McAlister Musings: It is darkest before the dawn, but the dawn is running late

Well, no need to sugarcoat things. Let’s get right to the facts:

— The Citadel has lost 11 straight games, and is now 0-5 in SoCon play.

— The Bulldogs are next-to-last in Division I in Kenpom’s defensive efficiency ratings. There are 347 teams in D-1, and The Citadel is 346th.

— The Citadel’s adjusted offensive efficiency isn’t anything to write home about, either. The Bulldogs are actually a decent shooting team, but their turnover rate has been horrific all season. At 25.4%, The Citadel ranks in the bottom 10 nationally in that statistic.

— About halfway through the losing streak, The Citadel started allowing opponents to collect an alarming number of offensive rebounds, which has contributed to the defensive problems. Bulldog foes are rebounding almost two-fifths of their misses. That makes The Citadel one of the 25 worst teams in the country in defensive OR%.

— The failure to control the defensive glass has lessened the impact of a statistic that was beginning to improve. Through seven games, 47.6% of opponents’ field goal attempts were three-pointers. That percentage has declined to a still-high but much more palatable 35.9%. The Citadel has done a better job of stopping teams from taking three-point shots.

— Unfortunately, when they do take long-range shots, the opposition is still making them from beyond the arc at an extraordinary rate, 41.5%. Only three other teams allow opponents to shoot a higher percentage from three-land. Some of that (not all of it) is bad luck.

— The Citadel has had a tendency to get behind early, by scores like 11-3 (against the College of Charleston), 21-14 (Samford), 22-13 (Chattanooga), 18-11 (Western Carolina), 20-3 (Georgia Tech), 24-13 (St. Bonaventure), and 12-4 (Radford, a game that the Highlanders would lead by 22 at one point in the first half).

Five of the games I mentioned were home contests. It’s hard for the crowd (such as it is) to get enthusiastic when the team falls behind so quickly.

After the loss to Samford, I started to wonder if The Citadel would win another game this season. After thinking about it (and the subsequent game against the College of Charleston), I am a lot more confident the Bulldogs will win again this year. I base that partly on The Citadel’s improved play, but also on the less-than-scintillating status of the SoCon as a whole.

At the beginning of the season, I thought that the Southern Conference would be a stronger league than it was last year. However, the conference has been worse. The SoCon returned a lot of last year’s better players, but apparently most of them came back because they didn’t have any other place to go.

The Bulldogs still have 13 league games remaining (plus a “Bracketbusters” contest against an opponent to be determined). The Citadel is going to come out on top somewhere down the line.

That doesn’t make me feel much better about the way the season has gone, though. I am sure the coaching staff is profoundly frustrated, to say nothing about the players’ disappointment. This season wasn’t supposed to look like last year’s 6-24 campaign, but it is on pace to be just as bad from the standpoint of the overall record.

The one excuse I don’t want to hear any more is that “we have a young team”. The Citadel had a young team last year. This year it has a bunch of sophomores and a few freshmen (along with an outstanding senior, Mike Groselle), and the Bulldogs have already played half of the season schedule. Everyone understood what last season was all about. This year was supposed to be about reaping some rewards for running through that youth-infused gauntlet.

Longtime supporters of The Citadel have heard the “we have a young team” line all too often in years past. It gets old after a while. Very old.

I realize that what I wrote above is, well, rather negative. Then again, the Bulldogs have lost eleven consecutive games. Things haven’t gone well so far this season. The record reflects that.  The statistical profile reflects that.

There are positives, though. The addition of Rae Robinson and P.J. Horgan into the rotation has made the Bulldogs a better team. As I noted above, the Bulldogs are starting to defend the perimeter a little better than they were earlier in the season (though there is plenty of room for continued improvement). Offensively, The Citadel has several guys who can put the ball in the basket, and in a variety of ways. That is encouraging.

Against the College of Charleston, the Bulldogs only committed eleven turnovers, a very respectable total in a 60+ possession game. If The Citadel plays every night like it did on Monday, the team is going to start winning. However, that effort has to be constant.

The Bulldogs aren’t good enough to turn the ball over one out of every four possessions and still win. The turnover issue has been the thing that has annoyed me the most, to be honest. I hope the players keep working with the medicine ball.

The Citadel has to continue to get better on defense, and part of that is solving the problem of defending the outside shot while maintaining control of the defensive glass. The Bulldogs have yet to consistently do both at the same time.

I know the players still have hopes of making a breakthrough. Chuck Driesell has said the right things, and clearly hasn’t “lost” the team despite the losing streak. I haven’t given up on them, either. It’s just tough when you’re on the wrong side of the scoreline game after game. I guess it will make an eventual turnaround that much sweeter.

I just wish that turnaround would hurry up and get here…

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