New year, new hoops post

Conference play goes into high gear starting on Wednesday with the Bulldogs’ trip to Boone to face Appalachian State, followed by a matchup at McAlister with the College of Charleston on Saturday.  The next week will feature more road action as the Bulldogs make the western swing through the league, taking on UT-Chattanooga on the 14th and Samford on the 16th.

The Citadel is .500 right now no matter how you look at it, at 7-7 overall, 1-1 in the SoCon.  Last year at this time The Citadel was 6-7 overall, 1-1 in the league.

Facts, observations, etc.:

– The Citadel’s starting lineup against Savannah State included no players hailing from east of the Mississippi River, which is decidedly unusual (if not unprecedented).

– Zach Urbanus is averaging 35. 7 minutes per game, which is in the top 25 nationally.  I worry a little about him and Cameron Wells (34.1 mpg) wearing down over the course of the season, but they logged major minutes last season too, and it didn’t seem to bother them.

– Bulldog opponents have shot better from 40% from three-point land on four occasions.  The Citadel has lost all four of those games.

– The Citadel’s game notes for the Appalachian State game include the statistic that the Bulldogs are 14th nationally in fouls committed per game, at 15.0 per contest.  However, the flip side to that is The Citadel’s opponents have only committed two more fouls than the Bulldogs (212-210).

– The fouling statistics are really just a function of The Citadel’s pace of play.  At 62.3 possessions per game, the Bulldogs are among the ten slowest-playing teams in Division I.

– So while The Citadel is 22nd nationally in fewest turnovers per game, it is actually 103rd in D-1 in terms of turnover rate (which is still not bad; it’s about where the Bulldogs were last season).

– Let’s talk about offensive rebounding for a moment.  The Citadel has struggled at times on the boards this season, and it’s mainly attributable to the Bulldogs not getting their fair share of offensive rebounds.

Joe Wolfinger has 25 offensive boards this season.  Now, that leads the team, but on the other hand, Wolfinger has played 339 minutes so far; he’s averaging one offensive board every 13.5 minutes on the floor.  Bryan Streeter has 18 offensive rebounds in 255 minutes (one every 14.2 minutes).

Those are the guys you would expect to get the majority of the offensive caroms, and they have — but on a per-minute basis, they haven’t been as effective as Ed Conroy might like.  Nobody on the team is actually bringing in an exceptional percentage of offensive rebounds (the best per-minute performer in the category is Mike Groselle, who in limited time has grabbed one every 9.1 minutes).

This is where the Bulldogs really miss John Brown.  Last season Brown had an excellent offensive rebounding campaign, averaging one such board every 9.9 minutes (and he played 537 minutes).  At least one member of the current edition of the Bulldogs needs to repeat (or at least approach repeating) that effort — either that or The Citadel has to significantly increase its shooting percentage, which is unlikely.

– Wolfinger is shooting 44.2% from the floor, but he’s under 40% against Division I competition.  He has only had four games this season in which he has shot better than 50% from the field — against Kenyon, UVA-Wise, Missouri State, and Maryland-Eastern Shore.

Wolfinger has struggled in the two SoCon games.  Here is hoping that he gets better as the second half of the season begins, both offensively and defensively.  He could still be a key cog in the rotation, but perhaps not as an offensive focal point.

– Although Wolfinger is a 7-footer, the Bulldog who appears most comfortable as an offensive post player is Groselle, who suffered an ankle injury that limited his time on the court the last few weeks.  If healthy, I would not be surprised if Groselle’s minutes increase markedly as the season progresses.

– Another freshman, Harrison DuPont, got his first career start against Savannah State (as part of the all-Western starting lineup) and shows potential to be an impact player.  He has played 30+ minutes in each of the last two games, scoring 14 points against Houston and 11 against Savannah State.  He had six turnovers against Houston, but other than that did well in both games, shooting better than 50% from the field and picking up a few rebounds along the way.

– In nine games as a starter, Austin Dahn shot 15.6% from three-point land.  In five games coming off the bench, he is shooting 47.8% from beyond the arc.  Advantage, Ed Conroy.

– Bryan Streeter also has some improved statistics after being switched from the starting lineup.  His rebounding rates have almost doubled.  His free throw shooting has even improved (albeit that’s a very small sample size).

Streeter is shooting 58.8% from the line so far this season (and was 5-6 against Savannah State).  That may not seem impressive, but it’s a big change for the better when compared to last season, when Streeter only made 16 free throws in 44 attempts (36.4%).

The upcoming league games will be tough, considering three are on the road and the one home game is against the College of Charleston, which beat North Carolina on Monday night. Last season The Citadel was a combined 5-2 against the four teams.

The Bulldogs swept Appalachian State in two tight games (one in OT, the other by two points).  The Citadel also swept the College of Charleston in two contests, neither of which was particularly close, something the Cougars will surely remember.

The Citadel lost at home to UT-Chattanooga, and had a disappointing split with Samford — disappointing in the sense that while Charleston’s Bulldogs dominated the Birmingham Bulldogs in the regular-season matchup at Samford, in the conference tourney quarterfinals Samford put a quick end to The Citadel’s championship hopes.

The SoCon looks to be very competitive this season, with a lot of evenly-matched teams.  The Citadel’s 7-7 overall record is in line with the records of its next four opponents, which have current records of 7-6 (Appy), 8-6 (UTC), 8-6 (CofC), and 6-8 (Samford).  Other conference teams with similar records:  Davidson (7-8), Furman (7-6), and Wofford (8-7).  On the other hand,  Western Carolina  is 11-2 (with a win at Louisville) while Elon, Georgia Southern, and UNC-Greensboro are a combined 8-33.

I’m hoping for an entertaining conference race.  My definition of entertaining is one in which The Citadel is in or near the lead…

Highlights from five games at McAlister

I’m going to discuss the actual basketball played by The Citadel over the past week and a half, including some statistics.  Before I do that, though, I’m going to mention some other statistics…about officials.

On Monday night The Citadel hosted Michigan State at McAlister Field House.  It was good of Tom Izzo to honor a commitment to play the game in Charleston (West Virginia decided to buy its way out of a trip), but I’m guessing he did ask for some big-time officials to work the game, just to make sure that the lead referee wasn’t General Rosa’s brother or something.  That’s fine, and as a result the game was officiated by Karl Hess, Jamie Luckie, and Mike Wood.

If you follow college basketball at all, you probably recognize those names, because they are on television all the time, working games from coast to coast.  They’re certainly on TV more than The Citadel (the MSU game will be the only nationally televised game this season to feature the Bulldogs). 

Mike Wood has actually worked five games in Charleston so far this season, a bit of an oddity.  He called three games at the Charleston Classic, and then worked the Thursday night game between Davidson and The Citadel.  Wood has called two games involving Davidson and two involving Penn State, and all four games were played in Charleston.  He probably did a lot of Christmas shopping on King Street, but he didn’t do any the weekend between the Davidson and MSU games. 

No, on the Saturday after the Davidson game Wood worked the Arkansas Pine Bluff-Michigan game in Ann Arbor; he then flew to Tallahassee to call the Florida International-Florida State game on Sunday before venturing back to Charleston.  The game between the Spartans and Bulldogs was Wood’s 19th of the season.

Wood actually hasn’t worked as many games as either of his Monday night colleagues.  Both Karl Hess and Jamie Luckie were working their 21st game of the season that night.  Hess had been in Washington, DC, on Sunday, calling Villanova-Maryland; the game in Charleston was his fourth in four days and his seventh in eight days.  However, Luckie had actually been a touch busier, as he was calling his tenth game in eleven days.  Luckie had been in Blacksburg on Sunday to call Georgia-Virginia Tech.

In terms of number of games officiated, the contrast between those three officials and the trio who worked the game on Saturday between Georgia Southern and The Citadel is stark.  Bill Cheek, John Corio, and Robert Robinson combined have worked only eleven games, just more than half of the total worked by Luckie (and Hess) alone.

This leads me to mention the difference in officiating in lower-echelon conferences between games played on weekdays and those on weekends.  During the week, there aren’t as many games played every night, because there are five days in which most schools will play just once.  However, on weekends there are obviously just two days, and most schools play on either Saturday or Sunday.  

The big-time officials follow the money, naturally, and the BCS leagues have the most money, so guys like Hess and Wood will work ACC or Big East games during the weekend, leaving lower-profile officials for leagues like the SoCon or the Big South.  On weeknights, it’s different; you might see one of those guys or some other TV-star ref working in the smaller conferences, because there aren’t as many games in the larger conferences on that particular night.

The quality of officiating in leagues like the Southern Conference is thus wildly variable, depending on what day a game is played.  I think this is a problem.  I don’t believe it’s a good idea for some of these guys to work so many games, either, although I can’t really fault them for doing so — they’re independent contractors, trying to make a living. 

What I would like to see is a system where a league like the SoCon can count on at least one quality veteran ref for all of its games.  This would probably mean the NCAA would have to get involved, which I realize wouldn’t necessarily be a good thing, but ultimately I think there needs to be an adjustment made in the way officials are assigned to contests. 

The first game in the recent five-game homestand for The Citadel was a 69-37 pummeling of UVA-Wise, an NAIA school that was no match for the Bulldogs.  The game didn’t really do much for The Citadel, although it’s a win, and every win counts.  The defense was excellent throughout; the offense was okay but not great.  Not much else to say about that game, really.

The next night, The Citadel defeated Central Connecticut State 67-53, pulling away late in the contest.  This was a slowly-paced game (CCSU had only 53 possessions) in which the Blue Devils played zone and dared the Bulldogs to beat them from outside.  CCSU actually led at halftime, but the strategy couldn’t hold up for 40 minutes. 

Zach Urbanus was 7-13 from beyond the arc, and Cosmo Morabbi added four three-pointers of his own.  Cameron Wells had nine assists against only one turnover.  Statistically, the defense for the Bulldogs was average; perhaps playing the second game of a back-to-backer was an issue.  The Citadel also got lucky (or rather, CCSU was unlucky) in that Devil starting guard Shemik Thompson was injured and unable to play.

On Saturday, The Citadel got blitzed by a barrage of three-pointers by Davidson and lost, 74-61.  The Wildcats scored 74 points in only 61 possessions, which isn’t easy to do, but then again converting 15 three-pointers during a game isn’t easy to do either.  Six of those shots from beyond the arc came from William Archambault, who two nights later against the College of Charleston would go 0-5 from three-point land.  Against The Citadel, Davidson shot 56% from outside the line; against the Cougars the Wildcats were 4-24. 

I thought The Citadel didn’t defend that badly along the perimeter, but Davidson made its shots anyway.  That kind of thing happens sometimes, and you just hope that if it happens to your team, that the squad is good enough to hang on against the onslaught and survive.  Michigan State faced something similar in the early going against the Bulldogs (when five different players hit three-pointers before the first TV timeout), but MSU’s clear physical superiority eventually won out.  The Citadel doesn’t have the luxury of a margin for error, though.

Georgia Southern is rebuilding under new coach Charlton Young, and he’s got a bit of a job to do.  GSU has little size (at least, among its regulars in the rotation) and doesn’t shoot well from outside.  Thus, Young and the Eagles try to scramble the game.  However, against The Citadel all that scrambling resulted in only eight turnovers by the Bulldogs.  The Citadel ran its offense well, got plenty of open looks from outside and was 10-22 from three-land.  The Eagles, on the other hand, committed twenty turnovers and made only three shots from beyond the arc.

None of those made three-pointers for The Citadel came from Joe Wolfinger, as the 7-footer seemed out of place in the game and only played eleven minutes.  Another interesting move in the game was to bring Austin Dahn and Bryan Streeter off the bench.  This decision seemed to work, particularly for Dahn, who played fewer minutes than his norm but was more effective offensively.  Both players against came off the bench against Michigan State, too (with Cosmo Morabbi and Matt Clark starting).

As a starter, Dahn is 5-32 from 3-point land.  In two games as a sub, he is 4-9.  Sample size and all that, but if Dahn comes out of long shooting slump, The Citadel is a much better team, one that will be very hard for SoCon opponents to handle from an offensive perspective.

The final game of the homestand (not counting the exhibition game against Allen on Dec. 16) was the much-anticipated clash with Michigan State, live and in color on ESPNU (and in HD, unless you have DirecTV).  I was glad to see the crowd in full voice for the game, with a healthy contingent of the corps present and creating havoc.  I think most of the MSU players got a kick out of the atmosphere (Izzo certainly did).  The TV announcers seemed to enjoy working the game, too (Mark Gottfried referred to people “hanging from the rafters” at least three times).

Tangent:  I wish that type of atmosphere was the norm, or at least close to the norm, at McAlister.  The key to it being so, of course, is the corps of cadets.  There is always a hardy group of cadets at home games, often patrolling one of the baselines, but there aren’t enough of them.  As someone who regularly attended basketball games while a cadet, I find this somewhat frustrating. 

When I was in school, the cadets usually at the games were either A) football/baseball players, B) all-around sports fans (not many of those at The Citadel), and C) native New Yorkers.   Okay, that last one is a semi-exaggeration, but there were several guys from points north who had grown up on college basketball (rooting for the likes of Iona or Seton Hall) and enjoyed getting a “fix” at McAlister.  They were world-class hecklers, too.  No opponent was ever safe at a shootaround, that’s for sure.

One cool thing that happened at the Davidson game was that one of the trainers gave away some old warmups to the cadets assembled along the baseline.  I thought that was a nice gesture. 

I would like for someone (administration, leadership within the corps, whoever) to come up with a way to ensure that at least one-fourth of the cadets attend every home game.  Really, it should be more than that, but I’ll settle for one-fourth right now.

The Citadel got off to the aforementioned hot start against the Spartans and finished 12-20 from beyond the arc.  Unfortunately, the Bulldogs were only 7-29 inside the arc, which tells you which team dominated the paint (and the glass; MSU outrebounded The Citadel 35-16).  The Spartans also took 19 more free throws than the Bulldogs (two of those were by Derrick Nix, who went 0-2 and is now an almost impossible 1-19 from the free throw line for the season).

A few odds and ends, observations, etc.:

— Number of possessions for the five games, in order:  67, 55, 66, 61, 57.  Considering that the UVA-Wise game (67 possessions) was a blowout, and that the Davidson game (66) was one in which The Citadel had to increase the number of possessions because it was trailing, I think the team’s pace of play is just about where it needs to be.  Fewer than ten teams nationally play at a slower tempo. 

— After 11 games, The Citadel is 6-5.  After 11 games last season, The Citadel was 5-6.  Incidentally, Michigan State was the eleventh game in both seasons.

— I think it’s fairly clear after eleven games that Joe Wolfinger isn’t going to be a “like for like” substitute for Demetrius Nelson.  Just some raw stats from the first nine games against Division I opponents:  Wolfinger has 84 shot attempts, with 33 coming from beyond the arc, and 18 free throw attempts, while Nelson had 62 shot attempts, none of them from 3-land, and 33 free throw attempts.  Wolfinger has 52 rebounds (15 offensive) and 13 turnovers, while Nelson had 42 rebounds (16 offensive) and 19 turnovers.

Nelson got better as the season progressed (and also started taking more shots), and Wolfinger certainly has the potential to do so as well.  I think the above stats show that he needs to do a slightly better job grabbing offensive boards, and part of that has to do with shot selection — namely, his. 

When Wolfinger is shooting the three, The Citadel’s tallest player isn’t under the basket to grab an offensive rebound.  He’s obviously an excellent shooter for his size, but he probably needs to be a bit more judicious about when to shoot.  He also is going to have lots of chances to pass out of the post and pick up assists as the season goes on; he only has two assists so far. 

There is definitely something to be said, however, about having a big man who is capable of having a big night from three-land.  It’s disorienting (and sometimes disheartening) for an opponent when he converts those jumpers, and also opens up a lot of things for the other offensive players. 

— Twelve different players have seen significant time in at least one game this season.  Bo Holston followed up a DNP against Davidson with 20+ minute performances against both Georgia Southern and Michigan State.  Mike Groselle has looked very good in spot duty, but is currently struggling with a bad ankle, which just means he could play quarterback for The Citadel.  Ben Cherry and Daniel Eykyn have both had their moments, as has the Midwest City Masked Man, Harrison Dupont.

Basically, if you’re in uniform, be ready for action, because you never know when Ed Conroy is going to wave you into the game.  I guess there is a reason the Bulldogs have so many players on the roster…

— The Citadel is shooting 37.9% from 3-point land, currently second-best in the conference and in the top 70 nationally.  The Bulldogs average only 10.8 turnovers per game, 11th-best in the country, although part of that is due to a lack of possessions.  However, The Citadel’s turnover rate is still solid, as is its assist-to-turnover ratio and assist-to-made-basket ratio (top 75 overall in all three statistics). 

The Citadel commits just 14.4 fouls per game, which is in the top 10 nationally (and was even better before being called for 18 fouls against Michigan State; in that game Cosmo Morabbi was a very unlucky foul magnet).

What are things that need improvement?  Three point defense, for one.  Davidson wasn’t the only team to make more than its fair share of three-pointers against the Bulldogs; at 39.5% against, The Citadel is in the bottom 50 nationally in that category.  The Bulldogs also need to improve their rebounding (particularly on the offensive glass) and force a few more turnovers, as opponents are averaging only 12.1 per game (although part of that, again, is a function of tempo).

Now it’s time for the players to win the game called Exam Week.

Post-turkey hoops, live from McAlister

The Citadel went 2-2 on its recent road trip, just about as expected, losing to Missouri State and West Virginia, and winning neutral-site games against Eastern Michigan and Maryland-Eastern Shore.  A few comments on the four games:

  • Against Maryland-Eastern Shore, Mike Groselle had a very active 13 minutes, scoring 14 points (4-4 FG and 6-6 FT) while pulling down 4 rebounds, and also committing 4 fouls.  Talk about an all-action player.
  • UMES reserve frontcourt player Lyvann Obame Obame grabbed 10 rebounds in only 9 minutes of play but didn’t attempt a shot from the field…kind of a strange line.  Obame Obame is a 6’6″ native of Gabon, by the way.
  • Austin Dahn was 3-5 from 3-point land in the UMES game.  Alas, in the other three games he was a combined 0-10 from beyond the arc.
  • Conversely, Zach Urbanus made 12 of 21 three-pointers over the four-game span.  Joe Wolfinger was actually even better from outside (13-21), including a 5-5 night against UMES (The Citadel made 13 three-pointers in that game).
  • Fifteen different Bulldogs played against UMES.  All of them played at least three minutes.
  • The Citadel’s win over Eastern Michigan came down to winning the rebounding battle (33-24) while committing five fewer turnovers.  Cameron Wells’ 10-12 night from the line came in handy, too (he finished with 24 points).
  • The Citadel led for much of the EMU game, but actually trailed by 2 with less than 5 minutes to play before rallying for a victory in what was in effect the “swing” game of the road trip.
  • The Bulldogs lost by 17 points to Missouri State, but it was a three-point game (55-52) at the 4:32 mark of the second half before the Bears pulled away.  That game was more competitive than the final score suggests.
  • Missouri State had a very efficient offensive game against Bulldogs, scoring 72 points in only 63 possessions, which is what happens when you shoot well from the field (including 9-18 from 3-land), the foul line, and only commit 8 turnovers.  The Citadel’s defensive stats took a hit in that game.
  • West Virginia only committed four turnovers against The Citadel (the Bulldogs suffered 19 of their own).  Three of the four WVU turnovers were steals by Cameron Wells.
  • The Citadel had 56 possessions against the Mountaineers, a very slow pace, even by the Bulldogs’ normal standards.  The 19 turnovers are an even bigger black mark in a game that with that few possessions, of course; without them, The Citadel fared well, shooting well from outside (9-16 from 3) and holding its own on the boards (30 rebounds for each school).  It’s just almost impossible to win, or even be in the game, when you turn the ball more than one of every three possessions.
  • Incidentally, the Bulldogs’ pace of play for each of the four games was as follows:  EMU (60 possessions), Mizzou State (62), UMES (65), WVU (56).  That’s a little low for the WVU game, but generally those numbers indicate the tempo that favors The Citadel’s style of play.

Before anyone gets too disappointed with the Bulldogs’ 3-3 record, a little perspective.  By the time the turkey was being carved this year, The Citadel already had two Division I victories.  Two years ago, the Bulldogs had two D-1 wins all season…

Now it’s time for the CollegeInsider.com Skip Prosser Invitational, named for the late Wake Forest coach.  The Citadel will host Savannah State (although the Bulldogs will not play the Tigers), UVA-Wise (an NAIA Division II school) and Central Connecticut State (of the Northeast Conference).  There will be two games on Saturday and two on Sunday, all held at McAlister Field House.

The Citadel is hosting the event, I gather, primarily because head coach Ed Conroy was named the 2009 Skip Prosser Man of the Year.  I suspect that attendance will not be very high, given the field, and also because it’s the weekend after Thanksgiving.  Still, it’s two more games for the Bulldogs before beginning conference play, which probably counts for something.

As I noted above, The Citadel will not play Savannah State in the event — it’s an “invitational” as opposed to a true tournament.  The Bulldogs open with UVA-Wise on Saturday and face Central Connecticut State on Sunday.

UVA-Wise (officially “The University of Virginia’s College at Wise”) has been a four-year school since 1970; it was initially a junior college, founded in 1954.  Until 1999 the school was called Clinch Valley College, so if you aren’t familiar with UVA-Wise, perhaps you have heard of it under that name.  Of course, odds are you’ve never heard of Clinch Valley College either.

UVA-Wise has a little under 2,000 students and is located in the southwestern corner of Virginia, not too far away from Big Stone Gap.  Its most notable alum, according to Wikipedia, is Holly Kiser, who appeared (and was the first-season winner) on a reality TV show called Make Me A Supermodel.  I will admit I don’t know anything about this show, which evidently airs on Bravo.  At any rate, I suppose congratulations are in order to Ms. Kiser.

As for the basketball team, the Highland Cavaliers play in the Appalachian Athletic Conference, a league that includes schools like Milligan, Montreat, and Virginia Intermont.  UVA-Wise was 8-21 last season, and has averaged 18.5 losses per season over the last four years.

The Citadel is UVA-Wise’s first NCAA Division I opponent this season, but in past years the Highland Cavaliers have played (and lost to) schools such as VMI, Wofford, and Charleston Southern.  Last season UVA-Wise dropped games to Elon (92-65), Longwood (87-44), Gardner-Webb (74-47), and Coastal Carolina (90-51).

UVA-Wise comes into Saturday’s game with a record of 3-4, having lost on Tuesday in Pippa Passes, Kentucky, to Alice Lloyd College.  The Highland Cavaliers like an up-tempo game, averaging 81.6 possessions per contest.  This has led to some high-scoring games.  UVA-Wise shoots the ball fairly well (other than free throw shooting — the H-Cavs were an atrocious 9-31 from the charity stripe in a loss to Emory & Henry), but turns the ball over a lot and is not a particularly good defensive squad.

The Highland Cavaliers employ a 9- or 10-man rotation.  No player on the squad is taller than 6’6″, which may make guarding Joe Wolfinger a bit of a problem.

Central Connecticut State will be The Citadel’s opponent on Sunday.  CCSU is located in New Britain and has slightly under 10,000 students.  It has been around in various forms since 1849, attaining university status in 1983.  Notable alums of the school include two former NFL head coaches, Dave Campo and Mike Sherman, as well as the legendary Richard Grieco.

Howie Dickenman, a former assistant to Jim Calhoun, has been at Central Connecticut State since 1996.  Dickenman has had a good run at CCSU, which is also his alma mater.  The Blue Devils have made three NCAA appearances under Dickenman, most recently in 2007.  However, CCSU has had two straight losing seasons (going 13-17 last year).  The Devils were 8-10 in NEC play; CCSU hasn’t had a record in conference worst than that since joining the league in 1998.

Dickenman has a young team this season.  Only one senior has seen playing time thus far, and that player (Joe Seymore) has only played fourteen minutes in two games.  Of the six players who are averaging more than twenty minutes per game, two are freshmen, two are sophomores, and two are juniors, including hard-nosed point guard Shemik Thompson, who was the rookie of the year in the NEC in 2008 despite having a plate put into his head following a concussion.

In contrast to UVA-Wise, the Blue Devils like to play at a slower pace.  In the past two seasons, CCSU has averaged 65.9 and 67.2 possessions per game, but this season in two games Central Connecticut State is averaging just 59.5 possessions per contest.  Of course, two games is a decidedly small sample size.

The bigger issue for CCSU is that is has lost both games, against Fairfield (in a game played in Bridgeport) and at Savannah State.  Yes, Central Connecticut State is going to play consecutive games against Savannah State, which is a little odd.  The Tigers have actually played three games since the initial meeting with the Devils, while CCSU hasn’t played a game since the 16th of November.

CCSU simply hasn’t shot well from the field in either of the two games, shooting less than 38% from the field while its opponents have shot almost 46% from the field.  The Devils have also been crushed on the glass, to the tune of a -12 rebounding margin, particularly getting whipped on the offensive boards.  It’s hard to win games when you don’t shoot well and can’t rebound effectively.

Like UVA-Wise, CCSU has a 9- or 10-man rotation, and also like UVA-Wise, the Devils lack size.  The tallest player on the roster, freshman Joe Efese, is only 6’6″.

The Bulldogs should handle UVA-Wise fairly easily and will be a slight favorite against Central Connecticut State.  It would be nice to be over .500 when Davidson comes to town on December 3.

Hoops season is upon us, ready or not

Note:  when I refer to a basketball season as “2009” I mean the 2008-09 season; “2010” is the 2009-10 season, etc.

As I did last season, I waited for The Citadel to play a couple of games before writing a season preview.  I like to see the team play a game or two just to get an idea of who is actually going to play, get minutes, that kind of thing (just glancing at the team roster isn’t enough; after all, Ed Conroy seems to have almost as many guys on his squad as the football team does).

Also, even though I love college hoops, it’s still a little early for basketball, at least for me — and that’s despite a poor year on the gridiron for The Citadel, part of the lamest college football season I can remember.

The Bulldogs have now played two regular season games, a 64-45 victory over Kenyon College and a disappointing 61-60 loss against Charleston Southern, both taking place at McAlister Field House.

Before examining this season’s team, I would like to take a brief look back at last year’s edition of the basketball Bulldogs…

Prior to last season, I wrote a long (probably too long) post detailing the incredible lack of success the basketball program at The Citadel has had over its long history.  I followed that up with a season preview which I titled “Room for Improvement”.  I think it’s safe to say The Citadel improved last year.  Just some examples:

  • 2008:  RPI of 334;  2009:  RPI of 175
  • 2008:  1 SoCon win; 2009:  15 SoCon wins (most ever by The Citadel)
  • 2008:  6 wins overall (only 2 over D-1 opponents); 2009:  20 wins (only the second team in school history to win 20)
  • 2008:  Points allowed per possession:  1.145 (last nationally); 2009:  0.999 (middle of the pack nationally)
  • 2008:  Opponents’ effective FG%:  51.3% (last nationally); 2009:  43.0% (upper half of national rankings)

The Citadel also improved significantly in offensive effective FG%, offensive points per possession, rebound percentage, and defense against the three-pointer.

Why were the two seasons so different?  Well, Demetrius Nelson, lost early in the 2008 season to injury, returned for a full season in 2009 and had an All-SoCon campaign; his presence in the post was a key factor in the offensive improvement, and also had an impact defensively.  Also, the freshmen who had been thrown into the mix in 2008 (principally Cameron Wells, Zach Urbanus, and Austin Dahn) were stronger, smarter sophomores in 2009.

They were helped out by rotation newcomers John Brown (a redshirt freshman) and Cosmo Morabbi (a true freshman) and the return of Bryan Streeter.  Those seven players got the bulk of the minutes for The Citadel in conference play, with some solid work also done on occasion by reserves Jonathan Brick, Matt Clark, Daniel Eykyn, and Tyrell McDowell.

This season, The Citadel will have to replace Nelson, Brown, Brick, and McDowell, with the contributions of Nelson and Brown obviously being the most difficult to replicate.  Nelson averaged over 16 points per game, added 6.5 rebounds per contest, and was an efficient force on offense (shooting almost 60% from the field, and often camping out at the foul line, where he shot 77%).

Brown also averaged 6.5 boards per game, along with 1.2 steals per game, not to mention numerous deflections and countless hustle plays.  His insertion into the starting lineup against Bethune-Cookman on January 3 (after only playing 14 minutes total to that point of the season) helped key the Bulldogs’ remarkable run of success in league play.  His oncourt presence will be greatly missed.

To replace that production, The Citadel has to turn to new players and hope for improvement from returning team members.  Nelson’s departure left a void in the paint that needed to be filled, and to fill it Ed Conroy is counting on 7-footer Joe Wolfinger, a graduate student who previously played at Washington.

Wolfinger, based on what I’ve seen of him so far, is more of a finesse player than Nelson was.  He can shoot the three, but needs to be more physical to succeed in SoCon play, where he will face post men not as big as he is, but generally more athletic and just as strong.  Against Charleston Southern he struggled, going 4-16 from the floor with three turnovers (although he did have nine rebounds).

He took a lot of shots against CSU, and even if he hadn’t had such a poor night shooting I would suggest that he shot too many and (more importantly) too quickly, at least in the framework of The Citadel’s offense, which relies on a moderate pace of play (fewer than 65 possessions per game last season) to create open looks and frustrate the opposition.  I’m not going to crush him for that after one game, though; he has to get accustomed to playing with his new teammates, and he also has to get used to playing a lot of minutes after being mostly a bench player for the Huskies.

Tangent:  he’s also going to have to get used to the officiating at this level of Division I, a good example of which was on display last night, as all three officials somehow missed a blatant traveling violation committed just before CSU’s game-winning basket.  However, the Bulldogs should not have been in a position to be victimized by a bad (non) call in the first place.

Incorporating Wolfinger into the offense is going to take time.  It may cost The Citadel a game or two in the early going (it could be argued that it was a key reason the Bulldogs lost to the Buccaneers).  Then again, it took The Citadel a few games last year to figure things out (which is how a 20-win team could lose  a home contest to 19-loss UC Davis by 18 points).  As long as things are running smoothly by the time league play rolls around, it’s all good.

Admittedly, that gives the Bulldogs just two weeks, as Davidson comes to town on December 3…

The task of providing the same type of energy that Brown brought to the team will likely fall to several players, including the 6’6″ Streeter (who in many respects is a bigger version of Brown, all the way down to the horrific free throw shooting) and 6’5″ Harrison Dupont, the only one of the incoming freshmen to have played in both games so far for The Citadel.

Streeter averaged a little over 14 minutes per game for the Bulldogs last year; he will probably come close to doubling his time on the hardwood this season.  He brings a lot of strength and grit to the table on both ends of the court, and is a good finisher, provided he isn’t fouled (36.4% from the line in ’09).  His problems from the charity stripe can make him a liability in late-game situations, just another reason he needs to improve in that area.

Another player to watch in the “gets the dirty work done” department is Morabbi, who appears to be stronger this year (and definitely has more hair).  Morabbi’s play in the latter stages of the contest nearly won the CSU game for the Bulldogs, both defensively and with his outside shooting (as he told Rafu Shimpo, “My specialty is shooting”).

Morabbi will occasionally freelance offensively.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, even in Ed Conroy’s disciplined attack, as it keeps opponents honest.  He can also make the corner 3, the thinking man’s favorite three-point shot.  He had a tough night from the field against Kenyon, but was back in form in the CSU game.

Someone who The Citadel would like to see return to good shooting form is Dahn, who struggled from the field last season after enjoying a solid freshman campaign, falling from a 39.7% 3-point shooter to 32.7% beyond the arc.  Now, 32.7% isn’t terrible, but most of Dahn’s shots are from 3-point land, so overall he shot just 32.6% from the field in 2009.  The 6’4″ Dahn is a good defender and a mainstay in the rotation, but his value increases markedly if he can knock down shots.

Zach Urbanus is the epitome of dependability, always in the right place, usually making the right decision, and capable of making big shots.  A comparison of his freshman and sophomore seasons shows just how consistent he is, as in both years he shot 44% from beyond the arc, had 3.3 rebounds per game, and 2.9 assists per contest.  He did improve last season, as his overall shooting percentage increased substantially, and he also cut down on his turnovers.

Cameron Wells is getting some pre-season recognition as a potential MVP candidate in the Southern Conference.  He certainly didn’t hurt his cause against CSU, scoring 23 points on 10-16 shooting and being an all-around defensive pest (including 3 steals).

The 6’1″ Wells is a vital cog in the offense.  He can bring the ball up the court against pressure, penetrate into the lane and finish.  Wells is a good free throw shooter, is able to make the occasional three-pointer, and is an outstanding perimeter defender.  He’s a very smooth performer with a complete game, and he’s still getting better.

Other returners from last season who will see action include Clark, a slender 6’8″ junior forward who is a career 35% three-point shooter, and Eykyn, a 6’4″ native of Charleston who logged double-digit minutes in 11 games last season.  While neither was a rotation regular, both had their moments last year and will be counted on again in 2010 (indeed, Clark has played at least 11 minutes in both games so far).

Some of the newcomers who may see the court include the well-regarded Dupont (a native of Oklahoma who has played 19 combined minutes in the first two games) and 6’8″ forward/center Mike Groselle, a Texan who impressed in a brief appearance against Kenyon.  Also making his debut against Kenyon was 6’2″ guard Ben Cherry, a freshman from Charlotte.

I would guess that all three of those players will be contributors to The Citadel’s cause this season.  I also wouldn’t be surprised if a couple of other players on the Bulldogs’ sizable roster eventually get a chance, as 16 different players participated in The Citadel’s exhibition game against Georgia Southwestern.

Whether Bulldog fans are ready for the season to begin, the Bulldog players and coaches have to be ready, because The Citadel is about to embark on a stretch where it will play nine games in eighteen days, including three on consecutive days this weekend.  The Bulldogs will play in the Hispanic College Fund Challenge, hosted by Missouri State (which beat Auburn on Tuesday).  The Citadel will also play Eastern Michigan and Maryland-Eastern Shore in that event.

The Bulldogs will then venture up to the “other” Charleston in a matchup with West Virginia, formerly of the Southern Conference and currently in the AP Top 10.  After tangling with the Mountaineers, The Citadel will host an in-season tournament of its own at McAlister Field House, playing UVA-Wise (an NAIA school) and Central Connecticut State (of the Northeast Conference).  That tournament honors the late Skip Prosser.

After that, The Citadel begins Southern Conference play, with the aforementioned game against Davidson followed two days later by a game against Georgia Southern.  The last game of the “nine in eighteen” run is arguably the biggest, as The Citadel will host Tom Izzo and his Michigan State Spartans on December 7.

MSU is currently ranked #2 in the nation and, of course, played in last season’s NCAA title game, losing to North Carolina.  It will be the second year in a row a Big 10 school has come to McAlister, although I suspect there will be more “juice” in the arena than there was for Iowa last year.

That’s quite a way to start a season.  It will be a challenge for the players and coaches (heck, it’s going to be a challenge for me just to keep up with it).  After the fun of last year’s campaign, I just hope that this year The Citadel doesn’t revert back to its old, lots-of-losing ways.  I don’t think it will, though, as (barring injury) the core of the team is too solid for that to happen.

A tradition that needs to stop

This season, The Citadel’s basketball team successfully broke a long cycle of losing, and did so in spectacular fashion, with an unprecedented number of league victories, the longest winning streak in over 80 years, and a record-tying 20 victories.  The team broke long road losing streaks at Appalachian State, Davidson, and the College of Charleston.  It got over the hump in every conceivable way except one.  Oh, but that one…

The conference tournament bugaboo struck again.

Samford became the 21st different team to beat The Citadel in the SoCon tourney (I think it’s safe to assume that’s a record), a little more than a month after The Citadel beat the Birmingham bulldogs by 25 points in a game at Samford.  It was, to say the least, a frustrating performance.  The Citadel’s defense was atrocious, as Samford scored 76 points on only 55 possessions.  The Citadel also got outrebounded by Samford, which is both terrible and amazing, given that Samford is one of the nation’s worst rebounding teams.  It was just a miserable night.

I don’t know why, no matter how good or bad the Bulldogs are in any season (and they’ve usually been bad), The Citadel comes up all thumbs every single time when the SoCon tournament gets underway.  You would think that in all those years that on occasion even one of the Bulldogs’ lesser teams would have done something to win a couple of games, even if it were just by accident.  Nope.  The Citadel is now 10-56 in the Southern Conference tournament.

Ed Conroy did a lot of things right this season, but I suspect he’s going to take a hard look at the performance of the team on Saturday night and try to figure out how to change the mindset of the squad entering tourney play.  The team has to play with purpose while remaining loose, something that never seems to happen, regardless of the year.

I don’t know if The Citadel has finished playing basketball this season.  It is possible that the Bulldogs will be invited to a post-season event, as college basketball appears to be going the way of college football, and eventually all 343 Division I teams will get to play in a post-season tournament.   Well, maybe not NJIT.  We’ll see what develops on that front.

If it does turn out to be the end of the season, I feel badly for the players that it ended so rudely, particularly the two seniors.  However, Demetrius Nelson and Jon Brick will depart knowing that in their senior year, they played on a basketball team at The Citadel that won 20 games.  That makes them members of a very, very small club.  Also, if the Bulldogs are able to maintain the positive momentum built up during this season, and parlay it into even more success, Nelson and Brick will know that they were major contributors to the building of that foundation. 

I’ve been asked by friends about two recent articles concerning The Citadel, a long and evocative piece in ESPN The Magazine (and ESPN.com) by the talented Wright Thompson, and a shorter feature in The New York Times, the latter of which could have used some editing.  However, as I have pointed out to people who have brought it up, the truth is that other than Ed Conroy, the basketball team didn’t get much publicity from either article, as both were about Pat Conroy.  The two pieces combined were over 5700 words in length, but despite all that verbiage no member of the current edition of the Bulldog basketball team was mentioned, not even once.

I was disappointed in that, because I’ve heard the Pat Conroy tale before.  While I mean no disrespect, I felt the focus should be on the current players and what they had accomplished, not just Nelson and Brick, but Zach Urbanus, Bryan Streeter, and Austin Dahn.  I wanted to read more about the terror of Beverly Hills, Cosmo Morabbi.  I was hoping someone would come up with a nickname for John Brown (besides just “JB”).

Instead, the national media turned to Pat Conroy as the story.  It’s always about Pat.

(Actually, contained within the Pat-and-Ed storyline was something that I thought was potentially much more interesting, the relationship between Ed and Don “The Great Santini” Conroy.  However, that angle would only have tangentially involved Pat Conroy, and the elder Conroy is dead, so it was just used as a way for the preferred narrative to connect Pat and Ed.  Oh well.)

Perhaps it’s just as well none of the players were mentioned, at least in the Times article.  Since that story referred to General Grinalds as the former commandant of the school, it’s possible that Urbanus would have been described as a 6’10” post player…

Finally, you have to hand it to the Southern Conference brass.  After taking the guaranteed money from Chattanooga to move the tournament to UTC’s home court, the conference leadership got exactly what it deserved.  The Mocs had the fifth-best record in the SoCon this season, but despite 20 conference games the league continued with its two-division format.  With the four best teams all in the South division, this enabled UT-Chattanooga (playing in the North division) to garner a bye in the first round while two other teams with better records had to play on Friday night. 

Then everything fell into place for the Mocs.  Not only did they survive a one-point victory over Elon in the quarterfinals (you think the home court was probably worth a few points there?), they only had to beat one of the four teams that finished ahead of UTC in the standings — and that was the third-place team, which had to play an extra game just to get to the final.

There is a good chance (better than 50%, at least) that Chattanooga becomes the first SoCon school to land in the dreaded play-in game, just one year after Davidson reached the Elite Eight.  That will do wonders for the league’s image.  However, it should have come as no surprise to anyone that Chattanooga won the tournament on its home court, since that’s exactly what happened in 2005, the last time the tournament was held at McKenzie Arena.

When the tournament was awarded to Chattanooga, SoCon commissioner John Iamarino noted that the arena would provide plenty of seating.  That’s great, except much of it wasn’t used, as even in the final, with its home team playing and a bid to the NCAA tournament on the line, the official attendance was only 5,042 (and who knows what the actual attendance was).   

It’s not surprising that a lot of the fans from other schools in the league didn’t show up, since Chattanooga isn’t a geographically ideal location to have the tournament (unless you root for UTC or Samford).  It doesn’t say much for the promotion of the event, though, when even the home team can’t put people in the stands.

Naturally, the tournament will return to Chattanooga next season…

19 could lead to 20, and 20 means a lot

The Citadel 75, Furman 54.  This would be called “taking care of business”, except that it took the Bulldogs a half to get appropriately businesslike…

In the first half, The Citadel shot 11-34 from the field, including 0-7 from three-point land.  Clearly the eight-day layoff had left the Bulldogs’ shooters rusty, at least from the outside (and maybe from the inside too — John Brown missed not one but two dunk attempts).  The Citadel’s play was a touch sloppy, and there were several missed rebounding opportunities.  The only Bulldog seemingly unaffected by the malaise was Demetrius Nelson.  Luckily for The Citadel, he was more than up to the task of carrying the team.  Nelson scored 17 points in the half, including the last 11 for the Bulldogs, and The Citadel sneaked away with a three-point halftime lead.

The second half was a tour de force, as almost everything you would want to see as a Bulldog fan came to pass.  Nelson continued dominating in the post, Brown resumed his get-every-loose-ball-in-Charleston-County routine (and made all three of his dunk attempts), Zach Urbanus started making threes, Austin Dahn grabbed some tough rebounds and did a good job passing the ball (including a great assist to Brown out of the post), Cameron Wells drove, dished, and finished, Cosmo Morabbi knocked down a corner three on yet another well-conceived inbounds play, and Bryan Streeter contributed solid post defense, boarded with abandon and even made a free throw (now he needs to show Brown how it’s done).

The Bulldogs shot 75% from the field in the second half, including 4-7 from beyond the arc.  The defense was outstanding throughout the game, as Furman never got comfortable on offense (the Paladins had only 3 assists on 19 made baskets and were victimized by 11 Bulldog steals).  Nelson finished with 28 points on only 12 field goal attempts.  He also had 8 rebounds, a pair of assists, two steals, and did not commit a turnover.  After the game he leaped over a tall building in a single bound.  Brown had a career-high 16 points to go along with his usual disruptive ways.

With the win, the Bulldogs swept the Paladins in the regular season for the first time since 2001, and the margin of victory on Thursday was the biggest for The Citadel in a game against Furman since the 1939 team beat the Paladins 56-34 (incidentally, that game was part of a six-game winning streak for the Bulldogs against Furman, the longest winning streak The Citadel has ever had against the Paladins).  The Bulldogs also broke a five-game losing streak to Furman at McAlister Field House.

The victory also established a new standard for biggest turnaround for a Bulldog team from one season to the next (in terms of wins), as The Citadel has now gone from 6 wins last season to at least 19 victories this year.  The previous record was 12, as the 1978-79 team won 20 games following an 8-win campaign in 1977-78.  The Bulldogs continue to add to the school record for conference victories, the school record for consecutive conference victories, and the conference record for turnaround in league play (by wins).

A crowd of 4,219 enjoyed the action, with a vocal contingent of cadets leading the way (I particularly liked the giant cutouts of the heads of Nelson and Jonathan Brick).  Attendance will presumably be even better for the Saturday night game against Wofford.  The last time the home finale had this much meaning was…well, I’m not sure there has been a home finale with as much on the line:

  • A win would tie the school record for victories in a season (20).  The aforementioned 1978-79 squad is the only Bulldog team to win 20 games in a season.  As it happens, the ’79 team will be honored on Saturday, as it’s the 30th anniversary of that season.  That strikes me as poetic (well, it’s poetic if the Bulldogs win the game).
  • A win would also clinch no worse than a tie for second in the SoCon South Division, and as The Citadel swept the College of Charleston this season, the Bulldogs would be guaranteed a bye in the Southern Conference tournament.  That’s obviously critical to The Citadel’s chances of winning the SoCon tourney.  Three wins in three days will be very difficult.  Four wins in four days would be almost impossible.

Let’s examine that second-place possibility for a moment.  Obviously everyone is concentrating on the bye, and that’s understandable, but in a historic context it’s the placement that deserves notice.  Second place may not mean that much to some schools, but for The Citadel, it’s a big deal.  Why, you ask?  (I’m assuming you asked — if you didn’t, just go with the flow.)

This is The Citadel’s 73rd season as a member of the Southern Conference.  As you might have heard or read, The Citadel has never finished first in the league’s regular season standings.  It has never had the conference’s best record.  What you may not have heard or read is that The Citadel has also never finished second.

That’s right.  In its first 58 years of SoCon membership, The Citadel never finished higher than third.  For the past 14 years, league standings have been broken into two divisions, and it’s true that twice the Bulldogs have tied for second place in the South Division.  However, on neither of those occasions did The Citadel tie for second in overall record in the league.  In 1998 the Bulldogs were 6-8 in the SoCon South, tying for second in a five-team division with Wofford.  The Citadel tied for the 5th-best record in the conference that season.  In 2001, The Citadel was in a three-way tie for second in the division, which was good enough to tie for the 4th-best record in the league.

For the record, The Citadel has only enjoyed 15 seasons in its history (before this season) when it finished the year in the upper half of the conference (that includes the 1989 team that tied for 4th in an eight-team league).  There have also been 15 seasons in which the Bulldogs finished last in the conference (overall, regardless of divisional or non-divisional format), 10 campaigns when the Bulldogs finished next-to-last, and 11 seasons in which the Bulldogs wound up third-from-last in the conference.  In exactly half of the 72 Southern Conference campaigns prior to this season, The Citadel finished in the bottom three in the league.

Getting the bye is the immediate concern for The Citadel, because of what it means in terms of the SoCon tournament.  (I’ll save the stats on the Bulldogs’ tourney history for another post; there is only so much “misery history” I can write, as The Citadel’s record in the tourney is actually worse than its SoCon regular season record.)  The chance to finish second, though, is something that would have lasting meaning.  No team in the North Division can match The Citadel’s league win total, so it’s down to The Citadel and the College of Charleston for second overall.  (The Citadel also still has a mathematical chance of tying Davidson for first, but that is very unlikely to happen.)

It’s not going to be easy on Saturday (not that it should be), because Wofford will be a very tough out.  The Terriers fought back from a 15-point halftime deficit at the College of Charleston on Thursday night, and the Cougars barely survived the onslaught, hanging on for an 86-84 victory.

Of course, Wofford is also the last team to beat The Citadel, having won 66-63 in Spartanburg in January.  In that game, the Bulldogs trailed by 16 points late in the first half before making a furious comeback, taking the lead with nine minutes to play.  However, the Terriers regained the lead and held on for the victory.  This game came during a stretch of contests where The Citadel would struggle in the first half before pouring it on in the second.  The Citadel has mostly avoided first-half pitfalls since the game against Wofford, and needs to continue playing well from the opening tip if it is to win its twelth straight.

The Bulldogs also need to do a better job defending the erratic but dangerous Junior Salters (four for six behind the arc in the first game) and must somehow control Noah Dahlman, an all-conference candidate who scored 36 points last night for the Terriers against the CofC.  Dahlman has scored at least 18 points in nine of Wofford’s last ten games.  He scored 17 points against The Citadel in Spartanburg (on just nine FG attempts).  Corey Godzinski will also be a factor on Saturday after missing the first meeting between the two teams with a broken hand.  He’s 6’8″ and can shoot from outside (he made three 3-pointers against the College).

The game against Wofford isn’t a must-win for the Bulldogs in terms of getting the bye.  The backup plan would be the regular season tail-ender, a game in Statesboro on Monday night against a decimated Georgia Southern squad.  However, given the spotlight that will be on the Saturday night contest, and with all the pomp and circumstance associated with it (Senior Night, the ’79 team being honored, etc.), there will be considerable pressure on the Bulldog players to keep all the streaks going and to treat the home fans to a game to remember.

It will be interesting to see how the team performs.  In a way, it’s a warmup for what The Citadel will encounter at the Southern Conference tournament.  It’s one more challenge for Ed Conroy and company.  With the way this year is going, you wouldn’t want to bet against them.

Great Eight

With last night’s overtime victory over Appalachian State, The Citadel has now won eight consecutive games.  It’s been a while since the Bulldogs won eight in a row.  82 years, to be precise.

1927 was the year, Calvin Coolidge was the president, and Babe Ruth was on his way to hitting 60 home runs in a season (there was no drug testing back then, so obviously there’s no way to know if his 60 were “legitimate” or not).  The coach of The Citadel was the immortal Benny Blatt, in his first season in charge.  Blatt coached the team for four seasons and finished with an outstanding record of 51-22, but that first year was his best.  The Citadel was 17-2 that season, winning 13 games in a row at one point during the campaign and closing in style by winning the postseason tournament of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (still the only postseason tournament ever won by The Citadel).  The star player for the Bulldogs was Johnny Douglas, who would eventually succeed Blatt as head coach.

You may be wondering about the teams the Bulldogs played (and beat) that year.  Well, the victims in the 13-game winning streak were (in order) as follows:  Newberry, College of Charleston, Presbyterian, Oglethorpe, Mercer, Mercer again, Mercer yet again, Davidson, Davidson again, Wofford, Newberry, Presbyterian, and Wofford.

I guess it’s safe to say they scheduled games a little differently back then.  One thing that is interesting is that in the three-game set with Mercer, the Bulldogs started off dominant, winning the first game with the Bears 50-14, and then as each game was played the teams got closer in terms of competitiveness — in other words, either Mercer started getting better or The Citadel got worse.  The Citadel won the second game by only 14 points, 46-32, and the third game was a five-point contest (38-33).  The two teams would meet for a fourth time that season in the SIAA final, a game the Bulldogs won 42-41.

The SIAA tourney was held in Atlanta that season, which brings up another point about the scheduling in 1927.  The Citadel played 19 games, but did not play a single game outside of Georgia or the Carolinas.  To me, it’s a little strange that the Bulldogs only played the College of Charleston once that season (The Citadel also played the Parris Island Marines).  Blatt presumably would have been interested in picking up another win without having to travel, but I guess he really did like to play those games against Mercer.

Back to the 21st century…Appalachian State shot 51% from the field on Thursday night, including 9-18 from three, and made 6 of its 7 free throw attempts.  It’s not easy to lose a game when you shoot that well, especially when you jump out to a 15-2 lead, but the Mountaineers also committed 17 turnovers (to just 10 for The Citadel) and committed seven more personal fouls than did the Bulldogs.  This led to The Citadel getting 24 free throw attempts, although the Bulldogs almost blew the game by missing nine of them, including five in a row late in regulation when they could have put the game away.

Other than the free throws, The Citadel also shot the ball fairly well (Zach Urbanus and Austin Dahn combined to go 7-14 from three-land), despite getting very little inside from Demetrius Nelson.  That can’t happen against the College of Charleston on Saturday, as Cameron Wells isn’t likely to go for 30 points again.  I’m also worried about late-game situations involving John Brown now, as he has joined Bryan Streeter in the “really really struggling shooting FTs”  club.

Nelson had been coming off SoCon player-of-the-week honors for his 51 points and 18 boards in the two road victories over Western Carolina and Appy, so he was due to have a tough night.  Here’s hoping he can have a game on Saturday more like those games, or the one he had in McAlister earlier this year against the CofC (17 points, 6 rebounds).

As for the Cougars, they’re on a serious high after beating Davidson and disposing of WCU last Wednesday.

(Yes, I had to go for the cheap joke.  Why not?)

The Citadel will again be a decided underdog when it takes on the College, despite that earlier win.  It’s understandable.  One thing I hope happens in this game is that the Bulldogs slow the pace down a little.  The last few games have seen a gradual uptick in possessions per game, which is fine (after all, they’re winning), but against the CofC I think deliberate play works best, as the Cougars can be frustrated (see:  Elon) by slow play.  It’s also very important to avoid turnovers that lead to transition baskets, something The Citadel did very well in the first game between the two teams.

It’s a shame this game isn’t going to be televised.  It is supposed to be a sellout, though, which would make it one of the few times I can remember in which The Citadel was involved in a conference game that sold out.

Final note:  if The Citadel were to win on Saturday, it would be the 12th conference victory of the season, which would set a school record.  Of course, it’s easier to set a record like that in a 20-game league schedule, but it would still be extremely impressive (and 12-4 would be nothing to sneeze at).  I’ve mentioned this before, but twelve conference wins this season would equal the total number of league victories The Citadel had between 1946-1956, an eleven-year stretch during which the school lost 102 games in conference play.

I could get used to rooting for a winning hoops team

The Citadel 72, College of Charleston 63.  Whoa.

Even better, it was broadcast to a regional audience by SportSouth, with the legendary Whit Watson on play-by-play (plus shiny-domed analyst Nate Ross — I remember when Nate actually had some hair).  The Citadel doesn’t play too many televised basketball games (this was the last of three such appearances this season, not counting any potential SoCon tourney games).  Playing well and actually winning a TV game — well, that’s even more unusual.

First, the atmosphere.  From my vantage point in front of my TV (and by the way, it’s time for SportSouth to go all-HD all the time; I want to see my team play in crystal-clear high definition when it’s on the tube), the crowd seemed reasonably energetic, but a little cautious.  The corps looked okay, but I think it needed to be a bit more raucous.  (I do want a “McAlister Maniacs” t-shirt, though.  They didn’t have those back in the Dark Ages when I was in school.)  5107 is about the number of people I expected at the game.

In the game story in The Post and Courier, you’re going to read a lot of good things said about John Brown.  If you watched the game on TV, you listened to Nate Ross extol Brown’s virtues throughout the broadcast.  All of the accolades are completely justified.

Now, Brown does not appear to have any go-to offensive moves other than layups and dunks.  He’s only 6’4″.  He desperately needs a nickname.  However, he demonstrates that it’s possible for a player to have a huge effect on a game without being a scorer or what the late, great Al McGuire called an “aircraft carrier”.

Brown may not be that tall (although he has long arms), and he may not be that polished an offensive player, but he is an instinctive rebounder and defender, and an all-around hustler extraordinaire.  He finished with nine points (layups, dunks, a free throw), three steals (and numerous deflections), and twelve rebounds, with a lot of his boardwork coming during the critical stretch in the first half  when The Citadel built its lead (a 12-0 run).  I guess you could say it was a Rodmanesque performance, but that’s a description that doesn’t really work at The Citadel (and it’s hard to imagine Brown with dyed hair or wearing a dress).

Brown wasn’t the only Bulldog to have a good game.  Cosmo Morabbi continued his good run at three-point marksmanship.  Zach Urbanus had another solid day distributing the ball and making open shots from beyond the arc.  Five different Bulldogs made three-pointers, including two that I thought were bigger than “normal” made threes — Cameron Wells’ shot to tie the game at 10 when The Citadel was struggling to put the ball in the basket (despite getting good looks), and Austin Dahn’s second-half three under pressure from his defender and the shot clock, which effectively stopped a would-be College of Charleston rally.

Basically, it was a well-played game for The Citadel from about every vantage point.  When you shoot 8-15 from three and commit only eight turnovers against a pressing team, you’re probably going to have a good night.  The Bulldogs kept the possession total where they wanted it (63) and did a very good job of defending, leading to the Cougars’ poor shooting night (preventing transition baskets by avoiding turnovers and forced shots on the offensive end contributed to the College of Charleston’s offensive woes).

The negatives?  Free throw shooting (only 12-19; in particular, Bryan Streeter is struggling right now from the charity stripe) and (to a lesser extent) rebounding, for despite Brown’s prowess on the glass (which included five offensive boards), The Citadel was decisively outrebounded, although part of that is reflected by the CofC having more opportunities at offensive boards because it missed so many shots.  (It also reflects a fine effort in a losing cause by the Cougars’ Jermaine Johnson.)

I’m glad to see Demetrius Nelson finally get a win against the Cougars.  His coach can relate to waiting until his last season to beat the College of Charleston…

Speaking of Ed Conroy, the team looked well-prepared for the Cougar press.  The Citadel again had success with inbounds plays under the basket (this time Brown actually made the dunk).  I thought Conroy did a good job calling timeouts when appropriate.  I also noticed that for this game he shortened his rotation.  In past games he hasn’t hesitated to play eleven or twelve guys in a game (that’s not counting the standard clear-the-bench routine at the end of blowouts; fourteen players actually saw action against Western Carolina).  I think this game’s eight-man rotation tells you all you need to know about who he thinks is ready for big games against good, athletic teams.  Some of the underclassmen who didn’t play yesterday are going to be major contributors down the road, but aren’t quite ready yet for these types of games.

Against the College of Charleston, Conroy played three guys at two frontcourt spots (Nelson, Streeter, and Brown), rotating them accordingly, and played five guys in a three-guard setup, with Urbanus and Wells playing most of the game, and Morabbi and Dahn essentially splitting time at the other spot.  Jonathan Brick got a few minutes as well, long enough to sink a why-are-you-shooting-oh-that’s-why three-pointer.

The players don’t have much time to celebrate, though.  Monday night, the Bulldogs will play at Samford.  This is Samford’s first season in the SoCon, and the Birmingham Bulldogs have been very competitive, perhaps more competitive than expected.  Jimmy Tillette’s squad is, like The Citadel, 5-4 in the league, and has won four straight games.  Samford runs a “Princeton-style” offense and as such averages less than 60 possessions per game, which worries me a little, because the only time this season the Bulldogs faced an opponent that played an offensive style that was demonstrably “slower” than that of The Citadel was against Iowa.  In that game, the Bulldogs seemed to force the action too much and paid for it.  Samford spreads the wealth (no player averages more than 12.4 points per game, nor does any player average 30 minutes per game of playing time) and is a fairly good shooting team.  Samford has improved its turnover rate in conference play (the difference in turnovers in and out of conference is marked).

Defensively, Samford  employs a matchup zone.  This brings up the Birmingham Bulldogs’ greatest weakness, namely that they are a poor rebounding team without much in the way of a post presence.  The Citadel needs to be patient on offense, work to establish an inside game, and then hit open three-pointers.  Of course, you could say that about a lot of games.  The Citadel needs to emphasize (even more than usual) crashing the boards in this game.

On defense The Citadel must watch for backdoor cuts, of course, and be prepared to play defense for 35 seconds at a time.  How well is Samford’s offense working right now?  In three of its last four games Samford has recorded at least 17 assists, especially impressive when you consider that in those four games Samford averaged less than 25 made field goals per game.

We’ll see which team maintains its momentum on Monday night.

Taking names, and talking names

The Citadel 84, Georgia Southern 75.

I enjoyed watching this game.  I wish John Brown had made both of his last-second free throws, so The Citadel could have won by double digits, but considering the team has already won more games in this campaign than it did all of last season, it’s all good.

Speaking of John “Abolitionist of the Glass” Brown, where did he come from?  He started the season opener, played nine minutes, then played a total of five minutes until last Saturday, when he suddenly started the game against Bethune-Cookman and contributed solid defense and rebounding over 20 minutes.  Last night he came off the bench and snatched 11 boards in 26 minutes.  Brown is a long-armed 6’4″ redshirt freshman from Savannah who Jeff Hartsell had tipped on his blog during the preseason as a possible contributor, but I was not prepared for his productivity (and it was rather obvious that Georgia Southern wasn’t either).  If he turns out to be a rebounding maven who can play some D, which last night certainly appeared to be the case, Brown will fill a much-needed role for the Bulldogs.

Besides Brown’s performance, The Citadel got 38 combined points from the  two-headed post monster of Demetrius Nelson and Bryan Streeter, who combined to shoot 12-18 from the floor and also got to the line a gratifying 22 times (Streeter needs to shoot better than 50% from the stripe, though).  The Citadel never trailed after making a nice run at the end of the half, this despite a mediocre night from beyond the arc (6-19) and shooting only 43% from the field, all while playing at a much faster than normal pace (84 possessions, although part of that was due to the end-game fouling by GSU).

Defensively The Citadel held the Eagles to 41% shooting from the field, 29% from three-land, and outrebounded Georgia Southern by five.  The Bulldogs also committed one fewer turnover than GSU.

Also, I’m guessing that Ed Conroy had a chat with Austin Dahn after the game that went something like this:  “Austin, when we’re up nine with 1:11 to play and have the ball in the frontcourt, and there are 30 seconds left on the shotclock, do me a favor and don’t take a three-pointer, even if you’re open.”   I could be wrong, but I suspect that conversation happened.  I sincerely hope that conversation happened, anyway…

The Citadel’s two conference victories this season have come against teams that in four games last year outscored the Bulldogs by an average of 23 points per game, including two 30-point losses.

The Stephen Curry circus comes to town on Saturday.  It’s been almost 50 years since the Southern Conference had a star of Curry’s magnitude in the league.  Back then, it was Jerry West.  McAlister Field House was jammed to the rafters with people when The Citadel hosted West Virginia and its star, and I suspect that close to a full house (if not an actual sellout) will be on hand for Davidson and its main man.  Obviously if The Citadel were to somehow beat Davidson it would be one of the bigger wins in school history.  It’s hard to see that happening.  I think Davidson has a good chance of going 20-0 in the league for a second year in a row.

20-0 in the league would presumably mean that even a SoCon tourney stumble would not keep Davidson out of the NCAAs, but Wildcat fans should not count on an at-large bid being a given.  The last SoCon team to get an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament was North Carolina State, in 1950.

Okay, I want to wrap up this post with one of my biggest pet peeves.  This is the first time I’m mentioning it on this blog, but you better believe that it won’t be the last.  Here is my plea to Larry Leckonby, all the coaches at The Citadel, General Rosa, anyone and everyone who has some say-so on matters pertaining to Bulldog athletics:

Get the name of the school right on the uniforms, for God’s sake!

If you look at the game notes for basketball, you will see a little blurb inserted by the good folks in the athletic media relations office that reads:

“DON’T FORGET THE … THE
We ask that when referring to the Bulldogs, please use The Citadel. We are The Military College of South Carolina,
but we are referred to as The Citadel. The the is part of our name. Thank you.”

I would like to personally thank whoever it was that put that in the notes.  I just wish whoever it was would remind our coaches and other administrators that the school is called The Citadel, because some of them seem unaware of it.

The Citadel, for such a tradition-laden place, has gone through a lot of uniform changes in a lot of its sports over the years.  (The football helmet design has been changed so often, it’s a joke — although the current design is one billion times better than the Ellis Johnson-era gray helmet disaster.)

Right now we are sporting football uniforms that say “Citadel” on the front instead of “The Citadel”, and basketball uniforms that say “Citadel” on the front instead of “The Citadel”.  Is it too much to ask that we get the name of the school right on our own jerseys?  Every time I see the ESPN “Bottom Line” sportsticker, it says “Citadel” on it, and I am momentarily annoyed with the network…and then I remember my own alma mater can’t get it right on its athletic uniforms, and I get even more annoyed with the school.

Fix this, and fix it now.  It drives me crazy.  I know that I’m not alone in complaining about it, either.

(And if anybody in the department needs some advice on a decent and at least semi-permanent football helmet design, drop me a line.  I have a couple of ideas.)

Ballin’ in the Ballroom

The Citadel went 1-1 over the weekend in the Cancun Challenge, losing on Saturday to Central Arkansas 58-53, but then defeating Grambling State 55-41 on Sunday.  The Bulldogs are now 4-3 on the season, which is pretty good for The Citadel.  Of course, three years ago the Bulldogs started off 6-3, and then lost thirteen consecutive games…

The Citadel lost to UCA because, to put it mildly, the Bulldogs couldn’t shoot straight.  The offensive stats were brutal.  15 for 52 from the field (5-27 from beyond the arc).  18-31 from the line (4-11 in the first half), and that after having such a strong start to the season shooting free throws.  The Bulldogs only scored 19 points in the first half and never could quite catch up.  It’s hard to complete a comeback (The Citadel managed to get within two late, but UCA got it back to four almost immediately on a breakaway slam) when you’re down 10 at the break and there are only 56 possessions in the entire game.

The Citadel only committed three turnovers, and had a good rebounding effort (with lots of offensive boards; of course, you ought to get a lot of offensive rebounds when you miss that many shots).  The defensive stats weren’t great, although they weren’t terrible either.  The Citadel just couldn’t put the ball in the basket, from anywhere on the court.  Maybe the chandeliers distracted the players.

That’s right, chandeliers.  The tournament games were played in a second-floor ballroom with seats for 400 spectators (not that the place was full).  Neither of The Citadel’s games was televised, but I did watch part of another Cancun Challenge game, Drake-New Mexico, which on Sunday night was broadcast on CBS College Sports TV.  It was a rather unusual venue for a basketball game, although not quite at the level of claustrophobic hilarity that defined Deas Hall (the east coast “Thunderdome” is probably my favorite place to have witnessed college hoops, even if it was just a one-season wonder).  While watching the Drake-UNM matchup on TV, I felt strangely disappointed that there weren’t a bunch of different-colored painted lines snaking around and through the court.

The Citadel would rebound from the tough loss to Central Arkansas the next day, beating Grambling in a solid performance.  The game was close until late in the first half, when the Bulldogs went on a 14-3 run over the final 3:23 to take a 10-point lead into the break.  Grambling would not get within nine points for the remainder of the game.  Fans watching this game could have been justified in taking a nap during the second half once the Bulldogs had established their lead, considering the contest’s glacial pace (54 possessions for each team).  The Citadel had its best statistical performance of the season to date defensively, as the Tigers only shot 37% from the field, collected only two offensive rebounds, and turned the ball over 12 times.

Grambling had beaten Morehead State the night before by one point on a last-second tip-in; you have to wonder how much the Tigers had left in the tank for this game.  Of course, The Citadel had played a hard-fought game of its own on Saturday as well.

The Bulldogs got solid contributions from Zach Urbanus (15 points to lead all scorers) and Cameron Wells (the 6’1″ guard grabbed 14 of The Citadel’s 27 total rebounds, and added 10 points of his own).  The offensive efficiency wasn’t bad at all, although The Citadel only shot four free throws in the entire game.  The Bulldogs more than compensated for that by going 12-26 from 3-land, with Urbanus making five from long range and Austin Dahn adding three more.

The other interesting thing about this game from The Citadel’s perspective was that freshman Matt Roberts started instead of Demetrius Nelson.  Roberts only played eight minutes, though, while Nelson played 20, slighly under his average.  That might be something to watch, or it may have just been an experiment.  Maybe Nelson started gazing too intently at the chandeliers before the game started and got dizzy.

All in all, I think Ed Conroy and company are probably satisfied with what they got out of the Cancun Challenge — namely, a nice Thanksgiving weekend trip to a resort, and a chance to play two extra non-conference games, both of which were competitive (instead of one-sided affairs on the winning or losing side) before starting the conference season.  The Bulldogs start that conference season on Thursday night against UNC-Greensboro, the first of two road games in three days (The Citadel travels to Elon on Saturday).  The Bulldogs now have as many victories against Division I opposition as they did all of last season.  Now it’s time to see if this week they can match or exceed their number of conference wins from all of last year (one).