McAlister Musings: the SoCon slate has begun in earnest

Previously:

My preview of the season

Well, the season is underway

December on the hardwood

Links of interest:

Bulldogs faring well from the foul line

Quinton Marshall likes to read

The Citadel takes its time on offense

When last we checked in with the Bulldog hoopsters, they were 4-4, with one Division I victory. Since then, The Citadel has completed its non-conference schedule and is slightly more than one-third of the way through the SoCon campaign.

The Bulldogs are 8-10 overall, 3-4 in the league. The Citadel currently has one more victory in 2014-15 than it had all of last season (when the Bulldogs didn’t win their seventh game until March 7).

The Citadel also has one more SoCon win this year than it had in all of 2013-14.

The most impressive of the Bulldogs’ eight victories this season was last Thursday’s win over Wofford at McAlister Field House. That triumph was, without much question, the best result Chuck Driesell has had since becoming head coach of The Citadel. It featured a bravura second-half effort from Ashton Moore (21 of his 29 points came in the second stanza).

Wofford is (even after that loss) ranked in the top 60 of the RPI. There is a good chance the Terriers will finish the season in the RPI top 100.

The Citadel’s last win over a team that finished the season in the RPI top 100 was a 72-65 victory at College of Charleston on January 9, 2010. The Bulldogs have not won a game over a final-ranking top 100 squad at McAlister Field House since pulling off three such victories during the 2001-02 season (those wins were against Davidson, College of Charleston, and East Tennessee State).

The Bulldogs’ four victories since their win over Navy include a 51-47 non-conference win over Bethune-Cookman (a game that was not, perhaps, the most entertaining of affairs) and the above-mentioned upset of Wofford.

The Citadel also beat a struggling Samford squad 77-67 by going on a 11-1 run to close out the game. The Bulldogs’ win at UNC-Greensboro (85-83, in overtime) was most notable for breaking The Citadel’s horrendous 22-game road losing streak.

The six losses the Bulldogs have suffered in the last month can roughly be placed into two different categories: “somewhat understandable” and “rather disappointing”.

There won’t be many complaints about road losses to Michigan State and Virginia Tech; indeed, the Bulldogs gave the Hokies all they wanted, falling by just three points. The loss to Western Carolina was a competitive effort away from home.

Losing by 23 points at Mercer wasn’t good, but was mitigated by the news that several members of the team were ill. That can happen sometimes during the course of a long season.

The other two losses by the Bulldogs, however, were all-around poor performances.

In the conference opener versus Chattanooga, things didn’t go well for The Citadel from the opening tip. The Bulldogs never led and eventually lost by 19 points; afterwards, Driesell said the team had “laid an egg“. Marshall Harris did not play, but that wasn’t enough to explain a less-than-inspiring effort in a contest that was not only the league opener, but a home game.

The most recent defeat also came at home, versus Furman. That game can be summed up by this statistic: the Paladins had almost as many offensive rebounds (14) as The Citadel had defensive boards (16).

Note: statistics in this section do not include games vs. non-D1 opponents

Allowing opponents to dominate the offensive glass has been a problem for the Bulldogs all season. Teams playing The Citadel have rebounded their own missed shots at a rate of 37.0%, which puts the Bulldogs in the bottom 20 nationally in that category. It is the primary (but not sole) reason that The Citadel (per Kenpom) is currently the second-worst defensive team in the entire country (ahead of only 2-15 Mississippi Valley State).

The Bulldogs are not good at forcing turnovers, which has also hurt their defensive statistics, as has the fact opponents are shooting free throws at a 73.4% clip (which is simply bad luck). Yes, if you watch a game involving The Citadel, you will probably see both teams have a good night from the foul line, as the Bulldogs themselves are in the top 30 nationally at the charity stripe (74.3%).

Very few teams shoot as well as The Citadel, which is third nationally in three-point field goal percentage (42.2%, behind only Iona and UC-Davis). The Bulldogs have several players who can make the long-distance shot, with freshman Jake Wright probably the team’s best pure shooter (though it must be noted that Marshall Harris is 15-29 from beyond the arc this season).

That is why the turnover bug is so frustrating. Not only does the defense fail to force turnovers at a high enough rate, but the Bulldogs then turn around and throw the ball away much too often on offense. In SoCon play, The Citadel has the highest offensive turnover rate and the lowest defensive turnover rate.

Inevitably, opponents of The Citadel wind up with a significant advantage in terms of shot attempts, due to the turnover differential and the problems the Bulldogs have had on the defensive boards.

It is somewhat curious that The Citadel is actually a solid offensive rebounding team in its own right (in league games, the Bulldogs are third in the conference in offensive rebounding rate). You might think that would translate to the other side of the court, but it has not.

The Citadel is still an above-average offensive squad, despite the turnovers. Imagine how efficient the Bulldogs would be offensively if they could just eliminate some of their turnovers (and reducing live-ball mistakes would also help on defense).

Quick observation: I have been pleased to see an increased presence from the corps of cadets at recent home games. It makes a big difference (as demonstrated by the Wofford game). I think the new commandant deserves some plaudits in that area (as do the cadets themselves).

Next up for the Bulldogs: a stretch of three conference road games, with trips to ETSU, VMI, and Chattanooga. The game against the Mocs will signal the start of the second half of the SoCon campaign.

 

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