Hoops update: a league victory, SoCon vs. CAA, and TV

This post is going to be split into three different topics. Before reviewing and previewing the current on-court antics, I wanted to focus on a couple of recent articles in The Post and Courier. They touch on subjects that impact The Citadel’s department of athletics in general and its basketball program in particular.

With CAA as model, SoCon bids to climb ladder

[College of Charleston] basketball coach Bobby Cremins said he was jealous of George Mason’s league, the Colonial Athletic Association.

“I’d love to see the Southern Conference become something like that,” Cremins said. “That should be the goal of our conference. We use them as a model.”

The source of Cremins’ envy? The three teams the CAA sent to the NCAA tournament last season, and the four at-large bids the Colonial has landed in the last six seasons. That’s four more at-large bids than the SoCon has earned it its entire history dating back to 1939, when the NCAA tournament started.

The SoCon has never sent more than one team — the tournament champion, who earns an automatic bid — to the Big Dance, which expanded to a field of 68 teams last year.

Tangent to make an overly nerdy comment: technically, the SoCon has actually received three at-large bids in its history. From 1939 to 1950, the field for the NCAA tournament was made up of only eight teams. Three times, teams from the SoCon played in the event; on all three occasions, those bids were invitations and not automatic selections. In 1951, the NCAA tournament expanded to 16 teams, and the SoCon champion (North Carolina State) got an automatic bid into the event. Not that it really matters.

Bobby Cremins has yet to take the College of Charleston to the NCAAs, and knows the only way to do so (at least right now) is to win the league tournament. Cremins actually had a solid record as a league tournament coach when he was at Georgia Tech (winning the ACC tourney twice), but hasn’t yet grabbed the brass ring while at the CofC.

I think the information presented in the article underscores how tough a task the SoCon has in trying to emulate the CAA. Besides having larger schools that play in bigger arenas (for the most part), most of the CAA schools don’t have to worry about football. The CAA probably also benefits to a degree from having more of its schools located in larger metro areas, although that can be a double-edged sword.

It’s good that the SoCon is trying to be more strict about its non-conference scheduling, but it’s a difficult balancing act. It should be noted that playing a non-D1 doesn’t have any impact on the RPI. What the league doesn’t want is schools overloading their schedules with gimme games against non-D1s and guarantee games against BCS schools. The SoCon needs its members to play more “in-between” schools. Otherwise, instead of competing with the CAA it risks sliding down into SWAC territory.

Having said that, John Iamarino knows that some of his schools have fewer options than others. That’s the nature of the SoCon and its disparate membership. It would be interesting to know which school drew the commissioner’s wrath for its less-than-acceptable scheduling. If I had to bet, I would put my money on Chattanooga.

Let’s talk about TV

I’ve been meaning to write more about the linked article, which was originally published in early December.

The College of Charleston Sports Network will produce 11 games this season that will be broadcast locally on WMMP or WTAT. Those games also will be available on ESPN3, a streaming Internet service that reaches more than 70 million households worldwide and is available in 85 percent of U.S. homes. Some games also might be carried on ESPN FullCourt, a pay-per-view service available on cable systems.

By season’s end, at least 23 of the team’s 30 regular-season games will be televised.

Does The Citadel need to do something like this? Absolutely.

The startup costs would not be insignificant, but I believe it would be a worthwhile investment. The potential exposure for the varsity sports teams, not to mention the school in general, makes it a no-brainer.

That includes televising home football games in a format that can be used by ESPN3.com or one of the myriad sports TV networks, many of which seem desperate for programming.

It would likely give The Citadel an edge in recruiting — and if the school doesn’t do something like this, it will probably fall behind a host of other schools. Just look at FCS football.

Some of the FCS schools that had the majority (if not all) of their football games televised in 2011: Lafayette, Lehigh, Liberty, Maine, Montana, Montana State, Murray State, Northern Arizona, and seemingly all of the Dakota schools (including, not so coincidentally, national champion North Dakota State).

That’s not even counting schools that have home games televised on public television (like Eastern Illinois) or schools with a two- or three-game deal with a local TV station/cable carrier (like Cal Poly, Colgate, Georgetown, and Holy Cross). Not all of those games wind up on a Fox sports net or ESPN3.com, but plenty of them do.

The opportunities in basketball, baseball, and perhaps soccer and wrestling are there, too.

I’ve long advocated that The Citadel’s coaches schedule non-conference games with an eye to getting on television as much as possible. Now I think it is time for the school to be even more proactive.

The Citadel finally won a league game last week, beating Samford 73-62 at McAlister Field House. It was also the first league home game for the Bulldogs, and I am hopeful that the team can add to the victory total this week. Prior to the win over Samford, it had been very tough sledding, as The Citadel had lost its previous ten games against D-1 competition, all but one by double digits.

The worst of those was a 77-45 drubbing by Furman two days before the Samford matchup, so at least the Bulldogs showed some resiliency in bouncing back from that loss. However, the fact remains that it’s been a struggle all year for Chuck Driesell’s troops, particularly on defense.

The Citadel ranks in the bottom 50 nationally in the following defensive categories: effective field goal percentage, turnover percentage, block percentage, and two-point field goal percentage. The Bulldogs are actually dead last (59.3%) in 2-point FG%, 345th out of 345 D-1 teams. The Citadel’s overall defensive efficiency rating (per Pomeroy) is 8th-worst in the country.

Driesell has focused on his team’s defensive issues each and every time he’s discussed the squad’s performances, notably on the post-game radio show. I’ll say this, he’s not one to sugarcoat things, as anyone who has listened to the show can attest.

The win against Samford was a decent (not great) defensive performance. The Citadel has proven to be a tough matchup on the hardwood for the Birmingham Bulldogs over the years, and Saturday night was no exception. Samford shoots a lot of threes by design, but you have to make a decent percentage of them for that strategy to work, and Samford was only 7-29. Some of that was good defense by The Citadel, and some of it was just really bad shooting.

The chief negative for The Citadel was that Samford dominated the offensive glass, particularly in the first half, when it had an offensive rebound rate of almost 60%. The cadets should have led at halftime by about fifteen points, but had to settle for a seven-point edge.

On the positive side of things (after all, it was a victory), Mike Groselle was outstanding (10-10 FG, 25 points) and Cosmo Morabbi had a career night, with 20 points and six assists. The Bulldogs as a whole were solid on offense.

Next up for The Citadel: two more home SoCon games, against Elon and UNC-Greensboro. Elon has been a mild surprise this season, playing about as well as any team in the muddled SoCon North. The Phoenix won at home over South Carolina earlier in the campaign, but recently has hit a slump, losing five straight games.

Losing to North Carolina and San Diego State is not exactly embarrassing, but the streak also includes losses to Dartmouth (a traditional cellar-dweller in the Ivy League), Georgia Southern, and Columbia (another Ivy opponent). Elon has struggled putting the ball in the basket in those five games, as it has not shot better than 36% from the field in any of them. The Citadel needs to make sure that trend continues.

Tough matchup alert: Elon’s Lucas Troutman is a 6’10” native of Belton, SC, who was on the SoCon’s all-freshman team last year. He scored 22 points against NC State earlier this season and will be a difficult player for the Bulldogs to handle.

On Saturday the Bulldogs host UNC-Greensboro, which is 2-14 and only has one D-1 victory, that over winless Towson. The Spartans are on their second coach of the campaign, as longtime boss Mike Dement resigned in December. It was inevitable, especially after UNCG’s 22-point loss to North Carolina A&T two weeks before.

Wes Miller is the interim coach. Miller is only 28 years old, and may have a chance to keep the job, depending on how the rest of the season plays out for the Spartans. So far he has yet to record a victory as head honcho, although UNCG played well in a 10-point loss at Miami.

As you might expect, UNCG has some really bad stats, particularly on defense. What is unique about the Spartans D is that opponents shoot well from everywhere — three-point range (bottom 15 nationally), inside the paint (ditto), even at the foul line.

UNCG’s best player is Trevis Simpson, a 6’4″ guard. Like Elon’s Troutman, he was on last year’s league all-frosh team. Simpson is a volume shooter who blows hot and cold, but when he’s hot he can get very hot (at Miami, he hit 7 of 11 three-pointers as part of a 36-point explosion). The Citadel must work hard, especially early in the game, to make sure he doesn’t get on a roll.

The Citadel will be a slight underdog in both games this week. However, it will be disappointing if the Bulldogs don’t win at least one of the two contests. That’s the short-term view. As for what these games mean for the season as a whole, I’m hoping to see some improvement on the defensive side of things for The Citadel. If that happens, more wins will follow.

Hoops update: SoCon play begins for The Citadel

— The Citadel at the College of Charleston, 8:00 pm Thursday, December 1, 2011, at TD Arena, Charleston, South Carolina

— The Citadel at Wofford, 7:00 pm Saturday, December 3, 2011, at Benjamin Johnson Arena, Spartanburg, South Carolina

Both games can be heard on WQNT-AM 1450 in Charleston, with “voice of the Bulldogs” Danny Reed describing the action. Audio is also available online via Bulldog Insider. The game against the College of Charleston will be televised by WMMP-DT 36.1 in Charleston and is also being carried by ESPN3.com.

The Citadel is now 2-3 on the season, with a 97-44 win over Florida Christian (a non-Division I team) sandwiched by a pair of losses, 73-50 at home to Clemson and 80-72 on the road against High Point, the latter contest being decided in overtime.

The Bulldogs did what they were expected to do against Florida Christian, although it should be noted that the Suns only lost to Bethune-Cookman of the MEAC by 18 points. The game was notable for being the first start of the season for Barry Smith, who also started the game against High Point. The sophomore forward scored 19 points against Florida Christian after being inserted into the lineup for defensive reasons.

I wanted to make a few observations about the games against Division I competition. The Citadel has now played four contests against D-1 teams, winning one and losing three, with two of the losses being close games. The not-so-competitive loss, alas, came at McAlister Field House, and to a Clemson team which then lost consecutive games at Littlejohn Coliseum to the College of Charleston and Coastal Carolina. (The Tigers defeated Furman by ten points on Saturday night to avoid losing three straight home games to in-state foes.)

Chuck Driesell has used the early part of the season to give opportunities to numerous players on his roster, with eleven cadets seeing action in every game. Those aren’t just cameos by the 9th or 10th players off the bench, either; of the 57 individual appearances made by Bulldogs in five games, 50 were for at least nine minutes and two others were for eight minutes.

Offensively, the Bulldogs have played fairly well. The Citadel has taken care of the basketball and has been reasonably balanced on offense, although the Bulldogs got into a three-point shooting contest against High Point and subsequently took 43% of their field goal attempts from outside the arc, which is too many. (The Panthers shot 44 three-pointers in that game, out of 59 field goal attempts.)

The Citadel has to continue to work the ball inside to Mike Groselle, who has been unsurprisingly excellent thus far. Groselle is averaging 18 points (these stats do not count the Florida Christian game) while shooting 68% from the field. He also has a double-double in every game this season while averaging 36 minutes per contest, answering any lingering questions about his stamina.

Groselle needs more help inside, though, both offensively and defensively. He particularly needs some assistance on the offensive glass, as Groselle has almost half of the offensive boards claimed by the Bulldogs in the four D-1 games (18 of 39).

The Bulldogs have struggled on defense. The Citadel ranks in the bottom 75 nationally in several key defensive measures, including eFG%, free throws attempted per field goals attempted, and turnover rate (numbers are from kenpom.com).

The Citadel is dead last in all of Division I (345 teams) in the percentage of opponents’ shots blocked (which probably accounts in least in part for opponents of the Bulldogs having success in converting 2-point baskets). Charleston Southern is next-to-last in the category, with Army, Navy, and Presbyterian also in the bottom 11. That’s three military schools and three Palmetto State schools, so I guess it’s only natural that The Military College of South Carolina is last.

At 5-1, the College of Charleston is off to a promising start as it enters SoCon play. The Cougars’ five victories include the road win at Clemson mentioned earlier, along with two victories in the Battle 4 Atlantis holiday tournament that was recently held in the Bahamas. After losing its opening game in the tournament to Central Florida 74-63, the CofC outlasted UNC-Asheville 68-66 in the consolation bracket. The Cougars completed the tourney with an 85-61 win over Massachusetts, running away with that game in the second half.

Through six games, the CofC is shooting the ball very well, with an eFG% of 54.9, ranking in the top 25 of Division I. The Cougars get about one-third of their points via the three-point shot, which is fairly high, but you can get away with that when you have several guys shooting well from distance, including Jordan Scott, Anthony Stitt, and Andrew Lawrence (who has made 14 of 28 three-pointers).

The Cougars have at times struggled with rebounding, which was their downfall against UCF (as they were outboarded 43-21 in that contest). It was probably not a coincidence that touted freshman forward/center Adjehi Baru got in early foul trouble in that game. When playing, Baru has been a significant defensive presence. CofC opponents have an offensive rebounding percentage of 39.7, which places the Cougars in the bottom 20 of D-1 for that metric. Obviously, the sample size is a small one.

The lone senior on the CofC’s roster, Antwaine Wiggins, was named the Southern Conference player of the week last week after the Cougars’ victory over Clemson, a game in which he scored 22 points. He followed up that excellent performance with a total clunker against Central Florida, only scoring two points against the Knights. However, he scored 23 points in each of the next two games, so the UCF contest appears to have been an aberration.

I think the primary longterm concern for CofC fans will be the Cougars’ depth, a problem exacerbated by the loss in preseason of forward Willis Hall to a knee injury. Hall started all 37 of the CofC’s games in 2010-11. Without him, the Cougars have been reduced to what is essentially a seven-man rotation, with five players averaging more than 25 minutes per game. That isn’t exactly a new thing for a Bobby Cremins squad, but it’s something to watch over the grind of a long season. There are three players averaging more than 30 minutes per contest — Wiggins, Lawrence, and 6’8″ forward Trent Wiedeman.

The Cougars have won eleven straight SoCon games at home. Their last loss in league play at what is now called TD Arena came on February 8, 2010, against The Citadel.

The Citadel will face Wofford in its second game of the SoCon season, with the matchup taking place at the Benjamin Johnson Arena. That facility opened in 1981 with a game between the Bulldogs and the Terriers, won by The Citadel 65-64.

Wofford is 3-3 on the season. Like the College of Charleston, the Terriers had to replace multiple key performers from last season’s team, including a star player. The Cougars lost Andrew Goudelock, while Wofford now has to make do without Noah Dahlman. Goudelock was a first-round pick of the L.A. Lakers, but it is Dahlman who will be more difficult to replace.

Dahlman helped make Wofford one of the nation’s better offensive teams, with a team adjusted efficiency rating of 111.0, a top 50 mark in Division I. This season, that number through five D-1 contests (Wofford’s only home game to date was a victory over Emory&Henry) is 94.5, a huge differential. That is what can happen when you have to replace four starters who accounted for 66 points and 23 rebounds per game.

I should note that it doesn’t help Wofford’s offensive statistics to have played one of those five Division I games against Wisconsin. The Badgers bludgeoned the Terriers, 69-33. Wofford does have a nice win over Bradley (70-66), but that is somewhat offset by a neutral court loss to UMKC (64-58, in OT). The Terriers also struggled mightily in a win over Prairie View, which is not expected to be one of the SWAC’s better teams (in other words, it is expected to be among the nation’s worst teams). Wofford’s other loss was a respectable effort against Georgia (62-49).

The Terriers’ offensive woes are reflected in their eFG% (41.1) and their FTA/FGA, ranking in the bottom 30 nationally in both categories. Wofford has also been a bit turnover-prone (and conversely has not been particularly effective in forcing turnovers, which has hurt its defense). The Terriers have not shot the ball well from the field, either in front of or behind the three-point line.

Wofford has employed a seven-man rotation, with senior guards Kevin Giltner and Brad Loesing each averaging more than 38 minutes per contest. Yikes. Loesing, the point guard, started last season, but Giltner was more of an impact sub, shooting 42% from three-land last year. Through six games this season, Giltner is shooting 31% from beyond the arc.

Drew Crowell’s time on the court has increased by about 20 minutes per game from last season to this one; he is basically filling the Tim Johnson role for the Terriers. Two true freshmen, forward Lee Skinner and the highly regarded Karl Cochran (a 6’1″ combo guard), are also seeing plenty of time on the court, as is Domas Rinksalis, a 6’9″ forward/center who redshirted last season.

Wofford isn’t expected to contend in the Southern Conference this season, though the Terriers might prove a tough out come SoCon tourney time.

Neither of these games will be easy for The Citadel, to say the least. The Bulldogs aren’t expected to win either contest, and are a sizable underdog to the College of Charleston (kenpom.com gives the cadets only an 8% probability of winning).

I think it’s good, though, to start out league play with a pair of road games. I would like to think that by the time the return games roll around, the team will have improved substantially, with the freshmen more fully understanding their roles and gaining confidence. Then that increased understanding and confidence can be put to good use at McAlister Field House, where the Bulldogs should have a better chance of success.

Odds and ends…

– I am continuing to contribute to a roundtable discussion (more or less) about the SoCon. The latest edition for this season has been posted to a Chattanooga blog, Mocs Mania, and can be found here:  Link

— I was at McAlister Field House for the Clemson game. So were lots of Clemson fans. I would say almost half the fans in attendance were wearing orange. That’s okay (for now), though. We’ll gladly take their money. I took a few pictures. As always, keep in mind that I’m a less-than-scintillating photographer with an iffy camera, which is one reason you won’t see any action photos. All the pictures are from the pregame scene.

Bulldog Baseball: revisiting the Battle of 1714

I just wanted to make a quick post about Saturday’s game between The Citadel and the College of Charleston, which struck me as a game deserving of a closer look. The Elias Sports Bureau won’t be providing any statistical minutiae, but I’ll channel my inner Jayson Stark anyway and list a few “nuggets”…

Saturday’s game was the second of a three-game series between the two schools. The Citadel won the opener, 6-2, behind a fine complete-game effort by Matt Talley, while the College of Charleston would win the third game, breaking out to a 10-0 lead before hanging on for a 10-5 victory.

Saturday’s final:  The Citadel 17, College of Charleston 14.  The score doesn’t begin to tell the story:

  • Nine pitchers (five for The Citadel, four for the CofC)  combined to throw 362 pitches — and The Citadel didn’t come to bat in the bottom of the ninth.
  • Eight of the CofC’s nine batters had multi-hit games (the Cougars used no pinch-hitters, not that they needed any).
  • The only Cougar who didn’t get at least two hits was the #9 batter, catcher Robert Pritcher; however, his one hit was a two-run homer that gave the CofC a 6-4 lead in the 5th inning.
  • That home run was one of three plate appearances for Robert Pritcher in which he faced The Citadel’s starting pitcher, sophomore Austin Pritcher.  The two are brothers.  Robert Pritcher also walked and struck out against his younger sibling, but the homer clearly carried the day in the family matchup.

The lesson, as always:  older brothers rule.

  • That strikeout in Pritcher v. Pritcher, by the way, was one of only three times a Cougar batter struck out in the game, and the only one of those that was swinging.
  • With 23 hits, the CofC had a batting average of .489 for the game.  Bulldog batters “only” batted .395 as a group.
  • The Cougars sent 56 batters to the plate during the course of the game.  On 34 of those occasions, the batter reached first base (23 hits, 7 walks, 1 HBP, and 3 runners reached via an error).
  • T.J. Clarkson had an ERA of 3.00 through his first 17 appearances of the season.  His ERA went up to 4.21 after pitching on Saturday.  Ouch.
  • After scoring six runs in the 5th inning, the CofC probably thought it had an insurmountable 12-5 lead, given that The Citadel entered the game 0-12 in contests when its opponent had scored six or more runs.

And yet, The Citadel won this game.  Somehow.

  • Each team had 23 at bats with runners in scoring position.  The Citadel was 9-23 with RISP, but the Cougars were only 4-23 and left 15 men on base (the Bulldogs had just 6 LOB).
  • Clutchness:  the Bulldogs scored 11 of their 17 runs with two outs, including all five runs in the seventh inning.  Nick Orvin’s three-run double in the eighth, which proved to be the game-winner, also came with two outs.
  • Orvin was 5-5 at the plate (with three doubles), drove in five runs, scored twice, and walked once.  I guess that’s a pretty good day for a leadoff hitter.
  • Matt Simonelli had both a sacrifice bunt and a sac fly in the game — and on both occasions, he reached base after Cougar errors.
  • The BABIP and defensive efficiency (or lack thereof) numbers for this game were, uh, horrendous…

The Citadel’s pitchers had a combined BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .560 in this contest, which is much worse than even the below-par .370 number for the team entering the series against the College of Charleston.  As I noted earlier, this is often a reflection of defense (and sometimes luck).

The Citadel had a mind-numbing defensive efficiency rating (DER) of .463 for the game; in other words, only 46% of balls put into play were turned into outs.  (The average D-1 squad this season is turning about 65% of balls put into play into outs.)

However, the College of Charleston’s defensive numbers were even worse, as Cougar pitchers had a combined .577 BABIP.  The team DER on Saturday was .449; by comparison, the DER in the Cougars’ 24-4 loss at South Carolina was a much more respectable .590 (the team pitching BABIP that day, incidentally, was .556).

It remains to be seen if this game might help The Citadel recover from a bad start to the season.  It didn’t seem to matter much on Sunday, but winning the series against the CofC might prove to give the team a much-needed confidence boost going forward.  The bats seem to be coming around, at any rate.  Grabbing a spot in the eight-team Southern Conference tournament becomes the goal for the rest of the regular season.

A few thoughts on Bulldog baseball

Wow, this place is dusty.  I guess I need to post more often.

It’s been a tough year so far for The Citadel’s baseball team, to say the least.  One year after claiming the Southern Conference regular season and tournament titles, the Bulldogs are 10-19 overall, 5-10 in the SoCon (entering a weekend series against the College of Charleston).  If the season ended today The Citadel would barely qualify for the league tournament.  The Citadel failing to make the SoCon tourney, held again this year at Riley Park, would obviously be a painful outcome for the program and could have repercussions going forward (in terms of future SoCon tourneys in Charleston).

Obviously when a team is 10-19 there are multiple issues at play, but let me put my own spin on things…

The Citadel is 2-9 in one-run games, and 1-5 in two-run games.  Yes, that’s a lot of one-run games (tied for most in the nation heading into the weekend).  The Bulldogs played 12 one-run games all last season (going 6-6 in those contests).

One thing to keep in mind is that there have been more one-run games this season in college baseball.  Across the board, 10% more games have been decided by one run this year (through the first 45 days of the season) than last.  That means that almost one-fourth of all Division I games are being decided by one run.  There are also more games going into extra innings.

The reason for all the close games?  The games are lower-scoring, thanks to the new bats.  The new bats also make it very hard to compare statistics from last season to this season, but I’ve taken a look at a couple of things with regards to The Citadel that I want to note.

Before I start, I want to say that some of the general information I’m posting comes courtesy of CollegeSplits.com, although most of the numbers are not posted on that site (which provides analytical and data services to about half of MLB).  However, occasionally one of the site administrators publishes an article on ESPN Insider and discusses some of the data they have compiled.

Defensive efficiency is a statistic that measures the rate batted balls become outs — in other words, plate appearances that lead to the ball being put into play, as opposed to walks, homers, strikeouts, etc.  It’s a good way to judge a team’s defensive ability, as it doesn’t have the biases inherent in fielding percentage.

Last season South Carolina and Texas were the two teams that had the highest defensive efficiency in the country, which should come as no surprise to anyone.  They each rated at 72.6%.  This year, more balls are being put into play (thanks to the decline in homers), so the national leader after 45 days has a higher rate (74.6%).  That would be Louisville, led by former Bulldog second baseman Dan McDonnell.

What this means is that defense is arguably even more important this year than in previous years.

I can’t calculate exact defensive efficiency data for The Citadel in 2010 and 2011, mainly because I don’t know the number of runners who have reached base via an error.  I could get that data if I went through each game log for the past two seasons, but I can only be a dork for so many hours at a time.  At any rate, I have the BABIP data, which tells more than enough of a tale.  BABIP means batting average on balls in play, for anyone wondering.  The numbers for The Citadel are instructive.

Last season in Division I, the average BABIP was .351 (so slightly more than 35% of batted balls that weren’t homers turned into hits).  This year, with the new bats, that number is down markedly, to .334, as more balls are being gobbled up by fielders and turned into outs.

In 2010, The Citadel had an impressive .332 team BABIP.  In 2011, though, it’s at .370 through 29 games.

Yikes.  In my opinion, that goes a long way to explaining the team’s struggles, particularly in close games.  Those are extra outs Bulldog pitchers are having to get, and they aren’t always getting them.

Last season Matt Talley had a .302 BABIP; through April 7 of this year, it’s at .370 (right at the team average).  Drew Mahaffey had a .267 BABIP last season, which wasn’t likely to hold up this year, but as of today he’s got a .431 BABIP.  Wow (and not in a good way).  In other words, 43% of balls hit into play against Mahaffey are turning into hits.  Either teams are hitting screaming line drives off him, or a lot of bloops are finding holes.  I think it’s the latter.

It isn’t just about defense.  The Bulldogs have not pitched as well this season as last, although interestingly they are striking out batters at a very high clip (almost a batter per inning).  The Citadel is also averaging about a walk allowed per two innings, significantly higher than last season.  Neither of those numbers are in line with the “new bats data”, as strikeouts are just slightly up nationally, and walks are down.

The Bulldogs’ bats have been very slow to get started, as some of the returning regulars have struggled with the new “lumber”, although there are signs that they are heating up.  Good thing, too, as The Citadel is 0-12 in games in which the opponent scores 6 or more runs.

I have been impressed with two of the freshmen.  Drew DeKerlegand has had a solid year at the plate, and looks like he will be manning the hot corner for the next few seasons.  Joe Jackson (the great-great-great nephew of The Shoeless One) can really hit, too.  I am not sure yet about his abilities as a receiver, although I haven’t seen anything to suggest he won’t eventually become a fine catcher.  With that bat, he’ll play somewhere regardless.  I’m hopeful that he will develop more power with time, too.

One of the problems Fred Jordan has had is figuring out a way to keep the five returning regulars from last season in the everyday lineup (including all three of last year’s outfielders, catcher Grant Richards, and 2010 primary DH Brad Felder) without leaving out Jackson (DeKerlegand being set at third base).  All the jumping around has probably had an effect on the defense, particularly at shorstop, but also including the outfield.

However, I can’t blame Jordan for shuffling things around trying to find the right combination.  If I had a suggestion, it would be to settle on the best defender at shortstop and stay with him.  Easy to say from a distance, to be sure.

Another thing I want to mention briefly is the baserunning.  While the Bulldogs’ stolen base totals are okay, I don’t think the baserunning has been good at all.   Too many guys have been picked off, and there have been multiple miscues on the basepaths.  In a lower-scoring environment, The Citadel cannot afford giving up outs (and killing potential rallies) with bad baserunning.

Personally, I think The Citadel is better than its record suggests, but as Bill Parcells would say, “You are what your record says you are.”  The Bulldogs still have time to salvage the season, but the team needs to avoid losing confidence as a whole.  I’m a little worried about that — two of the last three games have been blowout losses — but I believe the squad will perservere.

The recipe for success over the remainder of the season?  Hope, faith, and less charity on defense…

SoCon hoops season begins for The Citadel

On Thursday, The Citadel begins play in the Southern Conference with a home game against Georgia Southern.  Before discussing that game and the two matchups that follow, I want to take a look back at the first five games of the season.

I figured that at worst The Citadel would be 2-3 after five games.  There was only one game (Richmond) that I did not think The Citadel had a good chance of winning, and even there I thought the senior-laden Bulldogs would be competitive.

As it happens, The Citadel was blown out by Richmond in an embarrassing fashion (79-37).  The Bulldogs then lost at Charleston Southern (a very disappointing result) and dropped their home opener to James Madison (which I would have rated as a tossup game).  Chuck Driesell finally got his first career win against High Point, an “expected” win, but then The Citadel blew a second-half lead and lost at Coastal Carolina.

The Bulldogs have had serious issues on the defensive end, especially in the second half.  The Citadel led at the half against Charleston Southern, James Madison, and Coastal Carolina, and lost all three games.  The Bulldogs are allowing opponents to shoot exactly 50% from the field, which is the bottom 20 nationally.

Breaking it down a little further, The Citadel’s opponents are shooting 54.4% from 2-point range (bottom 40 nationally).  That suggests a lack of presence on the inside, which is borne out by below-average rebounding numbers and the fact the Bulldogs have blocked a grand total of two shots in five games.

In the second half, the defensive FG% numbers are beyond terrible. In The Citadel’s four losses, opponents are shooting 62% from the field after the halftime break, which is a good reason why the Bulldogs lost those leads.  For example, a five-point halftime lead over JMU dissolved when the Dukes shot 71% in the second half.  The three-point shooting numbers for opponents haven’t been that bad (not great, but reasonable), but The Citadel has just been abused in the paint.

On offense, the Bulldogs are also struggling, with an eFG of 42.1%, which is 306th out of 347 Division I teams.  Zach Urbanus, a mainstay for The Citadel for four years, is shooting just 30.9% from the field and 29.6% from 3-land (last year those numbers for Urbanus were 38.9% and 40.0%, respectively).  Cameron Wells and Austin Dahn are near their 2009-10 numbers, with Wells starting to get going (enough to be the latest SoCon Player of the Week).

Those three have scored 204 of The Citadel’s 300 points, which is 68% of the Bulldogs’ scoring offense.  Last season, they accounted for 57% of The Citadel’s points, so a little extra offensive help for them would be nice.  However, getting the defensive deficiencies straightened out has to come first.

One issue is that the “big three” are playing a lot of minutes.  They always have, but it’s even more pronounced this season.  Urbanus is averaging 38.6 mpg, an increase over his workload of 36.1 mpg last season.  Wells is averaging 35.2 mpg (34.9 in 2009-10), and Dahn 32 mpg (26.1 last season).

I believe that for The Citadel to have a successful season, those numbers have to go down a bit.  I was hoping, actually, that they wouldn’t be so high so early in the season, but Driesell’s rotation has been fairly tight so far.  Only eight players have seen action in all five games.  Going forward, the Bulldogs need to get quality minutes out of some other backcourt performers.

The Citadel also needs to get increased productivity from its big men, on both ends of the court.  So far the only frontcourt player getting the job done is Bryan Streeter, who has been basically all you could ask of an undersized “4”, except for the fact he can’t shoot free throws at all.  Being so foul from the foul line has been problematic at times, and obviously down the stretch of close games is a real liability, but aside from that he has been solid — arguably the second-best player on the team after Wells.

Streeter has had to be solid, because he hasn’t had a lot of help down low.  In particular, the much-discussed 7-foot transfers, Morakinyo Williams and Mike Dejworek, have yet to make an impact.

Dejworek did not play in the last two games, and in the games he has appeared has averaged fewer than two rebounds per contest.  He has scored two points in 32 minutes of play.  Williams is shooting only 26.3% from the field, which is remarkably poor for someone who plays so close to the basket.  He is a decent defensive rebounder, but has not shown an affinity for the offensive glass (a Streeter specialty). Williams also has more turnovers in 68 minutes of play than Wells does in 176 minutes of action.

Chuck Driesell promised a more up-tempo style this season.  The Citadel is averaging 7.6 more possessions per game so far, but seems to still be searching for an offensive identity.  The defense would be a problem regardless of the game’s pace.

While being interviewed postgame on the radio after the loss to Coastal Carolina, Driesell openly wondered if fatigue was affecting the team’s defensive play.  He may have a point, and it’s just another reason to watch individual players’ minutes, but I think post play is a bigger factor (although that doesn’t completely explain opponents’ second-half success).  I’m not watching the practices, so I’m not going to advocate for individual players to get more time, but I have to admit there are two or three players who I would like to see on the court more often.

I am a little worried this is going to turn into a true “transition” season, one in which a new coach establishes his style of play at the expense of wins and losses.  I hope that doesn’t happen, for two reasons.  The first is that this is as good a senior class as The Citadel has had in many, many years, and I want to see them succeed.  I think they have a chance to build upon the previous two seasons and win a lot of games.

The other reason is that I believe, based on what has happened so far this season, that the SoCon is there to be had.  This is not going to be a vintage year for the league (not that any year ever is).  The league has gone 21-44 in non-conference action (through November play).

That includes a 3-20 mark against major conference opponents, with the three wins coming against BCS bottom-feeders Auburn, DePaul, and Nebraska.  The league’s best OOC victory is probably Appalachian State’s 89-86 win over Tulsa.  It could be argued the SoCon’s best performance came in a loss — Wofford’s 3OT defeat at Xavier.

There is an opportunity for The Citadel to make some noise in the league.  That needs to start on Thursday.

Georgia Southern is struggling.  The Eagles’ record is 2-5, and the two wins are both over non-Division I teams.  GSU has lost consecutive neutral-site games to Chicago State and Mississippi Valley State; the other losses were drubbings by Notre Dame, South Florida, and Texas Tech.

It should be pointed out that none of GSU’s five losses came at home, but the statistics indicate that the Eagles greatly resemble last season’s squad, one that went 9-23 and played terrible defense.  That 9-23 mark included a split with The Citadel, with the Bulldogs hammering the Eagles at McAlister Field House in the first game, and then blowing a 21-point second half lead and losing the second.

Willie Powers scored 19 points to lead GSU in that matchup, but unfortunately won’t be playing this season.  The star-crossed Powers has been a fine player when healthy, but he suffered his second major knee injury in August and is out for the year.

Without him, the Eagles appear to be a similar outfit to last year’s edition.  GSU averages 77.6 possessions per game, has a turnover rate among the bottom 40 nationally and shoots poorly from beyond the arc (28.1%).  It’s hard to play racehorse basketball without the horses.

Davidson was 16-15 last year in Year 1 A.C. (After Curry).  I think the Wildcats could be a sleeper pick to win the league this year, assuming Davidson can ever be a sleeper pick in the SoCon.  I’m not sure the Wildcats were completely prepared to play without Stephen Curry last season, but this year should be a different story.

Davidson is 3-3.  None of the losses are bad, and the Wildcats do have a win over a major conference team (Big XII caboose Nebraska). Davidson has four players averaging double figures in scoring, including center Jake Cohen, who as a freshman scored 39 combined points in two games against The Citadel last season.  Cohen will again be a difficult matchup for the Bulldogs.

The Wildcats are not yet locked in from beyond the arc (28.8%), but that was true last year as well until Davidson made 15 three-pointers at McAlister Field House.  The Wildcats are holding opponents to 40.4% shooting from the field, which includes excellent interior defense (at least statistically).  Davidson does foul a lot, averaging 23 per contest.

Before playing The Citadel, Davidson will travel to the College of Charleston.  It’s the second year in a row the Wildcats have opened SoCon play by making the Low Country swing.

The Citadel’s third game in five days (and last before an 11-day break for exams) is a non-conference matchup with St. Mary’s.  That’s not the St. Mary’s in California that made last year’s Sweet 16; no, this St. Mary’s is a Division III school in Maryland.

Some fast facts about the school, for those unfamiliar with St. Mary’s:

— Like The Citadel, St. Mary’s has about 2000 undergraduates, was founded in the 1840s (1840 for St. Mary’s, 1842 for The Citadel), is a public school that is often mistaken for a private institution, and is big on history.

— The “big on history” thing is a little different, though.  St. Mary’s is located in St. Mary’s City (hence the name of the school), which was once the capital of Maryland. There is a significant archaeological site in the area; actually, the town is basically the school and that site.

St. Mary’s City was the fourth British settlement in North America, and founded as something of a test case for religious tolerance.

— St. Mary’s was a junior college for most of its existence; it has been a four-year college since 1966.

— Notable alums include professional wrestler Scott Hall (also known as Razor Ramon, and an original member of the New World Order!) and trailblazing female baseball player Julie Croteau.

— The Seahawks play in Division III and are members of the Capital Athletic Conference.

One of St. Mary’s fellow CAC schools is Marymount, which was once coached by…Chuck Driesell.  That may go a long way towards explaining how this game with St. Mary’s came to be.  Of course, it may have nothing to do with it, for all I know.

One thing Driesell will be sure to tell his players is that they can’t take St. Mary’s lightly. This is a solid Division III program.  The Seahawks were 26-4 last season and made the D-3 Sweet 16.  They are a cut above The Citadel’s normal non-Division I fare and should be respected as such.

St. Mary’s has won four of its first five games this season to date (and will play another game, against Stevenson, before facing The Citadel).  The Seahawks are led by 6’1″ guard Alex Franz, a two-time All-CAC selection who is averaging 15.5 points per game.  Statistically, St. Mary’s doesn’t have any extraordinary numbers, although the three-point differential is curious — the Seahawks are shooting 38.4% from beyond the arc, while their opponents are shooting just 22.9% from 3-land.

To get off to a good start in the league, The Citadel must improve defensively and needs contributions from a wider variety of players on its roster.  I will be disappointed if the Bulldogs do not win at least two of the three upcoming games.  Winning all three would make up for the slow start.

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…

The bandwagon makes a stop at WLI Field

Last spring my youngest niece began playing soccer in a local league.  I went to a few of her games (after all, I am the sports dork in the family).

The games were for the most part conducted in a congenial atmosphere, with families watching their charges at play.  Her team was, to be honest, not the most skilled of squads.  This wasn’t exactly surprising, as they were all first-graders, and most of them were new to the game.

The basic plan of attack went like this:  if the ball rolled in the general vicinity of a player, that player would attempt to kick it, hopefully in the right direction.  There was no guarantee that significant contact with the ball would be made.

A goal-scoring opportunity would occur if a player managed to kick the ball hard enough to get it close to the other team’s net; then there would be a meeting at the ball of a number of players on each team, and if the right kick happened at the right time, and the keeper wasn’t up to the task, then a goal might be scored.

Well, maybe the squad was a little better than that.  The girls did practice every week, and were instructed in the fundamentals.  During the games, the team’s coach would organize his troops.  “Stay in position!  Stay in position!” he would yell, somewhat mournfully.  Staying in position (or perhaps just staying focused) was seemingly a hard thing for them to do.

I watched the team play three times.  It won once and lost twice.  One of the teams it played had much better players and won 4-0.  Clearly that outfit had brought in ringers. The other two opponents were more on their level; the girls lost 2-1 to one team, and beat the other one 2-0.  During the spring season, they were basically a .500 outfit.

After the summer break, the team started play again for the fall campaign.  I didn’t realize there was a fall season, so I wasn’t prepared for the telephone call I got a few weeks ago from my brother.  First he told me that the team had played two games already; then the conversation went something like this:

Him:  “They won 8-0 last night.”

Me:  “8-0?  Did the other team have more than two players?”

Him:  “Yeah, they just…well, I can’t explain it.  But…our team is real good now.”

Me:  “Did they get some ringers like that other team did?”

Him:  “No, it’s the same girls as in the spring.  It’s just they got good all of a sudden.”

Me:  “What was the score in the other game they played?”

Him:  “10-0.”

Me:  “Did she score?”

Him (and I could see him grinning, even over the telephone):  “She scored a goal in the last game.”

They later won a game in which they scored twelve goals, and apparently there is now talk that they are too good for their league and might have to move up an age level, which seems a little unfair to me, kind of like asking Oregon to play in the NFC West (although maybe that’s not such a stretch, come to think of it).

I was thinking about my niece’s team as I contemplated the rise of another soccer team, that of my alma mater, which has made an even more improbable leap.  I wondered if comparing the two outfits might be instructive, but I thought better of it. Maybe someone could have seen the improvement in my niece’s team coming, but there is no way anyone was expecting the season The Citadel has had in soccer.  No one, that is, except perhaps head coach Bob Winch:

[Question] Did you see this coming?

“Yeah, a little bit. Last year, we were successful defensively and we always had a chance in our games. This year, we’ve been able to score some goals and that’s helped us win some games.”

Let’s go over some stats…

Through early October of 2008, The Citadel’s women’s soccer team had an alltime record in Southern Conference play of 0-74-2.  No, that’s not a typo.  On October 10 of that year, the squad finally won a game in the league, beating Georgia Southern 2-1. The Bulldogs would drop their final six SoCon games that year and finish 1-10 in the conference.

That was two years ago.  Last season The Citadel finished with a record of 2-7-2 in SoCon play, beating GSU again (the program’s first league road victory) and also knocking off Chattanooga.  The two ties were both scoreless matches played over the same weekend in games at Appalachian State and at Western Carolina.

The team’s noticeable improvement in competitiveness garnered Winch the league’s coach of the year award.  It’s not often a COY award is given to someone whose team had a winning percentage of just 27% in league play, but it’s not often a coach doubles his program’s alltime conference win total in one season, either.

This season, of course, has gone beyond that, and then some.  The Citadel won 7 of its 11 conference games, including first-ever wins over Wofford, Davidson, Elon, Appalachian State, and Western Carolina.  In league action, The Bulldogs were 4-2 on the road and 3-2 at WLI Field (in the regular season).

I don’t know if you can give Winch another coach of the year award for that.  Coach of the century, maybe.

When I was researching the league-only SoCon stats for women’s soccer, I was struck by how The Citadel had managed to finish third in the league despite not leading, or even being that close to leading, any significant statistical category.  There are twelve teams in the conference.  The Bulldogs’s rank in official statistical categories is as follows:

Goals – 6th

Assists – 9th

Shots – 7th

Goals allowed – 10th

Saves – 5th

Shutouts – 10th (tie)

Fouls – 5th (tie)

Corner kicks – 6th

Offsides – 11th

Yellow Cards – 5th

You could argue, I suppose, that The Citadel being 11th in offsides calls against is a good thing, although it could also suggest a lack of aggression and/or possession. At any rate, it would appear to be a statistic that has no bearing on a team’s win-loss record, at least in the SoCon.

The Citadel is only in the top 4 in one statistical category (besides wins, of course). The Bulldogs finished in first place in the league…in red cards.

There were two red cards shown in conference play this season, and they were both given to Bulldog players. (In addition, Bob Winch, given a red card in the league tournament game against Furman on Sunday, was apparently the first and only coach to be dismissed from any SoCon game this season.)

The red card stat surprised me.  It would be hard to conclude the Bulldogs are a particularly rough outfit, either statistically (a middle-of-the-pack team in fouls and yellow cards) or from watching them play.

Of course, the fact we’re just talking about two cards, and thus two situations, indicates a small sample size, and possibly a fluke.  Further investigation was required.

I first viewed the videotape for the second of the two red cards, given to Shanna Couch during the Samford match, easily the team’s worst performance of the season (losing at home 7-0).  At the 63-minute mark, the Bulldog keeper came out of the goal during a Samford mini-breakaway.  Samford wound up with a shot on goal that would have gone in, except Crouch palmed it away on the goal line.

That was a problem, since Crouch wasn’t the keeper, and she thus got a straight red. Honesty compels me to admit it was deserved.  Sorry, Shanna.

The other red card was given to defender (and erstwhile diarist) Leah Hawkins during the Chattanooga match.  Hawkins had picked up a yellow card at the 60-minute mark for an overly aggressive tackle.  At the 83-minute mark, with The Citadel leading 2-0, she collided with a UTC player while going for the ball, received a second yellow, and was sent off.

When the collision happened, the UTC coach immediately began yelling for the yellow card, which wasn’t the first time he had complained about various calls or non-calls during the game.  (He was rather vocal.)  I don’t think I would have booked Hawkins if I had been the official — it was clearly neither a “professional” foul nor a dangerous play — but maybe the referee decided to throw the Mocs coach a bone.

Tangent:  in all fairness to the UTC coach, he was probably stressed out by that point with his team’s play and with an injury that occurred to one of his players in the first half.  Shortly after a rather innocuous clash with a Bulldog player, a Moc midfielder dropped to the ground, right on the sideline next to the UTC bench, and began shrieking in apparent pain.  She continued to cry out for several minutes while receiving attention from a Moc trainer.

I have no idea how she had been hurt, or the specifics of the injury, and I suspect I don’t really want to know.  She was eventually able to leave the field of play, more or less under her own power.

While that was going on the two teams retreated to the center of the pitch, with each holding an impromptu meeting, seemingly oblivious to what was happening on the sideline.  I got the impression the Moc players were talking about how nice the weather was and how lousy the bus trip back to Chattanooga was going to be, while the Bulldogs were comparing notes on an SMI and discussing how their uniforms were so much better than the football team’s duds.

My conclusion is that the two red cards do not necessarily indicate a leaguewide conspiracy.  However, I am certain that fans of the Bulldogs will continue to be vigilant in ensuring that the school’s players are fairly treated.

Red cards aside, how have the Bulldogs managed an upper-echelon league finish while not placing that highly in the conference statistics?  How does a team go 7-4 while being outscored 20-15?  The Citadel’s goals for/goals against number of -5 is equal to that of Appalachian State and Western Carolina, two teams that didn’t even make the SoCon tournament, yet the Bulldogs won enough games to host a tourney match.

Well, it helps to limit most of your poor play to just a couple of matches.  As mentioned above, The Citadel lost 7-0 to Samford.  It also lost two 3-0 games, to league regular season champion UNC-Greensboro and to Furman.

In the other eight regular-season SoCon games it played, though, The Citadel allowed only seven goals.  It won seven of those eight contests.

In six of those seven wins (and in a loss to the College of Charleston), The Citadel allowed one goal.  The Bulldogs recorded just one shutout, the aforementioned game against Chattanooga, but won five games by a 2-1 scoreline and another 3-1.

That is the type of defense that can keep a team in the game.  It’s also the kind of defense that The Citadel played last season, as Winch mentioned in that quote from the link.  In fact, last year the Bulldogs only allowed 14 goals in 11 SoCon matches. The problem was that The Citadel only scored five goals in those matches.

The Bulldogs have been able to put a bulge in the auld onion bag this year on a number of occasions, though (as I channel Tommy Smyth, and if you’re still reading this I know you’re groaning).  It is the main difference between last year and this year, and what has propelled the program to unprecedented heights.  This season the Bulldogs have scored fifteen goals in league play, which while not an overwhelming amount has been just enough.

The Citadel scored two goals in six of its conference wins, and three in the other victory.  Give up one, get two — that has been the basic formula, and it has worked.

There are just two seniors on this year’s team, Nicole Martinoli (one of five Floridians on the roster) and Dominic Snyder (one of five players hailing from outside the United States).  Martinoli stated earlier this season that:

“The program has grown tremendously, and it’s not just because of this year’s team.  It’s because of all the effort of the girls on past teams.”

She’s right, of course, and I am sure there are a lot of very proud former players hanging on every kick of this year’s team.  Some of the best kicking going on, though, is coming from the boots of some precocious freshmen.

The core of the defense-minded players is primarily made up of upperclassmen like Hawkins, Couch, Hannah Warne, and Angela Foyt, plus the goalkeeping duo of Whitney Nave and Laura Serafino, but the offensive punch has come mostly from first-year players like Mariana Garcia, Nicole Levermann, Jillian Meyer, and Vanessa Aponte.  The freshmen have combined to score 13 of The Citadel’s 15 goals in SoCon play (Martinoli, repping the old guard, has the other two) and have all but one of the assists in league games (Lexington High School alum Miranda Johnson has the other).

What do they bring to the table?  Well, in the opinion of this non-expert, collectively the freshmen have a nice combination of pace and skill.  All of them have good speed, and not just mighty mites like Garcia, Taylor Viana, and Ruth Leiva.  The 5’10” Levermann can pick ’em up and put ’em down, too, when she gets going, and when she does she’s hard to stop.

Garcia and Levermann have nine of the fifteen SoCon goals.  The opener against Davidson was fairly typical.  Garcia ran two Wildcat defenders ragged as she led them on a merry chase to the corner flag.  She started to move away from the flag and down the sideline, and then passed the ball to Johnson at the top right corner of the 18-yard box.

Johnson quickly dinked a pass to Levermann, who slipped between two defenders six yards from goal and almost casually flicked the ball past the keeper with her left foot.  She would finish the afternoon with a hat trick.

Another impressive thing about the Bulldogs is that they have accomplished all this despite losing one of their best players, junior Amy Loughran, after just ten games. Loughran had already scored five goals this season (after an eight-goal outburst last year that included game-winners against Coastal Carolina and Georgia Southern) when she broke two bones in her leg against Appalachian State.

When I wrote about the soccer team last year, one of the things that concerned me was the small roster size.  Last season, there were no freshmen on the team, which struck me as unusual, and not optimal.  (One freshman who was supposed to be on the squad last year but was injured prior to enrolling at The Citadel, goalkeeper Cassie Palmacci, is on the team this season.)

This year the Bulldogs have eighteen players on their roster, four more than last season, which perhaps makes the loss of Loughran a little more manageable, although still not easy.

One thing I worried about was how the team would finish the season.  After clinching a tourney home game with its seventh league victory, The Citadel lost its last two games, 3-0 to Furman and 1-0 at the College of Charleston.  I was afraid that the outstanding campaign would end with a bit of a whimper, which wouldn’t have been the first time that happened to a team from The Citadel having an unexpectedly great year (examples include the 1989 and 2009 basketball teams, just to name two).

That made the tournament opener (the first conference tournament game in the program’s history) more important, in my view.  Making the storyline even more interesting was the opponent, Furman, which had just beaten the Bulldogs at WLI the week before and which had never lost to The Citadel.

For a while, it looked like that streak might continue.  The two teams traded goals in regulation, with the Bulldogs missing a great chance to go up 2-0, only to see the Paladins equalize only two minutes later.  Then it went to overtime and a “golden goal” scenario, where the first team to score would immediately win the game.

The first OT was scoreless.  The two teams were to play up to ten more minutes in a second overtime; if the score remained 1-1 after that, then penalty kicks would decide things.  Nobody wants to see a match go to PKs, and fortunately for The Citadel, this one didn’t.

A Furman defender was called for handball, which I thought happened in the box (which would have given The Citadel a penalty kick to win the game).  However, a free kick was the call, just outside the box.  The Paladins set up their wall, but Aponte curled a kick around the right side of it, past the diving keeper, and into the bottom of the net for the game-winner.

I have noticed that most of the Bulldogs’ goal celebrations are a bit muted (perhaps it’s a league or NCAA rule), but this one was certainly not.  It was spontaneous and wild.  The good feelings lasted for quite a while after the game; at one point, long after the match’s end, Jaslene Thiara momentarily stopped hugging Levermann long enough to wag a “We’re Number 1!” finger to the camera, whooping it up in style.

That might be the team’s last chance to relish a big win this year, and if it is, that would be understandable.  Progressing much further in the league tournament will be a tall order.  On Friday in the SoCon semifinals, The Citadel will face Samford, which handed the Bulldogs that 7-0 shellacking at WLI referenced earlier in this post, and waiting on the other side of the bracket is UNC-Greensboro, which is currently ranked in the Top 25 and has won twelve straight games.  (The Spartans beat The Citadel 3-0 in Greensboro in the regular season.)

The odds aren’t really in the Bulldogs’ favor.  On the other hand, Samford needed penalty kicks to get past Davidson in the first round of the league tourney, and UNCG struggled before finally outlasting Wofford, 1-0, in its tourney opener.  Now all four teams left will move to a neutral site in Cullowhee (the fourth school remaining, Elon, won at the College of Charleston on Sunday).  Maybe there will be a surprise champion, preferably one with a military bent.

I hope this is the start of a long, successful run for the women’s soccer program.  I think it would be fun to tell my niece that if she were good enough, maybe someday she could go to The Citadel and play soccer on the hallowed grounds of WLI Field, following the great champions of the past.  If that happened, she would immediately become the most successful athlete in the history of her family, which admittedly would be faint praise (her eldest uncle in particular being one of the least athletic individuals to ever spend four years at the military college).

It has to be very difficult for a women’s team sport to compete and win at the Division I level at The Citadel.  As of this September there were 142 women in the corps of cadets.  Eighteen of them are playing soccer.  That’s almost 13% of the total number of female cadets.  The comparison between other schools is jarring.  Georgia Southern has over 9,000 female students; Appalachian State, almost 8,000.  Those are just a couple of schools in the Southern Conference.

Technically, though, The Citadel is also competing in Division I with schools like Ohio State, UCLA, and Texas.  Think about the enormous difference in total resources, both human and otherwise, between The Citadel and those universities when competing in NCAA athletics.  (That’s true for the men’s teams as well, of course; it’s just the difference when comparing the women’s sports is exponentially greater.)

Then you have the military component, which is, to say the least, of some consequence…

Another concern I have, which may or may not be material, is the support (of the non-financial variety) the program gets from the alumni.  I’m not talking about people being unaware of the program or simply ignoring it; that goes with the territory of being a “non-revenue” sport at a school where most graduates are not born-and-bred sports fans anyway, and if they are their interest is often exclusively devoted to football, basketball, and/or baseball.

I wonder a little, though, about how it being a women’s sport plays in Peoria (or Pelion).  I think it goes without saying that a significant percentage of alums are still uncomfortable with the idea of women attending The Citadel.  Some of them are going to be less than crazy about casting their lot with a women’s team (and soccer still has a “foreign” connotation for some, although I think that notion is beginning to disappear).

My personal opinion, which is possibly a touch cynical, is that most alumni will gladly jump on any bandwagon provided by The Citadel, whenever one becomes available. If you’ve got a winner, you’ve got a lot of friends.  That makes Bob Winch a popular fellow these days, other than with Southern Conference officials.

Good luck to the team on Friday.

Reviewing the NCAA baseball tournament selection committee’s work

The verdict:  well, it wasn’t awful.

I realize that other observers have been more positive.  Kendall Rogers of Yahoo! Sports stated that the committee made “few puzzling decisions”.  Aaron Fitt of Baseball America thought that the committee “did better this year than it has in years.”

I won’t argue with that — after all, the committee did do the most important thing right, which is get the correct teams in the tournament.  This isn’t like last year, when Tim Weiser (the Kansas State AD) and his crew handed out bids to every Big XII outfit it could, only failing to pick Iowa State and Colorado because those two schools no longer field baseball teams.  No, it’s a justifiable field.  I actually correctly predicted the 64 teams in my previous post.  Maybe I wouldn’t have taken these exact 64 teams myself, but there were no shocks, no outrages.

However, I get the sense that everyone is so relieved the committee didn’t completely screw up that they are overlooking the errors that were actually made.  Let me list a few:

— Naturally, I’m going to complain about the ludicrous decision to slot The Citadel as a 3 seed in Columbia, while giving the College of Charleston a 2 seed and sending the Cougars to Myrtle Beach.  The two schools had similar RPI numbers (32 for The Citadel, 26 for the CofC).   More to the point, The Citadel won the regular season AND tournament titles in the Southern Conference.  The Cougars finished second (by two games) in the regular season and went 1-2 in the tournament.  Fitt did mention this anomaly in his BA post.

I am now not completely sure that The Citadel would have received an at-large bid had it failed to win the SoCon tourney.  Maybe it would have, but I’m not too confident, and just that sense of the unknown completely justifies Fred Jordan’s decision to start ace pitcher Asher Wojciechowski in the championship game on Sunday.  Imagine if Wojo had not pitched, The Citadel had lost, and then the Bulldogs had not received a bid.  Jordan would have second-guessed himself for the rest of his life.

Also, while we all have to accept the geographic constraints the committee has when setting up regionals, it would have been nice to send the Bulldogs somewhere other than Columbia, which is starting to get very old (and I say that as someone who lives in Columbia).  Why not flip The Citadel with Elon or Oregon State?  There wouldn’t be any more trips by airplane that would have had to be made.  Another option would have been to flip the 2-3 seeds in the Columbia and Myrtle Beach regionals.

—  California is a 2 seed.  Now, I think Cal belonged in the tournament, but as a 2? Also, the Golden Bears will play North Carolina in the first round, another bubble team, so Oklahoma, one of the weaker 1 seeds, gets the weakest 2 (in my opinion) and one of the weaker 3s.

I’m guessing the committee couldn’t quite figure out how to slot Cal as a 3 seed without causing another 3 seed travel issues, and so bumped the Bears up to a 2.  It still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  The committee could have made Oregon a 2 and Cal the 3 in the Norwich regional, which would have been at least marginally better, but maybe the Ducks are going to wear some crazy new Nike duds when they travel to Connecticut and the committee wanted more buzz in its northeastern regional.  I don’t know.

— The geographical decisions really cause some inequities in the matchups.  Georgia Tech is a national seed, but gets Alabama as its 2 seed; just to give you an idea, GT had an RPI of 11, ‘Bama 12 (and the Tide had a strong finish to its season).  TCU isn’t a national seed, but gets Baylor (35 RPI) as a 2 seed and Arizona (one of the last teams in the field) as a 3.

I already mentioned Cal in the Oklahoma regional; Arizona is similar in that I don’t think the committee could figure out where to stick the Wildcats, and so sending them to Ft. Worth became a default selection.  Maybe they were just trying to cut TCU a break for slotting the Horned Frogs (potentially) against Texas in a super-regional.

Of course, RPI isn’t necessarily indicative of quality (and I should mention Arizona actually had an RPI of 24), but it’s used as a crutch so often by the committee that when it isn’t, its absence is glaring.

— I don’t get the geographic thing for super-regional matchups.  You aren’t talking about that many more airplane flights even if the expected matchups actually occur, and sometimes they don’t anyway.  Why make TCU (a contender for the last national seed) have to play a super-regional at national 2 seed Texas?  Another team that had an argument for a national seed was Cal State Fullerton; at least with UCLA as the #6 national seed, that potential matchup is more fair (if also more convenient).

Really, though, if South Carolina (the other team in the national seed mix) is close to being #8, it shouldn’t be in a bracket opposite #4 Coastal Carolina.  It should be in the bracket opposite Georgia Tech (the team that did get the final national seed).  Would setting Oklahoma up to play Coastal Carolina be so terrible?  TCU-Louisville?  Florida State-Texas?

I think it’s time for the top teams to be seeded 1-16.

Well, that’s enough carping.  I’m just ready for the regionals to begin.

College baseball bubble, 5/29

Just a quick update…for the breakdown prior to conference tournament play, see this post:  Link

The Saturday morning report, with changes noted from what I wrote in midweek:

– Locks (36):  Louisville, Connecticut, Virginia, Georgia Tech, Miami, Clemson, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Coastal Carolina, Cal State Fullerton, Rice, TCU, Arizona State, UCLA, Washington State, Oregon, Florida, South Carolina, Auburn, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Mississippi, Alabama, LSU, College of Charleston, Florida Atlantic, Louisiana-Lafayette, Kansas State, UC Irvine, The Citadel, New Mexico, Stanford, Baylor

Change: Six teams that were not locks earlier in the week are now:  Kansas State, UC Irvine, The Citadel, New Mexico, Stanford, and Baylor.

– Champions from “one-bid” leagues:  15

Congratulations to Stony Brook and Rider for clinching automatic bids on Friday out of the America East and MAAC, respectively.

— Champions from leagues likely to get just one bid, but that do have bubble teams (but no locks):  4 (the leagues in question are the A-Sun, Big 10, MVC, and Southland)

Change: Florida Gulf Coast did lose in its tournament.

That means 55 spots are taken, with 9 still to go.

— Florida Gulf Coast University’s loss in the Atlantic Sun tournament will hurt, but it may still draw an at-large bid, making the A-Sun a two-bid league.  Could be close for the Eagles.

— The Big 10 is not likely to be a two-bid league.  Minnesota is in the driver’s seat for the auto bid.  I won’t completely discount this league getting a second team (Michigan), only because it’s the Big 10, and not because it deserves one.

— Wichita State is in the final of the MVC tournament and plays Illinois State for the title on Saturday.  The Shockers could lose today and still get in the NCAAs, but I tend to doubt it.

— Texas State is still alive in the bloodbath that has been the Southland tournament.  Could Texas State get an at-large bid, if needed?  Possibly.  Like FGCU, it would be a close call.

— The Big East has two locks and likely will get a third team in the field.  That team would have been Pittsburgh, but the Panthers went 1-2 in the tourney.  Also, St. John’s could steal a bid.  If the Johnnies win the tournament, is this a 4-bid league?

— Results in the Pac-10 on Friday broke almost perfectly for that league getting 8 teams in the field.  Stanford locked up a bid, and there were big wins for Oregon State and California.  Washington also won, but I think the Huskies are the ninth team and will not make it.  Oregon State and Cal both probably need one more win.  Arizona is still in good shape, but the Wildcats need to beat the Beavers at least once during the weekend to feel 100% secure.

— The Big XII is going to be a five-bid league.  It also has four completely meaningless games in its tournament today, thanks to the wonder that is pool play.

— The Southern Conference will be at least a three-bid league.  Elon should be that third team, despite losing a fight and a game on Thursday.  The Phoenix can still win the SoCon tourney, but if Elon doesn’t and either Western Carolina or Appalachian State does, I’m not sure the committee is taking four teams from this league.  The Citadel and the College of Charleston will be in the field of 64.

— Southern Mississippi plays Rice in the C-USA title game on Saturday, and the Golden Eagles probably have to win that game to get a bid.

— Liberty is still alive in the Big South tournament, but with more conference tourney upsets looming, it looks like the Flames must win that tourney to snatch a bid.  That will be a tall order, as Liberty will have to beat High Point once and Coastal Carolina twice.

— The Sun Belt could become a three-bid league if a team other than Florida Atlantic wins its tournament.  Either Arkansas State or Troy will be in the final, and FAU has to beat Florida International to get to the other side of the title matchup.  It would be interesting to see Garrett Wittels continue his hit streak in the NCAAs, but I think FIU has to win the SB tourney to make it.  Of course, they may just do that.

— Boston College is probably out of the mix for an at-large after going 1-2 in the ACC tourney (a result that helps North Carolina).  North Carolina State beat Clemson in its opener and probably needs one more win to feel good about its chances.  At this point, I think the Wolfpack might need that win only to further differentiate itself from BC.

— I still think the SEC will get 8 bids.  Kentucky is still in the mix, but I just don’t see it.  I wouldn’t be shocked if Kentucky’s name popped up on the selection show, though.

So, there are nine spots to fill.  As of Saturday morning, I think they might go like this:

Arizona, North Carolina, Oregon State, FGCU, Pittsburgh, North Carolina State, California, Elon, Liberty

Still alive:  Texas State (if needed), Southern Mississippi, Washington, Michigan, Boston College, Wichita State (if needed), Kentucky

Examining the college baseball “bubble” with one week to go

This will be a huge week in the college baseball world, obviously, with conference tournament action all over the country (along with some key regular season games in the Pac-10, which does not have a league tournament).  I decided to break down the potential field and see what teams are in, what teams are out, and what teams have work to do.  Admittedly, I’m not the only person who does this — you can read fine efforts from the folks at Baseball America and Yahoo! Sports, just to name two — but I’m the only person who will do it on this blog.  So there.

I’m going to approach this from the point of view of a fan of a “bubble” team who wants to know the ideal scenario by which his team can make the field, by the way.  The Citadel, while not a true “lock”, is probably safe at this point (and well it should be). However, I would like to see any potential roadblocks to the NCAAs removed.  In other words, I’m for the chalk.

RPI numbers mentioned below are as of May 23 and are from Boyd Nation’s website.  For the uninitiated, the regionals include 64 teams, 30 automatic qualifiers (by winning their respective league bids) and 34 at-large selections.  Three leagues do not hold post-season tournaments, so their regular season champs get the auto bid. Several smaller conferences have already held their post-season events and so we know what teams will be representing those leagues.

There are 15 leagues that will definitely only have one team in the field, the so-called “one-bid leagues”.  Dartmouth, Bethune-Cookman, Bucknell, and San Diego have already qualified from four of these conferences.  The other eleven leagues are the America East, Atlantic 10, CAA, Horizon, MAAC, MAC, NEC, OVC, SWAC, Summit, and WAC.  That leaves 49 spots for the other 15 leagues.

(There are also a few independents, along with the members of the Great West, a league that does not get an automatic bid, but none of those teams are serious candidates to make a regional.)

There are several leagues that will also be “one-bid” conferences, unless the regular season champion doesn’t win the conference tournament, and even then the favorite might not be good enough to get an at-large bid anyway.  Bubble teams should definitely be rooting for the top seed in these leagues, just to make sure no spots are “stolen”.  These leagues are as follows:

— Atlantic Sun – Florida Gulf Coast University dominated this conference.  With an RPI of 40, FGCU probably stands a decent (not great) shot at getting a bid even if it loses in the A-Sun tourney.  This is unfamiliar ground for the Eagles, as the A-Sun tourney will be their first post-season experience in Division I.

If you’re wondering why you have never heard of Florida Gulf Coast University, it’s because the school (located in Fort Myers) has only existed since 1997.  The baseball team has only been around since 2003, first as a D-2 program and now at D-1.  It’s an amazing story, really; there are a few more details to be found here.  It just goes to show you how many good baseball players there are in Florida, and for that matter how many young people there are in Florida (FGCU has an enrollment of over 11,000).

— Big 10 – Michigan has an RPI of 65, which isn’t really that great, and didn’t even win the regular season title (Minnesota, with a losing overall record, did).  It’s barely possible the selection committee will throw a bone to the all-powerful Big 10 and give a “snow bid” to a second team from the league, but I doubt it.   Incidentally, the Big 10 tournament will be held in Columbus, but Ohio State did not qualify for the event.

— Big South – Coastal Carolina will almost certainly be a national seed.  If the Chanticleers win the league tourney, the Big South is probably a one-bid league. Liberty has an RPI of 51 and has beaten no one of consequence.  Bubble teams should definitely root for CCU.

— Conference USA – Rice will be in the tournament.  The only other team with a shot at a potential at-large bid is Southern Mississippi, but with an RPI of 67, it’s likely the Eagles need to win the C-USA tourney.  Otherwise, it could be bad news for the Minnesota Vikings.

— Missouri Valley – Wichita State will be the top seed at the MVC tourney, tying for the regular season title with Illinois State but holding the tiebreaker.  If the Shockers (RPI of 56) don’t win the league tournament, they could get an at-large bid, but I don’t see it. Still, you have to watch out, given the tradition of Wichita State, that the committee doesn’t give a “legacy” bid.

— Southland – There are three teams (Texas State, Southeastern Louisiana, and Northwestern State) that are semi-viable at-large candidates, but I suspect all of them really need the auto bid.  Texas State won the regular season title, has an RPI of 50, and probably would be the one best positioned for an at-large spot, but I don’t think that would happen. Bubble teams should pull for Texas State anyway, just to make sure.  Southeastern Louisiana has an RPI of 48 but dropped all three games of its final regular season series to Northwestern State, at home, and thus finished third in the league.

Let’s look at the remaining “mid-majors”:

— Big East – Louisville should be a national seed.  Connecticut has had a great year and may wind up hosting (but as a 2 seed).  Pittsburgh doesn’t have a great RPI (53), but has a fine overall record, will get the benefit of the doubt for its power rating because it is a northern school, and is probably in good shape.  The Big East appears to be a three-bid league.  St. John’s has a good record but an RPI of 74.

— Big West – Cal State Fullerton will host and could be a national seed.  UC Irvine should also make it out of this league (which does not have a post-season tournament).  I don’t see anyone else getting in.  It’s a two-bid league.

— Mountain West – TCU will probably host a regional.  I think New Mexico (RPI of 42) is getting in, too, although an 0-2 MWC tourney could make the Lobos a little nervous.  The MWC should get two bids.

— Southern – The Citadel (RPI of 37) won the regular season by two full games, winning its last seven league games (and its last eight games overall).  It was the only school in the SoCon to not lose a home conference series, and went 8-4 against the schools that finished 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th in the league, with all of those games being played on the road.

What The Citadel was not good at was winning on Tuesday.  It was 0-7 on Tuesdays until winning at Winthrop in its final Tuesday matchup.  On days other than Tuesday, the Bulldogs were 37-13.

Regionals are not played on Tuesdays.  The selection committee is aware of this, and probably aware that The Citadel has a top-flight starting pitcher (potential first-round pick Asher Wojciechowski) and a very good Saturday starter (6’7″ left-hander Matt Talley) who pitch on Fridays and Saturdays.

That’s a lot of verbiage to say that, even if the Bulldogs go 0-2 in the SoCon tourney, I expect them to be in the NCAAs. They better be.

The College of Charleston should be in the NCAAs too, with an excellent record and RPI (24).  The only other team with a shot at an at-large bid out of the SoCon is Elon (RPI of 43), which tied for third in the league (but is the 4 seed in the conference tourney).  The Phoenix had a better record against the ACC (6-1) than in the SoCon (19-11).  The SoCon should get at least two bids, and possibly three.

— Sun Belt – Florida Atlantic and Louisiana-Lafayette will be in the NCAAs.  Then there is Western Kentucky, with an RPI of 36 and some nice non-conference wins (Texas A&M, Texas State, Baylor, Vanderbilt, Kentucky).  However, the Hilltoppers finished 16-14 in league play, tied for sixth, and will be the 8 seed at the Sun Belt tournament. Can an 8 seed out of the Sun Belt get an at-large bid?  I’m not sure about that.

That leaves the four leagues that will send the most teams.  The easiest of these to evaluate, in terms of at-large possibilities, is the SEC.  The other three are a bit more difficult to figure out.

— Southeastern – Alabama’s sweep of Tennessee in Knoxville locked up a berth in the SEC tourney (and the regionals) for the Tide and also knocked the Vols out of both events.  LSU took care of business against Mississippi State, and then got the benefit of Kentucky’s meltdown against cellar-dweller Georgia.  The Wildcats were eliminated from the SEC tourney (and likely the NCAAs) after a 20-0 loss in Athens on Friday night.  Ouch.  The SEC, which some were suggesting could send ten teams to the NCAAs, will send eight — the same eight teams playing in the league tournament.

— Atlantic Coast – Six teams are locks (Virginia, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Miami, Virginia Tech).  Then there are the other two teams in the league tournament (Boston College and NC State) and one that isn’t (North Carolina).

I think it’s possible that two of those three get in, but not all three.  North Carolina didn’t even make the ACC tourney, but has a really good RPI (21) and just finished a sweep of Virginia Tech.  The Heels actually tied for 8th with BC, but the two teams did not meet during the regular season, and BC wound up prevailing in a tiebreaker, which was based on record against the top teams.  That’s also UNC’s biggest problem — it was swept by all three of the ACC heavyweights (Virginia, Georgia Tech, Miami).  It also lost a series to Duke, which is never a good idea.

On the other hand, UNC did beat NC State two out of three games (in Chapel Hill). The Wolfpack has an RPI of 49, not quite in UNC’s range, thanks to a strength of schedule of only 77 (per Warren Nolan).  By comparison, UNC has a SOS of 15 and BC 16, typical of most ACC teams (Miami has the #1 SOS in the nation; UVA is 9th, Clemson 11th).

The records for the two schools against the top 50 in the RPI are similar.  Both are better than Boston College (8-20 against the top 50).  BC, which is only 29-26 overall and has an RPI of 45, would be a marginal at-large candidate but for its quality schedule and, of course, its sweep of NC State in Raleigh.

What NC State does have to offer for its consideration is series wins against UVA and Georgia Tech.  That’s impressive, but it’s probably not enough to get the Pack an at-large berth on its own.

I suspect that UNC will get in, despite not making the ACC tournament, but it will be close.  BC and NC State both need to do some damage in the ACC tourney, which is a pool play event, meaning each team will play at least three games. The Eagles and Wolfpack each need to win at least twice.  UNC fans need to root against both of them, because even though at-large bids (supposedly) aren’t doled out by conference, a run to the ACC title game by either BC or NCSU probably would move them ahead of the Heels in the at-large pecking order.

— Big XII – Texas, Oklahoma, and Texas A&M are locks.  Kansas State (RPI of 35) is on the bubble but is in good shape.  Baylor (RPI of 41), Texas Tech (RPI of 54, and now with a .500 overall record), and Kansas (RPI of 52) are also in the running for an at-large bid, although the latter two schools hurt themselves over the weekend and are in now in serious trouble.  Both must have good runs in the Big XII tourney (which, like the ACC tournament, is a pool play event).

Baylor, Kansas, and Kansas State are all in the same “pod” for the Big XII tournament, so they may be able to separate themselves from each other (in a manner of speaking) during the tourney.  How that will affect the total number of bids for the Big XII is hard to say.  It wasn’t a banner year for the league, but I could see as many as six bids.  I think, barring some upsets in the league tournament, it’s going to be five.

— Pac-10 – Arizona State, UCLA, Washington State, and Oregon are locks.  Arizona (RPI of 19) probably is too, although the Wildcats would do well not to get swept next weekend at Oregon State.

There are nine teams in the conference still fighting to make the NCAAs.  In this league, there is only one punching bag — Southern California.  Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Washington has the worst RPI of the contenders (55) and is only one game over .500 overall.  The Huskies play Southern Cal in their final series, which will probably help Washington’s record but may not help its NCAA case.  Oregon State, as mentioned, hosts Arizona and may need to win twice.  The Beavers (with a solid RPI of 32) did get a much-needed win on Sunday at Arizona State to improve their conference record to 10-14.

Stanford (RPI of 44) looks to be in good shape; the Cardinal host Arizona State next weekend and likely need to win just one of the three games (and may be able to withstand a sweep).  On the other side of the bay, however, things are not as promising, as California (RPI of 39) has lost seven straight and finishes the season at Oregon needing to show the selection committee a reason to believe.

At least seven teams from the Pac-10 are going to make the NCAAs, and possibly eight.  I don’t think all nine contenders are going to get the call, though.

Okay, now let’s break things down.  Just my opinion, of course.  Here we go:

— Locks (30):  Louisville, Connecticut, Virginia, Georgia Tech, Miami, Clemson, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Coastal Carolina, Cal State Fullerton, Rice, TCU, Arizona State, UCLA, Washington State, Oregon, Florida, South Carolina, Auburn, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Mississippi, Alabama, LSU, College of Charleston, Florida Atlantic, Louisiana-Lafayette

— Champions from “one-bid” leagues:  15

— Champions from leagues likely to get just one bid, but that do have bubble teams (but no locks):  4 (the leagues in question are the A-Sun, Big 10, MVC, and Southland)

— Bubble teams that are in good shape (6):  Arizona, Kansas State, UC Irvine, New Mexico, The Citadel, Pittsburgh

That’s 55 teams in total.  If there are no upsets (hah!), then nine other bubble teams will make the NCAAs.  I’ve got them listed in two groups; the “decent chance” group, and the “need some help and/or no conference tourney upsets for an at-large” group.

Decent chance for an at-large:  Stanford, North Carolina, Baylor, FGCU (if needed), Oregon State, Elon, NC State

Need a lot of things to go right:  Boston College, Liberty, Wichita State, Western Kentucky, Michigan, Texas Tech, Kansas, California, Washington, Texas State, Southeastern Louisiana, Northwestern State, Southern Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee, St. John’s

That’s how I see things, as of Sunday night.  Most of the action this week begins on Wednesday.  Let the games begin…