Recognition Day at The Citadel: a report from campus

This past Saturday was Recognition Day at The Citadel. What is Recognition Day? From the school’s press release:

For freshmen, known on campus as knobs, Recognition Day marks the end of the highly regimented way of life that is The Citadel’s Fourth Class System, recognized as one of the toughest college military-training systems in the country.

The day begins at sunrise and includes hours of rigorous physical training tests and drills which are overseen by the regimental staff and the Commandant of Cadets. Those activities include an obstacle course nicknamed The Gauntlet, which will be set up on Summerall Field and will get underway at 10:30 a.m. It will be followed by one of the most iconic sights in Charleston – the Recognition Day March to Marion Square. The march begins at 3 p.m. at the college’s main gate. The freshmen will proceed in formation down Moultrie St., turning right on King St. to Marion Square, which was the college’s original parade ground in the mid-1800s.

A few years ago, Recognition Day underwent what might be called a “format change”. This has led to a fair amount of discussion on various social media outlets.

Normally there wouldn’t be any particular reason for me to be on campus during Recognition Day. However, several people suggested to me that I ought to see what the “new” Recognition Day was all about.

I arrived on campus early Saturday morning, and then observed the activities that make up ‘The Gauntlet’. I didn’t watch the march to Marion Square. Instead, I went to the baseball game at Riley Park (The Citadel beat Wofford 4-3, with a fantastic game-saving catch by centerfielder Clay Martin playing a major role in the victory).

Prior to “The Gauntlet” (which began at roughly 10:30 am), the freshmen went on an early-morning PT run, then were instructed in “leadership training” classes held in various buildings. After ‘The Gauntlet’, they went on yet another run across campus, then went back to the barracks, did the traditional pushups (I don’t know the exact number; maybe 118?), and then finally heard the announcement that all graduates still remember fondly: “The fourth-class system is no longer in effect.”

I’m an old goat, so my own Recognition Day was almost three decades ago. Afterwards, I mentally compared yesteryear to this year.

  • Was my Recognition Day different from this past Saturday? Yes.
  • Was my Recognition Day tougher than this past Saturday? No.
  • Was my Recognition Day more purposeful than this past Saturday? No.
  • Was my Recognition Day better than this past Saturday? No.

My general takeaway from Saturday’s events was that, on the whole, it’s a well-conceived way to end the fourth-class system in a given year. I think some alums have misgivings based on the fact that Recognition Day now actually has more order to it, but I believe the current well-structured setup is a good thing.

Again, the “modern” Recognition Day has a sense of purpose to it that hasn’t always been the case in prior years. Perhaps some might disagree, but I don’t really buy the notion that the point of Recognition Day is for freshmen to suffer some kind of physical abuse and/or to be demeaned in some fashion. In my opinion, those types of activities are unnecessary and largely counter-productive.

I remember several things about my own Recognition Day. One distinct memory: as we were lining up for the afternoon parade that immediately preceded the final burst of lunacy, a sophomore took the butt of his rifle and smacked it against my breastplate, leaving a large concave indentation.

I suppose I was lucky that the only thing that stayed concave was the breastplate.

At any rate, it didn’t enhance my experience at The Military College of South Carolina. It didn’t teach me a lesson about leadership, or provide an opportunity for team-building, or improve my physical fitness.

There are two other aspects of the “new” Recognition Day I want to mention. One is not really that big a deal; the other strikes me as more problematic.

Recognition Day is now held in early April, instead of just before Graduation Day. I think this is probably a good idea. From an academic perspective, ending the fourth-class system before final exams isn’t a bad thing at all.

Also, I would suspect that most upperclassmen are just as ready for recognition to take place as the freshmen are. Back in the day, even the most “moto” sophomores and juniors weren’t as enthused about challenging freshmen once spring break was over. Besides, during exams the knobs were always “at ease” anyway.

However, I am still coming to grips with Recognition Day’s now public nature. When I was in school, the idea that friends and family could watch you during Recognition Day events…well, there was no such idea.

Before arriving, I was a little worried that parents would show up in full-on cheerleading mode, with accompanying signage, etc. Thankfully, I didn’t see anything like that.

In terms of the audience and its relationship to the festivities, it was a lot like a parade. My (possibly faulty) estimation was that about 1,500 people showed up to watch Recognition Day activities (with ‘The Gauntlet’ being held on Summerall Field for four of the battalions, and on WLI Field for the other).

The crowd included parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, girlfriends, a few random alums, and at least two dozen dogs. Also in attendance: AD Jim Senter and new hoops coach Duggar Baucom, watching the action together.

I believe the unrestricted access for viewing the proceedings is unfortunate. Ideally, Recognition Day would be by the corps of cadets, for the corps of cadets, and mostly include just the corps of cadets.

At times, I felt like a voyeur — and I’m a graduate who had experienced Recognition Day as a participant.

I had a great deal of sympathy for the cadets who were really struggling. Not only were they going through something very difficult, but they were doing it in front of their families, and (I think this is important) other people’s families.

As a cadet, I wouldn’t have liked that at all. As an alumnus, I don’t like it now.

There is another side to the argument, of course. After it was all over, I expressed some reservations. I mentioned that I wouldn’t have enjoyed my mother attending Recognition Day, and that I didn’t think she would have wanted to be there either.

I was respectfully but firmly challenged on that line of thinking by a mother of a current freshman. She told me she was very glad to be there, and would have been unhappy not to have the opportunity.

One thing I sometimes forget (perhaps because I don’t have children) is that when a high school senior elects to go to The Citadel, he or she isn’t alone in being affected by that decision. In a certain way, the entire family goes to The Citadel.

For some families, it has been a long first year. In that sense, Recognition Day is important for them too.

When I think about it that way, it makes me a little more understanding. I feel a little better about the situation.

I am still not a big fan of “public” Recognition Day, but I can accept it. The bottom line is that it doesn’t detract from the accomplishments of the freshmen.

Also, it’s not going to change anytime soon. You will excuse the cynic in me for noting that the gift shop sold a lot of folding chairs on Saturday.

One final observation:

I didn’t watch the freshmen march to Marion Square on Saturday, because it conflicted with the baseball game (and you know which event I was going to attend). However, the march is an inspired addition to Recognition Day. The individual who came up with that idea should take a bow.

An aspect to the march which I particularly like is that it further connects the college with the city.

Congratulations to the Class of 2018. Just remember, you have three years left, and they aren’t easy ones. That said, you’ve accomplished one major goal. Well done.

Below are some pictures, most of which (as usual) aren’t very good. For much better photos, I recommend the work of Russ Pace and company.

I threw in a few non-Recognition Day shots at the beginning; the final picture is a nod to another day of note at The Citadel.

 

Duggar Baucom is The Citadel’s new hoops coach. Is he the right choice?

Links of interest:

School release

Article on Duggar Baucom’s hiring from The Post and Courier

Video report from WCIV-TV (with additional interview of Duggar Baucom)

Video report from WCSC-TV (with additional interviews of Duggar Baucom, Jim Senter, and Quinton Marshall)

On Monday, The Citadel hired Duggar Baucom as its new head basketball coach. Baucom is 54 years old, and a bit of a late bloomer in the coaching profession.

His story has been chronicled many times. To sum it up as succinctly as possible:

Baucom was a police officer, then a state trooper. He suffered a heart attack at age 30 that caused him to change careers, eventually going back to school and graduating from UNC Charlotte. Baucom worked as an assistant basketball coach at various colleges (starting as a GA under Bob McKillop at Davidson).

He got his first college head coaching gig at D-2 Tusculum, winning 37 games in two years there and parlaying that into the VMI job. In his second year in Lexington, Baucom decided (by necessity, he would say) to operate the dramatically uptempo style that would give him national notoriety.

After a decade at VMI, he is now in Charleston, charged with improving the hardwood fortunes of another military school. Baucom is a surfer and golf aficionado who is about to enjoy life on the coast, and with a little more cash in his pocket (an increase in salary of over $40,000 per year).

More than twenty years ago, I was talking to an assistant basketball coach at The Citadel when the subject of Loyola Marymount’s 1990 hoops squad came up. That was the year the Lions advanced to the Elite Eight after the death of star player Hank Gathers, a run that included a mesmerizing 149-115 obliteration of defending national champion Michigan.

LMU was coached at the time by Paul Westhead, who employed a run-and-gun style called “The System”. The result was an incredible scoring machine of a team, one that in 1990 averaged 122.4 points per contest, still the all-time Division I record. Earlier that same season, the Lions had lost an overtime game in Baton Rouge to LSU by a final score of 148-141 (the game was tied at 134 at the end of regulation), a simply astonishing game that had to be seen to be believed.

Those were fun games to watch. I asked the coach whether or not he thought that style would become more prevalent.

“I hope it doesn’t,” he said. “I think it reduces the importance of coaching.”

Duggar Baucom, it is safe to say, has a different point of view. From an article written two years ago:

“Coaches are a lot more control freaks than they’ve ever been,” says Baucom, which is not a complaint you hear very often from a coach at a school [VMI] that claims to foster “punctuality, order, discipline, courtesy, and respect for authority.”

“I call ‘em joystick coaches,” Baucom tells me. “They try to orchestrate every movement instead of letting ‘em play. It becomes kind of like a wrestling match. There’s teams in [the Big South] that run 20 seconds of false motion to get the shot clock down, and then run a set. I watch some teams play and it looks like the kids are in jail.”

Under Baucom, VMI led the nation in scoring in six of the last nine seasons. The Keydets were the last D-1 team to average over 100 points per game over a full season, doing so during the 2006-2007 campaign.

Can he recreate that kind of offense at The Citadel? More importantly, can he consistently win at The Citadel?

The answers to those two questions, in my opinion:

1) He might be able to produce an explosive offensive team, but it depends in part on the overall point-scoring climate of D-1 hoops, something which he obviously doesn’t control. Right now, averaging over 100 points per game over the course of a season is almost impossible due to the current state of the college game.

2) Baucom can consistently win games at The Citadel, but only if his teams’ historic defensive statistics significantly improve.

My statistical look at Baucom’s career at VMI encompasses his last nine seasons with the Keydets. I chose not to include the 2005-06 campaign, his first year as head coach. That season (in which VMI went 7-20), he had not yet installed the “loot and shoot” offense (that happened the following year). Baucom also missed 12 games in 2005-06 after complications arose during an operation to replace his pacemaker.

Year W-L LG Adj. O Adj. D Poss/gm Nat’l avg
2007 10-19 5-9 110 331 90.9 66.9
2008 10-15 6-8 126 331 79.2 67.0
2009 20-8 13-5 107 280 80.9 66.5
2010 6-19 5-13 195 346 84.2 67.3
2011 14-13 10-8 50 340 75.6 66.7
2012 14-16 8-10 180 311 73.6 66.1
2013 11-17 8-8 172 331 71.1 65.9
2014 18-13 11-5 90 306 74.7 66.4
2015 9-19 7-11 295 260 77.1 64.8

The win-loss column reflects Division I games only. “LG” refers to league games, all in the Big South with the exception of the 2014-15 season, VMI’s first in its return to the SoCon.

The “Adj. O” and “Adj. D” columns represent VMI’s national rank in adjusted offense and adjusted defense, per kenpom.com. “Poss/gm” refers to possessions per game, with “Nat’l avg” the national average in possessions per game for that particular season.

One of the things that interested me when I reviewed these numbers was that the “frenzied style” used by VMI wasn’t really quite as frenzied as advertised, at least when compared to years past. It is an indictment of the way the game is played today that 77.1 possessions per game would be enough to lead the nation in that category, but that’s exactly what the Keydets did last season.

In 1989-1990, 16% of the teams ranked in the final AP poll averaged more than 80 possessions per contest. That’s just the ranked teams, mind you — there were many other squads playing at that pace (though none matched Loyola Marymount’s 103 possessions per game, then and now a staggering total).

These numbers don’t include non-D1 games, a non-conference scheduling staple of Baucom’s tenure at VMI (as they are for many other low-major programs, of course). VMI regularly played three or four NAIA/D2 schools each season.

Looking at the results of those matchups, I wondered if Baucom scheduled some of the teams in part because they were willing to run up and down the court with the Keydets. There weren’t any Wimp Sanderson types opposing VMI in these games, that’s for sure.

VMI had a 116-possession game during the 2007-2008 season against Southern Virginia, a 144-127 Keydet victory that must have been fascinating to watch, if only from an academic perspective. Incidentally, that’s the same number of possessions (in regulation) that occurred during the famed LMU-LSU game in 1990 I referenced above.

Starting in the 2006-2007 season, here are the points scored by VMI against non-D1 foes: 156, 144, 135, 125, 135, 156, 112, 123, 118, 133, 113, 113, 111, 108, 99, 99, 106, 120, 94, 151, 101, 109, 122, 116, 102, 110, 121, 112, 110, 128, 124, and 133.

That is one reason why I didn’t concentrate on yearly scoring averages when reviewing the overall statistical record.

The 2006-2007 season may have been Baucom’s Platonic ideal in terms of pace of play. VMI averaged over 90 possessions per game (the only D-1 team to do that over the course of an entire season since at least 2002). Beginning on January 10, 2007, VMI embarked on a 13-game stretch against Division I competition in which its point totals were as follows: 104, 116, 97, 102, 103, 117, 96, 99, 105, 102, 107, 108, and 92.

Alas, the Keydets only won five of those thirteen games.

That last loss, 109-92 to High Point, was the final game of the regular season. Then a funny thing happened. VMI dialed down its pace of play to more “normal” levels, started playing a sagging zone defense, and promptly won consecutive games in the Big South tournament, beating two teams (Liberty and High Point) that had swept the Keydets during the regular season.

In the conference title game, VMI continued to slow things down, and wound up narrowly losing to Winthrop (84-81).

Maybe that led to a slight adjustment by Baucom in the years to follow. I don’t know.

It’s possible, though, that he infused his philosophical approach to hoops with a dose of practicality. VMI didn’t approach the 90-possession plateau after that season, with its highest per-game rate since then being 84.2 in 2009-2010, a year in which the Keydets only won six D-1 contests.

The success in that 2007 Big South tournament was not a fluke. While VMI never won the tourney under Baucom, the Keydets generally fared well in the event during his time in Lexington (making the final three times), a marked contrast to The Citadel’s continued struggles in the SoCon tournament.

With a little luck, Baucom may well have led VMI to the tourney title at least once. He had a very good record in tournament play when the Keydets hosted a game or were playing at a neutral site. Most of the time, VMI only lost in the Big South tournament when it had to play on an opponent’s home floor.

VMI’s record in the Big South tournament, 2007-2014

  • Home (3-0)
  • Neutral (6-1)
  • Road (1-7)

The Keydets lost the aforementioned 2007 Big South final to Winthrop in Rock Hill; lost the following year to Liberty in Lynchburg; lost at Radford in the 2009 Big South title game; lost games in Conway to Coastal Carolina in 2010, 2011, and 2014; and lost the 2012 final to UNC-Asheville at Kimmel Arena in Asheville.

Since it appears the Southern Conference tournament is going to remain in Asheville for the next few years, The Citadel needs to make sure UNC-Asheville is not allowed to join the league.

In 2007, VMI finished 331st nationally in adjusted defense. Only six teams in all of D-1 were worse on defense (in terms of points per possession, and further adjusted for schedule) than the Keydets.

That began a pattern under Baucom. He produced high-scoring teams generally better-than-average in terms of offensive efficiency, but saddled with defenses that were not very good, even taking into account pace of play.

Two years later, the Keydets won 20 D-1 games, including a memorable 111-103 victory over Kentucky at Rupp Arena. Surprisingly, VMI’s successful campaign occurred despite having a below-average defense (280th out of 344 D-1 squads).

The win over Kentucky (which came in the season opener) was a 93-possession game, the most possessions in any of VMI’s games that season against D-1 opponents. The Wildcats decided they could run with the Keydets. That was a mistake.

The following season, VMI was the second-worst defensive outfit in the country, and the record reflected it. The Keydets would continue to be a bottom-50 team in adjusted defense every year until last season, when the team finished a slightly more respectable 260th (out of 351 D-1 teams).

In case you were wondering, The Citadel’s defensive efficiency was better than VMI’s in five of those nine seasons. This past season, of course, the Bulldogs were the worst defensive squad in the country.

While the Keydets were never a good defensive rebounding team under Baucom, they also struggled for several years on the offensive glass. However, in the last three seasons, there was a distinct improvement in offensive rebounding percentage.

  • VMI’s national rank in offensive rebounding percentage by year, 2007-2012: 232, 254, 320, 326, 264, 303
  • VMI’s national rank in offensive rebounding percentage by year, 2013-2015: 150, 136, 131

I don’t know if there was a concerted effort to get better in that area, or if the increased offensive rebounding totals are simply a product of changing personnel.

I tend to agree with those who believe that for The Citadel to be successful in hoops, it needs to be different. The Bulldogs either need to use a patterned, deliberate style (such as the “Princeton offense”), or do the exact opposite and run-and-gun for forty minutes. Pick an extreme, and gravitate to it.

While I’ve been critical of the current state of college hoops, with its clutching and grabbing and incessant timeouts, that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a slower-paced game, especially when it is of high quality. I was a big fan of Ed Conroy’s teams. This past season, I enjoyed watching Tony Bennett’s Virginia squad, which played a muscular-but-skillful brand of basketball.

If anything, I thought The Citadel would be best served “going slow”. Clearly, Jim Senter had other ideas.

Part of his reasoning, I’m sure, is about the box office. He wants more people in the seats, and probably figures that a perpetual scoreboard explosion is a good way to attract curious onlookers to McAlister Field House.

With that in mind, Baucom will have more on his plate than just coaching the team. He has to sell his program to the local community, and to the corps of cadets as well.

As far as the local scene is concerned, this may not be a bad time to make a renewed effort to attract fans, with College of Charleston scuffling a bit, still trying to find its way with a relatively new coach and league. There is plenty of room for both of the college basketball teams in the city, but becoming the lead hoops story in town wouldn’t hurt any.

Regarding the corps, I was encouraged by this season’s cadet presence. It can still get better, and I think it will. There is momentum on that front.

Baucom might also consider reaching out to some of the more recent graduates from the basketball program. Several of them were hoping that former assistant coach Doug Novak would get the job, and were understandably disappointed when that didn’t happen.

I’ve seen a couple of criticisms of Baucom’s preferred style of play that I wanted to quickly discuss, mainly because I think both are misguided.

1) This style of basketball is just a “roll the balls out” type of coaching, or non-coaching

I think an actual “roll the balls out” coach would be a very static, middle-of-the-road operator. He certainly wouldn’t be interested in pressing, trapping defense, or approaching the game from a mathematical point of view:

“Its basketball inflation,” Baucom said. “The more possessions we can create the less value they have. We’re trying to get more shots than the other team, force more turnovers, get offensive boards. The key is passing and catching and spacing.”

2) This style of basketball is at odds with The Citadel’s institutional history

Honestly, I don’t get this at all. I guess the argument is that it is undisciplined basketball, but I don’t think that’s true. At its very core, it seems to me that it requires a great deal of discipline. To be conditioned well enough to play this way takes discipline. To never take a play off while on the court takes discipline. To get in the proper defensive position while pressing takes discipline.

The best argument against Baucom’s style of play, in my opinion, is that it may be difficult to recruit players who can flourish in his system.

I think it’s possible that one reason Baucom’s teams never approached the 90-possession days of 2006-2007 in subsequent seasons was that the coach realized he didn’t “have the horses” to run quite that fast and still win games. If so, I believe that presents a potential issue.

That’s because I believe the best chance for this system to work at The Citadel is if it is stretched to its natural limit. In other words, if the team is going to play this way, it needs to strive for 90+ possessions per game on a regular basis.

Instead of having a possession differential when compared to the rest of the country of between six and twelve possessions per game (as was the case for VMI over the last five seasons), The Citadel should have a possession differential of between fifteen and twenty possessions per game. That’s the best way, employing this system, for the program to become an upper-echelon Southern Conference outfit. It’s the best way, employing this system, for the Bulldogs to win the league.

To do that, though, The Citadel has to bring in players capable of handling that pace and doing the things that have to be done to win games. Rebounding, three-point shooting, superior point guard play, the ability to defend — those elements are requirements if the team is going to be successful.

Of course, that’s true regardless of how fast or slow a team plays. It seems to me, though, that a higher level of athleticism is needed to play at a supercharged pace.

I think back to that 1989-1990 Loyola Marymount squad. LMU wasn’t exactly the “little engine that could”. It may have been an upstart program from the West Coast Conference, but the Lions had two NBA-caliber players, Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble. Both were transfers, having been originally recruited to play for Southern Cal by George Raveling, one of the great basketball talent evaluators of his era.

Also on that LMU team: an elite college jump shooter (Jeff Fryer) and a better-than-you-realized rebounder/post defender (Per Stumer, who played professionally in Europe for over a decade). Backup point guard Terrell Lowery later played major league baseball. Yes, that team had some great athletes.

Can the Bulldogs’ new coach bring in the talent necessary to win this way? That’s the big question. One thing is for certain, he’s not wasting any time. On the day Baucom was introduced at The Citadel, he got a commitment from a 6’7″ sharpshooter from Virginia.

I don’t know if The Citadel can win playing racehorse basketball, but we’re about to find out.

I’ll be watching with interest when next season rolls around. We all will…