McAlister Musings: The Citadel (and #EmbraceThePace) begins SoCon play

Links of interest:

Preview of the upcoming league campaign from The Post and Courier

School release

– Game notes from the respective schools for The Citadel versus UNC-Greensboro

Duggar Baucom has the Bulldogs “embracing his pace” in Year 2

Game story for The Citadel-Virginia Tech

– Shooting slump? What shooting slump?

SoCon preseason coach’s poll (The Citadel was picked last)

SoCon preseason media poll (The Citadel was picked next-to-last, ahead of VMI)

SoCon weekly release

Three future Bulldogs sign with The Citadel

Game coverage for UNC-Greensboro versus The Citadel:

ESPN3: Kendall Lewis will handle the play-by-play, while Sadath Jean-Pierre provides the analysis

Radio: Mike Legg, the “voice of the Bulldogs”, will call the game on WQSC 98.5 FM/1340 AM

SoCon play begins on Wednesday night. Records for each team in the league entering conference action:

Team Overall Home Away Neutral Streak kenpom rank
UTC 9-3 5-0 3-2 1-1 W1 70
ETSU 9-3 4-1 3-2 2-0 L1 82
UNCG 9-4 6-2 1-2 2-0 L1 159
Samford 8-4 4-2 4-2 0-0 W1 177
Furman 7-6 3-2 4-4 0-0 L1 153
The Citadel 7-6 6-1 1-5 0-0 L2 313
Mercer 5-7 4-2 0-3 1-2 L3 191
Wofford 5-8 4-0 1-5 0-3 L1 219
WCU 4-8 2-2 2-5 0-1 L1 305
VMI 3-8 3-2 0-6 0-0 L1 323

In the kenpom ratings, the SoCon is currently the 19th-ranked conference (out of 32 leagues). It is ranked between C-USA and the Horizon League. This maintains an upward trend for the league, which finished 19th overall in last year’s kenpom ratings after ranking between 25 and 30 in the previous four seasons.

Let’s take a look at The Citadel’s “Four Factors”. Well, I guess I should first give a quick explanation about the Four Factors for anyone not familiar with them.

Dean Oliver is a well-known basketball statistician who has worked for several NBA teams. He wrote the widely praised and highly influential book Basketball on Paper, which included the concept of the Four Factors. Simply put, these are four statistical categories that correlate strongly to winning and losing. They are effective field goal percentage, turnovers per possession, offensive rebounding percentage, and free throws attempted per field goals attempted.

Effective field goal percentage is basically a statistic which adjusts for the fact that a three-point field goal is worth more than a two-point FG. Turnovers per possession and offensive rebounding possessions are rate stats. FTA/FGA is a way to see how effective a team is at getting to the foul line (and how successful it is at making free throws once it gets there).

Here (courtesy of kenpom.com) are The Citadel’s “Four Factors” as of 12/26/16.

Category Offense Off rank Defense Def rank Nat’l avg
Effective FG%: 50.6 154 59.8 347 50.1
Turnover %: 16.7 52 17.7 253 19.2
Off. Reb. %: 28.3 215 34.5 314 29.8
FTA/FGA: 31.6 250 43.2 298 35.2

 

Note: kenpom statistics do not take into account games against non-D1 teams.

There are 351 teams in Division I, so being ranked 347th in defensive eFG% is not too good. Almost all of the Bulldogs’ defensive statistics are subpar.

Of those stats, the one that is most surprising is probably defensive turnover rate. The Citadel finished last season turning over its opponents on slightly over 19% of possessions, which ranked in the top 100 nationally. This year, that percentage is down to a significant degree (in a related development, the Bulldogs’ steal rate has declined as well).

Of course, last year’s numbers include the entire season, while this year’s statistics to date only reflect ten non-conference games (and none of the three contests against non-D1 opponents).

The Citadel only forced eight turnovers against Iowa State (in a 91-possession game), and didn’t have much luck with Arizona State either. The defensive turnover rate was a little better against Virginia Tech.

In the seven D-1 games the Bulldogs have played against non-power 5 teams, here were the turnover rates for The Citadel’s opponents: 21%, 14%, 18%, 22%, 14%, 28%, and 20%. That’s more like it.

Turnover rate isn’t everything, though. The Citadel actually won both of the above-listed games in which its opponent only had a 14% TO rate (Stetson, USC-Upstate). Meanwhile, Campbell turned the ball over at a 28% clip against the Bulldogs — but the Camels prevailed anyway, 97-91.

I also broke down the rest of the Four Factors for those same seven games versus non-P5 teams (in order, those matchups were: at College of Charleston, at Stetson, Presbyterian, Colgate, USC-Upstate, Campbell, at UMBC). The Citadel was 4-3 in those contests, winning at Stetson and against Presbyterian, Colgate, and USC-Upstate.

I think it is worth examining those games in greater detail because they are a better approximation of the level of competition the Bulldogs will be facing in SoCon action. Admittedly, the league appears to be a bit stronger overall than this particular sample size.

For example, the kenpom rankings (as of 12/27/16) for this “group of seven” are as follows: 89, 226, 241, 290, 301, 311, 347

The current kenpom rankings for The Citadel’s nine SoCon opponents: 70, 82, 153, 159, 177, 191, 219, 305, 323

At any rate, here are The Citadel’s Four Factors stats for the seven games in question:

  • Offensive eFG percentage (national average is 50.1%): 35.1%, 59.3%, 66.7%, 62.9%, 52.0%, 50.8%, 46.6%
  • Offensive rebound percentage (national average is 29.8%): 40%, 25%, 35%, 30%, 33%, 30%, 28%
  • Offensive turnover rate (national average is 19.2%): 27%, 10%, 11%, 16%, 14%, 20%, 15%
  • Offensive FTA/FGA rate (national average is 35.2%): 34.3%, 35.8%, 66.7%, 54.8%, 32.9%, 53.3%, 17.3%
  • Defensive eFG percentage (national average is 50.1%): 45.8%, 58.8%, 54.0%, 63.7%, 57.6%, 67.3%, 51.9%
  • Defensive rebound percentage (national average is 70.2%): 64%, 77%, 63%, 56%, 73%, 72%, 65%
  • Defensive turnover rate (national average is 19.2%): 21%, 14%, 18%, 22%, 14%, 28%, 20%
  • Defensive FTA/FGA rate (national average is 35.2%): 71.2%, 46.0%, 43.5%, 15.1%, 34.9%, 50.9%, 61.2%

I listed the defensive turnover rate statistics again, just to have everything included in the bullet points.

Yes, that is a lot of numbers, and some of them can be headache-inducing, but they do tell a story.

The Citadel’s offensive eFG% was better than the national average in six of the seven games — all but the season opener at College of Charleston. Conversely, that game against CofC is the only one of the group in which the Bulldogs’ defensive eFG% was better than the national average.

As far as rebounding is concerned, The Citadel has been respectable on the offensive end of the court, but needs to improve on the defensive glass. Bulldog opponents are getting too many second-shot opportunities, and that has led to a lot of easy baskets.

The rebounding issues partly explain why teams are converting 2-point field goal attempts against The Citadel at an extremely high rate (59.8%; the national average is 48.8%).

One factor that affects the Bulldogs’ ability to rebound is that The Citadel is not a particularly tall team. In terms of “average height”, a kenpom statistic that attempts to determine the size of a team based on minutes allocated to its players, the Bulldogs rank 349th, a full two inches per player below the national average. The only “shorter” teams in D-1 are Alabama A&M and St. Francis of Brooklyn.

In addition, The Citadel is 331st in “effective height”, which is an average of the center and power forward positions. Ken Pomeroy has written that effective height tends to be associated with success in key defensive categories, which makes plenty of sense.

For instance, UCF leads the nation in defensive eFG%. In a related development, the Knights’ starting center is 7’6″ Tacko Fall.

I’ve already discussed The Citadel’s defensive turnover rate. On offense, the Bulldogs have done a good job protecting the ball, aside from the game at CofC and a minor blip against Campbell.

The Citadel has had a few games this season in which it allowed the opponent to shoot too many free throws. As an illustration, just look at that number versus CofC (71.2%!). In that game, College of Charleston attempted almost as many free throws (42) as it did two-point shots from the field (43).

A key factor in the Bulldogs’ 120-111 loss to UMBC was the free throw disparity. The Citadel was 14-18 from the line, while the Retrievers were 37-49.

That’s a 23-point differential for made free throws in a game that went to two overtime periods. It was probably the reason why Duggar Baucom’s face turned an unusual shade of red late in the contest.

Do you need a scorecard when you attend a game at McAlister Field House? Yes, you probably do. The Citadel’s rotation includes at least eleven players for most games, including a bunch of freshmen.

# Name Pos Ht Wt Yr Hometown
0 Preston Parks G 6’1″ 175 Fr. Greenville, SC
1 Frankie Johnson G 5’9″ 150 Fr. Darlington, SC
2 Quayson Williams G 5’11” 170 So. Greensboro, NC
3 Matt Frierson G 6’1″ 150 So. Laurel, MD
4 Ezekiel Balogun F 6’6″ 235 Fr. Lagos, Nigeria
5 Warren Sledge G 6’3″ 180 Sr. Keller, TX
10 Leandro Allende G 6’6″ 190 Fr. Caguas, PR
11 Tom Koopman C 6’8″ 210 Sr. Weert, Holland
12 Chris Ross G 6’2″ 170 Fr. Dallas, TX
21 Bobby Duncan F 6’4″ 210 Gr. Fayetteville, NC
23 Kaelon Harris G 6’4″ 225 Fr. Tulsa, OK
24 Tyler Burgess F 6’7″ 195 Fr. Easley, SC
32 Brian White F 6’8″ 205 Sr. Richmond, VA
35 Zane Najdawi F 6’7″ 205 So. Midlothian, VA
50 Griffin Peevey C 6’7″ 220 Fr. Waco, TX

I’ve watched most of The Citadel’s games on ESPN3, as I’ve only been able to attend one game in person (the matchup against USC-Upstate). My initial impressions of some of the freshmen:

– Frankie Johnson is listed at 5’9″, but he is really about 5’6″. It doesn’t matter; he can play. It was easy to see why Duggar Baucom likes Johnson. To borrow a term from Star Wars, the game seems to go into hyperdrive when Johnson is on the hardwood.

Johnson was a fine high school quarterback. Watching him whip passes across the court, I wondered if Johnson could be a good baseball pitcher as well. Fred Jordan, take note!

– Preston Parks is only shooting 29.2% from three-point land, but he is capable of lighting it up at any time. He made four three-pointers against Presbyterian, five versus USC-Upstate, and six at UMBC.

Parks scored 25 points against USC-Upstate, and was the key player down the stretch in the Bulldogs’ victory over the Spartans. He scored or assisted on 10 of The Citadel’s last 12 points in the contest.

– Kaelon Harris is a broad-shouldered Tulsa resident who isn’t afraid to take the ball to the basket. Harris had 30 points against Arizona State, and 26 versus Stetson.

He needs to work on his free throw shooting (59.7%), particularly because with his style of play, he is going to get a lot of chances to score from the foul line.

– Leandro Allende is a 6’6″ guard who can and will shoot from beyond the arc. He is also capable of competing in the paint, and has the kind of rangy length that can pose problems for teams facing the Bulldogs’ full-court press.

During the game against UMBC, John Feinstein (serving as the analyst on ESPN3) suggested that Allende wasn’t really someone the Bulldogs were counting on to shoot from outside, at least long-term. I have to disagree with Feinstein on that one.

– Ezekiel Balogun is a physical forward from Nigeria. He is a more selective three-point shooter than most of the Bulldogs, but he has made 6 of his 13 tries from three-land this season.

Balogun’s biography on the school website states that he has a 6’11” wingspan and a 36-inch vertical. With that in mind, it is no surprise that Balogun currently leads the Bulldogs in blocked shots per minute played, averaging one block for every 13.3 minutes on the court.

The Citadel has six upperclassmen who see action on a regular basis. Veteran observers are familiar with these players, but I’ll list them here anyway.

– Zane Najdawi leads the Bulldogs in many statistical categories, including points per game (17.9) and rebounds per game (8.2). The sophomore has scuffled offensively in his last two outings, but should be the main focus on that side of the court as The Citadel begins SoCon play.

Najdawi is very good at getting to the foul line. He ranks 17th nationally in fouls drawn per 40 minutes.

– Quayson Williams has scored in double figures in ten of the Bulldogs’ last eleven games. He is shooting 44.7% from three-land in all games. That percentage drops slightly when non-D1 games aren’t considered, to 43.1%, but that is still excellent.

Outside shooting is Williams’ bread and butter — almost 72% of his field goal attempts are trifecta tries.

– Brian White’s offensive output has been inconsistent. He did not score against Presbyterian, Campbell, or College of Charleston (playing only two minutes versus CofC), and made only one field goal against USC-Upstate. On the other hand, White had a big 23 points in the Bulldogs’ victory at Stetson, 20 points versus Colgate, and 21 points at UMBC.

In two of the three high-scoring games mentioned above (along with a 16-point performance against Toccoa Falls), White was able to take — and make — a bunch of three-pointers. From at or near the top of the key, he is very effective from beyond the arc.

For the season, he is shooting 53.1% from three-land. Fifteen of his seventeen made three-point shots this year have come in just three games.

– Warren Sledge leads the team in minutes played. He got off to a rough start this season with his outside shooting, but has now made 11 of his last 23 three-point shots, a good sign heading into the conference campaign.

Sledge’s value to the team does not necessarily show up on the stat sheet, but he is a key contributor who has started every game this season for the Bulldogs.

– Matt Frierson is a three-point specialist in the truest sense of the term. Of his 83 field goal attempts so far this season, 79 have come from beyond the arc.

His current percentage of 32.9% isn’t terrible, but Frierson has been in a bit of a slump. Not counting a 4-for-7 effort versus Campbell, he has only made 4 of his last 30 three-point attempts.

Frierson shot 34.7% from beyond the arc last season, so there is a decent chance that he could begin to heat up from downtown. The Bulldogs could use the extra scoring punch he is capable of providing.

– Tom Koopman generally plays about 7 to 10 minutes per game as a frontcourt reserve. The senior from Holland is a handy guy to have around, soaking up fouls that otherwise might be charged to Najdawi, and occasionally providing a bucket or two as a bonus.

Against USC-Upstate, Koopman scored eight points in just nine minutes. He had seven points in just seven minutes versus Presbyterian.

So far this season, The Citadel has had five games that weren’t decided until the final minute of regulation (or overtime). Expect that trend to continue as the Bulldogs begin their conference campaign.

From the SoCon’s weekly release:

Southern Conference teams played 90 league games during the 2015-16 regular season. Twenty-one games (23 percent) were decided by one possession or went into overtime. In 2015, the league had 23 of 90 (26 percent) conference games decided by one possession.

In 2014, the league had 17 of 88 (19 percent) conference games decided by one possession. In 2013, the league had 30 of 108 (28 percent) conference games decided by one possession. In 2012, the league had 32 of 108 (30 percent) conference games decided by one possession.

The Citadel will play five league games in an eleven-day stretch (three at home), so the next couple of weeks are going to be big ones for the Bulldogs.

– UNC-Greensboro is 9-4 this season, 6-4 versus D-1 competition. The losses have come against Virginia, High Point, Wake Forest, and Georgetown.

The Spartans are led by 6’8″, 255 lb. senior R.J. White, a preseason all-SoCon selection. After UNCG’s loss to Georgetown, Hoyas head coach John Thompson III said that White might have been the best offensive post player GU had faced to this point in the season.

UNCG guard Dionte Baldwin had two good games versus The Citadel last season, with a combined 38 points and 15 assists in the two contests. Baldwin (6’0″, 191 lbs.) is a senior from Greensboro.

The Spartans play at a pace that is a bit below the national average, so the battle for tempo could be interesting.

According to kenpom.com, The Citadel has a 27% chance of defeating UNC-Greensboro. That site projects a final score of 95-89.

Per one source that deals in such matters, UNCG is a 7.5-point favorite, with an over/under of 184.

– Furman (which hosts the Bulldogs on 12/31) is 7-6 overall, 5-6 against D-1 opponents. None of FU’s losses have been by more than six points. The general consensus among league hoops aficionados seems to be that Furman is better than its record indicates.

Preseason all-league pick Devin Sibley (6’2″, 175 lbs.) leads Furman in scoring, at 15.4 points per game. Daniel Fowler (6’4″, 175 lbs.) is also having a solid season for FU thus far.

As is the case with UNC-Greensboro, the Paladins’ pace of play is below the national average. The Citadel has a 9% chance of winning at Furman, per kenpom.com.

– Wofford and The Citadel play in Spartanburg on January 2. The Terriers are 5-8 (as of 12/26), with just two victories against Division I competition.

However, Wofford is still projected to be a middle-of-the-pack team in the Southern Conference. The Terriers are led by preseason all-conference choice Fletcher McGee (6’4″, 194 lbs.).

McGee is averaging 16.1 points per game, and is also shooting 41.4% from three-land. His teammate, Eric Garcia (6’0″, 185 lbs.) is shooting 51.7% from beyond the arc.

Wofford is another SoCon team that likes to dial down the pace. Per kenpom.com, The Citadel has an 18% chance of picking up a road victory.

– On January 5, the Bulldogs host East Tennessee State, one of the two preseason favorites in the SoCon (Chattanooga being the other). ETSU is not afraid to play an uptempo brand of basketball; given that and the Buccaneers’ talent advantage, this could be one of the tougher home games The Citadel will play all season.

T.J. Cromer (6’3″, 195 lbs.) and Hanner Mosquera-Perea (6’9″, 230 lbs.) were both named to the SoCon’s preseason all-league squad.

Cromer had two good games against The Citadel last season, including the Bucs’ 101-92 OT win at McAlister Field House. He is averaging 17.3 points per game this season.

Mosquera-Perea is a transfer from Indiana (where he played for three seasons). The native of Colombia is described on ETSU’s website as “possibly the most highly decorated recruit in program history”.

East Tennessee State also added four new junior-college transfers to its roster. The Citadel has a 12% chance of defeating the Buccaneers, according to kenpom.com.

– Two days after ETSU’s trip to Charleston, VMI will make an appearance at The Citadel. The Keydets are currently 3-8, with only one D-1 victory (against Charleston Southern).

Q.J. Peterson (6’0″, 185 lbs.) is back for one more season in Lexington. The preseason all-SoCon pick led the league in scoring last season, and is averaging 18.5 points per game so far this year.

VMI actually plays at the third-fastest pace in the conference, slightly above the national average. Kenpom.com’s projection gives The Citadel a 69% chance of beating the Keydets, which is nice.

The Citadel certainly faces a challenging start to its league campaign. It would not be shocking if the Bulldogs struggle out of the gate in SoCon play.

That said, I think The Citadel is going to be better this year than last. There is a chance the Bulldogs could be a very tough out for their opponents, particularly as the season progresses.

I would encourage anyone who enjoys basketball to make an effort to see The Citadel in person. The Bulldogs may look fast on TV (or online), but it can be hard to fully grasp the pace of the game they play unless you are in the arena.

It is a fun brand of hoops (especially when The Citadel is making shots).

I look forward to seeing a few more games up close myself. I’m also hopeful the Bulldogs will pull out a few more wins this season.

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