McAlister Musings: SoCon play begins for The Citadel

Previous entries in this (sort of) series:

Time to #EmbraceThePace as the season begins for The Citadel

My post from last April on the hiring of Duggar Baucom

Links of interest:

The Duggar Baucom Show [December 17 edition]

Game notes for the game versus Chattanooga

Article from Fox Sports on the “Pacemaker”

The Citadel enters league play with a 7-6 overall record, 4-6 versus Division I competition. The non-conference slate was manageable, for the most part (well, maybe not the Butler game), and that helped in the win-loss department.

It should be noted, however, that the Bulldogs’ four non-conference victories over D1 squads matched the total number of such wins The Citadel had in the previous three seasons — combined.

Two of those triumphs (Bethune-Cookman and USC-Upstate) came on the road, and a third (Georgia Southern) took place at a neutral site. Considering that just two years ago the Bulldogs went an entire season without a road victory, those wins are most welcome, regardless of the level of competition.

The pace of play has been largely as advertised. The Citadel has an adjusted tempo (per kenpom.com) of 82.5 possessions per game, which currently leads the nation. If that statistic were to hold up over the course of the season, it would be the fastest pace for a Duggar Baucom team since his 2006-07 VMI squad averaged 90.1 possessions (adjusted) per contest. (That Keydet team remains the only D1 outfit since at least 2002 to average more than 90 possessions per game.)

Things the Bulldogs have done well so far this season (stats from the 3 games against non-D1 teams are not included):

  • Effective FG rate: at 52.2%, The Citadel currently ranks 74th nationally (2nd in the SoCon)
  • Free throw shooting: the Bulldogs are shooting 76.5% from the charity stripe, 13th-best in Division I
  • 2-point FG%: The Citadel is 12th nationally in this category (57.1%)
  • Turnover rate: actually, the Bulldogs are perfectly average in turnover rate, but considering how terrible The Citadel has been in turnover prevention in recent seasons, that’s a dramatic improvement

Things the Bulldogs have not done well so far this season:

  • Defensive efficiency, which is 4th-worst in all of Division I; one of the three teams worse than the Bulldogs is Stetson, one of the four D1 teams The Citadel has beaten
  • Reasons for the poor defensive efficiency include: effective FG rate (2nd-worst in D1); 2-point FG% (worst in D1); defensive rebounding (bottom 50 nationally); opponents’ free throw rate (bottom 25 nationally)
  • The offensive rebounding hasn’t been good either (bottom 50 nationally), and neither has the offensive free throw rate (bottom 25 nationally)
  • Somewhat disconcertingly, the Bulldogs have allowed opponents a higher-than-expected steal rate (bottom 100 nationally)

Some of the issues that The Citadel has had were expected. The Bulldogs are collectively one of the shorter teams in Division I, and so rebounding was always going to be a problem. Also, Duggar Baucom’s system does not lend itself to good rebounding numbers in general (particularly on the defensive side of the ball).

The number that sticks out the most as unacceptable, at least to me, is the opponents’ free throw rate.

Regardless of the style of play a team employs, getting to the line matters — and so does preventing the opponent from doing likewise. I can remember watching games on TV involving Indiana, and Billy Packer always having the statistic at the ready that Bob Knight’s Hoosiers would have “made more free throws than their opponents had attempted”.

Well, The Citadel is on the wrong side of that statistic. Against D1 teams, the Bulldogs have attempted 188 free throws, while their opponents have made 213 shots from the foul line.

In other words, the average team The Citadel has played this season has basically gone to the foul line on a per-possession basis as much as the elite IU teams from the 1970s and 1980s. That isn’t good.

It hurts the Bulldogs in another way, too. All those free throws result in constant stoppages in play, and that runs counter to The Citadel’s “embrace the pace” philosophy. It’s hard to run the other team out of the gym if it gets to rest every minute or so, and score points with the clock stopped.

In The Citadel’s last two games (both losses), Bulldog opponents combined to shoot 74 free throws.

Going back through Duggar Baucom’s career, opponents’ free throw rate has rarely been a serious problem. The current rate would be by far the highest allowed by one of his teams since he became a head coach. That is something that must be fixed as The Citadel begins its conference campaign.

Speaking of the SoCon, the Bulldogs’ first opponent is the favorite to win the league, and has had some impressive non-conference results. Chattanooga is 11-2, with victories over Georgia, Illinois, and Dayton. All three of those wins under first-year head coach Matt McCall came away from home.

Per kenpom.com, Chattanooga has an 82% probability of winning the game against The Citadel (with a projected scoreline of 93-81).

Preseason SoCon player of the year pick Casey Jones has missed the last five games for the Mocs due to an ankle injury, but UTC managed to beat Dayton without him. Justin Tuoyo was a major force for the Mocs in last year’s game at McAlister Field House (14 points, 9 rebounds, 6 blocks); I would expect the 6’10” junior to be a problem for the Bulldogs again on Saturday.

The contest will be streamed on ESPN3 and will also be broadcast in Charleston on WQNT-AM 1450 radio (1 pm ET tip time).

After the game against Chattanooga, The Citadel will travel to Alabama to face Samford on Tuesday night before returning home for a Saturday afternoon matchup with Mercer.

The “real” season starts now.

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