Hoops season has arrived, and just in time

At first, I was going to wait for a couple of games to be played before I started posting about The Citadel’s basketball team.  I like to do that because I want to see how things are going to shake out in terms of personnel (who is getting the minutes), style of play, etc.

While everyone knows who the key players will be (Cam and Zach!), and who some of the regulars will be (like Austin Dahn and Bryan Streeter), there is still uncertainty about who will be manning other positions and featuring in the rotation.  Can Cosmo Morabbi find his shot?  Is it true that Matt Clark is going to thrive in the new offensive system?  Just how quick is freshman DeVontae Wright?  Are the two European-born grad student big guys named Mike any good?

Plus, Chuck Driesell is now the coach, and apparently he wants to play at a quicker tempo than his predecessor, Ed Conroy.  In the exhibition victory over North Greenville, the Bulldogs had 71 possessions.  In 2010, The Citadel averaged 61.1 possessions per game; in 2009, 64.8 ppg.  Of course, it’s only one game, and one that doesn’t count.

However, I decided to make this ramble of a post, because I’m ready for the season to start.  If I hadn’t been excited for college hoops season already, Wednesday night’s thriller between Maryland and the College of Charleston would have done the trick anyway.  That was a fun game to watch, and also an instructive one for the Bulldogs.

In last season’s two meetings with the CofC, The Citadel did a good job keeping Andrew Goudelock from exploding from beyond the arc.  He was a combined 2-14 from 3-land in the two games.  The Bulldogs are going to have to do that again this season when they match up against the Cougars.  It won’t be easy.

The Citadel opens its season on the road at Richmond.  The Spiders, which run the “Princeton” offense, were very good last season, and are expected to be very good again this year.  In 2010 Richmond narrowly missed out on winning the Atlantic 10 regular season title, and then advanced to the league tourney final.  The Spiders received an at-large bid to the NCAAs, finishing 26-9 after a first-round loss to St. Mary’s.

Richmond features 2010 A-10 player of the year Kevin Anderson, a 6’0″ guard who averaged nearly 18 points per game last season, and 6’10” NBA prospect Justin Harper, both seniors.  They are two of eleven returning scholarship players. Richmond has a bevy of frontcourt players to complement Harper, but must find an outside shooter to replace Daniel Gonzalves, who has graduated.  There appear to be several worthy candidates, however.

The Spiders’ only real weakness is on the boards, and it cost them against St. Mary’s, as Gaels big man Omar Samhan had a field day against them.  (Of course, 2-seed Villanova couldn’t handle Samhan either.)

There is a lot of anticipation for the upcoming season for Richmond fans, who expect a banner campaign — and it’s hard to blame them for being excited.

As for the game itself, besides Richmond’s talent, I’m a little concerned about the pace of play.  If Driesell’s Dogs really are going to be significantly more uptempo this season, then this will be a case of the Spiders wanting to play “slower” than the Bulldogs.

It has been unusual in recent years, of course, for a team to play at a slower pace than The Citadel, but when it has happened it has occasionally thrown the Bulldogs off their game.  I remember a bad Iowa team beating The Citadel easily at McAlister Field House two years ago, partly because of its size, and partly because The Citadel seemed flummoxed by the Hawkeyes’ style.  The same has sometimes been true when playing Samford, another school that employs the Princeton offense (the 2009 SoCon tourney game still gives me nightmares).

If The Citadel is going to try to occasionally force the action this season, there will be times when the other team wants to slow the game down, and the Bulldogs are going to have to learn how to adjust.  Friday night’s game may provide a good test in that respect.

Earlier in the summer, it was generally believed that The Citadel would be participating in the Charleston Classic.  I was very happy about that, as it would be a chance for the Bulldogs to play good competition early in the season, and possibly on television.

However, at the last minute Wofford was substituted as the SoCon’s representative in the tournament.  I was less than thrilled about that, and am even less thrilled now, because it’s my understanding that The Citadel elected not to play in the tournament after originally agreeing to do so.  Ed Conroy was game, but Chuck Driesell was apparently not interested.

I’m sure he had a good reason, but I would like to know what that reason was.  The Charleston Classic is an ESPN tournament, and will get its fair share of promotion from the four-letter.  In addition, at least two (if not all three) of the games The Citadel would have played in the tourney would have been on television.

There is nothing more frustrating than having a billion college basketball games on television, and almost none of them featuring your team.  This season, The Citadel will apparently only appear on television three times — on SportSouth (at the College of Charleston), on FSN-Rocky Mountain against Colorado, and on KASY-TV, which will carry the game against New Mexico (but which probably won’t be on Full Court, and thus will be unavailable outside the Albuquerque area).

ESPN will televise over 1200 college basketball games this season.  None of them involve The Citadel.

The Citadel should have (at the very least) a competitive team this year, one that merits as much promotion and coverage as it can handle.  As it is, the Bulldogs are so anonymous that the mammoth College Basketball Prospectus forgot to include The Citadel in its publication, the only one of 345 Division I programs to be left out.

The Bulldogs aren’t playing in next season’s Charleston Classic either (oddly, no SoCon school is).  Maybe The Citadel is holding out for another chance to play in a ballroom in Cancun

I’ll close this post by throwing in a few links:

— Richmond game notes (.pdf):  Notice that Chuck Driesell’s name is misspelled. Also, it would have been nice if UR had referred to “The Citadel” on its cover page, but considering we can’t get the name right on our uniforms, I can’t complain about another school failing to do so.

— Richmond student newspaper, The Collegian, with a writeup:  Link

— Here is an article on Tulane’s exhibition victory over Loyola of New Orleans.  I’m only linking it because I’m a little puzzled about Ben Cherry being eligible.  More power to him.

— The “holy grail” for The Citadel’s basketball program, of course, is the NCAA Tournament.  For those unaware of how difficult this task has been for the Bulldogs, my manifesto from two seasons ago (slightly outdated but still mostly relevant):  Link

— Do you remember how a feature story on Ed Conroy and the Bulldogs almost always wound up being about Pat Conroy?  Of course you do.  Well, prepare for more of the same, as scribes writing about Chuck Driesell and The Citadel will often revert to telling stories about Lefty.

I’m ready for some hoops…

Southern Conference tourney time

Last year, I wrote about The Citadel’s abysmal record in the Southern Conference tournament.  The next few paragraphs are an updated version of that piece.  Feel free to ignore them if you have a weak stomach.  The preview for this year’s tournament (from The Citadel’s perspective) follows the history lesson.

One of the more curious things about The Citadel’s wretched history in the SoCon tourney is that there is no firm answer to just how many times the school has lost in the event.  That’s because the league has mutated so many times there is a dispute as to what year the first “official” conference tournament was held.

Before 1920, The Citadel was one of many schools in a rather loose confederation known as the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association.  (The Citadel initially joined in 1909.)  There were about 30 colleges in the SIAA by 1920, including almost every member of the current SEC and about half of the current ACC, along with schools such as Centre, Sewanee (later a member of the SEC  — seriously!), Chattanooga, Wofford, Howard (now called Samford, of course), and Millsaps, just to name a few.  As you might imagine, the large and disparate membership had some disagreements, and was just plain hard to manage, so a number of the schools left to form the Southern Conference in late 1920.

In the spring of 1921, the SIAA sponsored a basketball tournament, which would be the forerunner to all the conference hoops tourneys to follow.  Any southern college or university could travel to Atlanta to play, and fifteen schools did just that.  Kentucky beat Georgia in the final.  The Citadel did not enter the event, but several other small colleges did, including Newberry (for those unfamiliar with Newberry, it’s a tiny school located in central South Carolina).  The tournament featured teams from the new Southern Conference, the old SIAA, and squads like Newberry, which wasn’t in either league (it would join the SIAA in 1923).

In 1922 the SIAA held another tournament in Atlanta, this one won by North Carolina, which beat Mercer in the final.  The Citadel entered this time, losing in the first round to Vanderbilt.  The SIAA tournament remained all-comers until 1924, when it was restricted to Southern Conference members.

Some sources suggest that the 1921 tournament is the first “official” Southern Conference tournament, some go with the 1922 event, and others argue for 1924.  From what I can tell, the league itself is a bit wishy-washy on the issue.  On the conference website, it states:

The first Southern Conference Championship was the league basketball tournament held in Atlanta in 1922. The North Carolina Tar Heels won the tournament to become the first recognized league champion in any sport. The Southern Conference Tournament remains the oldest of its kind in college basketball.

That’s great, but the conference’s own record book lists Kentucky as having won the first tournament title in 1921 (on page 113; oddly, that year is excluded from the game-by-game tournament results that begin on page 114).  Of course, the edition of the record book on the conference website is several years old and lists The Citadel as having once lost 37 straight games, which is incorrect, so take it for what you will.

Personally, I think that the idea of having a conference tournament is to determine a league champion, and it stands to reason that such a tournament would only include league members.  So the first “real” Southern Conference tournament, in my opinion, was held in 1924.

There is a point to this, trust me.  The difference between counting the Vanderbilt loss as a SoCon tourney loss and not counting it is the difference between The Citadel’s alltime record in the event being 10-56 or 10-57.  Not that they both aren’t hideous totals, but as of now The Citadel shares the NCAA record for “most consecutive conference tournament appearances without a title” with Clemson, which is 0-for-56 in trying to win the ACC tournament.  Counting the Vanderbilt game would mean The Citadel is alone in its conference tourney infamy.  No offense to the Tigers, but I don’t believe the 1922 game should count, because it wasn’t really a Southern Conference tournament game.

By the way, you read that right.  The Citadel is 10-56 alltime in the SoCon tournament.  That’s just unbelievably bad.  It comes out to a 15% winning percentage, which is more than twice as bad as even The Citadel’s lousy alltime conference regular season winning percentage (35%).  The Citadel lost 17 straight tourney games from 1961-78, and then from 1985-97 lost 13 more in a row.

Tangent:  The single-game scoring record in the tournament is held by Marshall’s Skip Henderson, who put up 55 on The Citadel in 1988 in a game Marshall won by 43 points.  The next night the Thundering Herd, which had won the regular season title that year, lost to UT-Chattanooga by one point.  Karma.

Those long losing streaks didn’t occur in consecutive years, as The Citadel didn’t always qualify for the tournament, particularly in the years before 1953, when there were up to 17 teams in the league at any given time, and only the top squads played in the tourney.  The Citadel’s first “real” appearance, in 1938, resulted in a 42-38 loss to Maryland.

The Citadel would lose two more tourney openers before winning its first game in 1943, against South Carolina.  That would be the only time the Bulldogs and Gamecocks faced each other in the tournament, and so South Carolina is one of two teams The Citadel has a winning record against in SoCon tourney play (the Bulldogs are 2-0 against VMI).

The next time The Citadel would win a game in the tournament?  1959, when the Bulldogs actually won two games, against Furman and George Washington, and found themselves in the tourney final.  Unfortunately, the opponent in the title game was West Virginia, led by Jerry West.  West scored 27 points and the Mountaineers pulled away late for an 85-66 victory.  This would be the only time The Citadel ever made the championship game; it’s also the only time the Bulldogs won two games in the tournament.

After a 1961 quarterfinal victory over Richmond, The Citadel would not win another tournament game until 1979, when the Bulldogs defeated Davidson before losing to Furman.  The game against Davidson was played at McAlister Field House and was the final victory of a 20-win campaign, the school’s first.

The Citadel would win single games in 1982 and 1985 before going winless until 1998, when it finally broke a 13-game tourney losing streak by beating VMI.  The Keydets would be the next victim as well, in 2002, and were apparently so embarrassed they left the league.  The Citadel’s latest win in conference tournament action came in 2006 against Furman.

Twenty-one different schools have defeated The Citadel in tournament play, with Davidson’s eight victories leading the way (against one loss to the Bulldogs).  East Tennessee State went 6-0 against The Citadel while in the league.

Ed Conroy is 0-3 in the SoCon tourney as head coach of The Citadel (he was also 0-4 as a player).  If The Citadel were to win its conference tournament opener against Samford, and then lose the next day to Appalachian State, Conroy’s record would improve to 1-4.  That would be the second-highest winning percentage in the tournament for a Bulldog coach since the days of Norm Sloan.

Sloan was 2-4 in the tourney; his successor, Mel Thompson, won his first tournament game as head coach.  He would never win another, finishing with a record of 1-6.  Dick Campbell was 0-4.  George Hill was 0-3.  Les Robinson was 3-10 (a record which by winning percentage leads all of the post-Sloan coaches).  Randy Nesbit was 0-7.  Pat Dennis was 3-14.

(By the way, the best record for a Bulldog coach in SoCon tourney play is that of Bo Sherman, who went 1-1 in 1943, his lone season in charge.  Sherman’s Bulldogs defeated South Carolina before losing to Duke.)

The Citadel’s record against current SoCon teams in the tournament:  Furman 2-5, UT-Chattanooga 0-1, Elon 0-1, Samford 0-1, College of Charleston 0-1, Georgia Southern 0-2, Western Carolina 1-1, Appalachian State 1-6, Davidson 1-8.  (The Citadel has never played Wofford or UNC-Greensboro in the tournament.)

Last season The Citadel was flying high, having won 20 games for only the second time ever, and had high hopes entering the tournament.  Those hopes came crashing down against Samford, a team The Citadel had defeated by 25 points during the regular season.  Samford’s patient, Princeton-style offense scored 76 points on only 55 possessions, as the Birmingham Bulldogs got off to a great start and never really let The Citadel into the game.  It was a very disappointing finish to an otherwise outstanding season.

This season The Citadel appeared on the verge of making a nice run into the SoCon tourney, having reeled off five straight victories, and needing just one more to clinch a winning season, both overall and in  league play.  It didn’t happen, though, as the Bulldogs lost their last three games. The loss at Furman, in particular, was very poor.  The Citadel is now 15-15 for this year’s campaign, and would have to win at least two games in the tourney to garner its first back-to-back winning campaigns since 1980.

Instead of a bye into the quarterfinals, The Citadel finds itself playing in the first round on Friday, finishing as the 4th seed in the South division.  Friday’s opponent, Samford, struggled to an 11-19 record (5-13 SoCon) and is the 5th seed from the North division.  The winner will play Appalachian State, which finished first in the North, on Saturday night.

The two teams met twice during the regular season, with The Citadel winning both games.  The first game, played in Birmingham on January 16, was the definition of slow tempo, with The Citadel’s patient motion offense (61.4 possessions per game, 8th slowest nationally) outlasting Samford’s Princeton-style attack (58.1 possessions per game, slowest in the country).

The cadets had but 51 possessions in the contest, and made just enough of them count to prevail 51-50.  Cameron Wells had 19 points, while Austin Dahn had 17 (making 4 three-pointers).  For Samford, Bryan Friday and Andy King combined for 28 points.  The Citadel’s edge on the boards (26-20) proved critical.

In the rematch in Charleston, Samford led by 10 points with less than 10 minutes to play but was unable to hold on, thanks to a fine outside shooting performance in the second half by The Citadel.  Freshman Ben Cherry had his best game of the season with 3 three-pointers, including two big shots late in the game.

Austin Dahn, who had made 4 three-pointers in the first meeting, hit four more in the second game to finish with 15 points and offset a poor shooting night for Wells (2-10 FG).  Harrison DuPont added 13 points and 7 rebounds, good enough to survive an excellent game by Samford’s Josh Davis (24 points on only 11 FG attempts).  The Citadel had 54 possessions in that game.

For The Citadel, the key to beating Samford for a third time this season is confidence. Last year in the tournament game, Samford ran out to an early lead.  I think The Citadel’s players got a little nervous, especially because trying to play from behind against a team as patient as Samford can be very frustrating (just like it can be for teams playing The Citadel).  The fact that the game was an elimination game in tournament play just exacerbated the tension.

It cannot help that The Citadel has no history of success in the SoCon tourney on which to build.  That is why I think it is important for the Bulldogs to win this game. Even if The Citadel does not go on to win the tournament (winning four games in four days is extremely unlikely), enjoying just a taste of victory in the tourney may go a long way next season, when The Citadel figures to field a squad capable of contending for the SoCon title.  This current crop of players needs to know it can win games in the tournament.

One thing working in The Citadel’s favor is that while it has lost three straight games, so has Samford.  Also, while Cameron Wells did not shoot well in the latter part of the season, he was 10-16 from the field in the season finale against Wofford.  That bodes well for the Bulldogs, which will need point production from Wells in the tournament.

The Citadel needs to start well, maintain its confidence, and not spend the whole night in “here we go again” mode.

If the Bulldogs advance, the next opponent would be Appalachian State, a team The Citadel defeated 62-58 in Boone early in the season.  Appy star Donald Sims scored 22 points, but got no help from his teammates, none of whom scored more than 7 points, while Wells had 21 and Dahn 14 for the Bulldogs.  Since then, the Mountaineers have fashioned an excellent season, and if not for the draw would be my pick to win the league tournament.

Wofford won the regular season and has the best draw, and I suppose should be the favorite, but for some reason I’m not quite convinced the Terriers have what it takes to win three straight games in three days.

It should be an interesting four days in Charlotte.  It would be nice if The Citadel added to the interest.

Lose two, win three: the pattern changes for The Citadel’s hoops squad

I was starting to think the season was going to take a serious turn for the worse after the Bulldogs went 0-2 on the Georgia Southern/Davidson road swing, blowing sizable leads in both games.  The loss in Statesboro was the nadir of the 2009-10 campaign, with the number 21 figuring prominently — a 21-point lead blown, thanks mostly to 21 turnovers (on only 66 possessions — yikes) and 21 fouls.  GSU took advantage of all the fouling, hitting a staggering 27 of its 28 free throw attempts.

(The Bulldogs also had 21 rebounds in that game.  Really, after the game somebody from The Citadel should have caught a plane to Vegas and started playing blackjack.)

If that loss didn’t all but eliminate any chance of The Citadel garnering a first-round bye in the Southern Conference tournament, the tough OT setback to the Wildcats almost surely did.  Despite blowing another early lead, this wasn’t as bad an effort by the Bulldogs.  Ultimately, The Citadel didn’t shoot well enough to win the game (39% from the field, including 27% from beyond the arc).  The Bulldogs did a much better job protecting the basketball (nine turnovers) but could not overcome Davidson’s rebounding advantage (including 11 offensive boards).  To beat a good team on the road, The Citadel needed a few more good things to happen.

The team could have folded at that point.  It didn’t, though.  The day after the Davidson game, Ed Conroy made a series of Tweets.  Tying them together, they read like this:

Tough trip home. Our guys really take losses hard which is why they always bounce back. Love this group. We really competed – great game.

Our job as coaches is to get prepared for practice because these guys will be focused on getting better tomorrow. They are determined and resilient. I can’t wait to get back and clip this film so we can show our guys what we need to improve on. Wells and Urbanus will have everyone ready to focus tomorrow. That’s all you can ask! Really thankful I don’t have to worry about that. Go Dogs!

Well, they were as good as his word when it came to being resilient.  In the next game, against Samford, The Citadel trailed by 11 points with a little over 10 minutes remaining.  11 points is a lot to make up for a team like The Citadel, especially when playing Samford, a team that likes to operate at an even slower pace than the cadets.

Samford, like all SoCon teams, was determined to stop Cameron Wells, and it succeeded in holding him to 8 points.  However, for the first time in a while, Wells’ teammates picked up the scoring slack.  Austin Dahn and Harrison DuPont combined for 28 points, and freshman Ben Cherry hit three big three-pointers.  The Citadel came back and won.

For the first time all season the Bulldogs claimed victory in a game despite committing more turnovers than the opposition.  I think that can be at least partly attributed to the more balanced scoring (and better shooting).  With more than one player able to contribute offensively, it could be argued that the team’s margin of error is not quite so small.

The Citadel followed that up with another home victory, a deserved triumph over UT-Chattanooga, the first time the Bulldogs had beaten the Mocs on the hardwood since 2002.  Of course, The Citadel would have won the earlier matchup in Chattanooga if not for a miracle shot by Keegan Bell.  Bell had no magic on demand in this game, however, putting up a goose egg in the scoring column despite playing 31 minutes.

On the other hand, Mocs forward Ridge McKeither, who had missed the first game against the Bulldogs, finished with 13 points and 18 rebounds, and probably should have been the focus of the UTC offense more often.  Instead the Mocs hoisted up 35 three-pointers, making just 8 of them.  UTC also struggled from the charity stripe (10-20) and committed five more turnovers than the Bulldogs.

UTC did outrebound The Citadel 41-31, but the poor outside shooting (for which The Citadel’s perimeter defense should take a great deal of credit) doomed the Mocs. Meanwhile, Zach Urbanus, who has historically enjoyed shooting three-pointers against UTC — he had 7 threes in a game against the Mocs as a freshman — scored 24 points, thanks mostly to, yes, 7 made three-pointers.

Austin Dahn also had a good game, making three shots from beyond the arc, dishing out four assists, and not committing a turnover in 32 minutes of action.  Then there was the emergence of a new force for the Bulldogs…The Bo Holston Experience.

Holston, a 6’4″ sophomore from Olney, Maryland, had his career game (so far) against UT-Chattanooga, grabbing nine rebounds, including five critical offensive boards, to go along with 7 points and one memorable steal.  Late in the game, with The Citadel unaccountably struggling to hold onto the ball, Holston turned the ball over on a bad pass in the paint.  UTC raced up the court with the basketball, looking to break for an easy hoop — only to have Holston run down the ballhandler and take it right back.  That was basically the game-ending play.

Before that game Holston had appeared in 13 games for the Bulldogs, scoring a total of 18 points.  Against UTC, though, he suddenly morphed into The Bo Holston Experience, an unexpected natural phenomenon not easily explained.  His hustle and spirited play helped offset (along with the efforts of Dahn and Urbanus) another tough shooting night for Wells, who was 1-10 from the floor.  For a second consecutive game, the Bulldogs survived a less-than-stellar offensive outing from their best player.

(They also survived some sketchy officiating, as it was another Saturday night in the SoCon.  For a while, Cosmo Morabbi looked more like Vito Anterfuermo than a basketball player, but no autopsy, no foul.)

The Citadel hadn’t won three straight games all season until Monday night’s satisfying win over the College of Charleston.  With that win, the Bulldogs remain undefeated at Carolina First Arena.  The Citadel is 2-0 in the building, as opposed to, say, UNC, which is winless in the facility (after losing in OT to the CofC earlier this season).

Incidentally, next year The Citadel is scheduled to play four games at Carolina First Arena, one against the Cougars and three others as part of the Charleston Classic.  It’s nice to know the Bulldogs are comfortable playing there.

As for the game on Monday night, The Citadel against took advantage of a team having a cold shooting night from three-point land, as the Cougars were 6-23 from beyond the arc.  The Bulldogs’ excellent perimeter D harassed CofC star Andrew Goudelock into a 1-8 shooting night from outside.  The Cougars, like UTC, seemed unwilling to pound the ball inside as often as might have been expected, although Bryan Streeter probably deserves credit for solid post defense (notably his positioning).

Wells scored 15 points in this game, not quite at his scoring average, but he did have five assists.  Urbanus’ two huge three-pointers in crunch time provided the Bulldogs with a little breathing room, and DuPont and Holston had a combined line of 39 minutes, 23 points (on 10-18 shooting), 10 rebounds and only 2 turnovers.  That works.

One thing about Cameron Wells:  maybe he hasn’t been putting as many points on the board as usual, but he’s still a major offensive force, as other teams focus on him at the risk of letting other Bulldogs get good looks.  In the last three games, the other players for The Citadel have taken advantage of those opportunities, many of them directly provided by Wells, who in those three outings has 19 assists (against only 5 turnovers).

As I noted earlier, I think the losses to GSU and Davidson probably mean that The Citadel has little to no chance of a first-round SoCon tourney bye.  However, the last three games have given hope that perhaps the team could arrive in Charlotte with a good deal of momentum.  Besides, the bye last year didn’t exactly help the Bulldogs much.  (I would still want it, of course.  It’s easier to win three games in three nights than four games in four nights.)

The Citadel has a chance of having a winning season, both overall and in SoCon play, both of which would be fine accomplishments, given the history of the program.  Only twice in the last 45 years has The Citadel enjoyed consecutive winning seasons.

Also, over the last two years the Bulldogs have won 33 games (with a number of games remaining this season, obviously).  Only once in school history has The Citadel won more games over a two year-span — 1979-80, when the Bulldogs won 34 games.

After playing three games in five days, The Citadel has some time off, playing just one game in the next ten days.  That will come Saturday at Elon.  The Phoenix are only 6-17 but are improving as the season goes along, and have two straight league wins as proof, having won on the road at Furman and at home against Western Carolina. Elon also has a win over UT-Chattanooga.  Last season The Citadel lost a tough game at Elon, 56-54, before gaining a season split at McAlister Field House (60-58).

As for this season’s Phoenix squad, it’s not a good shooting team (10th in the league in FG%, next-to-last in 3FG% and FT%).  Elon plays a slightly more uptempo game than does The Citadel, although that’s true of every team in the SoCon except Samford.  The Phoenix do a reasonable job of protecting the basketball, but are not a particularly strong defensive outfit (and like the Bulldogs, do not have good rebounding stats).

In the win over Furman, 6’2″ guard T.J. Douglas had 21 points and 13 (!) rebounds. Douglas likes to shoot from outside, as he has 123 three-point attempts this season, but only 10 trips to the free throw line.  Another guy not afraid to shoot from beyond the arc is Drew Spradlin, who had 14 points against the Paladins, and led the Phoenix with 16 against WCU.  In that game, five Elon players scored in double figures.

The Citadel should have the confidence to go on the road and get a win, but it won’t be easy.  Then again, it never is.

Evaluating The Citadel’s basketball team after six SoCon games

The Citadel split its most recent four games, all in league play, which wasn’t so bad when you consider three of them were on the road, but it could have been much better — and it could have been much worse.  All four games were close, with two coming down to the final possession.  The Bulldogs were burned on a last-ditch three-pointer by UT-Chattanooga on Thursday, but recovered to outlast Samford on Saturday by one solitary point.

That Samford game, by the way, was not exactly a track meet.  The final score (51-50) reflected a game in which The Citadel had 51 possessions, while Samford had 52.  This was not a surprise, as the two teams are among the four slowest-paced outfits in Division I, both preferring an ultra-patient approach.  It’s particularly the case with Samford, which for the season is averaging just 57 possessions per game, easily the lowest number in the country.  The Citadel, at barely 60 possessions per contest, is fourth-lowest.

The slower pace definitely helps The Citadel, which is much more competitive in games in which it can control the tempo.  The importance of each possession in these types of games is something to which the Bulldogs have become accustomed, and is something not all opponents have grasped.  This has sometimes given The Citadel an advantage when playing teams that are perhaps more athletic but not as disciplined.

I know what some people are wondering about, though.  Right now The Citadel is 9-9 overall, 3-3 in the league.  This is after last season’s 20-win campaign (which included 15 SoCon victories).  What is not going right this year that went right last year?

Well, first it should be noted that the Bulldogs are almost exactly where they were last year at this time in terms of record.  Last season after 18 games The Citadel was 8-10, 3-4 in the league, coming off a loss at Wofford.  The Bulldogs then proceeded to win 11 games in a row.

I’m going to make a not-so-bold prediction now, which is that The Citadel is not about to embark on a 11-game winning streak.  Not this year, anyway.  That isn’t to say the team can’t put together a good midseason run, but there are issues that may not be easily solvable.

When looking at the team statistics, the first thing that jumps out at you is the three-point shooting, both offensively and defensively.  At first I was concerned with the defensive stats, but upon further review (stealing an NFL term) they aren’t all that bad.  Offensive output from beyond the arc, though, is another story.  The Citadel is struggling shooting the three-pointer, and I think a lot of that has to do with…interior play.

Last season in conference play, the Bulldogs only allowed opponents to shoot 28.9% from three-point land, which led the league.  This season that number has risen significantly, to 36.8%.  However, almost all of that increase  is attributable to one game, Davidson’s flukish (well, I think it was flukish) 15-27 night from beyond the arc.  If you take that game out of the equation, in five other SoCon matchups The Citadel’s defensive 3FG% is 31.1%, still a little higher than last season but acceptable.

Then there are the offensive numbers from behind the three-point line.  Last season The Citadel shot 36.7% from three-land in SoCon play; this year after six games that number is 28.5%, which is next-to-last in the league.  That includes a 10-22 shooting performance against Georgia Southern, which is the poorest team in the conference at defending the three.   The Bulldogs were solid from beyond the arc against Appalachian State (9-22) but otherwise have been mostly dreadful from deep, including 3-18 against the College of Charleston and 5-34 against UTC.

Almost as disturbing as the number of misses against the Mocs were the number of attempts, which points up another curious statistic.  The Citadel is actually averaging more points scored per game via three-pointers this season (38.7% of total points scored) than it did last year (31.1%) despite not shooting as well from outside.

Last year the Bulldogs only had four conference games (out of 20) in which they shot worse than 31% from three-point land.  This year they’ve been below that mark three times in six games.  Despite the lack of success, the Bulldogs are averaging 3 more three-point attempts per game this season than last.  So why is the three-point scoring more prominent?

The answer, I would suggest, lies in the Bulldogs’ lack of productivity inside.  The easiest way to illustrate this is The Citadel’s below-average 47.5% shooting from inside the arc (last year in league play that number was over 50%).  However, I think the real issue is the lack of made free throws.  This is where the Bulldogs really miss Demetrius Nelson.

Last season 21.2% of The Citadel’s points came at the charity stripe, which was excellent (the national average is 18%).  This year, though, the Bulldogs are only getting 13.94% of their points from the line.  That’s a big difference, especially for a team that has a limited number of possessions per game.

The Citadel averages 60.4 points per game.  13.94% of 60.4 is 8.4, so the Bulldogs are picking up a little over 8 points per game from the foul line.  Now, let’s say they were getting 21.2% of their points from free throw shooting.  That would be about 13 points per game.  Those extra 5 points make a big difference.  Last season The Citadel was 6-3 in games decided by 5 points or less.  Three of those games came during the 11-game win streak.

This year the Bulldogs are 1-2 in such games, and that doesn’t count the six-point loss to the CofC.  In that game, The Citadel shot only 8 total free throws.  In the Bulldogs’ two victories over the Cougars last season, the Citadel shot a combined 40 free throws.

The problem is that I don’t know if The Citadel can increase its free throw productivity.  Nelson averaged over 5 made free throws per game last season, which was more than every other player on the roster combined, save Cameron Wells.  This season Wells is averaging almost exactly the same number of made FTs per game as he did last year (3.3), but no one else is drawing fouls and shooting free throws.

The two primary inside players for The Citadel, Joe Wolfinger and Bryan Streeter, each are averaging one made free throw per game.  When compared to Nelson, that’s a big differential to overcome.  The essential dilemma for The Citadel is that unlike Nelson, neither is a true post threat.

Wolfinger has the size but not the strength or intuitiveness for the role.  Streeter has strength and verve, but lacks size and is not the most offensively skilled of players; he is also a poor free throw shooter.  He has made some strides this season in FT%, though, and has also improved his turnover rate by over 50%.

I’ve mentioned before that I have been impressed with Mike Groselle in his brief appearances for The Citadel, and he may be the future in the paint.  However, his development has been affected by an ankle injury, and at any rate it is probably a bit much to ask a true freshman to play major minutes in the post.

My guess is that as the season goes along Ed Conroy and his coaching staff will try to devise more ways to get players to the foul line.  Whether that means Cameron Wells (or another guard/swingman type) posting up more, I have no idea.

Without the “free” points, The Citadel is going to have to just be that much better at everything else it does offensively.  So far the Bulldogs have done a good job avoiding turnovers (the turnover rate is actually better right now than it was last season), and the rebounding, while not great, hasn’t been a major problem.  The Citadel has to continue to improve on the offensive boards, especially if it continues to struggle from outside.

There will be more missed shots, and thus more chances to grab offensive boards.  Those chances need to be taken; as I noted earlier, every possession is important.  Someone who is providing value in that respect is Harrison DuPont, who has 11 offensive rebounds in his last three games, which is outstanding.

The lack of offensive game on the interior is probably a factor in the less-than-stellar outside shooting.  Without the threat on the inside, opponents can concentrate on stopping the Bulldogs’ marksmen.

Zach Urbanus is currently in a bit of a slump from outside, shooting only 9-39 in his last seven games, including 3-19 in a two-game stretch against the CofC and UTC.  He was 1-2 against Samford, though, so perhaps becoming more selective (which is his general mode anyway) will get him back in the groove.

I’m hoping that both Urbanus and Cosmo Morabbi start shooting better from beyond the arc.  Morabbi went four straight games without a made three-pointer before hitting one against Samford.  The Bulldogs really need him to start making that 3-ball from the corner.  Conversely, Austin Dahn appears to be back on track from outside.  Dahn needs to improve his decision-making on offense just a bit, though, as of late he has been a touch turnover-prone.

Also getting time in the rotation is Daniel Eykyn, who seems to be a “glue guy” of sorts for Conroy; passes the ball, plays defense, hustles, lets other players rest, etc.  He averages one turnover every 35 minutes of play, best on the team for players with over 100 total minutes played (also taking care of the ball in limited time:  Groselle and Ben Cherry, who has no turnovers in 66 minutes of action).

As for Wells, he continues his impressive campaign, which looks a lot like last year’s impressive campaign.  He’s currently averaging almost 18 points per game, to go along with about 5 rebounds and 4 assists per contest.  He’s on the floor for 34+ minutes per game (just behind Urbanus for the team lead; both are among the national leaders in minutes played) and has close to a 2-1 assist/turnover ratio.

Wells has pilfered almost two steals per game and even leads the team in blocked shots (albeit with only five; The Citadel is tied for last in the country in blocked shots per game, sharing that less-than-ideal distinction with Nicholls State).

Next up for the Bulldogs are two home games, one on Thursday against Wofford and the second on Saturday against Furman.  After those two contests, The Citadel will have played every one of its divisional opponents at home, so the stretch run will include a lot of tough road games.  Holding serve at home is important, particularly in what I believe to be an improved Southern Conference.  The Citadel has already lost two home SoCon games and can’t afford to drop many more at McAlister Field House.

It’s not going to be easy.  First up on Thursday, as mentioned, is Wofford.  I believe Wofford may be the best team in the league, although the Terriers started 0-2 in conference play.  The loss at Western Carolina was understandable, but Wofford followed that up by losing at home to Appalachian State.  Since then, though, the Terriers have reeled off four straight SoCon victories, the most impressive of which probably being a 68-62 home win over Davidson.

It’s out of conference where Wofford has made its best impression.  The Terriers have wins over Georgia and South Carolina, not to mention a 3-point loss at Pittsburgh which looks better ever day.

The Terriers are a deep team (10 players get 10+ minutes per game; 7 of them get 17+ mpg) led by 6’6″ junior Noah Dahlman, one of the league’s best players.  Dahlman is averaging 17.7 points per game (the only Terrier averaging double figures in scoring), and shoots better than 60% from the field.  He had 20 against Pitt and 19 against South Carolina.

He’s not the only guy to watch, though, as evidenced by the win over Georgia.  Dahlman had 11 points (in only 21 minutes) in that game, but three other Terriers chipped in 10+ points to enable the Terriers to win, led by 6’8″ senior Corey Godzinski, who had 13.

Godzinski scored 12 points in last year’s game at McAlister, one of two games Wofford won over The Citadel last season (Dahlman had 17 in both contests).  The Terriers proved to be a tough matchup for the Bulldogs in 2008-09.  I suspect the same will be true this year.

Wofford isn’t a big three-point shooting team, although it is an efficient squad from closer range.  Wofford is a good passing team, leading the conference in assists per game.  The Terriers do a good job defending the outside shot, and also force more than their fair share of turnovers.  Wofford does turn the ball over itself a bit more than the norm.  The Terriers average 71.3 possessions per game in league play.

Furman looks to be much more competitive this season; after only winning 4 of 20 league games last year, the Paladins are 3-3 in the conference play entering this week’s play.  Like The Citadel, Furman has a road win against Appalachian State and a home victory over Georgia Southern.  The Paladins also have a win at Elon.

Furman is a junior-dominated team with two double-figure scorers, Amu Saaka (16.7 ppg) and Jordan Miller (15.2 ppg).  The 6’6″ Saaka, who started his career at South Florida, scored 34 points in a loss to Davidson and is also averaging 6.8 rebounds per contest.  Miller is a 6’2″ guard who had 15 points and 6 assists in the Paladins’ recent win over Georgia Southern.

Furman has been good defending the three-point shot in league play, which might trouble The Citadel.  On the other hand, the Paladins are both turnover-prone and not particularly adept at creating turnovers.  Furman averages 72+ possessions per game, so the battle to control tempo will be key.

One more thing:  at halftime of the Furman game on Saturday, The Citadel will honor the jersey of Regan Truesdale, two-time Southern Conference player of the year and the school’s all-time leading scorer.  The Citadel honored Art Musselman in similar fashion last year.  This is part of Ed Conroy’s  long-range plan for developing a hoops tradition at The Citadel, and I think it’s a really good idea.  Congratulations to Regan Truesdale, who absolutely deserves the honor.

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.

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.