omar Carter is the league’s leading returning scorer and a player of the year candidate.

Western Carolina brings back a solid squad as well and may be a nice dark horse pick. The Catamounts finished last season strong, winning 14 of their last 19 games. UNCG will play a slightly more reasonable non-league schedule this season, which should help the Spartans avoid another 0-15 start. Elon is a sleeper pick in some precincts, although the Phoenix may be a year away.

I think it’s likely The Citadel will have some hard times on the hardwood this season. However, the Bulldogs won’t be the only league team in that position, and if some of the freshmen can contribute early and provide a helping hand to Groselle and co., it wouldn’t be a surprise to see The Citadel have a better year in the league than expected.

I do believe that with more of his own players, Chuck Driesell will be able to fully implement his style of play. I am also hopeful that he will have a deeper rotation, which would help the team avoid the late-season stumbles that have habitually plagued the program.

At the very least, the defense (particularly in the paint) should improve. Offensively, besides shooting the ball well (obviously), I would like to see the Bulldogs make a concerted effort to get to the free throw line more, which has been a problem for the last three seasons.

Odds and ends:

— I’ve been asked to contribute to a kind of roundtable discussion about the league this season. This is going to be a weekly thing for the most part. The first edition for this season has been posted to a Chattanooga blog, Mocs Mania, and can be found here:  Link

— From what I can figure out, The Citadel will only appear on television once in 2011-12 during the regular season, and that will actually be in the season opener against VMI, in the All-Military Classic in Colorado Springs, Colorado. That game will start at 11:59 pm ET on Friday, November 11, and is being televised by the CBS Sports Network (not to be confused with CBS). The announcers will be Roger Twibell and Pete Gillen. With any luck, Gillen will try to call timeout at least twice.

The Citadel’s home opener against Clemson will be broadcast online, on ESPN3.com, as part of the SoCon’s season package on that platform. It appears this will be the only time the Bulldogs appear on the package.

It is possible (though not likely) that other games will be picked up for TV and/or ESPN3.com at a later date.

— The new tagline for the season is apparently “Pack the Mac”. I hope that venerable McAlister Field House is indeed packed this season (I am sure it will be for the opener). I would like to see an increased cadet presence this year as well.

I’m ready for the season. Very ready.

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