Bulldog hoops: the most disappointing season

The Citadel’s last victory on the hardwood came at Davidson, on January 26.  As this post is going up on February 20, that is a problem.  The Bulldogs have lost seven straight games, with two regular season road games remaining before the Southern Conference tournament.

It is not out of the question that The Citadel could finish the season on a ten-game losing streak.  The last time the Bulldogs ended a season with a double-digit losing streak was 2005, when Pat Dennis’ team started 12-5 before losing its last eleven contests.

This is not what most people were expecting when the season began.  The Citadel returned many experienced players, including three mainstays (Cameron Wells, Zach Urbanus, and Austin Dahn) in its rotation.  While picked to finish fourth in the South Division of the SoCon in the preseason, many people expected at the very least a winning campaign, and possibly something more than that.

I was one of those people, as I thought The Citadel could win 17 or 18 games.  The Pomeroy Ratings also projected the Bulldogs to win 18 games.

It has been a tough season for new coach Chuck Driesell.  After a four-game winning streak pushed the Bulldogs to a still-not-great 9-13 record, the bottom seemed to fall out of the campaign.  Five of the seven losses in the recent run were at home.  Two of the defeats were particularly awful (Savannah State and the recent loss at Georgia Southern).

Driesell hasn’t had a lot go his way, but I think his decision to shorten his rotation to just seven players, which initially resulted in some impressive victories, ultimately torpedoed the season.

The Citadel has traditionally struggled at the end of basketball seasons, a phenomenon Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier recently called “getting heavy-legged” while speaking on the ‘Citadel Grayline’ radio program.  These end-of-year collapses are generally ascribed to the difficulties of competing in a long sport season while fulfilling the duties associated with being a cadet.

The historical numbers for the Bulldogs bear out the fact that it has been a problem. Just look at the last six years before this one, for example:

— 2010:  finished 16-16 after losing four of their last five games

— 2009:  finished 20-13 after losing three of their last four games (following an 11-game winning streak)

— 2008:  lost 18 of their last 19 games (of course, that team only won six games all year)

— 2007:  lost 12 of their last 13 games (a seven-win team)

— 2006:   lost 18 of their last 22 games (a ten-win team)

— 2005:  as mentioned above, lost 11 straight to finish 12-16

You can find more years like those, even when concentrating on some of the more respectable teams (like 1998, when the Bulldogs lost six of eight to finish 15-13).  The best evidence of “tired legs”, of course, is The Citadel’s stupefying lack of success in the Southern Conference tournament; even though the Bulldogs haven’t had that many good teams over the years, you would have thought The Citadel would have gotten lucky in the league tourney once or twice.  Nope.

Wells, Urbanus, and Dahn have combined to play over 82% of the minutes available to them over the last four years, which is amazing.  What’s not amazing is the rough finishes the team has had, perhaps as a consequence of that.  The trend has continued this season.

In conference play Urbanus has averaged over 38.5 minutes per game, tied for first in the league.  Wells is fourth in the league in minutes, with 36.5 per contest, while Dahn is 14th (32 mpg).  Early foul trouble in a couple of games is the only reason Wells and Dahn haven’t played even more (Urbanus, on the other hand, is one of two players in the entire country averaging less than one foul per forty minutes of play).

Driesell has tried expanding his rotation as the losing streak has continued, although he’s been hamstrung by Cosmo Morabbi’s injury and the general ineffectiveness of the two transfers he brought in for this season (Morakinyo Williams and Mike Dejworek).

I wish that Driesell had decided to wait a year before fully implementing his system. The current roster is obviously built for Ed Conroy’s slower-tempo style of play.  It has been frustrating to watch a team struggle so when it features seniors like the school’s alltime leading scorer and assist man (Wells), career three-point shooting leader (Urbanus), along with a versatile four-year starter (Dahn) and a handy post defender/offensive garbageman (Bryan Streeter).

Then you have the emergence of sophomore Mike Groselle, who has been a revelation in terms of offensive efficiency.  Yet with all that, the team is 9-20, and not by a fluke, either.  No, this is a team that has never put it together on either side of the court, save for that one four-game run in the middle of the season.

For most of the year, The Citadel has lacked an offensive identity and has been poor defensively.  I suspect the offensive problems have contributed to the defensive woes; that is the nature of the game.

I feel badly for the team’s seniors, who I think deserved to go out on a much better note, but at least they will always have memories of the 2009 season, one of the finest in school history.  I am glad they chose to come to The Citadel; it’s one of the best hoops classes the military college has ever had, if not the best.

As for Chuck Driesell, I certainly haven’t given up on him.  He’s got some work to do, however.  Next year’s recruiting class is supposed to be quite good, and Driesell has a well-deserved reputation as a solid talent evaluator.  Now he has to put that talent together (and keep it, never an easy thing at The Citadel).

Driesell seems to prefer outstanding athletes, which is fine, but he must also find room in his system for players like Groselle, whose eFG% in conference games is currently second in the league.  Groselle has a 66.9 FG% in SoCon play and a 3.7 GPA in Civil Engineering;  The Citadel needs as many players like that as it can get, whether they can jump or not.

Regardless, this season has to go down as the most disappointing season in the modern history of The Citadel’s basketball program.  Admittedly, that’s in part because it was the rare season where expectations were fairly high.  That doesn’t make it any less deflating, though.

Bulldog hoops: time to go on a winning streak

I haven’t written about The Citadel’s hoops team in a while (then again, I haven’t had a blog post about anything in some time; I need to start cranking stuff out again). Honestly, though, there hasn’t been a good reason to write about Bulldog basketball, at least a good positive reason.

At least The Citadel won on Monday night, beating Samford 61-50 for the Bulldogs’ first road victory of the season.  A sign of things to come?  To be honest, I doubt it.

The Citadel is 6-13 overall, 2-5 in the Southern Conference, with home games against Appalachian State on Thursday and Western Carolina on Saturday.  Prior to the Samford win, the Bulldogs had lost five straight SoCon contests.

What is the difference between this year’s edition of the basketball Bulldogs and, say, last year’s squad?  I won’t compare them to the 2008-09 team that won 20 games, which included Demetrius Nelson and John Brown.  However, I think it is fair to compare the 2009-10 and 2010-11 outfits.

Last season’s team featured a rotation mainstay who is no longer in school, Harrison Dupont.  Dupont had a nice debut campaign (alas, there would be no followup season, at least in Charleston), averaging 14 points per 40 minutes of play and finishing with an eFG of 48.2%, highest of all the regulars and highest on the team overall, with one exception.

That one exception was Mike Groselle, who saw limited action due to injury/illness, but showed signs of being a very effective player when he saw action.  It really shouldn’t be a surprise that Groselle has had a fine sophomore season.  So far this year Groselle is averaging 19 points per 40 minutes of play with an eFG of 58.9%, leading the team (again).  That is good for 11th among Southern Conference players.

He is also averaging almost six rebounds per contest (Dupont was good for four boards per game).  Groselle’s FG% of 58.9 is good for sixth in the SoCon.

Groselle’s development has basically replaced the lost production of Dupont, if not surpassed it.  They aren’t really similar players, so it’s not a true like vs. like comparison (particularly from a defensive perspective), but I think it does make it easier to look at the rest of the team numbers and see where the differences lie.

One difference is the reduced contributions from Cosmo Morabbi, who played in all 33 games last season and averaged over 18 minutes per game.  Morabbi has been injured and has missed several games, but even when he was playing, his minutes had been cut in half.

Morabbi has struggled with his jumper this season.  Actually, struggle doesn’t really describe it; he hasn’t made a three-pointer yet this year (0-8) after shooting 37.9% (25-66) from beyond the arc in 2009-10.  In his previous two seasons for the Bulldogs, Morabbi was a dependable member of the rotation who wasn’t afraid to take big shots; not having his typical production has been a problem.

Then there is post play.  Last season Joe Wolfinger was the transfer hopeful who never quite fit into The Citadel’s offense.   However, Wolfinger’s offensive production compares favorably to that of “Big Mike Squared”, the duo of Williams and Dejworek.

Morakinyo Williams has missed time with injury (he has played fewer minutes than Morabbi), and Mike Dejworek hasn’t been a major factor, either.  The two have combined to score 47 points in 219 minutes of play, which per game is about half of the scoring output by Wolfinger last season.  Neither has been a force on the boards.

A few other odds and ends:

— Last season, 36.5% of The Citadel’s total points came via the three-point shot.  So far this year, that number is 23.2%.

— The Citadel’s eFG of 44.5% is in the bottom 50 nationally; last season, the Bulldogs had an eFG of 48.4% (middle of the pack nationally).

— The Bulldogs are not forcing turnovers this season.  Opponents have a turnover rate of 16%.  That puts The Citadel in the bottom 25 nationally. Last season’s opponent turnover rate was 19%. That’s a significant difference.

—  Defensively, The Citadel ranks in the bottom 50 nationally in defensive FG% and defensive 2FG%.  The Bulldogs have a defensive 3FG of 34.4%, which isn’t that bad, but not nearly as good as last season’s 32.4%, which was 80th-best in the country.

— In SoCon play, the Bulldogs currently rank last or next-to-last in defensive 2FG%, defensive turnover rate, and points allowed per possession.  The sample size is a little small, admittedly.

As noted by Jeff Hartsell, Zach Urbanus and Cameron Wells have been logging some serious minutes lately, thanks to a slender bench (Morabbi being unavailable really hurts there).

After a loss to Coastal Carolina earlier in the season, Chuck Driesell mentioned on his postgame radio show that he was worried about fatigue affecting the Bulldogs’ play.

In the SoCon teleconference this week, however, Driesell sang a slightly different tune.  He noted that the loss of Morabbi had impacted his ability to substitute players who had experience, and he also mentioned that a way to address concerns about too much game action for individual players would be to monitor (and presumably lessen) their work during practice.

However, Driesell stated during the teleconference that he saw “no signs of fatigue” and that Wells and Urbanus are “young guys [who] should be able to handle” increased minutes.

We’ll see.

— Six weeks ago, I wrote that the Bulldogs seem to lack an offensive identity.  Here is, to my mind at least, one example of that:

Last season, Zach Urbanus and Austin Dahn each averaged about one three-point attempt every five and a half minutes of playing time (5.7 for Urbanus, 5.6 for Dahn). This season, with an increased number of possessions per game (about five more), Dahn is averaging a three-point attempt every 5.1 minutes he is on the court.  And Urbanus?

He’s only averaging one three-point try every 7.5 minutes of play.

With the increase in tempo, Urbanus is averaging more total shots per contest this season than last year on a per-minute basis, as is Dahn.  Dahn, however, is taking more three-pointers than Urbanus (25 more, even while playing almost 100 minutes fewer than Zach).  Neither is shooting as well from beyond the arc as they did last season (Urbanus is at 36.7% after shooting 41.1% from three last year; Dahn is down from 34.7% to 28.6%).

That may be reflective of how other teams are playing them defensively, or it may be due to a lack of offensive cohesion, or perhaps it’s a combination of both. Regardless, it seems to me that the leading three-point shooter in The Citadel’s history needs to be leading the team in three-point attempts.

This has been a tough year so far for Chuck Driesell.  He’s learned that being the coach of The Citadel’s basketball team is not easy.  He knew that going in, obviously, but there is still a lot of on-the-job training at the military college.  He has to know that a lot of fans are disappointed in the way the season has gone.  There were high expectations for this team, and to date they haven’t been met.

It probably doesn’t help matters that his predecessor, Ed Conroy, is having a nice start to his tenure at Tulane, and recently was featured in a local article describing his salesmanship of the program.  Conroy has benefited from a relatively soft early schedule, but it’s also true that he’s already won two conference games in C-USA, only one fewer than the Green Wave won all of last season.

Tangent: in that article, the writer describes how Conroy somehow talked 80 Marquette students (in New Orleans as part of a volunteer group) into attending a weeknight game between Tulane and UTEP.  How many cadets will attend the Saturday game at McAlister Field House against Western Carolina?

There is still time, of course.  Maybe the win over Samford will be the start of something special.  The two upcoming home games are both winnable.

If Wells and Urbanus are going to play 38-40 minutes every night, it might be best for The Citadel to revert to its slow, slower, slowest style of play from the last two seasons.  Lowering the amount of possessions might serve to reduce the chances of either getting in foul trouble, and also could keep them from running out of gas, either in individual games or over the course of the season.

It also would have the potential of settling down the offense.  I don’t think it would hurt Groselle and Urbanus, in particular, if the tempo were decreased.  Wells (who had a “Cameron Wells game” against Samford, taking over the last 10 minutes of that contest) is capable of thriving in any offensive system.

Slowing the game down also increases the value of offensive rebounds and other possession-changing plays, which is to the advantage of players like Bryan Streeter and Daniel Eykyn.

I’m ready to see a long Bulldog winning streak.  How about eleven straight?  It’s happened before…

The Citadel hoops it up in Las Vegas…and a couple other places

What happens in Vegas…stays in Vegas.

On Friday, The Citadel plays the first of four basketball games in the western half of the United States, with one game in Boulder, Colorado, another in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and two games in Las Vegas.  If you have to play four games in the week before Christmas, you could do worse in terms of locales.

The four games are all part of the IBN Las Vegas Classic, which is an in-season tournament that really isn’t a tournament.  Well, I suppose it’s a tournament for Colorado, New Mexico, Indiana, and Northern Iowa.  Those four schools host two games, then play in a four-team bracket in Las Vegas for the “tournament” title. Meanwhile, four other schools (The Citadel, South Carolina State, Longwood, and SIU Edwardsville) play two games at the “bigger” schools and then two games against each other in Vegas.

It doesn’t matter if The Citadel beats Colorado and/or New Mexico before playing in Las Vegas.  It’s still paired off with the Longwood-SIUE-SCSU group.

This kind of in-season event is a growing trend that can be blamed mostly on Gardner-Webb, which a couple of years ago upset Kentucky and replaced the Wildcats in a made-for-ESPN tournament at Madison Square Garden.  That didn’t sit well with event organizers, which missed out on the hordes of UK fans (and also presumably annoyed ESPN, which lost a big TV draw).

After that, the folks who run these types of events started the “guaranteed four” setup, so as to ensure that the four “name” teams in the tournament advance to play at the main site.  Of course, both sets of teams in the LVC are playing at Orleans Arena anyway, but I’m guessing CBS College Sports (which is televising each game of the Colorado-New Mexico-Northern Iowa-Indiana group) didn’t want to be faced with the possibility of televising Longwood-South Carolina State instead of Northern Iowa-Indiana.

In addition, the organizers want to sell as many tickets, advanced or otherwise, as possible, and it’s not as easy to do that without “heavyweight” matchups (although there is nothing particularly heavy about any of the heavies in this tourney).  If you click on the “IBN Las Vegas Classic” link above, you will notice that ticket prices for the event range from $44 to $110, and single-game tickets are not available.  (If you listen to the announcer on the streaming video advertisement, you will also notice him promoting South Carolina as playing in this event; undoubtedly the folks who put the video together got South Carolina confused with South Carolina State.)

The Citadel also played in a “tournament” with pre-determined matchups a couple of years ago, in Cancun, an event that also featured New Mexico, and which was most notable for having its games played in a ballroom (complete with chandeliers).

Just some thoughts on The Citadel’s upcoming opponents, nothing too substantial…let’s start with Chris Fowler’s alma mater:

Colorado is 5-3.  The Buffaloes are 5-0 at home and 0-3 on the road.  Luckily for Colorado, it will play The Citadel at home.

This appears to be enough of an edge for The Denver Post, and possibly Buffs coach Tad Boyle, to take the Bulldogs for granted.  Boyle plans to “substitute freely” against The Citadel, in an effort to give his benchwarmers some playing time. According to the Post, “it will be a disappointment if Colorado can’t empty its bench” against the Bulldogs.

I think that qualifies as bulletin board material…

You can understand Colorado’s confidence, what with its impressive wins over national powers Idaho State and Texas-Pan American, and its near-upset of Harvard, which only beat the Buffaloes by 16 points.

Alec Burks (20.5 PPG this season and last year’s Big XII freshman of the year) and Cory Higgins (16.9 PPG) are good players, and need to be saved for other games, like those against top-100 RPI teams.  Colorado needs to beat some of those teams to finish the year in the top 100 itself, something it hasn’t done in the past four seasons. Part of the reason for that has been its less-than-stellar defensive play; among other things, Colorado finished last in the Big XII in 2009-10 in FG% defense.

Boyle won 25 games last year at Northern Colorado, and then moved to Boulder to replace Jeff Bzdelik (currently losing games to low-major squads at an alarming rate for Wake Forest).  He wants to improve Colorado’s defense and rebounding, which is a good idea, but through eight games the Buffs are still struggling to defend (including allowing opponents to shoot 40% from three-land; Zach Urbanus, take note).

The Citadel, by my count, has now lost 51 straight games to schools currently in BCS conferences.  Its last victory over a major-conference foe came in 1989, at South Carolina.  Before that you have to go back to 1979 and a win over Clemson.  The Bulldogs have only one victory over a current Big XII school, a 62-61 decision against Texas A&M in 1971.

While beating Colorado might be considered unlikely, given that history, it’s not out of the realm of possibility, particularly since the Buffaloes are not exactly on the same level as Duke or Kansas.  I’m a bit bemused by the Post story, which appears to be assuming a walkover.

Going into this season, Steve Alford had won 76 games in three years at New Mexico, including 30 last season (a school record).  One of those 30 victories came in the NCAA tournament, which matched Alford’s total number of NCAA tourney triumphs in eight years at Iowa.  It appears Albuquerque is a better fit for Alford than Iowa City, somewhat surprising for a Big 10 legend…or a Big 10 leader…whatever.

(We’ll be mocking the new Big 10 division names for years to come.)

Alford should have a good team this year, too, although it could have been even better had MWC player of the year Darington Hobson returned.  He elected to go pro and bypass his senior season, however.  Hobson and Ramon Martinez (also departed) combined to average 30 points and 15 rebounds per game last season; now Alford has to replace that production.

The Lobos are 7-1, including back-to-back wins over New Mexico State (a scheduling oddity; the victory in Las Cruces came in OT) and victories over Arizona State and Detroit.  The one loss was a 25-point beatdown at California.

New Mexico has a lot of depth, and Alford is still in the process of figuring out how to use it, evidenced by the fact ten different players have seen action in all eight of the Lobos’ games, and that doesn’t include Phillip McDonald, who missed three early games with an elbow injury.  When Alford does get a handle on his rotation, New Mexico should be an upper-echelon Mountain West Conference outfit, albeit probably a rung below San Diego State (Steve Fisher appears to have his best team in 12 years at the helm of the Aztecs’ program).

New Mexico plays its home games in one of college basketball’s great venues, The Pit, which has undergone a $60 million renovation.  The Pit is probably best known as the site of North Carolina State’s famous victory over Houston’s “Phi Slama Jama” squad in the 1983 NCAA title game.

It’s too bad Final Fours aren’t played in true basketball arenas any more, because The Pit was a classic host site.  CBS has been using “The Road to…” tagline for years to hype the NCAA tournament, and nothing ever sounded better than “The Road to Albuquerque”.

Once The Citadel arrives in Las Vegas, it will face South Carolina State.  This is, in a word, dumb.  Two schools 77 miles apart (believe me, I am more than familiar with the distance between Orangeburg and Charleston) will travel across the country to play each other.  I don’t see why the event organizers didn’t have SCSU and The Citadel play Longwood and/or SIU Edwardsville in the first round, to lessen the chance they would play each other.

South Carolina State is 4-4, with all four victories coming against non-D1 opposition. (The Orangeburg Bulldogs will play Indiana and Northern Iowa prior to matching up with The Citadel.)  The losses include setbacks at Clemson and at Charlotte; SCSU has also lost to Furman and, perhaps most disappointingly for its fans, North Carolina Central.

Carrio Bennett, a senior who was the MEAC freshman of the year three seasons ago, scored a combined 35 points against Furman and NC-Central, but averaged just six points against Charlotte and Clemson.  Darnell Porter lit it up against the Bulldogs’ non-D1 competition, but hasn’t yet produced against the better teams on SCSU’s schedule.

All of South Carolina State’s scholarship newcomers this season are junior college players; one of them, Brandon Riley, scored 23 points against Charlotte and 12 against Furman.

Through four games against D-1 teams, SCSU has done a good job forcing turnovers and rebounding, and a poor job defending in the paint (allowing 54.1% on 2-point FG attempts).  The Bulldogs are a mixed bag when it comes to offensive efficiency; they’re a good 2-point shooting team but terrible beyond the arc (26.6%).

This will be the first meeting between The Citadel and South Carolina State since 2004.  Charleston’s Bulldogs hold a 7-3 advantage in the series.

After playing South Carolina State, The Citadel will play either Longwood or SIU Edwardsville.

Longwood is 3-8, with its lone D-1 victory over Columbia.  The Lancers share one common opponent with The Citadel, James Madison, losing at home to the Dukes 88-78 (the Bulldogs lost to JMU 74-67 at McAlister Field House).

The globetrotting Lancers have also lost at Kansas, Seton Hall, Marquette, and VMI (losing 114-82 to the run-and-gun Keydets).  When The Citadel is playing Colorado, Longwood will be playing New Mexico (and vice versa).

Longwood is a small school (a little over 4000 undergraduates) in Farmville, Virginia that has been a D-1 member since 2007.  It’s an independent in hoops, which largely explains its all-over-the-map schedule.  Its most famous hoops alum is Jerome Kersey, who was a longtime NBA player for the Portland Trail Blazers.

SIU Edwardsville started institutional life as an extension of SIU Carbondale (the school commonly referred to as Southern Illinois or SIU).  SIUE now has almost 14,000 undergraduate students.

Like Longwood, SIUE is a recent debutant in D-1.  The Cougars ply their trade in the Ohio Valley Conference, although they won’t compete in league play as a member until next season. SIUE is still transitioning to Division I.

SIUE is 2-9, with only one victory over a D-1 squad.  That win came last Saturday against Kennesaw State in 2OT.  Kennesaw State had beaten Georgia Tech earlier in the season, so beating KSU was a nice scalp for the Cougars.  Actually, any win would be a nice scalp for SIUE, which prior to the Kennesaw State win had only defeated MacMurray (the college, not the dad from ‘My Three Sons’).  Last season the Cougars were 5-23, which included two non-D1 victories.

SIUE has several notable alums from the world of sports, including the great tennis doubles team of Ken Flach and Robert Seguso, the respected baseball broadcaster Dewayne Staats, and pro wrestler Paul Wight (“The Big Show”).  Sportswriter Bill Plaschke also attended SIUE.  However, the most notable SIUE basketball alum is longtime referee Ed Hightower.

When I last wrote about the hoops team, The Citadel was about to play its first two Southern Conference games of the season, along with a game against D-3 St. Mary’s of Maryland.  I had expected the Bulldogs to go 2-1 in those three games, and that’s exactly what happened.

As for the four upcoming “tournament” games, I believe The Citadel should be 2-2 at worst.  I don’t really expect an upset on the road in Boulder or Albuquerque (although it would be nice, obviously), but I think The Citadel has a better squad than South Carolina State (and a more cohesive and experienced one as well).  The Bulldogs should be favorites against either Longwood or SIUE.

Jeff Hartsell did a nice job in a recent “Bulldog Bites” post of breaking down how the season has gone so far, although I think the Bulldogs are a little better than that current Pomeroy projection.  I certainly hope so, anyway.  The Citadel needs to continue to work out its problems on the defensive end; the Bulldogs are a bottom 50 team nationally in 2-point FG% defense and aren’t much better in defensive turnover rate.  The Citadel does have good numbers defensively against the three-point shot, however, as opponents are only shooting 31% from beyond the arc.

The Citadel is only shooting 62.9% from the line, which is actually better than I would have expected, given that the player who has shot the most free throws so far this season is Bryan Streeter.  If good foul shooters like Cameron Wells and Mike Groselle get more opportunities from the charity stripe, the FT% will go up.

One way for Groselle to get more chances is for his minutes to increase, which I think is going to happen, particularly if he can hold his own defensively.  On the offensive side of the court, he has been very impressive.

I’ve been trying to decide who Groselle reminds me of in terms of his offensive game. Maybe this is a reach, and it certainly is a blast from the past, but I’m going to say he has a game not unlike John Pinone, who was a star for Rollie Massimino at Villanova in the early 1980s.

Streeter may be a total liability at the foul line (33.3%), but he is an offensive rebounding machine, with 29 in eight games.  That is getting it done.   Even with his struggles with free throws, he has still been arguably the Bulldogs’ second-best player so far this year when you combine all the elements of the game.

Zach Urbanus appears to have located his missing outside shot, and the team has solid numbers in terms of assist/turnover ratio and assist/made basket ratio (the A/B of 64% is 20th-best in the country).  Where the Bulldogs are hurting offensively is inside.  I noted The Citadel’s poor 2-point FG% defense earlier; it’s matched by an equally poor 2-point offensive percentage.  Between that, the team’s early struggles from three-land and the free throw issues, The Citadel’s eFG% is 314th out of 345 Division I teams.

I hope the players have a good time on the trip, and come back with an extra Christmas present or two, like a win in Boulder or Albuquerque.

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…

Make it five in a row; The Citadel’s basketball team rolls along

This is going to be one of my shorter posts.  Apologies to anyone who actually follows the blog on a semi-regular basis, but it’s hard to write when under the effects of anesthesia.  I was barely able to follow Thursday night’s game against Western Carolina, in which the Bulldogs played as good a half (the second) as they have all season.  I wish I had been at full speed for that one, but I’ll take a 17-point win while groggy any day.

Anyway, Ed Conroy and company have won 5 straight games.  Ed has figured out this February basketball thing, as the Bulldogs are 11-1 in the shortest month over the last two seasons.  Last year, they lost their final game in February after winning six straight in the month (the final six games of last season’s 11-game winning streak).  This year, the Bulldogs are 5-0 in the month with three games to go — UNC-Greensboro on Saturday in the home finale at McAlister Field House, followed by road games against Furman and Wofford.

Quick hits on the Western Carolina game:

  • It’s great to see Cosmo Morabbi getting his shot back.  He made three-pointers from all over the court, setting a career high for makes (5).  Zach Urbanus has been consistent most of the year, but if Morabbi and Austin Dahn (who had a tough night, but made a three near the game’s end) are also shooting well from outside, the Bulldogs can present some serious problems for opposing defenses along the perimeter.
  • Morabbi wasn’t just shooting from outside; he had three steals in the game as well.
  • The stat line doesn’t really show it, but Bryan Streeter had a very solid game last night, particularly defensively.  He outplayed WCU’s post players all night, in my opinion.  Some of his rebounds came in heavy traffic.  He just needs to watch those elbows, especially on SoCon Saturdays when the officiating is, uh, interesting.
  • Harrison DuPont had another good game after a slow start.  I kind of like combining his numbers with those of Bo Holston.  If you do that, you get this line:  40 minutes, 17 points (5-11 FG, 6-8 FT; DuPont also made a 3), 14 rebounds (6 offensive), 2 assists, 3 turnovers.  [Also 6 fouls, so pretend the combo player is in the NBA.]  That’s very good production over the course of a game, obviously.  DuPont should be a serious candidate for the All-SoCon freshman team.
  • It wasn’t Cameron Wells’ best night, as it took him 14 FG attempts to score 13 points.  He also had four turnovers (he did have 5 assists, though).  Despite that, The Citadel won by 17.  That’s a very good sign going forward, especially after being down 11 points at one point in the first half.  Wells isn’t going to be “off” too often.
  • The Bulldogs trailed 25-14 with 5:34 remaining in the half.  For the rest of the game, The Citadel outscored WCU 59-31.  Remember, WCU has a win this season over Louisville at Freedom Hall.  It’s a team that has some talent.
  • The Bulldogs were 7-10 from beyond the arc in the second half.  You can win a lot of games shooting 70% from three-land in the second half.
  • Western Carolina’s leading scorer this season, Brandon Giles, was 0-6 from the field, committed four turnovers, and did not score against The Citadel.

Last season, UNC-Greensboro won only five games all season, four in Southern Conference play.  So far this season, UNCG has won five games, four in Southern Conference play.  The Spartans actually started their conference campaign with a 33-point win at Samford, but that was definitely an outlier.  UNCG is now 4-11 in the league and has lost five straight SoCon outings, although they’ve only been blown out in one of those five, so it’s not like the Spartans haven’t been competitive lately. They just haven’t been winning.

UNC has a fine player in 6’5″ senior Ben Stywall, who averages 14.4 points per game and 10.3 rebounds per contest.  That’s right, he averages a double-double.  Stywall scored 22 points and grabbed 11 boards in UNCG’s most recent game, a 70-65 loss to Elon.  He has had some monster games this year, most of them in losses, including 26/19 against Samford, 21/14 against the College of Charleston, and 24/14 against Western Carolina.  In that CofC game, 11 of Stywall’s rebounds came on the offensive end.

One reason Stywall gets a lot of offensive boards is because he gets a lot of chances. UNCG is the poorest shooting team in the conference in league play, shooting just 38.9% from the field.  Stywall is the only Spartan getting significant minutes who is shooting better than 41%.  Kyle Randall is a 6’2″ freshman who has taken only one fewer shot than Stywall, but he’s only shooting 33%.  The Spartans have two three-point gunners (Mikko Koivisto and Kendall Toney); neither is shooting better than 37% from the field (or better than 34% from beyond the arc).

The Citadel should win this game.  Not because it’s the last home game of the season (which the Bulldogs actually lost last year), but because it’s a much better team that is playing its best basketball of the season.  The Bulldogs need to maintain their excellent perimeter defense and control Stywall on the glass (they aren’t going to completely stop him). UNCG likes to play at a higher tempo (averaging over 70 possessions per game in league play), so as usual The Citadel must control the pace.

The game is on SportSouth, the second Saturday in a row the Bulldogs will be featured on television.  The start time is 1 pm ET; if you can’t be at the game (like me, unfortunately), you should be watching on TV.  This team has now set the all-time school record for most victories over a two-year span with 35 (breaking a record set in 1979-80).  I’m hoping they add at least seven more games to that mark…

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.

Win one, lose one: The Citadel’s hoops team marches on

The Citadel is now 10-10 overall, 4-4 in the Southern Conference.  It’s been a .500 kind of year from the start; the Bulldogs have been 1-1, 2-2, 3-3, 6-6, 7-7, 8-8, 9-9, and the current 10-10 mark — and in league play the cadets have been 1-1, 2-2, 3-3, and now 4-4.  The Citadel hasn’t won more than two games in a row, and has lost more than two in a row just once (the three-game stretch against Michigan State, Texas A&M, and Houston).

Last week was more of the same, as the Bulldogs lost at home to Wofford on a last-second tip-in on Thursday before recovering to beat Furman on Saturday at McAlister Field House, a game in which Regan Truesdale’s jersey was honored at halftime.  The win over the Paladins (final score:  70-60) broke a six-game streak of Bulldog games decided by seven or fewer points, with three of those matchups decided by two points or less.

Brief thoughts on the two games:

– When the final score is 44-42, as it was in the game against Wofford, it’s an indication that neither team’s offense had a good day, and that was certainly the case, tempo-related adjustments aside.  Wofford won despite shooting 30% from the field (just 2-12 from 3-land).  The Citadel did not shoot much better and was outrebounded by the Terriers (including allowing 14 offensive boards).

The Bulldogs also lost the turnover battle 12-11; they are now 0-6 in games in which they commit more turnovers than the opposition.  Joe Wolfinger, in particular, struggled holding on to the ball, committing four turnovers in only twelve minutes of action.  Wasted was a fine defensive effort by The Citadel that included a surprising six blocked shots, four of them courtesy of Harrison DuPont, who is beginning to assert himself in league play.

– The win over the Paladins was a nice bounce-back game, although it took a while for the offense to get into gear.  With the Bulldogs trailing 40-32 in the second half, Ed Conroy called time.  The Citadel would proceed to score on eleven of its next twelve possessions, resulting in a 15-0 run that completely turned the game around.

That is what is known by basketball experts as a “good timeout”.

One interesting aspect of the game against Furman was Conroy’s reliance on his starting lineup (Harrison DuPont, Bryan Streeter, Cameron Wells, Zach Urbanus, and Austin Dahn).  Those five players each played over 30 minutes in the contest, which struck me as a bit unusual.  The Bulldogs committed just eight turnovers, won the rebound battle and actually shot well from beyond the arc (8-20).  It was The Citadel’s third consecutive win over Furman.

Next up is a road trip within the division, with The Citadel playing Georgia Southern in Statesboro on Thursday and traveling to Davidson on Saturday.  Like Furman, Georgia Southern has lost three games in a row against The Citadel, including earlier this season at McAlister (68-43).  The two games before that streak were Eagle victories until last week, when the wins were vacated.  GSU is now on NCAA-imposed probation for two years, thanks to serious academic irregularities.

In the game in Charleston, The Citadel shot 14-22 from 3-land, outrebounded the Eagles, and won the turnover battle 20-8.  I don’t expect all of that to happen again; Georgia Southern has been playing a little better since that December 5 matchup, and can claim home victories over Appalachian State and Western Carolina, along with a close loss to Davidson.

GSU still isn’t a good offensive team, ranking last in the conference in shooting percentage and assist/turnover ratio, and also struggles defending the three (allowing a league-worst 43.4% to its opponents).  The Eagles play a higher-tempo game than any team in the league (75.5 possessions per game in SoCon action), and it will be important for The Citadel to keep the game at its preferred slower pace.  Patience, and good work on the offensive glass, will carry the day.

Davidson beat The Citadel at McAlister in the conference opener on December 3, 74-63.  In that game, the Wildcats were an absurd 15-27 from beyond the arc.  William Archambault had a career night from outside, making 6 of 9 three-pointers.  J.P. Kuhlman was 3-4, and Jake Cohen was 4-8.  Ben Allison made his first three-pointer of the season in that game (he now has four).

The Wildcats are certainly a capable outside shooting club, but it’s hard to imagine them shooting as well as they did that night.  The Citadel needs to contain that part of Davidson’s game, and take advantage of what the Wildcats don’t do well.  So far this SoCon season, that would be playing defense, as Davidson current ranks last in league play in points allowed per possession and FG% defense.  The Wildcats are also next-to-last in 3FG% defense and tend to commit a lot of fouls (10th in that category out of 12 SoCon teams).

I would imagine that last statistic might particularly trouble a Davidson fan when considering the game against The Citadel will be played on a Saturday night, and all SoCon fans are aware of the vast disparity in officiating quality between weekday and weekend games in the conference.  Of course, that doesn’t necessarily bode well for The Citadel, either, as it has seen its own fair share of SoCon ref “issues” (including a rare technical for Ed Conroy in a Saturday matchup against Samford two weeks ago).

One final note:  for The Citadel to have a realistic chance of garnering a first-round bye in the Southern Conference tournament, it probably needs to win both games this week, in part because both are divisional games.  Davidson, of course, is also competing for a top-2 finish in the South division, which makes that game even more important.  Winning two league road games, while an achievable goal, will be a tall order.