McAlister Musings: are the Bulldogs turning the corner?

Links of interest:

Zane Najdawi is the reigning SoCon player of the week for the second time this season

Bulldogs make huge comeback, beat Furman

On January 21, The Citadel was 6-13 overall, 1-6 in the league, and coming off of a very poor game at VMI. Things were not exactly looking up.

Two weeks later, the Bulldogs are 9-14, 4-7 in the league, with four straight encouraging performances, three of which resulted in victories. Birds are singing, and happy days are here again.

What happened? Well, for one thing, Duggar Baucom challenged his squad after the VMI loss, telling them they were “better than that”.

However, there has also been a tactical shift — at least, according to Furman coach Bob Richey:

It’s a totally different team. They are playing totally different.

…At our place, The Citadel played more zone defense, zone pressure back to a a zone. They were trying to out-score you. This team now is taking more pride in their defense, and they are guarding people now.

They change up their defenses, try to keep people on their heels. They’ve shrunk their rotation down, and are playing harder with a lot more belief. Najdawi is as good as any post in the league, and we couldn’t do anything with him. Frierson’s shooting the ball, Harris is shooting it, Frankie (Johnson) is driving it.

Look, they are good. If you ask any of the four coaches they’ve played in the last four games, they’d agree.

 —
Let’s break down the stats to see what Richey is talking about.

Possessions* PPP – TC PPP – Opp FTA/FGA – TC FT% – TC
WCU 86 0.92 0.94 0.46 0.55
@Furman 83 0.81 1.29 0.29 0.50
@Wofford 90 1.02 1.21 0.44 0.58
Samford 87 1.05 1.23 0.26 0.59
UTC 69 1.39 1.28 0.43 0.81
@UNCG 68 0.85 1.06 0.28 0.60
@VMI 81 1.00 1.09 0.38 0.80
@Mercer 68 1.12 1.09 0.26 0.86
ETSU 77 0.92 0.95 0.50 0.85
Wofford 75 1.07 1.04 0.34 0.82
Furman 69 1.28 1.18 0.49 0.73
First 7 80.57 1.01 1.16 0.37 0.63
Last 4 72.25 1.10 1.07 0.40 0.82

* Overtime possessions not counted (this applies to the home games versus UTC and Furman)

  • TC = The Citadel, obviously
  • PPP = Points per possession
  • FTA/FGA = Free throws attempted/field goals attempted
  • FT% = Free throw percentage

I broke down the numbers by totaling the first seven games (WCU through VMI) and the last four (Mercer through Furman).

Clearly the number of possessions have declined as the league campaign has progressed. It is possible that a trend in that direction began when the Bulldogs played Chattanooga, though A) I think the UTC game may have been an outlier due to the Mocs’ depth issues, and B) The Citadel reverted to an 81-possession contest versus VMI two games later.

The slight dialing down of the pace has benefited the Bulldogs on both sides of the court, at least statistically, but I believe The Citadel’s offense has been helped the most. The Bulldogs were not really scoring at a rate that would give them a chance to win most games, but of late that has markedly improved.

Of course, there is a symbiotic relationship between offense and defense in basketball, so it can be hard to say that one element is clearly the beneficiary of a switch in tempo.

One other major positive development, which I have included in the table above, has been the Bulldogs’ vastly improved free throw shooting. If The Citadel had shot from the foul line in its last four games as it did in its first four contests, the Bulldogs would have gone 0-4 in that stretch instead of 3-1.

The other thing to watch when it comes to the charity stripe is the number of opportunities The Citadel gets over the course of a game. This is generally reflected in FTA/FGA numbers (as opposed to raw totals).

The Bulldogs have done a much better job in this area in league play (the non-conference D-1 slate was not kind to them in that respect). They currently lead the SoCon in the category in league-only games.

Conversely, The Citadel is seventh in the conference in defensive FTA/FGA. The Bulldogs need to keep the opponents off the foul line as much as possible.

A few other stats of note (SoCon games only):

  • If you want to see a blocked shot, go watch a game involving The Citadel. Opponents are blocking 13.2% of the Bulldogs’ field goal attempts, most in the league. That isn’t good, but on the bright side The Citadel is blocking 10.1% of its opponents’ shots (third-best in the conference).
  • 53.9% of The Citadel’s field goal attempts in league play have come from three-point land, most in the conference — and that is really saying something, because teams in the SoCon love to hoist up shots from beyond the arc. No league in the country shoots a higher percentage of three-pointers as a whole.
  • The Citadel leads the conference in assist-to-made field goal rate (61.0%). Again, this is another area in which the league in general excels (second-best rate among all conferences).

What should The Citadel’s goal(s) be for the rest of the season?

I think the Bulldogs should aim for a top-6 seed in the league tournament. If a team finishes in the top six in the conference standings, it avoids having to play a first-round game on the first day of the SoCon tournament (which this year is Friday, March 2, in Asheville).

That would be ideal for The Citadel as far as the dream scenario is concerned (shocking the world by winning the tourney). Winning three games in three days is clearly easier than having to win four games in four days. It would also be good from a long-term perspective, as it would be tangible proof that the program is on the rise and will be a factor in the SoCon for the next few years to come.

It won’t be easy, although if the tourney were held on February 7, The Citadel would in fact be the sixth seed. Alas, the tournament doesn’t begin on February 7, and the schedule is not going to be particularly favorable for the Bulldogs down the stretch (only three of the remaining seven conference matchups are at McAlister Field House).

According to kenpom, The Citadel is projected to finish seventh in the SoCon with a 6-12 league record, a full three games behind the projected sixth-place finisher (Mercer). That is a reflection of the schedule, and also what the numbers say about the Bulldogs – namely, that The Citadel is still a bottom 50 team nationally according to the website.

The Bulldogs haven’t played like a bottom 50 team over the last two weeks, however. If they continue to improve (or even just maintain their current level of play), I think there is a solid chance The Citadel could indeed wind up as a top-6 seed.

The Citadel is currently only favored in one of its last seven games (the home game against VMI, which incidentally is going to be the day to Pack the Mac). At a minimum, the Bulldogs need to win three of the seven contests to have a shot at the top six. I suspect the Bulldogs will have to win two of their three home games, and at least one road matchup (if not two), to pull it off.

Winning at Chattanooga on Thursday would be a great way to start the stretch run…

I’ll finish off this post with some random statistics, many of them courtesy of Synergy Sports. Do I really understand all the numbers put out by Synergy Sports? No, I do not. Do I look at them anyway? Yes, I do.

These stats include all games — conference games, non-conference games, even the non-D1 matchups. Most are based on points per possessions (PPP).

  • The Citadel ranks 14th nationally in offensive PPP after timeouts (1.036). Boise State leads the nation in this category (1.09). Other teams in the top 10 include Campbell (2nd), Xavier, Kansas, Villanova, and Purdue.
  • The Bulldogs are not very good at making catch-and-shoot jump shots when guarded (bottom 20 nationally). However, opponents that don’t guard in that situation pay for it. The Citadel is 5th in the country in points per possession when shooting unguarded catch/shoot jumpers, just ahead of Kansas. Leading the world in this category: St. Mary’s.
  • The Citadel remains the shortest team in D-1 (per kenpom), with an “average height” of 74.0 inches.
  • Individuals who rank in the 85th percentile or better nationally in various offensive categories: Matt Frierson (overall PPP, transition scoring, shots off screens, and spot-up shooting), Zane Najdawi (post-up play), Alex Reed (spot-up shooting), Tariq Simmons (isolation), Quayson Williams (shots off screens), and Kaelon Harris (offensive rebound put-backs). Harris also ranks in the 92nd percentile in a category called “Miscellaneous”, which sounds like a we-don’t-know-what-he-did-but-he-somehow-scored kind of thing.
  • The Citadel actually ranks 5th in the nation in half court man-to-man defense, which seems more than a little odd. I’m going to guess that most of the Bulldogs’ man-to-man defending has come against its non-D1 opponents (notable exception: The Citadel extensively employed man-to-man against Wofford in the game at McAlister Field House). For the season, the Bulldogs have played man-to-man in the half-court only 28.6% of the time; as a comparison, Virginia has played half-court man-to-man 99.9% of the time. The two teams that have been truly dominant defensively this season, Cincinnati and UVA, rank 1-2 in this category.
  • The Bulldogs are poor defending plays in out-of-bounds situations along the endlines (1.055 PPP), but are very good defending out-of-bounds plays that originate from the sidelines (0.7 PPP). I don’t really understand why that would be the case.

Okay, that’s enough for now.

Go Dogs!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: