The Citadel hoops it up: Basketball 2011-12

Yes, it’s basketball season!

Last year, there was a good deal of anticipation for Bulldogs basketball, as a senior-laden team was expected to contend for league honors, or at least compete in the upper echelon of the Southern Conference. It didn’t quite work out that way, to say the least.

The Citadel finished 10-22, 6-12 in the SoCon. The Bulldogs lost nine of their last ten games, and did not win a home game after January 22. Times were tough at McAlister Field House.

New coach Chuck Driesell wanted to play a more uptempo style, but the players seemed to have trouble adjusting after playing in Ed Conroy’s more deliberate system. In truth, though, The Citadel still played last season at a slower tempo than all but 35 schools in Division I. It wasn’t quite as slow as the year before (when the Bulldogs’ pace of play was in the bottom ten nationally), but it wasn’t exactly racehorse-style ball.

The raw numbers don’t necessarily reflect it, but once adjusting for tempo it is clear that much of The Citadel’s struggles, at least from a statistical perspective, came at the defensive end of the court. The Bulldogs allowed 1.112 points per possession, which ranked in the bottom 40 nationally (all numbers in this section per Pomeroy). The Citadel forced very few turnovers and allowed opponents to convert a way-too-easy 53.7% of all two-point baskets.

Given those statistics, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Bulldogs also fared poorly in categories like steals per game and blocked shots (though I can’t remember the last time The Citadel had a legitimate shot-blocker; it was probably back in the BRK days).

The team clearly suffered from the lack of a bigger presence in the post (two years after Demetrius Nelson had graduated, he had still not been effectively replaced). Another issue was a shortened rotation, as Chuck Driesell elected to go with just seven players (for the most part) over the latter part of the season. It’s my opinion (one shared by a number of other observers) that Bulldog hoops squads have a tendency to wear out over the course of a campaign, thanks to the rigors of the basketball schedule combined with the “being cadets and students too” thing.

Now most of the regulars from last year’s team are gone, and gone with them is a lot of experience (77% of the minutes played from last season). That experience provided the overwhelming majority of the team’s points (three career 1,000-point scorers, including alltime leading scorer Cameron Wells), three-point shooting (98.7% of all made threes, including career leader Zach Urbanus), and assists (83% of last year’s total).

Given all that, it’s not entirely surprising Driesell stated that “it almost feels like this is my first year.” He has had to do what Ed Conroy did four years ago, basically. Like Conroy, Driesell brought in an eight-man freshman class in his second season.

First, though, it’s worth noting the players from last season who are back, particularly 6’8″ junior forward Mike Groselle, who should be one of the SoCon’s best returnees. Groselle is a model of efficiency who shows particularly well in “advanced stats”, including effective FG% (60.1).

That would have been good enough for third in the SoCon among players who played at least 60% of their team’s minutes; Groselle narrowly missed that standard (59%). It will be important for him to play more minutes this season (he averaged just over 24 minutes per game last year).

Groselle also ranked in the top 10 in the conference in both offensive rebounding percentage and defensive rebounding percentage. With more playing time and a little more range on his shot, I think he would be a good match for Wofford’s Noah Dahlman over the last two years — in other words, a first-team all-league player and a candidate for player of the year. I’m not the only person who thinks Groselle could have a good year; College Basketball Prospectus suggested he “could be a trendy mid-major name four months from now.”

The lone senior on the Bulldogs’ roster is 6’2″ guard Cosmo Morabbi, who had an injury-plagued junior campaign after breaking his finger in the weight room. Morabbi was the player who I thought might benefit the most from a more-uptempo system, so his injury was doubly disappointing.

Before he got hurt, though, he had struggled with his shot. Morabbi is at his most effective when he is a threat from distance, especially the corner three-ball. He was 2-4 from beyond the arc in The Citadel’s exhibition victory over Tennessee Wesleyan, hopefully a good sign.

DeVontae Wright is a sophomore guard from Goose Creek who will have a chance to play more this season, provided he improves, among other things, his assists-to-turnovers ratio. He scored 13 points in 26 minutes of action in the exhibition game.

Bo Holston is a 6’4″ forward who is more of a 3-man; he was placed in the role of the 4 at times last season, a tough assignment. Holston is an “energy guy” who started 13 games last year.

There are a few other players returning from last year who may feature in the rotation. You never know when someone will suddenly get in the mix, as Holston did last season, or as John Brown did three years ago.

Driesell’s eight freshmen are a diverse lot, at least in terms of hometowns. He brought in eight players from seven different states (two are from North Carolina). The general consensus seems to be that the globe-trotting coach brought in a class with some athleticism, but which in at least a couple of cases will need time to develop.

I’m not going to pretend to know much about any of these guys. I also did not see the exhibition game (link: box score) in person, so I’m at a disadvantage in that respect as well. I’ll make a few comments anyway. Hey, it’s my blog…

C.J. Bray is a 6’7″ forward from Charleston (James Island High School) who turned down a football scholarship from Arkansas to plays hoops at The Citadel. At the very least, he should be an athletic presence down low. He started against Tennessee Wesleyan and played 19 minutes, scoring six points.

Ashton Moore is a 6’0″ guard from Virginia. He was the breakout star of the night in the exhibition game, going 6-10 from 3 and scoring 21 points. He also played 30 minutes, more than any other player.

When Moore wasn’t hitting from downtown in the exhibition, fellow freshman guard Lawrence Miller (4-7 from 3-land) was. The 6’1″ Miller is from Charlotte.

Marshall Harris is a 6’1″ point guard from San Antonio. He only played ten minutes in the game against Tennessee Wesleyan, but dished out five assists. I would not be surprised if his playing time increases once the season begins.

P.J. Horgan is a 6’8″ post player from New Mexico. The Blue Ribbon preview was high on Horgan, noting he led his high school team to the state semifinals and was second team all-state. He grabbed four rebounds in ten minutes of play against Tennessee Wesleyan.

Driesell didn’t skimp on signing size. Another example of that is 6’7″, 232 lb. Jordan Robertson, of Greensboro, NC. Robertson did not score in the exhibition game, but did reel in seven rebounds in 16 minutes of play.

Two other freshmen did not play against Tennessee Wesleyan. Dylen Setzekorn is 6’7″, but more of a swingman than a post player (at least, that’s my understanding). He’s described by Driesell as being a good shooter.

Michael Hundley is the tallest of the newcomers, at 6’9″, but only weighs 178 lbs. (according to his roster page on the school website). In the Blue Ribbon preview, Driesell said that Hundley “could be the sleeper of the bunch. He’s long and athletic and could be an excellent shot blocker. He’s got a chance, although he might need a year.” That suggests Hundley may be a redshirt candidate.

As expected, The Citadel is not expected to contend in the Southern Conference this season. The SoCon media picked the Bulldogs to finish last in the South division. College Basketball Prospectus rates The Citadel as the 10th-best team in the league (ahead of Georgia Southern and Samford). Ken Pomeroy’s preseason ratings rank the Bulldogs lower than any other team in the conference (298th in the nation). The Sagarin ratings are a little kinder, ranking The Citadel ahead of three other SoCon squads.

Blue Ribbon’s preview noted that it was “hard not to pick the Bulldogs at the bottom of the South Division because they have so little experience.” The Post and Courier also predicted a last-place division finish for the Bulldogs.

It’s hard to argue with those predictions and assessments, given The Citadel lost so much experience from a team that lost 22 games anyway. On the other hand…

One thing working in the Bulldogs’ favor is that The Citadel is not the only team that lost a lot of players. The College of Charleston lost three starters, including alltime leading scorer Andrew Goudelock and Jeremy Simmons, a key cog in the Cougars’ rotation. Wofford lost four starters, including Noah Dahlman (the best player in school history) and hardnosed rebounder Tim Johnson. Furman lost four starters too; one of them was All-SoCon forward Amu Saaka. That’s just from the South division.

The various polls and previews had a hard time trying to figure out the order of the SoCon South after the top two spots (Davidson and the CofC). While Wofford, Furman, and The Citadel all suffered heavy graduation losses, Georgia Southern only lost one starter, and also has Willie Powers III (an excellent scoring point guard) coming back after missing last season with a knee injury.

No one seems really confident in the Eagles, though. Part of that may have to do with Powers’ extensive injury history, but much of it is based on the fact that while GSU brought back a lot of players, those players only managed to win two Division I games last season (one of those, alas, was against The Citadel).

In other words, the SoCon South is wide open, other than the top spot (where Davidson seems to be a solid pick to not only win the division, but the league) and maybe second place (with the College of Charleston bringing in highly-regarded recruit Adjehi Baru).

As far as the rest of the conference is concerned, the SoCon North in general has more returning talent, and is perceived as being more settled as the season begins, with snakebitten Samford (literally!) a consensus choice to finish last (and that was before the Birmingham Bulldogs lost their starting point guard for the season with an achilles’ tendon injury).

Chattanooga is the favorite in the North, and generally considered the second- or co-favorite for the league title (with Davidson), though not everyone is on the Mocs’ bandwagon — notably the Pomeroy preseason ratings. Omar Wattad will fire from three-land all night long, sometimes forgetting the rules allow him to shoot two-pointers too. Keegan Bell is a fine point guard who will be first team all-SoCon if his field goal percentage improves.

Appalachian State lost alltime leading scorer Donald Sims, yet some observers think the Mountaineers may be better off. Ike Butts’ return is a major reason why; not every SoCon team has a viable post player who is 6’10”, 280 lbs. Omar Carter is the league’s leading returning scorer and a player of the year candidate.

Western Carolina brings back a solid squad as well and may be a nice dark horse pick. The Catamounts finished last season strong, winning 14 of their last 19 games. UNCG will play a slightly more reasonable non-league schedule this season, which should help the Spartans avoid another 0-15 start. Elon is a sleeper pick in some precincts, although the Phoenix may be a year away.

I think it’s likely The Citadel will have some hard times on the hardwood this season. However, the Bulldogs won’t be the only league team in that position, and if some of the freshmen can contribute early and provide a helping hand to Groselle and co., it wouldn’t be a surprise to see The Citadel have a better year in the league than expected.

I do believe that with more of his own players, Chuck Driesell will be able to fully implement his style of play. I am also hopeful that he will have a deeper rotation, which would help the team avoid the late-season stumbles that have habitually plagued the program.

At the very least, the defense (particularly in the paint) should improve. Offensively, besides shooting the ball well (obviously), I would like to see the Bulldogs make a concerted effort to get to the free throw line more, which has been a problem for the last three seasons.

Odds and ends:

— I’ve been asked to contribute to a kind of roundtable discussion about the league this season. This is going to be a weekly thing for the most part. The first edition for this season has been posted to a Chattanooga blog, Mocs Mania, and can be found here:  Link

— From what I can figure out, The Citadel will only appear on television once in 2011-12 during the regular season, and that will actually be in the season opener against VMI, in the All-Military Classic in Colorado Springs, Colorado. That game will start at 11:59 pm ET on Friday, November 11, and is being televised by the CBS Sports Network (not to be confused with CBS). The announcers will be Roger Twibell and Pete Gillen. With any luck, Gillen will try to call timeout at least twice.

The Citadel’s home opener against Clemson will be broadcast online, on ESPN3.com, as part of the SoCon’s season package on that platform. It appears this will be the only time the Bulldogs appear on the package.

It is possible (though not likely) that other games will be picked up for TV and/or ESPN3.com at a later date.

— The new tagline for the season is apparently “Pack the Mac”. I hope that venerable McAlister Field House is indeed packed this season (I am sure it will be for the opener). I would like to see an increased cadet presence this year as well.

I’m ready for the season. Very ready.

Bulldog hoops: the most disappointing season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bulldog hoops: whoa, a real live winning streak

Well, in my last post I said it was time for The Citadel to go on a winning streak, and lo and behold the Bulldogs have delivered.  It’s a modest three-game stretch, to be sure, but it’s still two games longer than any previous winning streak the team has had this season.

Chuck Driesell is now employing a seven-man rotation.  He has elected to play mostly zone on defense, with a 1-2-2 as his primary look, although I guess you could call it a 3-2, or even a 2-3, depending on what the “point” defender does.  (In his postgame wrapup with Darren Goldwater after the Western Carolina game, Driesell was amusingly vague about the defense, as if he were concerned a future opponent was listening to the broadcast.)

Bo Holston or Austin Dahn seem to play that point spot the most.  They are both athletic and active, fairly long-armed defenders, so that makes sense.  My concern with the zone is that it tends to give opponents opportunities to create open three-point shots, but so far The Citadel has watched Samford, Appalachian State, and Western Carolina go a combined 15-70 (21.4%) behind the arc.  Donald Sims (of the Mountaineers) and Andy King (of the Birmingham Bulldogs) each went 4-8 from three-land; the rest of their teammates (and Catamounts) shot less than 13% from outside.

One of the things the zone has done, though, is slow the opponents down (well, Appy and WCU — Samford doesn’t need any help to slow things down).  I thought the Mountaineers and Catamounts were both lethargic on offense, especially in the first half.  To have success against the 1-2-2, you have to be patient, but you can’t be static. The players on those teams didn’t move particularly well without the ball, and the passing was less than crisp.

Sims (who was outstanding) was the only reason Appalachian State was not completely embarrassed in the first half.  Western Carolina wasn’t so lucky.

On the other side of the ball, I thought the Bulldogs played to their strengths.  There weren’t nearly as many contested shots taken early in the possession; the team usually worked the ball around until A) Mike Groselle got position inside; B) Cameron Wells saw an opening and took it; or C) Zach Urbanus got an open look for a three.

The best example of this was Austin Dahn’s game against Western Carolina.  Dahn got to 1000 points in his career at The Citadel in that game, which in my opinion was his best game of the season.  He didn’t take a single bad shot, and as a result scored 13 points on only 6 field goal attempts, an outstanding efficiency rate.

Dahn can be an effective offensive player because while he’s capable of making three-pointers, he has what I call a “semi-slash” type of game overall.  When he doesn’t take shots out of the offense’s natural rhythm, it can be tough for the opposition to account for him, what with it already having to deal with Wells and his driving ability, Groselle’s inside play, and Urbanus’ three-point shooting acumen.

Speaking of efficient play, Groselle’s breakout season has continued.  He was relatively quiet against Samford, but against Appy and WCU he was a combined 16-21 from the field.  Oddly, he only attempted three free throws in those two games, but I suspect he’ll start getting to the line more often if he keeps up his current Southern Conference shooting pace (72% FGA).  Also, Groselle’s teammates are getting better and better at finding him when he gets the little angles and creases that give him the upper hand in the paint.

Cameron Wells in the three victories:  68 points on 41 FGA (15-16 FT), 13 assists, 5 steals.  Alas, he also has 13 turnovers in those three games.  Other than that, he’s been the All-SoCon player we all know and appreciate.

The Bulldogs as a team were on their way to their best offensive performance of the season against WCU, but an alarming flood of second-half turnovers took care of that. The Citadel scored 43 points on 33 first-half possessions, but only scored 25 in the second half on 36 possessions, which is what happens when you have 14 second-half turnovers.  Luckily the Catamounts’ first-half miseries included scoring just 15 points on 33 possessions.

Against Appalachian State, on the other hand, The Citadel scored 81 points on just 64 possessions, the season’s top offensive effort.  This included shooting 62% from the field (Holston was 7-7).  Zach Urbanus was 5-8 from three-land in his best shooting performance to date.

The seven-man rotation does have a downside.  Because Cosmo Morabbi is injured and DeVontae Wright is apparently not quite ready yet for significant action, Wells and Urbanus in particular are having to log heavy minutes in the backcourt, which I think partly explains the turnover problems.  (It’s also a reason to play zone defense, as it helps keep them out of foul trouble.)

I hope Morabbi is able to come back and help out before the season ends, as an experienced guard is definitely a commodity the Bulldogs could use.

The Citadel plays Davidson at Belk Arena on Wednesday night before a break in the schedule.  Since 1961, the Bulldogs have only won at Davidson twice.  Two years ago, The Citadel turned the trick against a Wildcat team missing Stephen Curry, although even with Curry, Davidson arguably may have struggled that night (in a 64-46 Bulldog victory).  The game was the tenth of eleven straight wins for The Citadel that season.

Currently, Davidson is reeling, having lost six of its last seven games, including three in a row, but it’s still the same team that beat The Citadel 68-53 in December at McAlister Field House.  In that game, the Wildcats held the Bulldogs to 33% from the field, as the Cadets only made 13 of their 44 2-point attempts (The Citadel actually shot 43% from beyond the arc).

The Bulldogs also committed 18 turnovers and had no real answer for Davidson big man Jake Cohen, who scored 21 points (on only 8 FGA) while collecting 12 rebounds and blocking 3 shots.  Cohen can also hit the three-pointer (he made two in that game).  In other words, he’s a very difficult matchup.

I think The Citadel is playing much better basketball than it was when it played Davidson.  I also suspect Cameron Wells will score more than two points on Wednesday night (he fouled out after 19 minutes in the first game).  That being said, it’s a road game, the Wildcats are always well-coached, and Davidson usually seems to play at least one game each year against The Citadel where it shoots lights-out from outside the three-point line.

It should be interesting.  That’s a good thing.  It’s about time this season got interesting…

Bulldog hoops: time to go on a winning streak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few other odds and ends:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll see.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hoops season has arrived, and just in time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m ready for some hoops…

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

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

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

Quick hits on the Western Carolina game:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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