The Washington Post looks at Chuck Driesell’s move to The Citadel

This is just a quick blog post, which is a little different for me, to be sure.  However, I wanted to briefly comment on this article by Steve Yanda in The Washington Post:  Link

From the story:

Those familiar with The Citadel athletics said the most daunting challenge Chuck Driesell will face is persuading quality players to commit to four years of a military environment. But sitting in a still-barren office just more than two weeks after he was hired, Driesell said he plans to confront that factor the same way he has dealt with perpetually being known as Lefty’s son — by embracing it wholeheartedly.

“I think you have to sell it,” Driesell said of The Citadel’s military component. “I don’t think it’s something you paint as a negative, because it’s not. It’s a positive. Here, they get a leadership degree in addition to their regular degree. And everyone needs leaders.”

Quick thoughts:

1)  How about Yanda actually referring to “The Citadel athletics” and not “Citadel athletics”?  Good for him.  It’s nice to see someone (or someone’s editor) paying attention.  Now if only we could get more people within our own department of athletics to do the same…

2)  Driesell again noted that he wanted to use the military aspect of the school as a positive.  As I said in a previous post, he’s talking a good game.

Further along in the story:

After Ed Conroy left last month to take the head coaching job at Tulane, calls from hopeful candidates began to flood Les Robinson’s home in nearby Sullivan’s Island. The former Citadel coach and athletic director immediately was drawn to an aspirant he had recruited to the school 29 years earlier. The other callers pried for inside information on competing applicants or their own chances for landing the gig.

“But Chuck was strictly asking me about what it is like coaching there, which is the most important question,” said Robinson, who led The Citadel from 1974 to 1985. “Now, if I was coaching at Wofford or Georgia Southern, that wouldn’t be that important a question. It wouldn’t be a lot different coaching at Appalachian State or Georgia Southern. But it’s different coaching at The Citadel.”

Robinson said he “oversold” the military aspect while recruiting players to avoid near-immediate attrition once they arrived on campus in the fall. In his first 10 years at the helm, Robinson noted, not one player transferred out because the military discipline was too intense.

1)  Okay, so Yanda didn’t use the “The” in this section, but in this case it is acceptable usage.  I would have called Les Robinson the “former Bulldog coach” instead, but no matter.  There is no question that the name of the school can be problematic for a grammarian, much less your typical sportswriter.  There is also no question that I pay too much attention to this subject.

2)  Again, we have a positive insight on Chuck Driesell, who recognized that coaching at The Citadel is not quite like coaching at other Southern Conference schools.

3)  Also, Robinson’s suggestion that he “oversold” the military aspect of the school is something all coaches at the military college would do well to emulate.  Of course, they might avoid emulating his first four seasons as head coach, as Robinson’s first four teams had a combined record of 31-70.

In his fifth year, though, he went 20-7.

Finally, while the article notes that The Citadel has never received a bid to the NCAA tournament, Chuck Driesell said that making the NCAAs would be “an annual goal” and “attainable”.  Good.  No “every four years, maybe we’ll have a decent team” line, which I’ve heard one too many times before.

There is, after all, an NCAA sub-regional next year in Charlotte.  That’s an easy trip up I-77 for me…

Open letter to Chuck Driesell

Dear Coach Driesell (mind if I call you Chuck?) —

Congrats on being named head coach at The Citadel.  I liked your choice of tie at the press conference.  You and your family will enjoy Charleston.  Whether or not you enjoy your new job will depend on how you approach it.  Here are some tips:

—  Know your history.  I assume Larry Leckonby told you all about The Citadel’s hoops past.  If not, here is a primer:  Link

I hope you’re not having second thoughts…

Now, that post in the link covers everything up to Ed Conroy’s last two years at The Citadel, which were really good by Bulldog standards.  Conroy won 20 games in 2009 and went 16-16 this past season; he parlayed that into a nice gig at Tulane.  This is good news for you, Chuck, if you have designs on moving up the D-1 coaching ladder. Imagine if you actually won the Southern Conference.  That might be worth an ACC job.

(Who am I kidding.  That would be worth an NBA job.)

—  If you want to make the NCAAs from The Citadel, you will have to win the Southern Conference tournament.  The Southern Conference is a one-bid league; there hasn’t been an at-large bid out of the SoCon since 1950.

Winning the SoCon tourney while at The Citadel will be a tall order, however.  The school’s postseason tournament history?  Ugly.

Now, you remember your father’s struggles in the ACC tournament, so you can appreciate a tourney hex — maybe not one quite on the scale of The Citadel’s foibles at the SoCon tourney, but you probably understand the frustration.  Of course, you also were on the team the year Lefty finally won the ACC tourney, so you know it’s possible to climb the mountain. Admittedly, you aren’t going to have the services of anyone as talented as Len Bias while at The Citadel.

—  Speaking of the left-hander, feel free to invite your father to show up at McAlister Field House whenever he wants.  We’re used to celebrities with connections to the program showing up at basketball games now, since Pat Conroy jumped on the bandwagon the last two seasons.  All I ask is that whenever there is an article in The New York Times about the team’s success, or if Wright Thompson writes a long, thoughtful piece on ESPN.com about the basketball program, that maybe the stories might actually mention a current player.  Just once?

It’s like the program got overshadowed by an ancillary figure.  5700 combined words, no mention of any player.  Sigh.

(By the way, there has to be a great photo op involving General (the bulldog, not Rosa) and Lefty Driesell.  Russ Pace, be ready.)

—  Learn as much as you can about The Citadel, but don’t sweat it if you don’t understand everything about the school. I’m a graduate, and I do not understand everything about the place, and never will.  If you really understand everything about The Citadel, you are certifiably insane.

One thing I will say is that you can’t quite lean on your time in the Navy, or at NAPS. There are some similarities but also some major differences.

You’re going to have to get a crash course in a new culture from somebody who was recently in your situation (Leckonby), and you should seriously consider having at least one guy on your staff with connections to the school. It’s kind of like having an interpreter.

—  You have a reputation as a solid talent evaluator.  I’m glad to hear that is the case, because I think that skill is critical to having success at The Citadel, much more so than just being a “getter” of players.  You’re going to have to look for under-the-radar types.

I’ll give you an example, Chuck.  Remember when Maryland was recruiting Jai Lucas? Of course you do, you were front and center on that recruitment.  Maryland didn’t get him, though, which must have been very disappointing, especially with his father (the great John Lucas) having played for your father at Maryland.

Jai Lucas wound up going to Florida, and then later transferred to Texas.  He was a big-time recruit.  Big-time recruits don’t go to The Citadel.

When you were watching his high school games, though, did you happen to notice the other guard for Bellaire?  Skinny kid, but a solid player.  Wasn’t getting offers from any of the high-majors, or any of the mid-majors for that matter.  I’m guessing you noticed him, at least enough to recognize him…even if you saw him now, in his cadet uniform.

His name was and is Cameron Wells, and he’s currently on pace to be the all-time leading scorer at The Citadel.  I would argue that he has had a much better college career than Jai Lucas, and that’s even taking the level of competition into consideration.  That’s the type of player you are seeking.  Wells wasn’t a McDonald’s All-American, but it’s not inconceivable he could eventually become the first alum from The Citadel to play in the NBA.

—  Besides finding “hidden” talent, Chuck, there is something else you need to keep in mind, something very important, and something quite a few coaches at The Citadel have found out the hard way.  When you recruit, you have to recruit cadets and make them players.  You can’t recruit players and make them cadets.

You have to bring in guys who are willing to embrace the challenge that is The Citadel. That’s what you’re selling, basically — a unique challenge, one that will stay with you all your life, along with a scholarship and the opportunity to play D-1 basketball.

It isn’t easy. No matter how good a salesman you are, The Citadel is never going to become the UCLA of the East.

The key to long-term success for any coach of any sport at The Citadel is to keep attrition low.  I can’t emphasize that enough.  You have to develop players over a four-year period.  It doesn’t do you any good to recruit some on-court stud if he’s only around for a year or two because he can’t handle the military system.

Also, remember to work with the system, not against it.  Don’t enable your players at the expense of the military side of things, as it will do you no good and will turn the corps of cadets (and a significant number of alumni) against you.  You need to have the corps on your side.

That line you had at the presser about players “taking that experience [of The Citadel’s military system] to the court” — that was solid, Chuck.  You at least talked a good game there.

—  Speaking of the corps of cadets, you need to confer with Leckonby and General Rosa and some of the cadet leadership to figure out how to make McAlister Field House a decided homecourt advantage again.  It wasn’t last season, and that’s a concern, because in the SoCon, you need to defend your homecourt.

The big problem is that league games are usually played on Thursdays and Saturdays.  On Saturday, the corps is generally on leave, and a leave that is both much-anticipated and much-needed.  On Thursday nights, you have a combination of things working against you, but I think you can work with the corps on that night.

See if you can arrange it so that a minimum of one-fourth (or at least one-fifth) of the corps is in attendance on Thursday nights, at least for SoCon games.  Saturday is a tough nut to crack; at the very least, make sure cadets stuck on campus are at the games.  Try to get cadets some rewards for supporting the team.

You have to understand, Chuck, that by and large cadets at The Citadel are not sports fans.  At Maryland, you could count on a large student body with a healthy number of hoops nuts.  You had a built-in student fan base.  That isn’t the case at The Citadel, with just over 2000 members of the corps of cadets, only a very small percentage of whom grew up following college basketball on any level.

—  That’s why, Chuck, you also need to reach out to the community.  In terms of selling the program to outsiders, you’re going to have to be a little bit more like your father, I think.  You’re competing with a lot of entertainment options, and Charleston is not really a sports town. However, it’s something you have to do.  The Citadel has one of the oldest fan bases in the league, if not the country.  You need to find some fresh blood.

— This is sort of an aside, Chuck, but I wanted to warn you in advance about Southern Conference officiating.  It can be, uh, inconsistent.  This is particularly true on Saturdays, when all the high-profile officials are working major-conference games.

Weekday games usually aren’t so bad, because there is sometimes a quality ref or two available for SoCon games. Saturdays, though, are often just short of an officiating debacle (actually, last season’s Davidson-Wofford game in Spartanburg was a debacle).

It’s just another reason why you need to have a good, boisterous crowd at McAlister for Saturday night games.

— Also, if you don’t mind, I would like for you to fix the uniforms.  The next time we break out new duds, please be sure that the lettering on them reads “The Citadel” and not “Citadel”.  It’s a pet peeve of mine, but still.  Get the name of the school right.  I bet General Grimsley would shake your hand if you made a point of correcting that, and it’s always good to be on the right side of the Grimmer.

—  Your predecessor, Ed Conroy, made a point of scheduling quality non-conference opposition, with occasional home games against the likes of Michigan State and Southern California.  I really liked this approach, and hope that you keep doing it.  You probably are going to have to play two or three “guarantee” games at a minimum every year, anyway.

With that in mind, Chuck, see if you can schedule games against Big 10 and/or SEC opponents.  Every Big 10 home game is televised on the Big Ten Network (BTN), and many of the SEC games are on one of the various ESPN platforms.  Even a game on ESPN3.com is worth it for The Citadel.

Last season the Bulldogs were on television a grand total of three times, once on ESPNU and twice on SportSouth.  To raise the profile of the program, and for recruiting purposes, I think it’s important to get on TV as much as possible. Besides, if we’re going to play elite teams to pay the bills, we might as well get something else out of it other than cash.

—  You are going to be in an unusual situation at The Citadel for a new coach, in that you will be inheriting a team that has the potential to be good next season.  I already mentioned Cameron Wells, but you have several other excellent players with whom to work.

At the press conference you mentioned that next season’s team could be “very special”.  I was interested in the way you described the number of returning starters. Instead of saying that “all five starters will be back,” you noted that (I’m paraphrasing slightly) “at the end of the season all five starters were coming back.”

There have been some rumblings that at least a couple of players are considering leaving the school, including two regulars in the rotation, so your first recruiting job is going to be trying to keep them from bolting.  It appears you are well aware of this, which is good.  I hope they stay, as if everyone comes back next season really could be special.

Despite the expectations for next year, you won’t really be under any pressure to win immediately, and can think long-term.  Ed Conroy left for a better job after four seasons.  The three coaches before him had a combined winning percentage of 41.2%, but despite that coached for 11 (Les Robinson), 7 (Randy Nesbit), and 14 (Pat Dennis) seasons at The Citadel.

The job isn’t a career-killer like it’s occasionally been made out to be.  Four of the last eight coaches, in fact, left to coach other Division I schools; one of them, Norm Sloan, would later win the national title.  Sloan and Robinson would actually coach two other D-1 schools after leaving The Citadel (counting Sloan’s two stops at Florida just once).

Congrats again for getting your first shot as a D-1 head coach, Coach Driesell.  Your opportunity comes at a place that is unusual and not for the faint of heart, but very special nonetheless.  Cherish the experience.

We’ll be rooting for you.

Sincerely,

SS

Southern Conference tourney time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Citadel needs to win at least one more regular season game

The loss to UNC-Greensboro on Saturday was very disappointing, but oddly Ed Conroy wasn’t too worried about it.  At least, that’s what he told Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier:

“I thought we did some really good things,” said Conroy. “We shared the ball well, only had six turnovers, shot the ball well from 3-point range. We just didn’t convert a lot of shots on the interior. We got some good looks there, but they didn’t go.”

There was also a reference earlier in the article to “a touch of fatigue and illness,” so perhaps the team’s energy level wasn’t as high as it normally was.  Also less than energetic was a largely absent corps of cadets.  The corps’ apathy and/or lack of presence this season during games at McAlister Field House (not to mention the homecoming game in football) has been noticeable.  It’s an issue General Rosa and company must address.

Back to the court, The Citadel was outrebounded 41-24  by UNCG, which was basically the difference in the game, as it’s hard to overcome such a discrepancy without a huge edge in turnovers or shooting percentage, and the Bulldogs did not shoot particularly well (36%).  The loss means that to clinch an overall winning season, as well as a winning season in Southern Conference play, The Citadel needs to win one of its two final regular season games.

That won’t be easy, as they are both road contests.  Thursday the Bulldogs travel to Greenville to play an improving Furman club, followed by a Saturday game in Spartanburg against Wofford.

The Citadel beat Furman 70-60 in Charleston on January 23.  In that game, Cameron Wells had 22 points and 12 rebounds.  He was only 6-17 from the field, but went to the foul line repeatedly and converted (8-8).  Bryan Streeter also had a double-double in the contest.  The Bulldogs were a solid 8-20 from 3-point land and also won the turnover battle against the Paladins (11-8).

Furman’s Amu Saaka scored 19 points (on only 12 shots) and figures to be a problem again for the Bulldogs this time around.  The Paladins will also have Jordan Miller available for this game after he missed the first meeting.  Miller scored 31 points against UT-Chattanooga, but has followed up that great performance with two games in which he shot a combined 4-14 from the field.

Getting a win against Furman at Timmons Arena would be nice for several reasons. Assuming the two teams don’t meet in the Southern Conference tournament, it would be the first time The Citadel had swept the Paladins in consecutive seasons since the 2000-2001 campaigns.  Of course, there were only three games played in those years, as Furman screwed up in 2000 and scheduled too many games, leading to a penalty that resulted in only one game on the hardwood between the two schools that year.

The Citadel also won the second game played in the 1999 season, so it did win four straight against Furman from 1999-2001.  That was the last time the Bulldogs won four straight in the series.  The last time the Bulldogs won both home-and-away in consecutive seasons against the Paladins?  1939-1940 (part of a six-game win streak against Furman, the longest for The Citadel in the series’ history).  The Citadel hasn’t won consecutive games in Greenville since 1992-1993.

The Citadel had a late lead against Wofford in the game played on January 21, but couldn’t hold on and lost 44-42.  As the score indicates, it wasn’t an offensive masterpiece.  The Bulldogs shot 32% from the field.  Wofford shot no better (30%), but outrebounded The Citadel 38-33 and committed one fewer turnover.  The Terriers’ stated strategy of stopping Cameron Wells worked, as the rest of the Bulldog squad (save Zach Urbanus) combined for more turnovers (10) than made field goals (6).

You can bet Wofford will try to hold down Wells’ production again to win its sixth straight game over the cadets, but it may not be so easy this time, as the other Bulldogs have done a better job in recent games of shouldering the offensive load.  Of course, the Terriers are likely to be better at putting the ball in the hoop on Saturday as well.

Noah Dahlman was his usual solid self in the first meeting (15 points, 6-12 FG, five rebounds).  Odds are at least one of his teammates will provide offensive support.  I anticipate a higher-scoring game this time (but not much higher — we’re not talking about a pair of run-and-gun teams here).

Just a few stats to finish off this post…

— With one more regular season victory, The Citadel will clinch its second consecutive winning season.  The last time the Bulldogs had two straight winning campaigns? 1979-1980.  Before that, you have to go back to 1964-1965.  The Citadel had four straight winning seasons from 1958-1961.  Speaking of the 1958-61 era…

— If The Citadel beats Furman and/or Wofford, it will enjoy a second consecutive winning season in Southern Conference play.  The last time the Bulldogs had two straight winning SoCon campaigns?  1960-1961.

You read that correctly.  Actually, from 1958-1961 The Citadel had four straight winning seasons in conference play.  The first three came under the direction of Norm Sloan, who then became the head coach at Florida.  His successor at The Citadel, Mel Thompson (best known as Pat Conroy’s head coach at The Citadel, I suppose) would go 10-3 in SoCon action in his first season in charge.

Sloan took over a program that had not had a winning SoCon season since 1945. Actually, that doesn’t really tell the story.  Let’s put it this way:  from 1946 to 1956, The Citadel was 12-102 in league play.  The five years preceding Sloan’s arrival in Charleston featured a combined conference record of 2-49.

Sloan was 5-9 in the SoCon in his first season, and then had league records of 9-6, 7-4, and 8-4.

Sloan won the national championship in 1974 while coaching North Carolina State. He had proved his worth as a coach many years earlier, though, at a small military college.

Incidentally, the only other time The Citadel had back-to-back winning years in the Southern Conference came in the 1938-1939-1940 seasons, when the Bulldogs had three straight winning SoCon campaigns, mostly under head coach Rock Norman (who coached the team in 1938 and 1939, and for the first eight games in 1940 before being replaced by Ben Parker).

There is definitely potential for The Citadel to make a little history with a win in either of its two games this week.  I wouldn’t mind if instead of winning one of them, it won both.

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

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

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

Quick hits on the Western Carolina game:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brief thoughts on the two games:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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