The Sports Arsenal

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.

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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)

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):

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).

Okay, that’s enough for now.

Go Dogs!