McAlister Musings: Possession is nine-tenths of a win

The previous edition of McAlister Musings

The All-Military Classic has come and gone. Everyone involved is relieved that the original plan to play two of the games on an aircraft carrier did not happen…

The Citadel split its two games, beating VMI 84-76 on Saturday and losing to Air Force 77-70 on Sunday. I was at the latter game, along with luminaries like Len Elmore, Paul Maguire, Harvey Schiller, and the biggest celebrity of them all, General. Bulldog basketball is a hot ticket this season.

Chuck Driesell on the win over VMI (video): Link

Also included in that video are brief interview segments with Mike Groselle and Marshall Harris III. The most interesting comment came from Groselle, after it was pointed out to him that the Bulldogs had played a lot of zone defense. Groselle:

Well, statistically we’ve charted it…and [determined that] it’s our most successful defense.

Indeed. That explains in part why The Citadel never gave up on the zone against Air Force, a decision I would not be inclined to criticize despite the Falcons’ hot second-half outside shooting. Considering its personnel, The Citadel probably won’t fare too well playing man-to-man defense against most opponents. If a team gets hot from outside on a given night, the Bulldogs are just going to have to live with it.

Groselle had his 23rd career double-double against VMI, scoring 21 points and corralling 15 rebounds. He was his usual efficient self, only needing 11 shots to get those 21 points and committing just two turnovers.

Against the Keydets, Groselle got help from Harris (19 points, 9 assists) and freshman Matt Van Scyoc (17 points, 7 rebounds).

The Citadel had a 25% turnover rate against VMI, a statistic that usually would result in a loss. However, the Keydets’ helter-skelter style leads to lots of turnovers and lots of points, usually for both teams, as VMI is not a strong defensive squad. VMI did not shoot well against The Citadel’s 2-3 zone, particularly from inside the three-point line (13-31), and when the Keydets aren’t shooting well, they aren’t winning.

The turnover rate for the Bulldogs against Air Force was 27%, and The Citadel paid for it. Although the Bulldogs actually led the game at halftime (30-28), in my opinion that was the half that cost The Citadel the win. Air Force was within two points at the break despite shooting 9-27 from the field and being outrebounded 20-9.

The Falcons actually led for most of the first half, thanks to eleven Bulldog turnovers. Thirty possessions, and eleven gone to waste. Some of them led to easy baskets for Air Force, too.

The Citadel averaged 1.58 points per possession in the first half when a turnover was not committed. If you just cut the actual number of TOs in half, say from eleven to five, a similar rate of offensive success would have resulted in an additional nine points (9.47, actually, but I’m rounding down).

The Bulldogs could have been up double digits at intermission, and that may have allowed them to withstand Air Force’s three-point barrage in the second half. The Falcons were 10 of 17 from beyond the arc in that stanza, including several from the left corner.

I wanted the uniformed cadet in charge of securing the baseline on that side to hit one of the shooters with her waistbelt, just to see if it would throw them off.

Lawrence Miller had a good game for the Bulldogs, making six of his nine three-point attempts for a career-high 20 points, and CJ. Bray played very well (14 points, 5 rebounds). However, after an impressive debut the day before, Van Scyoc had a nightmarish game against Air Force, one filled with turnovers. Freshmen are going to have games like that, especially early in the season.

I will say that in person, Van Scyoc looks like a player. He is a legit 6’6″ and no beanpole, either. He should be able to mix it up in the SoCon without any problems. Another freshman, Quinton Marshall, had some good moments on Sunday and also looks physically ready to play at the D-1 level.

Odds and ends:

– The Bulldogs entered the court prior to pregame introductions through a veil of smoke. At least, I think that was the idea.

– All-Military Classic t-shirts were given away at the game. After every other timeout, one of the game administrators would throw a bunch of them into the crowd. I didn’t get one, but as it appeared the t-shirts were roughly the same size as my cellphone, it was probably just as well.

– VMI coach Duggar Baucom’s “I’m really angry” walk/stalk to the locker room at halftime of the Army-VMI game was a thing of beauty.

Next up for the Bulldogs are two non-Division I teams, Montreat (on Wednesday night) and Union College of Kentucky (Saturday night). I’m not crazy about playing non-D1 schools, but I understand that the team needs to continue to develop confidence, and winning games is part of that development. It’s also a chance for Chuck Driesell to tinker with his rotation and figure out who is going to be able to help the team once SoCon play rolls around.

As for the games themselves, I’m not too worried about them. I don’t foresee a Francis Marion situation; we no longer live in Dennisian times. Montreat is coming off an 86-54 loss at Appalachian State, and I think the Bulldogs could be better than App State this season. The Cavaliers have also lost to Webber International and Ave Maria.

Union College (also called the Bulldogs) looks like it may be a little better than Montreat, as it is currently on a four-game winning streak. One of its victories came against Cincinnati Christian, a school The Citadel has faced on the hardwood before.

I fully expect The Citadel to be 3-1 when Radford comes to town on November 24. It better be 3-1.

A few pictures from the Air Force game…yes, they’re terrible (though arguably not as bad as Air Force’s uniforms):

Game Review, 2012: VMI

The Citadel 27, VMI 24.

Links of interest:

Game story, The Roanoke Times

Game story, The Post and Courier 

Note: both articles above written by Randy King of The Roanoke Times

The Citadel’s release

VMI’s release

Highlights from the game (video)

VMI postgame press conference with Sparky Woods and two players (video)

Box score

Uh, phew…

For the second week in a row, The Citadel built up a big lead only to see its opponent mount a furious comeback. For the second week in a row, the Bulldogs held on.

I don’t think anyone was truly surprised when Elon finally began scoring points in the second half of last week’s game. However, VMI should have been put away midway through the third quarter. The fact that the Keydets were one drive away from a miraculous victory is worrisome.

After Derek Douglas rumbled into the end zone with a fumble (following a sack by Mark Thomas), it was hard to imagine VMI doing much of anything in response. Not that anyone expected the Keydets to quit, but as it happens the Bulldogs helped VMI make its move.

Special teams were less than special. The Citadel should have had a sizable edge in this department, given the performances of the two teams’ kicking units during the season, but that wasn’t the case. The kickoff coverage for the Bulldogs was unacceptable, and there was also a blocked field goal attempt.

Sparky Woods said after the game that The Citadel “played better in the kicking game” than VMI, but I can’t say that I agree with him.

Then there were the penalties. I was concerned about the tendency of VMI’s opponents to commit more than their typical number of infractions, but the Bulldogs outdid themselves in a negative way, committing nine fouls for 89 yards. Seven of those penalties (and 79 of the 89 total yards) came in the second half and helped enable the Keydet comeback.

I wasn’t all that surprised VMI had some success defensively against The Citadel. I thought going into the game that the Keydet D was a bit underrated, and basically hamstrung by an ineffective offense.

However, the Bulldogs’ defense was disappointing, particularly in the second half. VMI does not have a big-play offense, but The Citadel allowed two huge pass plays (81 and 38 yards) to the Keydets that set up touchdowns.

The fumble return by Douglas was critical, and Sparky Woods has to be very tired of guys named Douglas making plays for The Citadel against his teams. However, don’t overlook Thomas Warren’s second made field goal, which pushed the margin to ten points with less than five minutes to play. The Bulldogs needed those three points.

That field goal came after The Citadel started on its own 49, a short field gifted to the Bulldogs by a “pop-up” kick that went awry. Woods said that it wasn’t really an onside kick attempt, but a placement-type kick that just wasn’t properly executed.

I questioned the play-calling (or simply the act of calling plays) at the end of the Western Carolina game. I’m going to do it again…

Aaron Miller picked up a first down for The Citadel with 2:42 remaining in the game. VMI was by then out of timeouts.

At that point, the Bulldogs could have lined up in “Victory Formation” and kneeled down three times. The clock would have run out, and The Citadel would have the victory.

However, three running plays were called instead, including two handoffs. I suppose the first down play (on which Miller kept for a four-yard loss) could be justified as ensuring the Bulldogs could run out the clock. It would have been close, though I think a run wasn’t necessary.

However, on second and third down it was clear that a kneeldown would do the trick. By that third down play, I was — well, I was upset, to be honest. I could just visualize a Joe Pisarcik-Herm Edwards situation that would be fondly remembered by Keydet fans for decades.

That didn’t happen, but it shouldn’t have been left to chance. It was the second time this season The Citadel had not properly managed the end of the game. If that keeps up, the Bulldogs will eventually get burned.

I’m not trying to be negative. After all, the Bulldogs clinched a winning season, which was the primary goal going into the 2012 campaign. The Citadel remains alive for a playoff berth, but realistically that isn’t going to happen. That’s okay, though. Beating Furman to finish 7-4 would be more than good enough for me.

It was nice to hear VMI’s band play on a regular basis during the game, as opposed to the game at Wofford (which has no band) and the games at Johnson Hagood Stadium (where the band is only occasionally allowed to play). However, someone needs to tell the band when to stop. For one thing, I think a VMI false start penalty in the second quarter could be largely attributed to the band playing as the Keydets were about to snap the ball.

I enjoyed the day in Lexington. The weather was great, and the gameday atmosphere was solid. Plenty of blue-clad supporters were on hand to cheer on the Bulldogs, coming close to filling the (admittedly small) visitors’ section of Foster Stadium.

The home side was mostly full too, a tribute to a very loyal VMI fan base. Some of those same fans traveled to Charleston for last year’s game between the two teams. They were part of arguably the most impressive (on a per capita basis, at least) group of visiting supporters, especially striking given VMI’s way-too-long stretch of gridiron futility.

Those fans deserve a winning season sooner than later, and I hope they get one. Of course, I don’t want it to come at The Citadel’s expense. I prefer that the coveted Silver Shako remain in Charleston, where it belongs.

Pictures…well, every week I write about what a lame-o photographer I am, but I may have set a new standard for ineptitude this week. What follows is the best of a sorry lot.

I took a lot of pictures of the campus and the Saturday parade. VMI is an interesting place. I firmly believe every graduate of The Citadel needs to visit VMI at least once, and vice versa.

Included are a few pictures from the lacrosse match that took place on Saturday, which raised $3,000 for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. Great job by those guys (not for the first time, either).

I also watched the women’s rugby game for a short time, which more than matched the football game for sheer brutality. There are a few pictures in the set from that contest, as well as the halftime Rugby 7s exhibition.

Besides the “action” shots at the football game, there are pictures of the marchover.