Hoops update: still searching for a second SoCon victory

Just a few quick thoughts on the losses to Wofford and Furman:

— The Citadel has a lot of issues to address, both offensively and defensively, but one noticeable problem the Bulldogs have had, particularly over the last three games, is a tendency to commit a ridiculous number of first-half turnovers. The Citadel has averaged over 11 turnovers in the first half in those three games. The Bulldogs have taken care of the basketball in the second half in two of those games, but to win consistently (or at all) they must cut down on turnovers throughout the game.

If The Citadel had not committed 12 first-half turnovers against Wofford, the Bulldogs likely would have had a decent lead at the break instead of being tied at 21. Against Furman, ten TOs in the opening stanza led to a deficit that the Bulldogs could never quite overcome.

The Citadel had 12 first-half turnovers against Georgia Southern in a game the Bulldogs lost in double overtime; in the second half and two overtime periods in that contest, The Citadel only committed seven turnovers. Just cutting down on a few of the first-half miscues would have resulted in a victory for the Bulldogs.

You just can’t throw away possessions like that. Against Furman, the Bulldogs shot the ball very well in the first half (53% FG), actually got to the foul line and made a good percentage of their free throws (9-12)…and still trailed by six points at intermission because 29% of The Citadel’s possessions ended in a turnover.

Against Wofford, 37.5% of The Citadel’s first-half possessions ended in a turnover.

Admittedly, none of this is news to the Bulldogs. As Mike Groselle said after the Wofford loss:

We’re really close, and everyone on the team knows it. It’s up to us to be more solid with the ball. That’s going to be the difference in winning and losing these games.

— Groselle is continuing to put together what is by anyone’s definition an outstanding season, despite The Citadel’s struggles. There is no telling how many points he would have scored against Furman if the Paladins had not elected to go to a sagging 2-3 zone midway through the second half; as it was, Groselle finished with 24 points on 10-12 shooting from the floor (along with 11 rebounds).

Unfortunately, the Bulldogs were unable to make Furman pay for that defensive strategy, only making three of fifteen three-point shots. Not only was The Citadel unable to hit from outside, the Bulldogs’ guards could not penetrate the zone for easier shots in the paint (or simple feeds to Groselle). Chuck Driesell’s take:

The zone bothered us, and I’m surprised about that. We worked on it, and we knew they played it some. We didn’t knock down shots. The zone keeps the ball out of the big man’s hands, but if you knock down a couple of 3-pointers, they can’t stay in it long.

Of course, it’s easy to say what the Bulldogs need to do against a zone. Executing that plan is another matter. I was reminded that it’s not the simplest of propositions when on Sunday, Rob Dauster of Ballin’ Is A Habit tweeted that “to beat a zone, you have to move the ball quickly and get the ball into the paint via pass or penetration.” The team that drew Dauster’s ire because of its inability to do that?

That team would be Connecticut — which, last time I checked, won the national title last season.

— I was able to make it to McAlister Field House on Saturday night, and happy to have been in attendance, despite the loss to Furman. The 1600 or so fans at the game were treated to a good game between two teams that played hard, if not always well.

At halftime, The Citadel honored Jake Burrows, whose accomplishments I mentioned in a previous post, by putting jersey number 3 in the rafters. Burrows is the third hoopster so honored by The Citadel; somewhat amusingly, only one numeral has been needed, as the other two honorees (Regan Truesdale and Art Musselman) both wore no. 33. Burrows spoke briefly and movingly to the crowd, better than most people could have, and most people aren’t 93 years old.

It is a shame there weren’t more cadets on hand, although it certainly is understandable, given it was Saturday night. The Southern Conference schedule doesn’t really help The Citadel on that front.

I have a suggestion to the administration that I’ve made before and that I’m going to make again. There are cadets on campus on Saturday nights (besides the hard-working pep band). I’m talking about cadets who are serving tours or confinements. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to give those cadets credit for tours/cons by letting them come to McAlister and support the team. I am betting some of them would be ideally suited for the role of cheering the Bulldogs and mocking the opponents.

Actually, I know they would be ideally suited, because the idea is not without precedent.

On a February night in 1990, conduct-restricted cadets (and a few of their “free to roam” colleagues) cheered on The Citadel’s basketball team as it battled an outstanding East Tennessee State squad, one that would win the second of four straight SoCon titles that season. The Bulldogs had played ETSU earlier that season in Johnson City and lost badly, 92-57.

However, with the support of a particularly rowdy section of the corps behind them, the Bulldogs put together what may have been their best performance of that season. Alas, it wasn’t quite enough for a win, as Ted Mosay’s last-second shot was blocked, enabling the Buccaneers to escape with an 87-86 victory. Still, it was a great game and a lot of fun.

The night at McAlister wasn’t over, though. In a decidedly unusual development, a wrestling match between The Citadel and UT-Chattanooga had been scheduled to follow the basketball game. The hoops game had tipped just after 6 pm, so by the time the first wrestling match started it was around 9 pm. UTC, the conference favorite, would eventually win, but things were tougher than expected for the Mocs, in no small part due to a vocal contingent cheering on The Citadel.

It was a great experience for the Bulldog wrestlers, and probably for the Moc grapplers as well. My lasting memory of that evening, though, was the one voice in the stands that stood out the most. Leading the crowd in cheers, needling the referee at every given opportunity, supporting the cadets on the mat throughout every match…was the assistant commandant of cadets, the one and only LTC Harvey M. Dick.

Harvey Dick died Saturday morning; there was a moment of silence before the game, and flags on campus were lowered to half-staff. It is a loss that has hit the greater community of The Citadel hard, understandably so. Few people loved The Citadel and cared more for its students than Harvey Dick. Stories about him are numerous, mostly true, and could be told for days on end. For me, I’ll always remember that night at McAlister. Condolences to his family.

Hoops update: Wofford and Furman travel to McAlister

Just some quick thoughts on the upcoming games at McAlister Field House…

The Citadel’s last three losses have been a) by one point at home to UNC-Greensboro, in as brutal a fashion as I’ve seen the Dogs lose in a while; b) a 29-point thrashing at Davidson that featured one of the worst first-half performances in the program’s recent history, which is saying something; and c) a double-OT setback at Georgia Southern in which The Citadel did a lot of things right but lost thanks to a series of first-half turnovers and a lopsided free throw disparity (the latter noted by Chuck Driesell, deservedly so).

The Bulldogs need to catch a break. First, they need to be in a position to take advantage of a break, which they were in Statesboro — it just didn’t work out. Will they be in position to pick up a win against either Wofford or Furman?

Let’s take a look at those always-critical “Four Factors” stats for The Citadel, courtesy of kenpom.com:

Four Factors                    Off  Rank        Def  Rank         D-1 avg.
Effective FG%: 48.0 199 56.7 341 49.0
Turnover %: 21.5 224 17.9 302 20.8
Off. Reb. %: 28.3 285 31.6 126 32.5
FTA/FGA: 30.1 306 30.7 57 36.5

The Bulldogs continue to struggle defensively, with the horrific eFG% more obvious than a $50 hooker outside Mark Clark Hall. Only four teams are worse than The Citadel in that category (for the record, they are Kennesaw State, Longwood, Monmouth, and Northern Arizona; those four teams plus The Citadel have a combined record of 23-79).

The Citadel also does not force enough turnovers on defense. The Bulldogs do a decent job limiting offensive rebounds, and generally don’t give opponents a lot of free throw opportunities (Georgia Southern excepted, I suppose). Conversely, those are two areas in which The Citadel’s offense has not fared as well.

Mike Groselle has been a force on the offensive glass, as his offensive rebounding rate of 13.9% is 64th-best nationally, but the problem is that he has accounted for 40% of The Citadel’s total offensive boards. He needs more help grabbing misses.

The team as a whole needs to get to the line more. The Dogs are not a terrible shooting team, but aren’t nearly good enough to get by without free points from the charity stripe. Of course, that brings up a bigger problem, which is that The Citadel isn’t converting enough of those freebies as it is. The Bulldogs must shoot much, much better than 63% from the foul line if they hope to win a few more games down the stretch.

Wofford is 12-8 overall, and has won three straight SoCon games to move to 5-3 in the league. The Terriers are aiming for a first-round SoCon tourney bye. There are still ten league games to go, but Wofford has a one-game lead over the College of Charleston for second place in the South division, behind runaway league leader Davidson. Second place in the division will be good enough for that much-wanted bye.

The Terriers have already beaten the CofC at home, and also can claim a victory over Wake Forest in Winston-Salem. Other than Davidson, Wofford has probably been the league’s most consistent team.

On December 3, Wofford beat The Citadel 82-63 in Spartanburg. The Terriers shot 55% from the field in that game, with Keith Giltner scoring 27 points and pulling down 10 rebounds. The most glaring offensive statistic for the Bulldogs had to be the lack of assists — only four (on 22 made baskets).

Furman is 9-10, 3-5 in SoCon play. The Paladins have hovered around .500 all season, never more than two games over or under the break-even mark.

The Bulldogs’ loss at Furman on January 5 featured a mind-numbing 42-16 run by the Paladins in the second half to end the game, which turned a 35-29 Furman lead into a 77-45 loss for the Bulldogs. Furman took a lot of threes (29) and made more than its fair share of them (13). Bobby Austin came off the bench for the Paladins and made five of his six attempts from beyond the arc. Like the Wofford game, The Citadel was outrebounded by a significant margin.

At halftime of Saturday’s game against the Paladins, Colonel Jake Burrows will have his jersey number (No. 3) recognized with a banner to be hung in the rafters at McAlister Field House. Burrows, now 93 years old, is a 1940 graduate of The Citadel. He had, it is fair so say, quite a career as a cadet. From the Wofford preview at citadelsports.com:

Burrows…is the lone member of the college’s [athletic] Hall of Fame who was both Regimental Commander and First Honor Graduate of his class.  As an athlete in which he competed for three years (freshmen were ineligible), Burrows earned eight total letters as he lettered in football three times, basketball three times and twice in track. He was an all-state pick in basketball three times and twice was named All-Southern Conference and during his three years of basketball, Burrows averaged 11.5 points per game which equated to 31 percent of the team’s total points.  In his three years on the hardwood, The Citadel defeated South Carolina and Furman six straight games each.

After graduating, Burrows began a career in the U.S. Army that included serving on Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s staff during the latter part of World War II. More importantly, Burrows (in his role as Director of Cadet Activities) was the driving force behind the creation of the coveted Silver Shako, for which he probably merits an additional banner in the rafters.

Here is a recap of the Bulldogs’ season-opening 1938 victory over Furman, in which The Citadel defeated the Hurricane (!) 38-17. Burrows, a sophomore that season, led the team with eight points: Link

(Curiously, the basketball media guide records that game as a 37-17 Bulldogs victory, rather than 38-17.)

Burrows was also the leading scorer for The Citadel in its next game, a win over South Carolina. This was not an unusual occurrence. In his junior campaign, 1939, Burrows led The Citadel in scoring in all but one game all season. The Citadel won 65% of its games during Burrows’ career as a hoopster, including the “state championship” in 1939.

I am hoping that Burrows’ success on the hardwood will serve to inspire the current Bulldogs, at least for one night…

NFL ref Ed Hochuli and the Gettysburg Address: a quick comparison

Just a brief post of no importance, but since I have a blog and Twitter allows for only 140 characters at a time…

Ed Hochuli, NFL official, attorney, and bicep exhibitionist, probably has the highest profile of any current NFL referee. It wasn’t really a shock when “Hochuli” started trending on Twitter during the Giants-49ers NFC title game, which he officiated. The Twittersphere went all-in on Hochuli following Vernon Davis’ 73-yard touchdown catch/celebration penalty. After a replay review, Hochuli ruled the TD would stand, and gave a typically long-winded reply, which included the word “uncontroverted”.

Even better for Hochuli fans was his speech at midfield after regulation play had ended. Hochuli explained the NFL’s new overtime rules, and did it in his usual fashion. Joe Posnanski posted Hochuli’s words in verse, noting that the official’s remarks lasted 57 seconds.

At the time I tweeted that I wasn’t sure whether Hochuli’s soon-to-be-famous “New Overtime Rules Speech” was longer than Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, but that I thought it was close. As it turns out, it wasn’t that close. The Bliss Copy of Lincoln’s speech is 273 words long, while Hochuli’s address was only 183 words in length.

Hochuli’s overtime rules explanation, by my analysis, took 15 sentences, while Lincoln’s speech contains only 10 fairly lengthy (but brilliantly crafted) sentences, so Hochuli gets the edge there.

So there you have it. Ed Hochuli was unable to match the length of the Gettysburg Address last night. However, his phrase “a touchdown always wins the game” will surely go down in history in much the same way as Lincoln’s “government of the people, by the people, for the people”.

Final note: there are 277 words in this post.

Hoops update: a league victory, SoCon vs. CAA, and TV

This post is going to be split into three different topics. Before reviewing and previewing the current on-court antics, I wanted to focus on a couple of recent articles in The Post and Courier. They touch on subjects that impact The Citadel’s department of athletics in general and its basketball program in particular.

With CAA as model, SoCon bids to climb ladder

[College of Charleston] basketball coach Bobby Cremins said he was jealous of George Mason’s league, the Colonial Athletic Association.

“I’d love to see the Southern Conference become something like that,” Cremins said. “That should be the goal of our conference. We use them as a model.”

The source of Cremins’ envy? The three teams the CAA sent to the NCAA tournament last season, and the four at-large bids the Colonial has landed in the last six seasons. That’s four more at-large bids than the SoCon has earned it its entire history dating back to 1939, when the NCAA tournament started.

The SoCon has never sent more than one team — the tournament champion, who earns an automatic bid — to the Big Dance, which expanded to a field of 68 teams last year.

Tangent to make an overly nerdy comment: technically, the SoCon has actually received three at-large bids in its history. From 1939 to 1950, the field for the NCAA tournament was made up of only eight teams. Three times, teams from the SoCon played in the event; on all three occasions, those bids were invitations and not automatic selections. In 1951, the NCAA tournament expanded to 16 teams, and the SoCon champion (North Carolina State) got an automatic bid into the event. Not that it really matters.

Bobby Cremins has yet to take the College of Charleston to the NCAAs, and knows the only way to do so (at least right now) is to win the league tournament. Cremins actually had a solid record as a league tournament coach when he was at Georgia Tech (winning the ACC tourney twice), but hasn’t yet grabbed the brass ring while at the CofC.

I think the information presented in the article underscores how tough a task the SoCon has in trying to emulate the CAA. Besides having larger schools that play in bigger arenas (for the most part), most of the CAA schools don’t have to worry about football. The CAA probably also benefits to a degree from having more of its schools located in larger metro areas, although that can be a double-edged sword.

It’s good that the SoCon is trying to be more strict about its non-conference scheduling, but it’s a difficult balancing act. It should be noted that playing a non-D1 doesn’t have any impact on the RPI. What the league doesn’t want is schools overloading their schedules with gimme games against non-D1s and guarantee games against BCS schools. The SoCon needs its members to play more “in-between” schools. Otherwise, instead of competing with the CAA it risks sliding down into SWAC territory.

Having said that, John Iamarino knows that some of his schools have fewer options than others. That’s the nature of the SoCon and its disparate membership. It would be interesting to know which school drew the commissioner’s wrath for its less-than-acceptable scheduling. If I had to bet, I would put my money on Chattanooga.

Let’s talk about TV

I’ve been meaning to write more about the linked article, which was originally published in early December.

The College of Charleston Sports Network will produce 11 games this season that will be broadcast locally on WMMP or WTAT. Those games also will be available on ESPN3, a streaming Internet service that reaches more than 70 million households worldwide and is available in 85 percent of U.S. homes. Some games also might be carried on ESPN FullCourt, a pay-per-view service available on cable systems.

By season’s end, at least 23 of the team’s 30 regular-season games will be televised.

Does The Citadel need to do something like this? Absolutely.

The startup costs would not be insignificant, but I believe it would be a worthwhile investment. The potential exposure for the varsity sports teams, not to mention the school in general, makes it a no-brainer.

That includes televising home football games in a format that can be used by ESPN3.com or one of the myriad sports TV networks, many of which seem desperate for programming.

It would likely give The Citadel an edge in recruiting — and if the school doesn’t do something like this, it will probably fall behind a host of other schools. Just look at FCS football.

Some of the FCS schools that had the majority (if not all) of their football games televised in 2011: Lafayette, Lehigh, Liberty, Maine, Montana, Montana State, Murray State, Northern Arizona, and seemingly all of the Dakota schools (including, not so coincidentally, national champion North Dakota State).

That’s not even counting schools that have home games televised on public television (like Eastern Illinois) or schools with a two- or three-game deal with a local TV station/cable carrier (like Cal Poly, Colgate, Georgetown, and Holy Cross). Not all of those games wind up on a Fox sports net or ESPN3.com, but plenty of them do.

The opportunities in basketball, baseball, and perhaps soccer and wrestling are there, too.

I’ve long advocated that The Citadel’s coaches schedule non-conference games with an eye to getting on television as much as possible. Now I think it is time for the school to be even more proactive.

The Citadel finally won a league game last week, beating Samford 73-62 at McAlister Field House. It was also the first league home game for the Bulldogs, and I am hopeful that the team can add to the victory total this week. Prior to the win over Samford, it had been very tough sledding, as The Citadel had lost its previous ten games against D-1 competition, all but one by double digits.

The worst of those was a 77-45 drubbing by Furman two days before the Samford matchup, so at least the Bulldogs showed some resiliency in bouncing back from that loss. However, the fact remains that it’s been a struggle all year for Chuck Driesell’s troops, particularly on defense.

The Citadel ranks in the bottom 50 nationally in the following defensive categories: effective field goal percentage, turnover percentage, block percentage, and two-point field goal percentage. The Bulldogs are actually dead last (59.3%) in 2-point FG%, 345th out of 345 D-1 teams. The Citadel’s overall defensive efficiency rating (per Pomeroy) is 8th-worst in the country.

Driesell has focused on his team’s defensive issues each and every time he’s discussed the squad’s performances, notably on the post-game radio show. I’ll say this, he’s not one to sugarcoat things, as anyone who has listened to the show can attest.

The win against Samford was a decent (not great) defensive performance. The Citadel has proven to be a tough matchup on the hardwood for the Birmingham Bulldogs over the years, and Saturday night was no exception. Samford shoots a lot of threes by design, but you have to make a decent percentage of them for that strategy to work, and Samford was only 7-29. Some of that was good defense by The Citadel, and some of it was just really bad shooting.

The chief negative for The Citadel was that Samford dominated the offensive glass, particularly in the first half, when it had an offensive rebound rate of almost 60%. The cadets should have led at halftime by about fifteen points, but had to settle for a seven-point edge.

On the positive side of things (after all, it was a victory), Mike Groselle was outstanding (10-10 FG, 25 points) and Cosmo Morabbi had a career night, with 20 points and six assists. The Bulldogs as a whole were solid on offense.

Next up for The Citadel: two more home SoCon games, against Elon and UNC-Greensboro. Elon has been a mild surprise this season, playing about as well as any team in the muddled SoCon North. The Phoenix won at home over South Carolina earlier in the campaign, but recently has hit a slump, losing five straight games.

Losing to North Carolina and San Diego State is not exactly embarrassing, but the streak also includes losses to Dartmouth (a traditional cellar-dweller in the Ivy League), Georgia Southern, and Columbia (another Ivy opponent). Elon has struggled putting the ball in the basket in those five games, as it has not shot better than 36% from the field in any of them. The Citadel needs to make sure that trend continues.

Tough matchup alert: Elon’s Lucas Troutman is a 6’10” native of Belton, SC, who was on the SoCon’s all-freshman team last year. He scored 22 points against NC State earlier this season and will be a difficult player for the Bulldogs to handle.

On Saturday the Bulldogs host UNC-Greensboro, which is 2-14 and only has one D-1 victory, that over winless Towson. The Spartans are on their second coach of the campaign, as longtime boss Mike Dement resigned in December. It was inevitable, especially after UNCG’s 22-point loss to North Carolina A&T two weeks before.

Wes Miller is the interim coach. Miller is only 28 years old, and may have a chance to keep the job, depending on how the rest of the season plays out for the Spartans. So far he has yet to record a victory as head honcho, although UNCG played well in a 10-point loss at Miami.

As you might expect, UNCG has some really bad stats, particularly on defense. What is unique about the Spartans D is that opponents shoot well from everywhere — three-point range (bottom 15 nationally), inside the paint (ditto), even at the foul line.

UNCG’s best player is Trevis Simpson, a 6’4″ guard. Like Elon’s Troutman, he was on last year’s league all-frosh team. Simpson is a volume shooter who blows hot and cold, but when he’s hot he can get very hot (at Miami, he hit 7 of 11 three-pointers as part of a 36-point explosion). The Citadel must work hard, especially early in the game, to make sure he doesn’t get on a roll.

The Citadel will be a slight underdog in both games this week. However, it will be disappointing if the Bulldogs don’t win at least one of the two contests. That’s the short-term view. As for what these games mean for the season as a whole, I’m hoping to see some improvement on the defensive side of things for The Citadel. If that happens, more wins will follow.