Hope on the hardwood? The Citadel begins the 2012-13 basketball season

Note: as I mentioned earlier, I’m participating in “Scanning the SoCon”, a cross-blog/forum exercise. As part of this, there will be a preview for each league school. I am writing the preview for The Citadel, which you can read below (it is being posted on Mocs Mania! as well, of course). Previews for the other conference schools can be found here: Link

There were three topics (attendance, polls, and ratings) that I wanted to discuss in more detail but couldn’t quite fit into the preview. I’ve decided to write about them next week in a followup post.

The Citadel was 6-24 last season, 3-15 in the Southern Conference. Thus, it surprised no one that in the SoCon preseason polls (media and coaches)  the Bulldogs were picked to finish last in the South division of the league. Indeed, The Citadel received fewer votes than any team in the league, in either division.

The last time The Citadel finished dead last in both preseason polls was prior to the 2008-09 season. The Bulldogs had gone 6-24 the previous year, in head coach Ed Conroy’s second season at The Citadel. More of the same was expected, but instead the Bulldogs won 20 games for only the second time in school history, 15 of them coming in league play. It was the finest season on the hardwood for The Citadel in 30 years, and one of the best in school history.

Just like Ed Conroy in 2008-09,  Chuck Driesell is entering his third season in charge of the Bulldogs after enduring a 6-24 campaign. Conroy brought in eight scholarship freshmen for his second season; so did Driesell.

However, there are differences between then and now. Conroy’s batch of freshmen included a player who would be named Freshman of the Year in the Southern Conference, Cameron Wells, and another (Zach Urbanus) who finished the year as a solid contributor. None of the freshmen who played last year for The Citadel (two were redshirted) had a season as good as Wells’ initial campaign for the Bulldogs.

That isn’t to say that significant improvement can’t be made. I suspect it will. However, the same can be said for the Southern Conference in general. I expect the league to be better than it was last year, as many of the better players from last season are returning in 2012-13.

It’s only one statistical category, but I couldn’t help but notice that ten of last season’s top thirteen SoCon performers in Ken Pomeroy’s “offensive rating” system (minimum 20% possessions used) are back this year. That group of ten doesn’t even include established performers like Trevis Simpson, Lucas Troutman, Trent Wiedeman, and a couple of Cochrans (Wofford’s Karl and Davidson’s Nik).

The league is going to be tough this year. Can the Bulldogs hang in there? If they are going to do so, they must first address some obvious shortcomings.

The Citadel was a very poor defensive team last season. Mike Groselle was the only consistent rebounder on the squad (though he was good enough to lead the league), and only three teams in all of Division I allowed opponents to shoot a higher percentage inside the arc (55.7%) than the Bulldogs.

That carried over into league action, although The Citadel wasn’t the worst defensive outfit in the conference in SoCon play, in part thanks to opponents’ three-point shooting (only 30.3%). Three league teams allowed more points per possession than did the Bulldogs in conference games.

However, the Bulldogs struggled on the offensive side of the court in conference play more than any other SoCon team, and by a wide margin, scoring only .907 points per possession in 19 league games (18 regular season matchups plus the first round of the SoCon tourney). The Citadel shot just 31% from outside the three-point line in league action and also had the worst turnover rate in the conference.

One positive: when the Bulldogs did score, it often came as a result of good team passing (The Citadel was second in the league in its ratio of assists to made baskets).

Mike Groselle had an outstanding season in 2011-12. Groselle led the league in rebounding and was second in scoring, being edged for the SoCon scoring crown by UNCG’s Trevis Simpson (who attempted 151 more shots from the field). Groselle was a very efficient performer (59.1 eFG%), and persevered despite being the focus of every opponent’s game plan.

He did everything well, basically, and made the 10-man all-conference team selected by the league coaches. However, Groselle did not make the media’s All-SoCon first team, an omission that was not easy to understand.

For the Bulldogs to improve this year, Groselle is going to need help. Will he get any?

When I watched The Citadel’s freshmen in action last year, I came to the conclusion that while several of them had promising skill sets, they just weren’t strong enough to handle the adjustment to Division I hoops. There is a chance that a year of physical maturity (and a lot of work in the weight room) will improve the Bulldogs’ rebounding numbers and alleviate some of the turnover problems that plagued the team last year.

C.J. Bray is a good example. The 6’7″ Bray is athletic enough to have been offered a football scholarship to Arkansas, and he can present matchup problems with his ability to float outside and hit the three-point shot. I thought he showed good instincts on the boards, too, but he wasn’t able to corral every rebound chance that came his way.

That may change this year. If he can also provide solid post defense, he will be a great help to Groselle. Bray started more games than any other Bulldog freshman last season (18). Another rising sophomore who goes by his initials, 6’8″ P.J. Horgan, saw limited action last year and may also be a factor in the frontcourt rotation.

Lawrence Miller shot 42% from three-point land last season, better than his overall field goal percentage (39%). He will probably get first crack at the 2-guard spot for the Bulldogs. Ashton Moore, who started 14 games last season and played more minutes than any other freshman, will also be in the mix. Moore is capable of putting the ball in the basket (30 points against UVA-Wise) but needs to be more consistent.

The point guard for The Citadel will be Marshall Harris III, who started the final 11 games last season. Harris must cut down on his turnovers to succeed in that role, and it’s key for the Bulldogs that he do so. There is no other obvious candidate to play the point, as DeVontae Wright transferred to USC-Aiken this summer. Moore could be an option, and one of the freshmen may get a look.

Wright was one of three underclassmen to transfer after last season. Jordan Robertson, a forward who showed flashes of potential last year, is now at Davidson County Community College. He was the only one of last year’s group of freshmen to leave. The third player to transfer, Barry Smith, moved on to Bethune-Cookman.

The two seniors on last year’s team, Cosmo Morabbi and Bo Holston, both graduated. Holston had one year of athletic eligibility remaining, and elected to play as a graduate student at Anderson. In all, players no longer on the roster accounted for 42% of the minutes played last season.

There are seven players on this year’s roster who have yet to appear in a Division I game — four incoming freshmen, two redshirt freshmen, and a fifth-year transfer student.

The most heralded of the “knobs” is Matt Van Scyoc, a 6’6″ wing player who led the state of Wisconsin in three-point shooting last year. Van Scyoc averaged 24.3 points and 13.3 rebounds per game his senior season and was an all-state selection in Wisconsin’s Division 5 high school classification.

His fellow classmates include 6’3″ swingman Raemond Robinson, a Goose Creek product who was also an outstanding high school football player. Robinson is used to winning, both on the gridiron and on the court; perhaps he can bring that kind of positive energy to The Citadel’s hoops squad (much like John Brown did during that aforementioned 2008-09 campaign).

Janeil Jenkins and Quinton Marshall each signed late in the spring. They are both guards, but of markedly different sizes; Jenkins is 5’10”, while Marshall is 6’5″. Chuck Driesell mentioned Marshall in a recent interview with Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier as someone who might get to play early.

Two of the eight freshmen from last year did not see any action in 2011-12. Dylen Setzekorn is a 6’7″ wing on the slender side (194 lbs., per The Citadel’s website). 6’9″ forward Michael Hundley is even thinner (180 lbs.). It is easy to see why both were redshirted.

Hundley has a reputation as a shotblocker. If he could get on the court with that skill, it would be a huge boon for The Citadel, which hasn’t had a true shot-swatter since Kirill Misyuchenko patrolled the lane for the Bulldogs in the late 1990s.

The final player on The Citadel’s roster is something of a wild card. Stephen Elmore is a 6’6″, 220-lb. graduate student who saw limited action at Princeton…as a baseball player. The 2012-13 campaign will be his first (and last) taste of college basketball, at least as a player.

He is the son of Len Elmore, the well-known college basketball commentator who was an outstanding college player at Maryland (and who had a solid NBA career as well). Driesell described Stephen Elmore as “a power forward who can shoot the three-pointer”. I have no idea what kind of impact (if any) he will have for the Bulldogs.

The Citadel’s non-league slate is about what you would expect for a team that only won six games a year ago and includes two games against non-Division I competition. The Bulldogs will open the season by hosting the All-Military Classic, which also features VMI, Army, and Air Force.

The Citadel squares off with VMI in its first game, on the same day the Bulldogs play the Keydets in football — in Lexington, VA. It’s a scheduling quirk that I think is unfortunate.

There are no home games in December, which is a little strange. The Citadel is playing “guarantee games” against Georgia Tech, Clemson, and…St. Bonaventure. I’m not sure why the Bulldogs are making the trip to Olean, New York, but at least Andrew Nicholson has moved on to the NBA.

In what I believe is a first, The Citadel is participating in Bracketbusters this season. Other out of conference games include a home contest against Radford and road games versus Charleston Southern and Gardner-Webb.

I will be curious to see how Chuck Driesell handles tempo this season. Driesell prefers a faster pace than that implemented at The Citadel by Ed Conroy, but he was forced to slow things down last season in an effort to stay competitive. In that respect, he succeeded. The Citadel’s two late-season victories over Chattanooga and Appalachian State featured fewer possessions than any other games the Bulldogs played during the season.

I think a slower tempo is generally what works best for The Citadel, but it’s obviously not a style Driesell really enjoys, and I don’t know what his approach will be this year. His best player (Groselle) is probably best suited for games with a more restrained pace.

It’s just one of many things that makes this season for The Citadel a very interesting one. I’m not predicting a year like the 2008-09 campaign, but I believe the Bulldogs are going to surprise some people. The team has to make the leap from being competitive to winning games. It’s a difficult transition, but I think the talent is there to make that jump.

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