Great Eight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Searching the sky for locusts

Last year around this time, The Citadel lost a game at Appalachian State, 75-71 in overtime.  With the loss the Bulldogs dropped to 0-13 in the Southern Conference (5-17 overall, with just one of those victories coming against a Division I team).  It was the 17th consecutive loss to Appalachian State, a school that The Citadel had not defeated in basketball since 1996 (and had not beaten in Boone since 1993).

What a difference a year makes.

On Thursday night, The Citadel defeated the Mountaineers in Boone 74-72, ending that long losing skid to Appy, and moved to 9-4 in the SoCon.  With the College of Charleston losing to Western Carolina, The Citadel currently sits in second place in the South Division.  If the season ended today (my understanding is it won’t), the Bulldogs would have a bye for the first round of the conference tournament.

There is also the small matter of last night’s win being the sixth straight conference victory for The Citadel, notable because, almost unbelievably (unless you follow Bulldog basketball), it’s the first time that the school has ever won six consecutive games in league play.  Ever.  In case you were wondering, The Citadel has been playing basketball in the Southern Conference since the 1936-37 season.

It almost didn’t happen this year, either.  The Bulldogs led 61-59 when Ed Conroy called a 30-second timeout with 5:49 left in the game.  The Citadel scored at least one point on each of its next seven possessions (including a big three-pointer by Zach Urbanus), yet with 43 seconds left the Bulldogs found themselves leading by only that same two-point margin.  With 14 seconds left, The Citadel turned it over (on what looked like a bad call, but Mountaineer fans could make a good argument that a similar call had gone The Citadel’s way three minutes earlier).  Appalachian State had a chance to tie or win the game, but good defense led to an off-balance three that never had a chance.

It was a fairly well-played game, particularly offensively.   The difference was Appalachian State’s three-point shooting, not as much the poor percentage, but the fact the Mountaineers attempted 17 shots beyond the arc when they were converting two-point attempts at a 60% clip, and also getting it done from the foul line (16-18).  I know the three-point shooting is part of their game, but when you’re having success inside and not shooting well from distance, jacking up threes just strikes me as not the way to go (although Appy did get its fair share of offensive rebounds from the missed three-pointers).

The Citadel only attempted ten three-pointers, making four of them.  I think all ten came within the “natural” flow of the offense — in other words, none of them were forced.  The Citadel did a good job of keeping things relatively simple offensively, feeding the ball to Demetrius Nelson on  a regular basis.  In the second half, Cameron Wells began creating shots for himself and taking advantage of driving opportunities.  Cosmo Morabbi added a three and also had the distinction of being identified twice by the App State radio announcer as Jonathan Brick, which I thought was amusing, although not as funny as when the announcer got Brick confused with Bryan Streeter.  (In all fairness, the announcer wasn’t bad at all; he just had a tough time with Brick for some reason.)

On Saturday, The Citadel travels to Cullowhee to take on Western Carolina, the team it beat to start this six-game streak, in what was arguably the Bulldogs’ best performance of the season (other than the free throw shooting).  It will take another good effort to complete a sweep, particularly since the Catamounts are undefeated at home.  WCU is currently tied atop the SoCon North with UT-Chattanooga, both at 7-5 in the league.

Speaking of conference standings, I’m glad that The Citadel (at least for the moment) has pushed ahead of the CofC into the #2 spot in the SoCon South.  On Saturday night the College plays at Davidson in a game televised by ESPN2, with none other than Dick Vitale as the analyst.  My guess is that he will talk about Stephen Curry for 60% of the game, Bobby Cremins for 30% of the time, and Duke when not talking about Curry or Cremins, but I am hoping that since the game features not the current first- and second-place teams in the division, but the first- and third-place teams, that he might briefly mention the team actually sitting in second place at the moment.  I’m fairly confident he has never mentioned The Citadel during a broadcast, unless it was calling us a cupcake on somebody’s schedule.

Brief non-basketball note:  The Citadel and VMI are going to resume their series in football, beginning in 2011.  I’m still annoyed the teams will go three seasons between meetings in the first place.  At least The Coveted Silver Shako remains in Charleston, where it belongs.

Speaking of non-basketball notes and VMI, congrats to the Bulldog wrestlers for beating their counterparts from Lexington.  I don’t claim to follow wrestling too much (despite having once announced a wrestling match — Jim Ross would have been impressed), but 21-9 is a good solid whuppin’.

I could get used to rooting for a winning hoops team

The Citadel 72, College of Charleston 63.  Whoa.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The last TV appearance of the hoops season, unless…

It’s not often I get to post about a 14-point victory in SoCon play, but last night The Citadel pummelled Western Carolina in the second half en route to a 66-52 victory.  It’s easy to win games by double digits when you shoot 70% from the field in a half. 


I thought the key to the run, though, was John Brown’s spirited play.  He seemed to get every rebound and loose ball during the second half.  He also just missed on what would have been a SportsCenter-worthy jam; I suspect he’ll get teased by his teammates (and Ed Conroy) for that.  Good effort all around, though.  17 assists on 26 made baskets is a very good ratio.  The pace was solid (62 possessions), and the Bulldogs outrebounded WCU, which was a bit of a surprise.  Jonathan Brick made two three-pointers; that’s as many as he had made all season.


Congrats to Demetrius Nelson for being the 25th member of the 1000-point club at The Citadel, which is a testament to his perseverance as much as it is to his talent. 


With the win The Citadel moved to 4-4 in league play.  It’s been six years since the Bulldogs had a .500 record or better in the conference after eight games.  (It’s also been six years since The Citadel won more than four conference games in a season.) 


The one negative was the large number of turnovers (18).  Most of them came in the first half and, in retrospect, kept the Catamounts in the game.  The Bulldogs have to avoid committing turnovers.  They aren’t going to shoot that well every night.  At least in this game they avoided the first half blues that had plagued them recently.


Speaking of that, The Citadel was coming off a tough loss at Wofford where the Bulldogs had trailed by as many as 16 points in the first half before mounting a furious comeback, actually taking the lead briefly.  The Citadel could not maintain the momentum, however, and eventually lost by three.   That was another 62-possession game, which I was glad to see (although Wofford doesn’t run-and-gun at all, so it was also an expected total).  The Citadel had struggled in the first half against Furman too, but recovered to win that game in OT (it helps that the Paladins are horrendous).


Wofford’s not a bad club at all, but last night Georgia Southern clubbed them in Statesboro.  I’m not sure what to make of that, other than Junior Salters must have done too much celebrating against The Citadel, because he went 3-14 from the field against GSU.  That means that third place in the SoCon South Division is a three-way tie, with The Citadel and Georgia Southern both 4-4 in league play and Wofford at 3-3.  Davidson leads the division, of course; sitting in second place is Bobby Cremins’ crew from the College of Charleston, which is 7-1 in the league (losing only to Davidson) and 15-3 overall, including a win over South Carolina. 


As it happens, The Citadel will host the CofC at McAlister Field House on Saturday afternoon.  It’s going to be televised by SportSouth, the third and final time the Bulldogs will be featured on TV this season, unless the Bulldogs were to advance to the Southern Conference tournament semi-finals for only the second time in the last 24 seasons.  That would be…different.


The Cougars are one of the country’s better offensive squads, averaging 1.113 points per possession (17th nationally).  They shoot well from the field, whether inside or outside (38% from three-land), and take good care of the basketball.  The only thing offensively that qualifies as a weakness is their free throw shooting (65.9%).  Currently five College of Charleston players are averaging double-figure scoring, led by guard Andrew Goudelock (who is shooting 48.5% from beyond the arc).


Defensively the Cougars aren’t nearly as impressive.  CofC opponents are shooting 46% from the field.  Also, the Cougars are not a good rebounding team.  The College of Charleston is averaging over four blocked shots per game, however, and leads the SoCon in that category.


I would guess that at least 5000 people will be in attendance at McAlister on Saturday, including a goodly number of cadets.  It should be a great atmosphere.  I just hope the game is as good.

Taking names, and talking names

The Citadel 84, Georgia Southern 75.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 reasons why The Citadel will beat Michigan State

1.  The Citadel threw the UC Davis game just to make the Spartans overconfident.

I mean, let’s get serious here.  Do you really think the Bulldogs were trying to play defense in the first half?  UC Davis shot 78% from the field.  Most teams couldn’t do that if the other team didn’t show up.  UC Davis had an eFG of 69% for the game.  Clearly, The Citadel was just setting a trap for Michigan State.  Having the Spartans win their last game by 58 points (over Alcorn State) was just an added bonus.

2.  Drew Neitzel isn’t playing in this game.

Neitzel did play in the only meeting between the two schools, which came two years ago during the 10th of Neitzel’s 11 seasons in East Lansing.  Michigan State edged The Citadel 73-41 in a game marred by biased officiating, courtesy of Big 10-friendly refs.  There is no other logical way to explain how the Spartans won that game.

3.  The Citadel gives up fewer points per game than Michigan State and commits fewer turnovers per game as well.

These are true facts.  You can look them up.  The Citadel averages 61.1 possessions per game, the 15th-slowest pace in the country, but I don’t think that is particularly relevant.  Neither is the fact that Michigan State ranks in the top 40 nationally in possessions per game (at 74.9).

4.  The Citadel’s school colors are similar to those of North Carolina.

Speaking of the Tar Heels, you can’t tell me that the Spartans won’t be traumatized when a team wearing light blue and white saunters onto the court at the Breslin Center (even if the contest against the Heels was at Ford Field).  Did you watch that game?  Mercy.  You can bet that the players at Rhode Island and Columbia are upset they can’t get a shot at MSU.

You know, if you squint Demetrius Nelson looks a little like Ed Davis…

5.  Idong Ibok could start at center for the Spartans.

Ibok is a native of Lagos, Nigeria.  He’s 6’11”, 260.  According to MSU’s game notes, Ibok (a redshirt senior who has already graduated; he made the Academic All-Big 10 team last season) has started 17 games in his career.  So far this season, he has played in six games (one start) and scored two points.

That kind of starting history/stat line bears an eerie similarity to that of Augustine “Gus” Olalere, who played for The Citadel in the early 1990s and who was also from Lagos, Nigeria.  So, it looks like The Citadel was about 17 years ahead of Michigan State on the recruiting trail.  Advantage:  Bulldogs.

(Don’t forget about Love Ishie, too.)

6.  The Citadel has never lost a game that was televised by the Big Ten Network.  The Citadel has also never lost a game broadcast nationally in high-definition.  I’m quite sure Dave Revsine will mention these two facts repeatedly during the game.

Incidentally, Steve Smith (former Spartan) is going to be the analyst for this game, which reminds me that we have a serious Steve Smith problem in our country.  Not only is there the ex-Spartan hoopster Steve Smith, soon to be impressed with the greatness that is basketball at The Citadel, but on Sunday night the NFL game will feature not one but two teams with wide receivers named Steve Smith.

Then you have the Steve Smith who used to play for the Raiders and Penn State, and the Steve Smith who coached third base for the Phillies this past season (since canned), and the Steve Smith who played basketball for La Salle and for about an hour in the NBA, and a host of other sports-related Steve and Steven Smiths (not to mention ESPN screamer Stephen A. Smith and ASU fixer Stevin Smith).  Basically, we have too many Steve Smiths.  I call for a moratorium on naming your kid Steven or Stephen if your last name is Smith, especially if you are athletic and there is a risk he could inherit your genes.

7.  The Citadel is a better free-throw shooting team.

The Bulldogs are shooting a solid 72% from the line thus far, while the Spartans are a mediocre 65% from the charity stripe.  In a close game, advantage Bulldogs!

8.  Michigan State has a lot of guys afraid to shoot the ball.

You can tell this is the case just by looking at the assist statistics.  MSU ranks 7th nationally with 19 assists per game, a sign that players would rather have their teammates shoot than take the initiative themselves.  Against Alcorn State, the Spartans had a school-record 35 assists, evidence of a timid squad.

Conversely, The Citadel averages less than 10 assists per game, which is in the bottom 40 nationally.  Obviously the Bulldogs have a lot of aggressive players who aren’t afraid to take big shots.  As Bill Raftery would say, Onions!

9.  The Spartans don’t seem to have a lot of personality.

According to MSU’s game notes, senior guard Travis Walton “loves candy”.  The other factoid listed about Walton is that he’s the team’s strongest player, but c’mon.  He’s a senior, and the best tidbit they can come up with is that he “loves candy”?  Weak.  You can’t win unless your players have more personality, like Bulldog freshman guard Cosmo Morabbi.

10.  This has been a tough year for the State of Michigan.

Let’s face it.  If there is going to be a year in which The Citadel beats Michigan State in hoops, this is the one.  Talk about bad karma…

SoCon hoops is upon us; hide the women and children

I long for a simpler time, when life’s problems were all solved in half-hour increments (allowing for an occasional one-hour special) and conference play in basketball didn’t start until January.  Those days are gone, however, and so it’s time for some SoCon hoops.  Last night Appalachian State kicked off the conference season by beating Furman.  There are two games tonight, College of Charleston-Elon and the game everyone in the nation is awaiting, The Citadel-UNC Greensboro.

This will be the seventeenth time these two non-rivals have faced off.  Sixteen of those appearances have come since UNCG attained Division I status in 1992.  The Citadel won the first four games of the series, but the Spartans have won 11 of the last 12, all of which have come since UNCG entered the Southern Conference (the Spartans began Division I existence in the Big South).  UNCG has had some good teams during that stretch, and The Citadel…has not.  The Citadel has only won at Fleming Gym in Greensboro one time, on its first visit in 1992, losing six straight at UNCG since then.  Overall the Spartans have beaten the Bulldogs eight straight times.

This season UNC-Greensboro must replace Kyle Hines, a 6’8″ bruiser who used The Citadel to enhance his All-Conference credentials, and it’s off to a tough start in doing so.  The Spartans are 1-3, with the one victory over non-Division I opponent Webber International.  UNCG has also lost non-competitive games at UNC Charlotte and North Carolina State, while also losing on the road to Central Arkansas (which beat The Citadel in Cancun last weekend, of course).

UNCG has some ugly offensive numbers so far this season.  It is shooting 39.7% from the field (44.8% eFG) and only 58.2% from the foul line.  Its turnover rate per possession is among the nation’s worst.  Its assist/turnover ratio is abysmal. 

Defensively, it is allowing opponents to shoot 2-pt. shots at a 56.9% clip, which is alarming.  Demetrius Nelson, take heed.  UNCG does appear to rebound the ball fairly well.  Again, with only three games played, warnings about small sample sizes need apply.

Individually, the Spartans are led by Mikko Koivisto, a 6’4″ guard from Finland averaging 15.8 points per game with solid stats across the board.  They employ a nine-man rotation (UNCG has only 10 scholarship players this season).  Ben Stywall, a 6’5″ forward, is the leading rebounder, pulling down 8 boards per game, but he’s not making shots, either from the field or the foul line (10-23 from the stripe). 

I don’t have a sense for how this game may turn out.  Considering how dominant UNCG has been in this series over the past decade, it would be hard to bet against them winning again tonight, but perhaps The Citadel can take advantage of some early-season struggles by the Spartans.  I like The Citadel’s recent trend of low-possession games, and I think that should continue (the Spartans’ games have mostly been played at an average tempo).  Offensively, the Bulldogs need to keep holding onto the ball, waiting for good shot opportunities, get some inside scoring, and take (and make) free throws.  Defensively, The Citadel needs to do a good job guarding the perimeter (especially against Koivisto) and hold its own on the boards.

Ballin’ in the Ballroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charleston Southern isn’t in Charleston

Not only is Charleston Southern not in Charleston, it’s not south of Charleston, either (unless you’re talking about the Charleston in West Virginia).  CSU is in Ladson, about 18 miles northwest of the Holy City.  Ladson is not exactly a suburb of Charleston.

That doesn’t prevent the school from emphasizing its connection to Charleston, however tenuous that connection may be.  The media guide, for example, has this fine example of glossing over the fact the school really isn’t in the city:

“the University is strategically located near Charleston, South Carolina, in the center of the modern growth patterns of the tri-county area. Students take advantage of the cultural, historical and recreational opportunities the city offers. Charleston is a city famous for its well-preserved colonial houses, famous gardens and plantations, miles of wide sandy beaches, and major fine arts events…”

CSU has been CSU since 1990.  The school was originally founded in 1964 as Baptist College, but as it got larger, the powers-that-be decided to change its name.  Part of this had to do with people confusing it for a seminary.  CSU (as Baptist) had been an NCAA Division I member for 15 years at the time of the switch, which occurred around the same time the College of Charleston became a full-fledged member of the division, leading to occasional confusion when the likes of ESPN or the AP reported scoring updates, as people mixed up the two schools regularly.  More than once a reference to “College of Charleston Southern” was made as well.  The national befuddlement has largely subsided now, however.

(I was a little amused to notice, though, that in CSU’s game notes there is a breakdown of the school’s alltime record under each of the school’s names.  The school recorded 285 wins as Baptist College, and has 207 so far as Charleston Southern.)

Charleston Southern (the school teams are nicknamed the Buccaneers, or the “Bucs”) has won the Big South tournament twice, but the first time the conference did not have an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.  CSU did go to the tourney in 1997, when it won the league tournament for the second (and to date, last) time.  Charleston Southern lost to UCLA that year in the first round.  Probably the most well-known CSU hoopster, at least in the Lowcountry, is longtime Charleston TV personality Warren Peper, who played basketball at Baptist College in the 1970s.

Although The Citadel and Charleston Southern are less than twenty miles apart, the two schools have had stretches of not playing each other that have lasted for several years at a time.  There were no games between the Bulldogs and Bucs from 1987 through 1992, from 1999 through 2001, and again from 2003 through 2004.  Part of this has been due to personality conflicts between various individuals, and part of it has to do with CSU’s home court situation (there is a chicken-and-the-egg aspect to the conflicts/court issue).

Charleston Southern’s on-campus “arena” is the CSU Fieldhouse, which according to a Wikipedia entry (why is there a Wiki entry for the CSU Fieldhouse?) seats 790 fans, and is reportedly the smallest home gym in Division I.  Now, to be honest, I think it can seat more than 790 (the announced attendance for the Bucs’ home opener against Furman was 846), but it is a really small gym.  Thus, CSU plays select “home” games at the North Charleston Coliseum, which seats over 13,000 in its basketball configuration.

As you might imagine, the Bucs never draw close to that many people for any of their home games, no matter the opponent (Clemson played CSU at the Coliseum about a decade ago; the game drew less than 4,000 fans).  I once went to a game at the Coliseum between CSU and Furman that could not have had more than 200 spectators in attendance, and that was counting the operations staff.  Tonight’s game should be a little better than that, but I would be surprised if more than 2,500 people are at the game.

However, the Coliseum is a selling point for the Bucs when recruiting (“see, if you’re good we’ll fill this arena with thousands of screaming fans!”).  What CSU really needs is a place to play bigger than its current home gym but not as gargantuan as the North Charleston Coliseum.  An arena with around 5,000 seats would do the trick.

The Citadel leads (!) the alltime series with CSU 18-13.  The Bucs have won five of the last six games in the series, but the one loss came last year at McAlister Field House, 76-73.  That game was typical of The Citadel’s season (poor defensive statistics across the board, heavy reliance on the three, etc.) except that The Citadel shot 50% from behind the line (11-22) and attempted (and made) a lot more free throws than normal.  Those two elements contributed to one of the Bulldogs’ two wins last season against Division I competition (late in the season, The Citadel notched its only conference victory, over Western Carolina).

Zach Urbanus went 5-6 from three-land, scoring 21 points, and the Bulldogs also got good games from Cameron Wells (15 points, 7 assists) and Demetrius Nelson (12 points, 8 rebounds in one of his last games before taking a medical redshirt).  Phillip Pandak made three 3-pointers, finishing with 11 points.  For CSU, Jamarco Warren was a force, scoring a game-high 22 points while making six 3-pointers and dishing out 5 assists.  Omar Carter added 17 points.  All of those players return for Tuesday night’s game.

This season, CSU is 2-2, with losses at Iowa (by 68-48; The Citadel lost at home to the Hawkeyes 70-48) and to the College of Charleston (at the North Charleston Coliseum).  The Bucs have defeated Toccoa Falls (a non-Division I school) and Furman, both at home.  The game against the CofC was an up-and-down affair, while the Iowa and Furman games were slower-paced.  I think CSU would probably like to play a little faster against The Citadel than it did against the Hawkeyes and Paladins.  CSU takes care of the basketball and shoots fairly well from behind the arc (and was 8-12 from that distance against Toccoa Falls, so it comes into tonight’s game confident in that respect).  The Bucs are only shooting 46.7% from inside the 3-point line, though, thanks mainly to a poor night against Iowa.  CSU has not been particularly good defensively (especially inside).

Warren is averaging 23.5 points so far this season and is red-hot from outside (64.5% from 3-land).  Carter is averaging 16.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per contest.  Freshman Kelvin Martin is a 6’5″ forward pulling down 9 rebounds per game.  He’s also in double figures in points (11.5).  The Bucs also have a 6’10” center, Billy Blackmon, who is shooting 68% from the field while averaging 7.5 boards.

Charleston Southern has lost a combined 42 games the past two years and would like to reverse that trend.  Losing again to The Citadel would be a bad sign, especially considering the Bulldogs have yet to show sustained improvement on defense and (except for the game against Cincinnati Christian) have been much more turnover-prone than they were last season.  That’s not to say the Bulldogs aren’t better than they were last season.  It’s just that it may be later in the year before The Citadel starts demonstrating that overall improvement by winning games.

However, if Nelson and Wells have good games, which I think is quite possible, and at least one other Bulldog chips in offensively, The Citadel has a decent chance of making it two in a row over CSU.  For that chance to become reality, though, the Bulldogs must control the game’s pace (in part by avoiding turnovers), do a better job defending the three, and contain the Bucs (especially Martin) on the glass.  Easier said than done.

Bulldog hoopsters unable to maintain lead over mighty Big 10 opponent

The lead was 4-2.  Iowa eventually survived, 70-48.

For The Citadel, the first six possessions went like this:
1) Inside to Demetrius Nelson, he scores
2) Inside to Nelson, he scores again
3) Attempt to transition for an easy hoop leads to challenged layup, no good
4) Ignored the inside, rushed a 3, no good
5) Ignored the inside, one-on-one move leading to long jumper, no good
6) Inside to Nelson, Iowa brings help this time, he kicks it out for an open 3, Daniel Eykyn makes it

Then there was a media timeout.  When action resumed, Nelson had been substituted.

When you are playing a team like Iowa, there aren’t going to be a lot of possessions (the Bulldogs had 54 in this game).  You’ve got to make them count.  If something is working early, like Nelson getting good looks because he’s being played one-on-one by a guy about his size, keep doing it.  Instead The Citadel started rushing things. 

Iowa would pass the ball around, running ball screen after ball screen, waiting for a defender to screw up (which happened way too often).  Then one of the Hawkeyes would take (and 52% of the time, make) an open 3.  It was quite frustrating to watch.  Even more frustrating, though, would be The Citadel’s response, which was seemingly to try to speed the game up by taking quick shots on the offensive end, especially three-pointers, missing most of the outside jumpers (4-17 from 3).  The Citadel’s rushed play also led to 13 turnovers, which doesn’t sound bad, but remember, there were only 54 possessions.  That means that almost one-fourth of every Bulldog possession ended in a turnover.  That’s not a good ratio.

The Citadel also tried to speed the game up by pressing Iowa, but that didn’t work, partly because the Bulldogs aren’t really a pressing team.  Iowa only committed one turnover in the entire first half (five for the game). 

A victory probably wasn’t meant to be for The Citadel, anyway, considering Iowa was fairly sharp and never seemed sluggish, and also given how well Hawkeye guard Anthony Tucker shot the ball (the second three Tucker made was actually very well defended, but Tucker made it anyway). 

Still, the final result is disappointing.  While Iowa is a major conference team, it’s not expected to challenge for the Big 10 title, and perhaps more importantly, the game didn’t feature multiple athletic mismatches like you might expect against a BCS opponent.  In other words, it shouldn’t have been a 22-point loss (which is a bad loss, especially given the pace of play).  The Citadel did manage to get within five points with less than 13 minutes left in the second half, but then Iowa made another run and the Bulldogs seemed to lose their bearings.

Cameron Wells had a good game, finishing with 21 points on 13 shots.  Austin Dahn seemed to pick up a foul every five seconds he was in the game – it just wasn’t his night.  Nelson finished with eight shot attempts (and only one FT attempt) in 28 minutes.  Cosmo Morabbi grabbed six rebounds, not bad at all for a guard, and had three assists.  He was 0-5 from the field, though, missing three three-point shots, at least two of which seemed to not come in the natural flow of the offense.

Of course, there arguably wasn’t a natural flow to the offense.  The Citadel only had five assists in this game on nineteen made field goals, and that despite only picking up two offensive rebounds, so it’s not like the Bulldogs converted a bunch of tap-ins.

Next up, Cincinnati Christian, as part of the Cancun Challenge, with McAlister Field House the site, as opposed to a Mexican beach…