Hoops update: SoCon play begins for The Citadel

— The Citadel at the College of Charleston, 8:00 pm Thursday, December 1, 2011, at TD Arena, Charleston, South Carolina

— The Citadel at Wofford, 7:00 pm Saturday, December 3, 2011, at Benjamin Johnson Arena, Spartanburg, South Carolina

Both games can be heard on WQNT-AM 1450 in Charleston, with “voice of the Bulldogs” Danny Reed describing the action. Audio is also available online via Bulldog Insider. The game against the College of Charleston will be televised by WMMP-DT 36.1 in Charleston and is also being carried by ESPN3.com.

The Citadel is now 2-3 on the season, with a 97-44 win over Florida Christian (a non-Division I team) sandwiched by a pair of losses, 73-50 at home to Clemson and 80-72 on the road against High Point, the latter contest being decided in overtime.

The Bulldogs did what they were expected to do against Florida Christian, although it should be noted that the Suns only lost to Bethune-Cookman of the MEAC by 18 points. The game was notable for being the first start of the season for Barry Smith, who also started the game against High Point. The sophomore forward scored 19 points against Florida Christian after being inserted into the lineup for defensive reasons.

I wanted to make a few observations about the games against Division I competition. The Citadel has now played four contests against D-1 teams, winning one and losing three, with two of the losses being close games. The not-so-competitive loss, alas, came at McAlister Field House, and to a Clemson team which then lost consecutive games at Littlejohn Coliseum to the College of Charleston and Coastal Carolina. (The Tigers defeated Furman by ten points on Saturday night to avoid losing three straight home games to in-state foes.)

Chuck Driesell has used the early part of the season to give opportunities to numerous players on his roster, with eleven cadets seeing action in every game. Those aren’t just cameos by the 9th or 10th players off the bench, either; of the 57 individual appearances made by Bulldogs in five games, 50 were for at least nine minutes and two others were for eight minutes.

Offensively, the Bulldogs have played fairly well. The Citadel has taken care of the basketball and has been reasonably balanced on offense, although the Bulldogs got into a three-point shooting contest against High Point and subsequently took 43% of their field goal attempts from outside the arc, which is too many. (The Panthers shot 44 three-pointers in that game, out of 59 field goal attempts.)

The Citadel has to continue to work the ball inside to Mike Groselle, who has been unsurprisingly excellent thus far. Groselle is averaging 18 points (these stats do not count the Florida Christian game) while shooting 68% from the field. He also has a double-double in every game this season while averaging 36 minutes per contest, answering any lingering questions about his stamina.

Groselle needs more help inside, though, both offensively and defensively. He particularly needs some assistance on the offensive glass, as Groselle has almost half of the offensive boards claimed by the Bulldogs in the four D-1 games (18 of 39).

The Bulldogs have struggled on defense. The Citadel ranks in the bottom 75 nationally in several key defensive measures, including eFG%, free throws attempted per field goals attempted, and turnover rate (numbers are from kenpom.com).

The Citadel is dead last in all of Division I (345 teams) in the percentage of opponents’ shots blocked (which probably accounts in least in part for opponents of the Bulldogs having success in converting 2-point baskets). Charleston Southern is next-to-last in the category, with Army, Navy, and Presbyterian also in the bottom 11. That’s three military schools and three Palmetto State schools, so I guess it’s only natural that The Military College of South Carolina is last.

At 5-1, the College of Charleston is off to a promising start as it enters SoCon play. The Cougars’ five victories include the road win at Clemson mentioned earlier, along with two victories in the Battle 4 Atlantis holiday tournament that was recently held in the Bahamas. After losing its opening game in the tournament to Central Florida 74-63, the CofC outlasted UNC-Asheville 68-66 in the consolation bracket. The Cougars completed the tourney with an 85-61 win over Massachusetts, running away with that game in the second half.

Through six games, the CofC is shooting the ball very well, with an eFG% of 54.9, ranking in the top 25 of Division I. The Cougars get about one-third of their points via the three-point shot, which is fairly high, but you can get away with that when you have several guys shooting well from distance, including Jordan Scott, Anthony Stitt, and Andrew Lawrence (who has made 14 of 28 three-pointers).

The Cougars have at times struggled with rebounding, which was their downfall against UCF (as they were outboarded 43-21 in that contest). It was probably not a coincidence that touted freshman forward/center Adjehi Baru got in early foul trouble in that game. When playing, Baru has been a significant defensive presence. CofC opponents have an offensive rebounding percentage of 39.7, which places the Cougars in the bottom 20 of D-1 for that metric. Obviously, the sample size is a small one.

The lone senior on the CofC’s roster, Antwaine Wiggins, was named the Southern Conference player of the week last week after the Cougars’ victory over Clemson, a game in which he scored 22 points. He followed up that excellent performance with a total clunker against Central Florida, only scoring two points against the Knights. However, he scored 23 points in each of the next two games, so the UCF contest appears to have been an aberration.

I think the primary longterm concern for CofC fans will be the Cougars’ depth, a problem exacerbated by the loss in preseason of forward Willis Hall to a knee injury. Hall started all 37 of the CofC’s games in 2010-11. Without him, the Cougars have been reduced to what is essentially a seven-man rotation, with five players averaging more than 25 minutes per game. That isn’t exactly a new thing for a Bobby Cremins squad, but it’s something to watch over the grind of a long season. There are three players averaging more than 30 minutes per contest — Wiggins, Lawrence, and 6’8″ forward Trent Wiedeman.

The Cougars have won eleven straight SoCon games at home. Their last loss in league play at what is now called TD Arena came on February 8, 2010, against The Citadel.

The Citadel will face Wofford in its second game of the SoCon season, with the matchup taking place at the Benjamin Johnson Arena. That facility opened in 1981 with a game between the Bulldogs and the Terriers, won by The Citadel 65-64.

Wofford is 3-3 on the season. Like the College of Charleston, the Terriers had to replace multiple key performers from last season’s team, including a star player. The Cougars lost Andrew Goudelock, while Wofford now has to make do without Noah Dahlman. Goudelock was a first-round pick of the L.A. Lakers, but it is Dahlman who will be more difficult to replace.

Dahlman helped make Wofford one of the nation’s better offensive teams, with a team adjusted efficiency rating of 111.0, a top 50 mark in Division I. This season, that number through five D-1 contests (Wofford’s only home game to date was a victory over Emory&Henry) is 94.5, a huge differential. That is what can happen when you have to replace four starters who accounted for 66 points and 23 rebounds per game.

I should note that it doesn’t help Wofford’s offensive statistics to have played one of those five Division I games against Wisconsin. The Badgers bludgeoned the Terriers, 69-33. Wofford does have a nice win over Bradley (70-66), but that is somewhat offset by a neutral court loss to UMKC (64-58, in OT). The Terriers also struggled mightily in a win over Prairie View, which is not expected to be one of the SWAC’s better teams (in other words, it is expected to be among the nation’s worst teams). Wofford’s other loss was a respectable effort against Georgia (62-49).

The Terriers’ offensive woes are reflected in their eFG% (41.1) and their FTA/FGA, ranking in the bottom 30 nationally in both categories. Wofford has also been a bit turnover-prone (and conversely has not been particularly effective in forcing turnovers, which has hurt its defense). The Terriers have not shot the ball well from the field, either in front of or behind the three-point line.

Wofford has employed a seven-man rotation, with senior guards Kevin Giltner and Brad Loesing each averaging more than 38 minutes per contest. Yikes. Loesing, the point guard, started last season, but Giltner was more of an impact sub, shooting 42% from three-land last year. Through six games this season, Giltner is shooting 31% from beyond the arc.

Drew Crowell’s time on the court has increased by about 20 minutes per game from last season to this one; he is basically filling the Tim Johnson role for the Terriers. Two true freshmen, forward Lee Skinner and the highly regarded Karl Cochran (a 6’1″ combo guard), are also seeing plenty of time on the court, as is Domas Rinksalis, a 6’9″ forward/center who redshirted last season.

Wofford isn’t expected to contend in the Southern Conference this season, though the Terriers might prove a tough out come SoCon tourney time.

Neither of these games will be easy for The Citadel, to say the least. The Bulldogs aren’t expected to win either contest, and are a sizable underdog to the College of Charleston (kenpom.com gives the cadets only an 8% probability of winning).

I think it’s good, though, to start out league play with a pair of road games. I would like to think that by the time the return games roll around, the team will have improved substantially, with the freshmen more fully understanding their roles and gaining confidence. Then that increased understanding and confidence can be put to good use at McAlister Field House, where the Bulldogs should have a better chance of success.

Odds and ends…

– I am continuing to contribute to a roundtable discussion (more or less) about the SoCon. The latest edition for this season has been posted to a Chattanooga blog, Mocs Mania, and can be found here:  Link

— I was at McAlister Field House for the Clemson game. So were lots of Clemson fans. I would say almost half the fans in attendance were wearing orange. That’s okay (for now), though. We’ll gladly take their money. I took a few pictures. As always, keep in mind that I’m a less-than-scintillating photographer with an iffy camera, which is one reason you won’t see any action photos. All the pictures are from the pregame scene.

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