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.

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