McAlister Musings: Getting ready for The Citadel’s 2014-15 hoops season

Note: this season, I am again participating in a cross-blog/forum exercise known as “Scanning the SoCon”. 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). Previews for the other conference schools can be found here: Link

  • The Citadel’s 2013-14 record: 7-26, 2-14 in the SoCon (last)
  • Chuck Driesell’s record at The Citadel (four seasons): 31-94 overall, 16-54  in the SoCon
  • Biggest positive from the 2013-14 campaign: the Bulldogs won three of their last four games, including a rare SoCon tournament victory
  • Negatives from 2013-14: a school-record 17-game losing streak, the nation’s fourth-worst defense, an offense that ranked in the bottom 60 nationally, and an incredible ability to give up buzzer-beating shots

It’s hard to identify the low point of The Citadel’s 2013-14 basketball season, a campaign in which the Bulldogs lost 17 games in a row, did not win a league game until February 24, failed to beat any team in the RPI top 300, and finished with no road victories.

Was it the loss to Division II West Alabama, a contest the Bulldogs trailed by 23 at halftime? That’s not a bad candidate, but I think I would vote for the 82-53 loss to Georgia Southern on January 30, a game in which the Bulldogs were at one point outscored 29-0 over 12 minutes of game action.

Some might argue the season nadir was Chuck Driesell’s comment that he needed “to coach up optimism” after an 18-point home setback to Western Carolina. The next game for the Bulldogs was the above-mentioned Georgia Southern debacle, so apparently coaching players in the art of being more hopeful is not a quick fix.

Let’s be honest: when it comes to optimism for The Citadel’s basketball program, it’s in short supply, at least for the fan base. It’s not just about last year, either.

The Bulldogs have had double-digit losing streaks in each of the last three seasons. The Citadel has won fewer than 23% of its conference games over the last four years, and it’s not like the SoCon is on the same level with the ACC.

I hope the players and coaches have a positive outlook for 2014-15. For longtime supporters, though, it’s probably going to be a “show me” kind of season.

Note: the statistics in the next two sections do not include the four games The Citadel played last season against non-D1 opponents. Unless otherwise stated, statistics are per kenpom.com.

I mentioned earlier that The Citadel had one of the country’s least-defensive defenses. The Bulldogs were 348th out of 351 Division I teams in adjusted defensive efficiency, ahead of only Maryland-Eastern Shore, Cornell, and Grambling State.

Those three squads combined to win 13 games. The team immediately above the Bulldogs in the defensive ratings, Presbyterian, won six games — but lost to The Citadel.

The Bulldogs did not force many turnovers (bottom 10 nationally in that category) and struggled mightily to keep opponents off the offensive boards (bottom 50 nationally). Opponents shot two-point shots against The Citadel at a 51.1% clip, significantly higher than the D-1 average (48.5%).

The opposition did not go to the foul line that often against the Bulldogs; indeed, The Citadel was actually in the top 100 in preventing free throw attempts. Of course, that could be a double-edged sword, as it arguably suggests a lack of defensive aggression.

For The Citadel to have any chance of success this season, the Bulldogs must get much better on defense. While the team obviously needs to force more turnovers, what I would most like to see is an improvement on the defensive glass.

That has been a constant problem for the past two seasons, and if it isn’t solved, the defense will continue to be well below average. The Citadel simply has to assert itself on the boards.

The Bulldogs were largely ineffective on offense. The numbers weren’t as bad in conference play, but they still weren’t good enough.

Rebounding was a negative (as it was defensively), and The Citadel also couldn’t get to the foul line. The Bulldogs were in the bottom 50 nationally in both offensive rebounding percentage and free throw rate.

The Citadel did improve its offensive turnover rate, which had been an enormous bugaboo over the previous two seasons. While its overall numbers merely suggest a modest step up in that department, the league statistics were actually solid, as the Bulldogs had the second-best offensive turnover rate in conference play.

As far as three-point shooting went, The Citadel was respectable from beyond the arc (its 37.2% shooting from 3-land was third-best in SoCon play). There was a decided lack of efficiency in and around the paint, however, as the Bulldogs’ overall 2-point shooting rate was only 45.1%.

All the above numbers are indicative of a lack of productivity from interior players, and that was in fact a major issue (if not the major issue) for The Citadel in 2013-14. Injuries decimated the frontcourt, leaving Driesell bereft of experienced big men (player attrition from previous seasons did not help). The freshmen tried hard, but they weren’t quite ready.

This year, there are four returning post players with significant experience. If they can stay healthy, the Bulldogs should improve their rebounding and defensive work in the paint.

Four players from last year’s team did not return.

Nate Bowser, a 6’9″ forward/center, appeared in twelve games his freshman season for a total of 81 minutes. He only played in one contest after January 2. Bowser is no longer enrolled at The Citadel, and is currently a student at Oklahoma.

– After playing in 19 games during his freshman campaign, 6’3″ guard Raemond Robinson appeared in 26 games last season for the Bulldogs. He shot 35% from three-point range in 2013-14 while averaging 2.9 points per game. This summer, Robinson announced that he was transferring to Charleston Southern.

Dylen Setzekorn graduated from The Citadel in May with two years of hoops eligibility remaining. Setzekorn, a 6’7″ guard/forward, played in 42 games for the Bulldogs over two seasons. He is now playing at North Georgia, where he is in graduate school.

Matt Van Scyoc averaged 14.3 points per game for The Citadel in 2013-14, which led the team. The 6’6″ sophomore swingman transferred to Indiana State after the season.

Van Scyoc shot 43.5% from the field, 36.5% from beyond the arc, and 86% from the charity stripe. His offensive production will be sorely missed. Someone will have to replace his scoring punch — perhaps multiple someones.

The Citadel does have three seniors (and a redshirt junior) returning for this season, along with several other players who will be key contributors.

– Marshall Harris III is a 6’1″ pass-first senior point guard, with an assist rate of 29.8% and a 2-to-1 assist/turnover ratio last year. Harris had a 28.9% turnover rate, which was too high. He was also bothered by foot problems during the season.

His overall shooting percentages were decent, though in SoCon play he did not fare as well from beyond the arc. He wasn’t a volume shooter by any means, but Harris took his fair share of free throws, with the highest FT rate on the team.

– Ashton Moore was named to the ten-man preseason All-SoCon team by the league’s coaches. The 6’0″ senior averaged 14.1 points and 3.6 assists per game last season, both marks second-best on the team. He led the squad in minutes played.

Moore can be a streaky offensive player. He was excellent down the stretch for the Bulldogs last year, scoring 22+ points in five of the last seven games. That included a 35-point effort against Davidson (on just 19 shots) and outstanding performances versus Samford and UNC-Greensboro.

He only averaged 2.4 fouls per 40 minutes last season. That was actually a higher percentage of fouls than Moore had committed the previous year, when he had the sixth-fewest fouls per 40 minutes in the country.

– At 6’3″, sophomore Warren Sledge is a bigger guard than Harris and Moore, which could be helpful from a defensive perspective. Sledge was injured at the beginning of last season, but showed some promise when he started playing for the Bulldogs.

He needs to cut down on turnovers, and Sledge only averaged one steal every 77 minutes of play; he should do a little better than that. His assist rate was solid, and his shooting from beyond the arc, while limited, was good.

Quinton Marshall is a 6’5″ guard/forward who is one of the better athletes in the SoCon, as Samford found out late in the year. To become a better offensive performer, the junior needs to limit his turnovers and improve his free throw shooting (only 52% last season).

He averaged just over five rebounds per 40 minutes of play. Ideally, Marshall would be more of a force on the boards.

Last season, The Citadel entered the season without P.J. Horgan or C.J. Bray. For the Bulldogs to be successful in 2014-15, both must be healthy and ready to play from the opening tip.

– Bray is a 6’7″ product of James Island High School. When not hampered by ankle or shoulder problems, the redshirt junior is a post player with an interesting skill set.

He has a nice touch from outside, and enough strength to hold his own in the paint (Bray was a fine high school football player).

As a freshman, Bray was a dependable presence on the defensive glass. That was three years and several injuries ago. If he can return to that form, it will be a big lift for the Bulldogs.

– Now a senior, Horgan was believed to be through with basketball after suffering a lower back injury. In fact, it was announced in October of 2013 that his career was over.

However, the 6’9″ forward/center returned to the team and by January of 2014, he was playing. It was a bit rough at times (in his first game, he fouled out after 15 minutes of action).

By February, he was healthy enough to log 35 minutes in a lopsided loss to Davidson. He had 10 points and 9 rebounds in a late-season victory over Georgia Southern.

With Horgan and Bray out of action (or not ready to contribute major minutes), the frontcourt was primarily left to two freshmen, Brian White and Tom Koopman. That wasn’t really fair to either one of them, but at least they got a lot of experience.

– White actually had an fine freshman campaign for The Citadel. He impressed many observers with his efficient play and made the SoCon’s all-freshman team.

He had the best eFG rate (53.6%) on the team, blocked a shot every now and then, and had a respectable turnover rate. White (now listed at 6’8″) can improve in some facets of his game; he had just one double-digit rebounding game against a Division I team, and had only ten assists all season.

Regardless, White was clearly a bright spot for the Bulldogs last year, and is expected to be even better in 2014-15.

– Koopman is a 6’8″ native of the Netherlands who was overwhelmed at times last year (according to Blue Ribbon, he also suffered significant weight loss during the campaign). He did show flashes of what he could become, though, including solid performances against Nebraska and (later in the season) Georgia Southern.

With more help in the frontcourt, and having completed his freshman year at The Citadel, there is a reasonable chance Koopman could be The Citadel’s most improved player this season.

Four freshmen join the Bulldogs this year.

Jake Wright is a 6’4″ guard from Hopkins, Minnesota. He may be the freshman most ready to contribute for The Citadel, assuming he brings his shooting touch from high school to McAlister Field House.

Wright played at a high school that includes among its alums current NBA player Kris Humphries. Thus, there are only three degrees of separation between Wright and Kanye West.

Brandon Thompson, like Wright, is also a shooting guard. One difference between the two: Thompson is only 5’11”.

Thompson is from Gaithersburg, Maryland. He played at Covenant Life School, a small private school that is a member of the Potomac Valley Athletic Conference, and averaged 18.3 points per game his senior season.

Tim Broom is also a guard, but he is more of a lead guard than a pure shooter. The 6’2″ Jacksonville native was a high school football safety, too.

Some of the adjectives used to describe Broom in print include “rugged” and “sturdily built”. If that translates into being a quality defender, he could see action early and often.

– Nadi Beceri is a 6’7″ post player who went to Bergen Catholic High School in Maywood, New Jersey. He could get some minutes in the frontcourt rotation, with the amount possibly dependent on how much Horgan and Bray are able to play.

Chuck Driesell called Beceri “a blue-collar player” who is “not afraid to mix it up”.

The Citadel’s non-conference slate includes games against three power conference schools, as the Bulldogs will face Florida State, Virginia Tech, and Michigan State (all on the road). The Bulldogs also play at College of Charleston.

As has been the case for the past three seasons, The Citadel will compete in the All-Military Classic, which is being held this year in West Point, New York. The Bulldogs open that tournament against VMI (which will be a non-conference game) and play either Air Force or Army the next day.

At home, The Citadel plays Navy and Bethune-Cookman, along with three non-Division I schools — Toccoa Falls, Bob Jones University, and Warren Wilson College.

Last year, the Bulldogs played four non-D1 squads, so three is a minor improvement. Ideally, the military college would not play more than two, but filling out a home schedule can be difficult for a low-major.

The conference as a whole has 20 scheduled matchups with non-Division I schools, which is down from last season’s 32. It’s not an exact comparison, of course, due to the turnover in SoCon schools over the past year.

Incidentally, The Citadel eschewed exhibition games this year in favor of two so-called “secret scrimmages” against Stetson and North Florida.

The Citadel was picked to finish last in the SoCon by the league media vote and next-to-last by the coaches. NBC Sports also predicted the Bulldogs will finish next-to-last, as did The Sports Network, while SB Nation thinks The Citadel will be the worst team in the league.

Considering the team’s record last season, and the fact the Bulldogs lost their leading scorer from that squad, those are understandable placements.

In all honesty, I would have ranked the Bulldogs a little higher. Blue Ribbon had The Citadel in seventh, and I think that’s about right in terms of a preseason projection. There are other schools in the league that had many more personnel defections (hello, Samford) and weren’t exactly dominating on the hardwood in the first place.

It appears that The Citadel’s new director of athletics, Jim Senter, is interested in improving the gameday atmosphere at McAlister Field House, and is taking steps along those lines. Such action is most welcome, as it is long overdue.

I generally do not make predictions about how a season will turn out. I won’t this time, either. However, I do have expectations.

For this season to be considered a success, the team must finish with an overall winning record, and a winning record in conference play. Nothing less will be acceptable.

That may seem unrealistic for a program that has lost 94 games in the last four seasons, never winning more than ten games during any of those years. It doesn’t matter.

This is Chuck Driesell’s fifth year as the head basketball coach of The Citadel, and it’s time to see some positive results. Otherwise, the school should (and likely will) move in a different direction.

I’m ready for the season to start. I’m also ready to celebrate a bunch of victories.

One Response

  1. “Move in a different direction”, Spike you are getting soft and too politically correct. Lets be honest, Chucky D was hired for his name not his coaching ability and he is in way over his head, why don’t you just call this season what it is – the Driesell Farewell Tour.

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