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.

Evaluating The Citadel’s basketball team after six SoCon games

The Citadel split its most recent four games, all in league play, which wasn’t so bad when you consider three of them were on the road, but it could have been much better — and it could have been much worse.  All four games were close, with two coming down to the final possession.  The Bulldogs were burned on a last-ditch three-pointer by UT-Chattanooga on Thursday, but recovered to outlast Samford on Saturday by one solitary point.

That Samford game, by the way, was not exactly a track meet.  The final score (51-50) reflected a game in which The Citadel had 51 possessions, while Samford had 52.  This was not a surprise, as the two teams are among the four slowest-paced outfits in Division I, both preferring an ultra-patient approach.  It’s particularly the case with Samford, which for the season is averaging just 57 possessions per game, easily the lowest number in the country.  The Citadel, at barely 60 possessions per contest, is fourth-lowest.

The slower pace definitely helps The Citadel, which is much more competitive in games in which it can control the tempo.  The importance of each possession in these types of games is something to which the Bulldogs have become accustomed, and is something not all opponents have grasped.  This has sometimes given The Citadel an advantage when playing teams that are perhaps more athletic but not as disciplined.

I know what some people are wondering about, though.  Right now The Citadel is 9-9 overall, 3-3 in the league.  This is after last season’s 20-win campaign (which included 15 SoCon victories).  What is not going right this year that went right last year?

Well, first it should be noted that the Bulldogs are almost exactly where they were last year at this time in terms of record.  Last season after 18 games The Citadel was 8-10, 3-4 in the league, coming off a loss at Wofford.  The Bulldogs then proceeded to win 11 games in a row.

I’m going to make a not-so-bold prediction now, which is that The Citadel is not about to embark on a 11-game winning streak.  Not this year, anyway.  That isn’t to say the team can’t put together a good midseason run, but there are issues that may not be easily solvable.

When looking at the team statistics, the first thing that jumps out at you is the three-point shooting, both offensively and defensively.  At first I was concerned with the defensive stats, but upon further review (stealing an NFL term) they aren’t all that bad.  Offensive output from beyond the arc, though, is another story.  The Citadel is struggling shooting the three-pointer, and I think a lot of that has to do with…interior play.

Last season in conference play, the Bulldogs only allowed opponents to shoot 28.9% from three-point land, which led the league.  This season that number has risen significantly, to 36.8%.  However, almost all of that increase  is attributable to one game, Davidson’s flukish (well, I think it was flukish) 15-27 night from beyond the arc.  If you take that game out of the equation, in five other SoCon matchups The Citadel’s defensive 3FG% is 31.1%, still a little higher than last season but acceptable.

Then there are the offensive numbers from behind the three-point line.  Last season The Citadel shot 36.7% from three-land in SoCon play; this year after six games that number is 28.5%, which is next-to-last in the league.  That includes a 10-22 shooting performance against Georgia Southern, which is the poorest team in the conference at defending the three.   The Bulldogs were solid from beyond the arc against Appalachian State (9-22) but otherwise have been mostly dreadful from deep, including 3-18 against the College of Charleston and 5-34 against UTC.

Almost as disturbing as the number of misses against the Mocs were the number of attempts, which points up another curious statistic.  The Citadel is actually averaging more points scored per game via three-pointers this season (38.7% of total points scored) than it did last year (31.1%) despite not shooting as well from outside.

Last year the Bulldogs only had four conference games (out of 20) in which they shot worse than 31% from three-point land.  This year they’ve been below that mark three times in six games.  Despite the lack of success, the Bulldogs are averaging 3 more three-point attempts per game this season than last.  So why is the three-point scoring more prominent?

The answer, I would suggest, lies in the Bulldogs’ lack of productivity inside.  The easiest way to illustrate this is The Citadel’s below-average 47.5% shooting from inside the arc (last year in league play that number was over 50%).  However, I think the real issue is the lack of made free throws.  This is where the Bulldogs really miss Demetrius Nelson.

Last season 21.2% of The Citadel’s points came at the charity stripe, which was excellent (the national average is 18%).  This year, though, the Bulldogs are only getting 13.94% of their points from the line.  That’s a big difference, especially for a team that has a limited number of possessions per game.

The Citadel averages 60.4 points per game.  13.94% of 60.4 is 8.4, so the Bulldogs are picking up a little over 8 points per game from the foul line.  Now, let’s say they were getting 21.2% of their points from free throw shooting.  That would be about 13 points per game.  Those extra 5 points make a big difference.  Last season The Citadel was 6-3 in games decided by 5 points or less.  Three of those games came during the 11-game win streak.

This year the Bulldogs are 1-2 in such games, and that doesn’t count the six-point loss to the CofC.  In that game, The Citadel shot only 8 total free throws.  In the Bulldogs’ two victories over the Cougars last season, the Citadel shot a combined 40 free throws.

The problem is that I don’t know if The Citadel can increase its free throw productivity.  Nelson averaged over 5 made free throws per game last season, which was more than every other player on the roster combined, save Cameron Wells.  This season Wells is averaging almost exactly the same number of made FTs per game as he did last year (3.3), but no one else is drawing fouls and shooting free throws.

The two primary inside players for The Citadel, Joe Wolfinger and Bryan Streeter, each are averaging one made free throw per game.  When compared to Nelson, that’s a big differential to overcome.  The essential dilemma for The Citadel is that unlike Nelson, neither is a true post threat.

Wolfinger has the size but not the strength or intuitiveness for the role.  Streeter has strength and verve, but lacks size and is not the most offensively skilled of players; he is also a poor free throw shooter.  He has made some strides this season in FT%, though, and has also improved his turnover rate by over 50%.

I’ve mentioned before that I have been impressed with Mike Groselle in his brief appearances for The Citadel, and he may be the future in the paint.  However, his development has been affected by an ankle injury, and at any rate it is probably a bit much to ask a true freshman to play major minutes in the post.

My guess is that as the season goes along Ed Conroy and his coaching staff will try to devise more ways to get players to the foul line.  Whether that means Cameron Wells (or another guard/swingman type) posting up more, I have no idea.

Without the “free” points, The Citadel is going to have to just be that much better at everything else it does offensively.  So far the Bulldogs have done a good job avoiding turnovers (the turnover rate is actually better right now than it was last season), and the rebounding, while not great, hasn’t been a major problem.  The Citadel has to continue to improve on the offensive boards, especially if it continues to struggle from outside.

There will be more missed shots, and thus more chances to grab offensive boards.  Those chances need to be taken; as I noted earlier, every possession is important.  Someone who is providing value in that respect is Harrison DuPont, who has 11 offensive rebounds in his last three games, which is outstanding.

The lack of offensive game on the interior is probably a factor in the less-than-stellar outside shooting.  Without the threat on the inside, opponents can concentrate on stopping the Bulldogs’ marksmen.

Zach Urbanus is currently in a bit of a slump from outside, shooting only 9-39 in his last seven games, including 3-19 in a two-game stretch against the CofC and UTC.  He was 1-2 against Samford, though, so perhaps becoming more selective (which is his general mode anyway) will get him back in the groove.

I’m hoping that both Urbanus and Cosmo Morabbi start shooting better from beyond the arc.  Morabbi went four straight games without a made three-pointer before hitting one against Samford.  The Bulldogs really need him to start making that 3-ball from the corner.  Conversely, Austin Dahn appears to be back on track from outside.  Dahn needs to improve his decision-making on offense just a bit, though, as of late he has been a touch turnover-prone.

Also getting time in the rotation is Daniel Eykyn, who seems to be a “glue guy” of sorts for Conroy; passes the ball, plays defense, hustles, lets other players rest, etc.  He averages one turnover every 35 minutes of play, best on the team for players with over 100 total minutes played (also taking care of the ball in limited time:  Groselle and Ben Cherry, who has no turnovers in 66 minutes of action).

As for Wells, he continues his impressive campaign, which looks a lot like last year’s impressive campaign.  He’s currently averaging almost 18 points per game, to go along with about 5 rebounds and 4 assists per contest.  He’s on the floor for 34+ minutes per game (just behind Urbanus for the team lead; both are among the national leaders in minutes played) and has close to a 2-1 assist/turnover ratio.

Wells has pilfered almost two steals per game and even leads the team in blocked shots (albeit with only five; The Citadel is tied for last in the country in blocked shots per game, sharing that less-than-ideal distinction with Nicholls State).

Next up for the Bulldogs are two home games, one on Thursday against Wofford and the second on Saturday against Furman.  After those two contests, The Citadel will have played every one of its divisional opponents at home, so the stretch run will include a lot of tough road games.  Holding serve at home is important, particularly in what I believe to be an improved Southern Conference.  The Citadel has already lost two home SoCon games and can’t afford to drop many more at McAlister Field House.

It’s not going to be easy.  First up on Thursday, as mentioned, is Wofford.  I believe Wofford may be the best team in the league, although the Terriers started 0-2 in conference play.  The loss at Western Carolina was understandable, but Wofford followed that up by losing at home to Appalachian State.  Since then, though, the Terriers have reeled off four straight SoCon victories, the most impressive of which probably being a 68-62 home win over Davidson.

It’s out of conference where Wofford has made its best impression.  The Terriers have wins over Georgia and South Carolina, not to mention a 3-point loss at Pittsburgh which looks better ever day.

The Terriers are a deep team (10 players get 10+ minutes per game; 7 of them get 17+ mpg) led by 6’6″ junior Noah Dahlman, one of the league’s best players.  Dahlman is averaging 17.7 points per game (the only Terrier averaging double figures in scoring), and shoots better than 60% from the field.  He had 20 against Pitt and 19 against South Carolina.

He’s not the only guy to watch, though, as evidenced by the win over Georgia.  Dahlman had 11 points (in only 21 minutes) in that game, but three other Terriers chipped in 10+ points to enable the Terriers to win, led by 6’8″ senior Corey Godzinski, who had 13.

Godzinski scored 12 points in last year’s game at McAlister, one of two games Wofford won over The Citadel last season (Dahlman had 17 in both contests).  The Terriers proved to be a tough matchup for the Bulldogs in 2008-09.  I suspect the same will be true this year.

Wofford isn’t a big three-point shooting team, although it is an efficient squad from closer range.  Wofford is a good passing team, leading the conference in assists per game.  The Terriers do a good job defending the outside shot, and also force more than their fair share of turnovers.  Wofford does turn the ball over itself a bit more than the norm.  The Terriers average 71.3 possessions per game in league play.

Furman looks to be much more competitive this season; after only winning 4 of 20 league games last year, the Paladins are 3-3 in the conference play entering this week’s play.  Like The Citadel, Furman has a road win against Appalachian State and a home victory over Georgia Southern.  The Paladins also have a win at Elon.

Furman is a junior-dominated team with two double-figure scorers, Amu Saaka (16.7 ppg) and Jordan Miller (15.2 ppg).  The 6’6″ Saaka, who started his career at South Florida, scored 34 points in a loss to Davidson and is also averaging 6.8 rebounds per contest.  Miller is a 6’2″ guard who had 15 points and 6 assists in the Paladins’ recent win over Georgia Southern.

Furman has been good defending the three-point shot in league play, which might trouble The Citadel.  On the other hand, the Paladins are both turnover-prone and not particularly adept at creating turnovers.  Furman averages 72+ possessions per game, so the battle to control tempo will be key.

One more thing:  at halftime of the Furman game on Saturday, The Citadel will honor the jersey of Regan Truesdale, two-time Southern Conference player of the year and the school’s all-time leading scorer.  The Citadel honored Art Musselman in similar fashion last year.  This is part of Ed Conroy’s  long-range plan for developing a hoops tradition at The Citadel, and I think it’s a really good idea.  Congratulations to Regan Truesdale, who absolutely deserves the honor.

New year, new hoops post

Conference play goes into high gear starting on Wednesday with the Bulldogs’ trip to Boone to face Appalachian State, followed by a matchup at McAlister with the College of Charleston on Saturday.  The next week will feature more road action as the Bulldogs make the western swing through the league, taking on UT-Chattanooga on the 14th and Samford on the 16th.

The Citadel is .500 right now no matter how you look at it, at 7-7 overall, 1-1 in the SoCon.  Last year at this time The Citadel was 6-7 overall, 1-1 in the league.

Facts, observations, etc.:

– The Citadel’s starting lineup against Savannah State included no players hailing from east of the Mississippi River, which is decidedly unusual (if not unprecedented).

– Zach Urbanus is averaging 35. 7 minutes per game, which is in the top 25 nationally.  I worry a little about him and Cameron Wells (34.1 mpg) wearing down over the course of the season, but they logged major minutes last season too, and it didn’t seem to bother them.

– Bulldog opponents have shot better from 40% from three-point land on four occasions.  The Citadel has lost all four of those games.

– The Citadel’s game notes for the Appalachian State game include the statistic that the Bulldogs are 14th nationally in fouls committed per game, at 15.0 per contest.  However, the flip side to that is The Citadel’s opponents have only committed two more fouls than the Bulldogs (212-210).

– The fouling statistics are really just a function of The Citadel’s pace of play.  At 62.3 possessions per game, the Bulldogs are among the ten slowest-playing teams in Division I.

– So while The Citadel is 22nd nationally in fewest turnovers per game, it is actually 103rd in D-1 in terms of turnover rate (which is still not bad; it’s about where the Bulldogs were last season).

– Let’s talk about offensive rebounding for a moment.  The Citadel has struggled at times on the boards this season, and it’s mainly attributable to the Bulldogs not getting their fair share of offensive rebounds.

Joe Wolfinger has 25 offensive boards this season.  Now, that leads the team, but on the other hand, Wolfinger has played 339 minutes so far; he’s averaging one offensive board every 13.5 minutes on the floor.  Bryan Streeter has 18 offensive rebounds in 255 minutes (one every 14.2 minutes).

Those are the guys you would expect to get the majority of the offensive caroms, and they have — but on a per-minute basis, they haven’t been as effective as Ed Conroy might like.  Nobody on the team is actually bringing in an exceptional percentage of offensive rebounds (the best per-minute performer in the category is Mike Groselle, who in limited time has grabbed one every 9.1 minutes).

This is where the Bulldogs really miss John Brown.  Last season Brown had an excellent offensive rebounding campaign, averaging one such board every 9.9 minutes (and he played 537 minutes).  At least one member of the current edition of the Bulldogs needs to repeat (or at least approach repeating) that effort — either that or The Citadel has to significantly increase its shooting percentage, which is unlikely.

– Wolfinger is shooting 44.2% from the floor, but he’s under 40% against Division I competition.  He has only had four games this season in which he has shot better than 50% from the field — against Kenyon, UVA-Wise, Missouri State, and Maryland-Eastern Shore.

Wolfinger has struggled in the two SoCon games.  Here is hoping that he gets better as the second half of the season begins, both offensively and defensively.  He could still be a key cog in the rotation, but perhaps not as an offensive focal point.

– Although Wolfinger is a 7-footer, the Bulldog who appears most comfortable as an offensive post player is Groselle, who suffered an ankle injury that limited his time on the court the last few weeks.  If healthy, I would not be surprised if Groselle’s minutes increase markedly as the season progresses.

– Another freshman, Harrison DuPont, got his first career start against Savannah State (as part of the all-Western starting lineup) and shows potential to be an impact player.  He has played 30+ minutes in each of the last two games, scoring 14 points against Houston and 11 against Savannah State.  He had six turnovers against Houston, but other than that did well in both games, shooting better than 50% from the field and picking up a few rebounds along the way.

– In nine games as a starter, Austin Dahn shot 15.6% from three-point land.  In five games coming off the bench, he is shooting 47.8% from beyond the arc.  Advantage, Ed Conroy.

– Bryan Streeter also has some improved statistics after being switched from the starting lineup.  His rebounding rates have almost doubled.  His free throw shooting has even improved (albeit that’s a very small sample size).

Streeter is shooting 58.8% from the line so far this season (and was 5-6 against Savannah State).  That may not seem impressive, but it’s a big change for the better when compared to last season, when Streeter only made 16 free throws in 44 attempts (36.4%).

The upcoming league games will be tough, considering three are on the road and the one home game is against the College of Charleston, which beat North Carolina on Monday night. Last season The Citadel was a combined 5-2 against the four teams.

The Bulldogs swept Appalachian State in two tight games (one in OT, the other by two points).  The Citadel also swept the College of Charleston in two contests, neither of which was particularly close, something the Cougars will surely remember.

The Citadel lost at home to UT-Chattanooga, and had a disappointing split with Samford — disappointing in the sense that while Charleston’s Bulldogs dominated the Birmingham Bulldogs in the regular-season matchup at Samford, in the conference tourney quarterfinals Samford put a quick end to The Citadel’s championship hopes.

The SoCon looks to be very competitive this season, with a lot of evenly-matched teams.  The Citadel’s 7-7 overall record is in line with the records of its next four opponents, which have current records of 7-6 (Appy), 8-6 (UTC), 8-6 (CofC), and 6-8 (Samford).  Other conference teams with similar records:  Davidson (7-8), Furman (7-6), and Wofford (8-7).  On the other hand,  Western Carolina  is 11-2 (with a win at Louisville) while Elon, Georgia Southern, and UNC-Greensboro are a combined 8-33.

I’m hoping for an entertaining conference race.  My definition of entertaining is one in which The Citadel is in or near the lead…

Highlights from five games at McAlister

I’m going to discuss the actual basketball played by The Citadel over the past week and a half, including some statistics.  Before I do that, though, I’m going to mention some other statistics…about officials.

On Monday night The Citadel hosted Michigan State at McAlister Field House.  It was good of Tom Izzo to honor a commitment to play the game in Charleston (West Virginia decided to buy its way out of a trip), but I’m guessing he did ask for some big-time officials to work the game, just to make sure that the lead referee wasn’t General Rosa’s brother or something.  That’s fine, and as a result the game was officiated by Karl Hess, Jamie Luckie, and Mike Wood.

If you follow college basketball at all, you probably recognize those names, because they are on television all the time, working games from coast to coast.  They’re certainly on TV more than The Citadel (the MSU game will be the only nationally televised game this season to feature the Bulldogs). 

Mike Wood has actually worked five games in Charleston so far this season, a bit of an oddity.  He called three games at the Charleston Classic, and then worked the Thursday night game between Davidson and The Citadel.  Wood has called two games involving Davidson and two involving Penn State, and all four games were played in Charleston.  He probably did a lot of Christmas shopping on King Street, but he didn’t do any the weekend between the Davidson and MSU games. 

No, on the Saturday after the Davidson game Wood worked the Arkansas Pine Bluff-Michigan game in Ann Arbor; he then flew to Tallahassee to call the Florida International-Florida State game on Sunday before venturing back to Charleston.  The game between the Spartans and Bulldogs was Wood’s 19th of the season.

Wood actually hasn’t worked as many games as either of his Monday night colleagues.  Both Karl Hess and Jamie Luckie were working their 21st game of the season that night.  Hess had been in Washington, DC, on Sunday, calling Villanova-Maryland; the game in Charleston was his fourth in four days and his seventh in eight days.  However, Luckie had actually been a touch busier, as he was calling his tenth game in eleven days.  Luckie had been in Blacksburg on Sunday to call Georgia-Virginia Tech.

In terms of number of games officiated, the contrast between those three officials and the trio who worked the game on Saturday between Georgia Southern and The Citadel is stark.  Bill Cheek, John Corio, and Robert Robinson combined have worked only eleven games, just more than half of the total worked by Luckie (and Hess) alone.

This leads me to mention the difference in officiating in lower-echelon conferences between games played on weekdays and those on weekends.  During the week, there aren’t as many games played every night, because there are five days in which most schools will play just once.  However, on weekends there are obviously just two days, and most schools play on either Saturday or Sunday.  

The big-time officials follow the money, naturally, and the BCS leagues have the most money, so guys like Hess and Wood will work ACC or Big East games during the weekend, leaving lower-profile officials for leagues like the SoCon or the Big South.  On weeknights, it’s different; you might see one of those guys or some other TV-star ref working in the smaller conferences, because there aren’t as many games in the larger conferences on that particular night.

The quality of officiating in leagues like the Southern Conference is thus wildly variable, depending on what day a game is played.  I think this is a problem.  I don’t believe it’s a good idea for some of these guys to work so many games, either, although I can’t really fault them for doing so — they’re independent contractors, trying to make a living. 

What I would like to see is a system where a league like the SoCon can count on at least one quality veteran ref for all of its games.  This would probably mean the NCAA would have to get involved, which I realize wouldn’t necessarily be a good thing, but ultimately I think there needs to be an adjustment made in the way officials are assigned to contests. 

The first game in the recent five-game homestand for The Citadel was a 69-37 pummeling of UVA-Wise, an NAIA school that was no match for the Bulldogs.  The game didn’t really do much for The Citadel, although it’s a win, and every win counts.  The defense was excellent throughout; the offense was okay but not great.  Not much else to say about that game, really.

The next night, The Citadel defeated Central Connecticut State 67-53, pulling away late in the contest.  This was a slowly-paced game (CCSU had only 53 possessions) in which the Blue Devils played zone and dared the Bulldogs to beat them from outside.  CCSU actually led at halftime, but the strategy couldn’t hold up for 40 minutes. 

Zach Urbanus was 7-13 from beyond the arc, and Cosmo Morabbi added four three-pointers of his own.  Cameron Wells had nine assists against only one turnover.  Statistically, the defense for the Bulldogs was average; perhaps playing the second game of a back-to-backer was an issue.  The Citadel also got lucky (or rather, CCSU was unlucky) in that Devil starting guard Shemik Thompson was injured and unable to play.

On Saturday, The Citadel got blitzed by a barrage of three-pointers by Davidson and lost, 74-61.  The Wildcats scored 74 points in only 61 possessions, which isn’t easy to do, but then again converting 15 three-pointers during a game isn’t easy to do either.  Six of those shots from beyond the arc came from William Archambault, who two nights later against the College of Charleston would go 0-5 from three-point land.  Against The Citadel, Davidson shot 56% from outside the line; against the Cougars the Wildcats were 4-24. 

I thought The Citadel didn’t defend that badly along the perimeter, but Davidson made its shots anyway.  That kind of thing happens sometimes, and you just hope that if it happens to your team, that the squad is good enough to hang on against the onslaught and survive.  Michigan State faced something similar in the early going against the Bulldogs (when five different players hit three-pointers before the first TV timeout), but MSU’s clear physical superiority eventually won out.  The Citadel doesn’t have the luxury of a margin for error, though.

Georgia Southern is rebuilding under new coach Charlton Young, and he’s got a bit of a job to do.  GSU has little size (at least, among its regulars in the rotation) and doesn’t shoot well from outside.  Thus, Young and the Eagles try to scramble the game.  However, against The Citadel all that scrambling resulted in only eight turnovers by the Bulldogs.  The Citadel ran its offense well, got plenty of open looks from outside and was 10-22 from three-land.  The Eagles, on the other hand, committed twenty turnovers and made only three shots from beyond the arc.

None of those made three-pointers for The Citadel came from Joe Wolfinger, as the 7-footer seemed out of place in the game and only played eleven minutes.  Another interesting move in the game was to bring Austin Dahn and Bryan Streeter off the bench.  This decision seemed to work, particularly for Dahn, who played fewer minutes than his norm but was more effective offensively.  Both players against came off the bench against Michigan State, too (with Cosmo Morabbi and Matt Clark starting).

As a starter, Dahn is 5-32 from 3-point land.  In two games as a sub, he is 4-9.  Sample size and all that, but if Dahn comes out of long shooting slump, The Citadel is a much better team, one that will be very hard for SoCon opponents to handle from an offensive perspective.

The final game of the homestand (not counting the exhibition game against Allen on Dec. 16) was the much-anticipated clash with Michigan State, live and in color on ESPNU (and in HD, unless you have DirecTV).  I was glad to see the crowd in full voice for the game, with a healthy contingent of the corps present and creating havoc.  I think most of the MSU players got a kick out of the atmosphere (Izzo certainly did).  The TV announcers seemed to enjoy working the game, too (Mark Gottfried referred to people “hanging from the rafters” at least three times).

Tangent:  I wish that type of atmosphere was the norm, or at least close to the norm, at McAlister.  The key to it being so, of course, is the corps of cadets.  There is always a hardy group of cadets at home games, often patrolling one of the baselines, but there aren’t enough of them.  As someone who regularly attended basketball games while a cadet, I find this somewhat frustrating. 

When I was in school, the cadets usually at the games were either A) football/baseball players, B) all-around sports fans (not many of those at The Citadel), and C) native New Yorkers.   Okay, that last one is a semi-exaggeration, but there were several guys from points north who had grown up on college basketball (rooting for the likes of Iona or Seton Hall) and enjoyed getting a “fix” at McAlister.  They were world-class hecklers, too.  No opponent was ever safe at a shootaround, that’s for sure.

One cool thing that happened at the Davidson game was that one of the trainers gave away some old warmups to the cadets assembled along the baseline.  I thought that was a nice gesture. 

I would like for someone (administration, leadership within the corps, whoever) to come up with a way to ensure that at least one-fourth of the cadets attend every home game.  Really, it should be more than that, but I’ll settle for one-fourth right now.

The Citadel got off to the aforementioned hot start against the Spartans and finished 12-20 from beyond the arc.  Unfortunately, the Bulldogs were only 7-29 inside the arc, which tells you which team dominated the paint (and the glass; MSU outrebounded The Citadel 35-16).  The Spartans also took 19 more free throws than the Bulldogs (two of those were by Derrick Nix, who went 0-2 and is now an almost impossible 1-19 from the free throw line for the season).

A few odds and ends, observations, etc.:

— Number of possessions for the five games, in order:  67, 55, 66, 61, 57.  Considering that the UVA-Wise game (67 possessions) was a blowout, and that the Davidson game (66) was one in which The Citadel had to increase the number of possessions because it was trailing, I think the team’s pace of play is just about where it needs to be.  Fewer than ten teams nationally play at a slower tempo. 

— After 11 games, The Citadel is 6-5.  After 11 games last season, The Citadel was 5-6.  Incidentally, Michigan State was the eleventh game in both seasons.

— I think it’s fairly clear after eleven games that Joe Wolfinger isn’t going to be a “like for like” substitute for Demetrius Nelson.  Just some raw stats from the first nine games against Division I opponents:  Wolfinger has 84 shot attempts, with 33 coming from beyond the arc, and 18 free throw attempts, while Nelson had 62 shot attempts, none of them from 3-land, and 33 free throw attempts.  Wolfinger has 52 rebounds (15 offensive) and 13 turnovers, while Nelson had 42 rebounds (16 offensive) and 19 turnovers.

Nelson got better as the season progressed (and also started taking more shots), and Wolfinger certainly has the potential to do so as well.  I think the above stats show that he needs to do a slightly better job grabbing offensive boards, and part of that has to do with shot selection — namely, his. 

When Wolfinger is shooting the three, The Citadel’s tallest player isn’t under the basket to grab an offensive rebound.  He’s obviously an excellent shooter for his size, but he probably needs to be a bit more judicious about when to shoot.  He also is going to have lots of chances to pass out of the post and pick up assists as the season goes on; he only has two assists so far. 

There is definitely something to be said, however, about having a big man who is capable of having a big night from three-land.  It’s disorienting (and sometimes disheartening) for an opponent when he converts those jumpers, and also opens up a lot of things for the other offensive players. 

— Twelve different players have seen significant time in at least one game this season.  Bo Holston followed up a DNP against Davidson with 20+ minute performances against both Georgia Southern and Michigan State.  Mike Groselle has looked very good in spot duty, but is currently struggling with a bad ankle, which just means he could play quarterback for The Citadel.  Ben Cherry and Daniel Eykyn have both had their moments, as has the Midwest City Masked Man, Harrison Dupont.

Basically, if you’re in uniform, be ready for action, because you never know when Ed Conroy is going to wave you into the game.  I guess there is a reason the Bulldogs have so many players on the roster…

— The Citadel is shooting 37.9% from 3-point land, currently second-best in the conference and in the top 70 nationally.  The Bulldogs average only 10.8 turnovers per game, 11th-best in the country, although part of that is due to a lack of possessions.  However, The Citadel’s turnover rate is still solid, as is its assist-to-turnover ratio and assist-to-made-basket ratio (top 75 overall in all three statistics). 

The Citadel commits just 14.4 fouls per game, which is in the top 10 nationally (and was even better before being called for 18 fouls against Michigan State; in that game Cosmo Morabbi was a very unlucky foul magnet).

What are things that need improvement?  Three point defense, for one.  Davidson wasn’t the only team to make more than its fair share of three-pointers against the Bulldogs; at 39.5% against, The Citadel is in the bottom 50 nationally in that category.  The Bulldogs also need to improve their rebounding (particularly on the offensive glass) and force a few more turnovers, as opponents are averaging only 12.1 per game (although part of that, again, is a function of tempo).

Now it’s time for the players to win the game called Exam Week.

Post-turkey hoops, live from McAlister

The Citadel went 2-2 on its recent road trip, just about as expected, losing to Missouri State and West Virginia, and winning neutral-site games against Eastern Michigan and Maryland-Eastern Shore.  A few comments on the four games:

  • Against Maryland-Eastern Shore, Mike Groselle had a very active 13 minutes, scoring 14 points (4-4 FG and 6-6 FT) while pulling down 4 rebounds, and also committing 4 fouls.  Talk about an all-action player.
  • UMES reserve frontcourt player Lyvann Obame Obame grabbed 10 rebounds in only 9 minutes of play but didn’t attempt a shot from the field…kind of a strange line.  Obame Obame is a 6’6″ native of Gabon, by the way.
  • Austin Dahn was 3-5 from 3-point land in the UMES game.  Alas, in the other three games he was a combined 0-10 from beyond the arc.
  • Conversely, Zach Urbanus made 12 of 21 three-pointers over the four-game span.  Joe Wolfinger was actually even better from outside (13-21), including a 5-5 night against UMES (The Citadel made 13 three-pointers in that game).
  • Fifteen different Bulldogs played against UMES.  All of them played at least three minutes.
  • The Citadel’s win over Eastern Michigan came down to winning the rebounding battle (33-24) while committing five fewer turnovers.  Cameron Wells’ 10-12 night from the line came in handy, too (he finished with 24 points).
  • The Citadel led for much of the EMU game, but actually trailed by 2 with less than 5 minutes to play before rallying for a victory in what was in effect the “swing” game of the road trip.
  • The Bulldogs lost by 17 points to Missouri State, but it was a three-point game (55-52) at the 4:32 mark of the second half before the Bears pulled away.  That game was more competitive than the final score suggests.
  • Missouri State had a very efficient offensive game against Bulldogs, scoring 72 points in only 63 possessions, which is what happens when you shoot well from the field (including 9-18 from 3-land), the foul line, and only commit 8 turnovers.  The Citadel’s defensive stats took a hit in that game.
  • West Virginia only committed four turnovers against The Citadel (the Bulldogs suffered 19 of their own).  Three of the four WVU turnovers were steals by Cameron Wells.
  • The Citadel had 56 possessions against the Mountaineers, a very slow pace, even by the Bulldogs’ normal standards.  The 19 turnovers are an even bigger black mark in a game that with that few possessions, of course; without them, The Citadel fared well, shooting well from outside (9-16 from 3) and holding its own on the boards (30 rebounds for each school).  It’s just almost impossible to win, or even be in the game, when you turn the ball more than one of every three possessions.
  • Incidentally, the Bulldogs’ pace of play for each of the four games was as follows:  EMU (60 possessions), Mizzou State (62), UMES (65), WVU (56).  That’s a little low for the WVU game, but generally those numbers indicate the tempo that favors The Citadel’s style of play.

Before anyone gets too disappointed with the Bulldogs’ 3-3 record, a little perspective.  By the time the turkey was being carved this year, The Citadel already had two Division I victories.  Two years ago, the Bulldogs had two D-1 wins all season…

Now it’s time for the CollegeInsider.com Skip Prosser Invitational, named for the late Wake Forest coach.  The Citadel will host Savannah State (although the Bulldogs will not play the Tigers), UVA-Wise (an NAIA Division II school) and Central Connecticut State (of the Northeast Conference).  There will be two games on Saturday and two on Sunday, all held at McAlister Field House.

The Citadel is hosting the event, I gather, primarily because head coach Ed Conroy was named the 2009 Skip Prosser Man of the Year.  I suspect that attendance will not be very high, given the field, and also because it’s the weekend after Thanksgiving.  Still, it’s two more games for the Bulldogs before beginning conference play, which probably counts for something.

As I noted above, The Citadel will not play Savannah State in the event — it’s an “invitational” as opposed to a true tournament.  The Bulldogs open with UVA-Wise on Saturday and face Central Connecticut State on Sunday.

UVA-Wise (officially “The University of Virginia’s College at Wise”) has been a four-year school since 1970; it was initially a junior college, founded in 1954.  Until 1999 the school was called Clinch Valley College, so if you aren’t familiar with UVA-Wise, perhaps you have heard of it under that name.  Of course, odds are you’ve never heard of Clinch Valley College either.

UVA-Wise has a little under 2,000 students and is located in the southwestern corner of Virginia, not too far away from Big Stone Gap.  Its most notable alum, according to Wikipedia, is Holly Kiser, who appeared (and was the first-season winner) on a reality TV show called Make Me A Supermodel.  I will admit I don’t know anything about this show, which evidently airs on Bravo.  At any rate, I suppose congratulations are in order to Ms. Kiser.

As for the basketball team, the Highland Cavaliers play in the Appalachian Athletic Conference, a league that includes schools like Milligan, Montreat, and Virginia Intermont.  UVA-Wise was 8-21 last season, and has averaged 18.5 losses per season over the last four years.

The Citadel is UVA-Wise’s first NCAA Division I opponent this season, but in past years the Highland Cavaliers have played (and lost to) schools such as VMI, Wofford, and Charleston Southern.  Last season UVA-Wise dropped games to Elon (92-65), Longwood (87-44), Gardner-Webb (74-47), and Coastal Carolina (90-51).

UVA-Wise comes into Saturday’s game with a record of 3-4, having lost on Tuesday in Pippa Passes, Kentucky, to Alice Lloyd College.  The Highland Cavaliers like an up-tempo game, averaging 81.6 possessions per contest.  This has led to some high-scoring games.  UVA-Wise shoots the ball fairly well (other than free throw shooting — the H-Cavs were an atrocious 9-31 from the charity stripe in a loss to Emory & Henry), but turns the ball over a lot and is not a particularly good defensive squad.

The Highland Cavaliers employ a 9- or 10-man rotation.  No player on the squad is taller than 6’6″, which may make guarding Joe Wolfinger a bit of a problem.

Central Connecticut State will be The Citadel’s opponent on Sunday.  CCSU is located in New Britain and has slightly under 10,000 students.  It has been around in various forms since 1849, attaining university status in 1983.  Notable alums of the school include two former NFL head coaches, Dave Campo and Mike Sherman, as well as the legendary Richard Grieco.

Howie Dickenman, a former assistant to Jim Calhoun, has been at Central Connecticut State since 1996.  Dickenman has had a good run at CCSU, which is also his alma mater.  The Blue Devils have made three NCAA appearances under Dickenman, most recently in 2007.  However, CCSU has had two straight losing seasons (going 13-17 last year).  The Devils were 8-10 in NEC play; CCSU hasn’t had a record in conference worst than that since joining the league in 1998.

Dickenman has a young team this season.  Only one senior has seen playing time thus far, and that player (Joe Seymore) has only played fourteen minutes in two games.  Of the six players who are averaging more than twenty minutes per game, two are freshmen, two are sophomores, and two are juniors, including hard-nosed point guard Shemik Thompson, who was the rookie of the year in the NEC in 2008 despite having a plate put into his head following a concussion.

In contrast to UVA-Wise, the Blue Devils like to play at a slower pace.  In the past two seasons, CCSU has averaged 65.9 and 67.2 possessions per game, but this season in two games Central Connecticut State is averaging just 59.5 possessions per contest.  Of course, two games is a decidedly small sample size.

The bigger issue for CCSU is that is has lost both games, against Fairfield (in a game played in Bridgeport) and at Savannah State.  Yes, Central Connecticut State is going to play consecutive games against Savannah State, which is a little odd.  The Tigers have actually played three games since the initial meeting with the Devils, while CCSU hasn’t played a game since the 16th of November.

CCSU simply hasn’t shot well from the field in either of the two games, shooting less than 38% from the field while its opponents have shot almost 46% from the field.  The Devils have also been crushed on the glass, to the tune of a -12 rebounding margin, particularly getting whipped on the offensive boards.  It’s hard to win games when you don’t shoot well and can’t rebound effectively.

Like UVA-Wise, CCSU has a 9- or 10-man rotation, and also like UVA-Wise, the Devils lack size.  The tallest player on the roster, freshman Joe Efese, is only 6’6″.

The Bulldogs should handle UVA-Wise fairly easily and will be a slight favorite against Central Connecticut State.  It would be nice to be over .500 when Davidson comes to town on December 3.

Hoops season is upon us, ready or not

Note:  when I refer to a basketball season as “2009” I mean the 2008-09 season; “2010” is the 2009-10 season, etc.

As I did last season, I waited for The Citadel to play a couple of games before writing a season preview.  I like to see the team play a game or two just to get an idea of who is actually going to play, get minutes, that kind of thing (just glancing at the team roster isn’t enough; after all, Ed Conroy seems to have almost as many guys on his squad as the football team does).

Also, even though I love college hoops, it’s still a little early for basketball, at least for me — and that’s despite a poor year on the gridiron for The Citadel, part of the lamest college football season I can remember.

The Bulldogs have now played two regular season games, a 64-45 victory over Kenyon College and a disappointing 61-60 loss against Charleston Southern, both taking place at McAlister Field House.

Before examining this season’s team, I would like to take a brief look back at last year’s edition of the basketball Bulldogs…

Prior to last season, I wrote a long (probably too long) post detailing the incredible lack of success the basketball program at The Citadel has had over its long history.  I followed that up with a season preview which I titled “Room for Improvement”.  I think it’s safe to say The Citadel improved last year.  Just some examples:

  • 2008:  RPI of 334;  2009:  RPI of 175
  • 2008:  1 SoCon win; 2009:  15 SoCon wins (most ever by The Citadel)
  • 2008:  6 wins overall (only 2 over D-1 opponents); 2009:  20 wins (only the second team in school history to win 20)
  • 2008:  Points allowed per possession:  1.145 (last nationally); 2009:  0.999 (middle of the pack nationally)
  • 2008:  Opponents’ effective FG%:  51.3% (last nationally); 2009:  43.0% (upper half of national rankings)

The Citadel also improved significantly in offensive effective FG%, offensive points per possession, rebound percentage, and defense against the three-pointer.

Why were the two seasons so different?  Well, Demetrius Nelson, lost early in the 2008 season to injury, returned for a full season in 2009 and had an All-SoCon campaign; his presence in the post was a key factor in the offensive improvement, and also had an impact defensively.  Also, the freshmen who had been thrown into the mix in 2008 (principally Cameron Wells, Zach Urbanus, and Austin Dahn) were stronger, smarter sophomores in 2009.

They were helped out by rotation newcomers John Brown (a redshirt freshman) and Cosmo Morabbi (a true freshman) and the return of Bryan Streeter.  Those seven players got the bulk of the minutes for The Citadel in conference play, with some solid work also done on occasion by reserves Jonathan Brick, Matt Clark, Daniel Eykyn, and Tyrell McDowell.

This season, The Citadel will have to replace Nelson, Brown, Brick, and McDowell, with the contributions of Nelson and Brown obviously being the most difficult to replicate.  Nelson averaged over 16 points per game, added 6.5 rebounds per contest, and was an efficient force on offense (shooting almost 60% from the field, and often camping out at the foul line, where he shot 77%).

Brown also averaged 6.5 boards per game, along with 1.2 steals per game, not to mention numerous deflections and countless hustle plays.  His insertion into the starting lineup against Bethune-Cookman on January 3 (after only playing 14 minutes total to that point of the season) helped key the Bulldogs’ remarkable run of success in league play.  His oncourt presence will be greatly missed.

To replace that production, The Citadel has to turn to new players and hope for improvement from returning team members.  Nelson’s departure left a void in the paint that needed to be filled, and to fill it Ed Conroy is counting on 7-footer Joe Wolfinger, a graduate student who previously played at Washington.

Wolfinger, based on what I’ve seen of him so far, is more of a finesse player than Nelson was.  He can shoot the three, but needs to be more physical to succeed in SoCon play, where he will face post men not as big as he is, but generally more athletic and just as strong.  Against Charleston Southern he struggled, going 4-16 from the floor with three turnovers (although he did have nine rebounds).

He took a lot of shots against CSU, and even if he hadn’t had such a poor night shooting I would suggest that he shot too many and (more importantly) too quickly, at least in the framework of The Citadel’s offense, which relies on a moderate pace of play (fewer than 65 possessions per game last season) to create open looks and frustrate the opposition.  I’m not going to crush him for that after one game, though; he has to get accustomed to playing with his new teammates, and he also has to get used to playing a lot of minutes after being mostly a bench player for the Huskies.

Tangent:  he’s also going to have to get used to the officiating at this level of Division I, a good example of which was on display last night, as all three officials somehow missed a blatant traveling violation committed just before CSU’s game-winning basket.  However, the Bulldogs should not have been in a position to be victimized by a bad (non) call in the first place.

Incorporating Wolfinger into the offense is going to take time.  It may cost The Citadel a game or two in the early going (it could be argued that it was a key reason the Bulldogs lost to the Buccaneers).  Then again, it took The Citadel a few games last year to figure things out (which is how a 20-win team could lose  a home contest to 19-loss UC Davis by 18 points).  As long as things are running smoothly by the time league play rolls around, it’s all good.

Admittedly, that gives the Bulldogs just two weeks, as Davidson comes to town on December 3…

The task of providing the same type of energy that Brown brought to the team will likely fall to several players, including the 6’6″ Streeter (who in many respects is a bigger version of Brown, all the way down to the horrific free throw shooting) and 6’5″ Harrison Dupont, the only one of the incoming freshmen to have played in both games so far for The Citadel.

Streeter averaged a little over 14 minutes per game for the Bulldogs last year; he will probably come close to doubling his time on the hardwood this season.  He brings a lot of strength and grit to the table on both ends of the court, and is a good finisher, provided he isn’t fouled (36.4% from the line in ’09).  His problems from the charity stripe can make him a liability in late-game situations, just another reason he needs to improve in that area.

Another player to watch in the “gets the dirty work done” department is Morabbi, who appears to be stronger this year (and definitely has more hair).  Morabbi’s play in the latter stages of the contest nearly won the CSU game for the Bulldogs, both defensively and with his outside shooting (as he told Rafu Shimpo, “My specialty is shooting”).

Morabbi will occasionally freelance offensively.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, even in Ed Conroy’s disciplined attack, as it keeps opponents honest.  He can also make the corner 3, the thinking man’s favorite three-point shot.  He had a tough night from the field against Kenyon, but was back in form in the CSU game.

Someone who The Citadel would like to see return to good shooting form is Dahn, who struggled from the field last season after enjoying a solid freshman campaign, falling from a 39.7% 3-point shooter to 32.7% beyond the arc.  Now, 32.7% isn’t terrible, but most of Dahn’s shots are from 3-point land, so overall he shot just 32.6% from the field in 2009.  The 6’4″ Dahn is a good defender and a mainstay in the rotation, but his value increases markedly if he can knock down shots.

Zach Urbanus is the epitome of dependability, always in the right place, usually making the right decision, and capable of making big shots.  A comparison of his freshman and sophomore seasons shows just how consistent he is, as in both years he shot 44% from beyond the arc, had 3.3 rebounds per game, and 2.9 assists per contest.  He did improve last season, as his overall shooting percentage increased substantially, and he also cut down on his turnovers.

Cameron Wells is getting some pre-season recognition as a potential MVP candidate in the Southern Conference.  He certainly didn’t hurt his cause against CSU, scoring 23 points on 10-16 shooting and being an all-around defensive pest (including 3 steals).

The 6’1″ Wells is a vital cog in the offense.  He can bring the ball up the court against pressure, penetrate into the lane and finish.  Wells is a good free throw shooter, is able to make the occasional three-pointer, and is an outstanding perimeter defender.  He’s a very smooth performer with a complete game, and he’s still getting better.

Other returners from last season who will see action include Clark, a slender 6’8″ junior forward who is a career 35% three-point shooter, and Eykyn, a 6’4″ native of Charleston who logged double-digit minutes in 11 games last season.  While neither was a rotation regular, both had their moments last year and will be counted on again in 2010 (indeed, Clark has played at least 11 minutes in both games so far).

Some of the newcomers who may see the court include the well-regarded Dupont (a native of Oklahoma who has played 19 combined minutes in the first two games) and 6’8″ forward/center Mike Groselle, a Texan who impressed in a brief appearance against Kenyon.  Also making his debut against Kenyon was 6’2″ guard Ben Cherry, a freshman from Charlotte.

I would guess that all three of those players will be contributors to The Citadel’s cause this season.  I also wouldn’t be surprised if a couple of other players on the Bulldogs’ sizable roster eventually get a chance, as 16 different players participated in The Citadel’s exhibition game against Georgia Southwestern.

Whether Bulldog fans are ready for the season to begin, the Bulldog players and coaches have to be ready, because The Citadel is about to embark on a stretch where it will play nine games in eighteen days, including three on consecutive days this weekend.  The Bulldogs will play in the Hispanic College Fund Challenge, hosted by Missouri State (which beat Auburn on Tuesday).  The Citadel will also play Eastern Michigan and Maryland-Eastern Shore in that event.

The Bulldogs will then venture up to the “other” Charleston in a matchup with West Virginia, formerly of the Southern Conference and currently in the AP Top 10.  After tangling with the Mountaineers, The Citadel will host an in-season tournament of its own at McAlister Field House, playing UVA-Wise (an NAIA school) and Central Connecticut State (of the Northeast Conference).  That tournament honors the late Skip Prosser.

After that, The Citadel begins Southern Conference play, with the aforementioned game against Davidson followed two days later by a game against Georgia Southern.  The last game of the “nine in eighteen” run is arguably the biggest, as The Citadel will host Tom Izzo and his Michigan State Spartans on December 7.

MSU is currently ranked #2 in the nation and, of course, played in last season’s NCAA title game, losing to North Carolina.  It will be the second year in a row a Big 10 school has come to McAlister, although I suspect there will be more “juice” in the arena than there was for Iowa last year.

That’s quite a way to start a season.  It will be a challenge for the players and coaches (heck, it’s going to be a challenge for me just to keep up with it).  After the fun of last year’s campaign, I just hope that this year The Citadel doesn’t revert back to its old, lots-of-losing ways.  I don’t think it will, though, as (barring injury) the core of the team is too solid for that to happen.

Trying to fill a stadium

Note:  Yes, this is long.  It needs to be, though.  (Believe it or not, it could have been longer — I did some judicious editing.)  It can be read in stages if necessary, I suppose.  It’s one of the two longest posts I’ve made on this blog, along with my rundown of The Citadel’s brutal hoops history, which was made prior to basketball season.  After I made that post, the basketball team had one of its best campaigns ever.  If that’s the kind of karma attached to long essays, then the average attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium will approach 20,000 fans this season.

In 2007 The Citadel went 7-4, its first winning season in a decade.  There was plenty to be optimistic about in 2008, especially since the major renovation work to Johnson Hagood Stadium had been completed in the off-season.  Lots of folks were expected to come out to see if the Bulldogs could maintain their success while enjoying the comforts of a stadium with actually decent restroom facilities.  Instead, the school averaged almost 1,500 fewer fans per game than it had in ’07 (and 2,000+ fewer than it had in 2006).  What happened?

Well, the answer to that is complicated.  I want to address some of the issues related to attendance, and attendance specifically at The Citadel’s home football games.

I want to start, though, by pointing out something that is obvious, but gets forgotten about sometimes when alums talk about attendance.  For a school of The Citadel’s size, its historical football attendance is great.  Not good, great.  Even in a disappointing year (last season the average attendance per home game was just 12,261), The Citadel had an attendance-to-undergrad ratio of 6 to 1.  Do you know how many schools out there (especially FCS schools) would kill for even a 2 to 1 ratio?  Schools with just 2,000 students and a small alumni base really shouldn’t be doing that well.  It says a lot for the school’s loyal alums and fans that the attendance is as good as it is.

Having said that, attendance has been better before, and needs to be better again.  Anyone who looked at the budget numbers presented in an article by Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier a few weeks ago can see the importance of having Johnson Hagood Stadium filled with fans.  If attendance doesn’t start to get better, Ed Conroy is going to have to start scheduling road games against every Big XII school, not just Texas and Missouri.  The money from football props up the entire department of athletics.

The key to increasing attendance, of course, is winning.  Win more games, get more fans.  It’s a simple concept.  The only thing you have to remember about it is that success on the field generally leads to more ticket sales in the following season; there tends to be a one-year lag.  Of course, that’s if you have just one good year at a time (like going a decade between winning seasons).  Putting together a string of successful campaigns usually (but not always) leads to a more permanent base of fans.

When I opine about issues, I tend to illustrate my points in a statistical manner.  Numbers usually don’t lie, so I use them to back my point of view.  (Also, I use them because I’m a dork.)  Now, there are plenty of stats available when it comes to attendance, and I’m going to use some of them, but with a little bit of a caveat.  Let me explain what I mean.

The Citadel has had four modern-day directors of athletics — Eddie Teague, Walt Nadzak, Les Robinson, and the current AD, Larry Leckonby.  I have no way of knowing how each of them approached counting attendance at home games.  There are different ways to add up the numbers, and there is no guarantee that the way The Citadel’s numbers were counted was consistent over time.  It may be, for example, that sometimes season ticket holders were counted whether they were at the game or not, and it may be that sometimes they were only counted if they actually showed up.

I have occasionally wondered if other schools secretly counted the folks tailgating during the game, along with the teams, on-field personnel, the working (and non-working) press, concession stand employees, and mascots.  That’s not likely to be the case at The Citadel (and in the case of the non-game attending tailgaters, you’re talking about a not insignificant number.)

I have had multiple sources suggest to me that Larry Leckonby counts people who actually show up — no more, no less.  If that is the case, I applaud his philosophy.  I would count attendance the same way, although I would also count General, because he certainly deserves to be counted.

This uncertainty about published attendance figures was brought home to me one day while I was looking at the 2006 football media guide.  I spotted game writeups for the two playoff games in 1992, the win over North Carolina A&T and the loss to Youngstown State, each played at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

I attended both of those games.  I distinctly remember there were worries about the attendance, particularly for the first game against the Aggies, which took place on the Saturday after Thanksgiving Day, while the cadets were on furlough.  The Citadel had to have at least 12,000 folks show up to A) not lose money (there was a guarantee to the NCAA involved) and B) show that it merited hosting another playoff game.

Well, everything came up roses for The Citadel.  Plenty of folks showed up on a beautiful November afternoon to watch the Bulldogs pummel the MEAC champs, 44-0.  The next day’s edition of The Post and Courier featured a column by Ken Burger in which he detailed the “drama” behind the scenes, as representatives from the NCAA seemingly kept putting up roadblocks to the Bulldogs’ chances of hosting another game, only to eventually be bullied into submission by a pushy Walt Nadzak.  Burger wrote:  “although Citadel officials cannot announce the official attendance until after an NCAA audit, crowd estimates are about 17,000 were on hand.”

I was one of those on hand, seated right next to The Man From Macon (my ears are still ringing from his delirious shouting), and that estimate of 17,000 sounds about right to me.  Even more fans attended the game the following week; I would say that slightly over 18,000 came to see that matchup.

Then I came across the box in the ’06 media guide, and there were the “official” attendance figures:  12,300 for the North Carolina A&T game; 13,021 for the Youngstown State game.  What?

The NCAA came up with those numbers, after an “audit”.  Both figures are laughable.  I’m fairly confident that 5,000 people didn’t sneak into each game for free.  At any rate, it’s just another example of how you have to be careful when evaluating historic attendance trends.

While I wouldn’t want to bet my life on the complete accuracy of the numbers, I think evaluating them under certain parameters is instructive.  Also, I’ve got a theory on attendance that needs at least something solid behind it.  Anyway, here we go…

If you take the per-season home attendance average of the last four seasons, and then average those seasons together, you get a cumulative season average of 13,073.  That’s for 2005-2008.  If you then go back exactly twenty years, to the 1985-1988 seasons, you get a cumulative season average of 14,582.  That’s a difference of 1,509.  One reason I picked those years as a comparison is that the record on the field was very similar — 20-25 (2005-08), and 20-24-1 (1985-88).  It’s not an exact match, to be sure — the ’80s record includes Tom Moore’s last two campaigns and Charlie Taaffe’s first two seasons, while the last four years are the sum total of the Kevin Higgins era — but I think it’s a pretty good comparison.

If you go back to 1975-1978, the cumulative average for that four-year period is 16,584.  However, The Citadel in those four seasons had a slightly better record (22-22).  That period marked the transition from Bobby Ross to Art Baker.  Perhaps a better comparison to the two eras in the preceding paragraph would be the first four seasons under Ross, 1973-1976, when the Bulldogs were 19-25 overall.  Attendance in those seasons averaged out at 14,902.

So basically, from two and three decades ago until now, with similar teams, there appears to be a dropoff of between 1500-2000 fans.  You will find a lot of longtime Bulldog fans who will tell you that over the years the “base” has declined by just that amount (some will say even more, but I believe they’re thinking about stretches when the school had several successful seasons in a row).  1500-2000 fans is a big deal for a school of The Citadel’s size.  That would be like South Carolina or Clemson drawing 10,000+ fewer fans per year, and we’re talking about a longterm decline, not just a one- or two-season blip.

In comparing recent attendance to that of past seasons, I had to be careful and select similar, or at least remotely similar, circumstances, both on and off the field.  For instance, you can’t compare anything to 1989, when Hurricane Hugo disrupted not just the season, but the entire Charleston area, nor can you match “apples to apples” with 2004, the year following demolition of the West Stands, when the seating capacity of JHS was listed at 12,500.

2004 also featured the cancellation of a game against Charleston Southern (thanks to another hurricane threat), a season finale against Western Carolina that took place at the same time as a televised Clemson-South Carolina game, and a Thursday night “special” against Benedict that turned out to be an attendance disaster, with only 5,127 fans showing up.  (What I remember most about that Benedict game was “voice of the Bulldogs” Sam Evans beginning his public address announcements by saying, “Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to what’s left of historic Johnson Hagood Stadium.”)

I also didn’t want to compare the recent attendance issues to periods of consecutive winning seasons, like 1979-81 and 1990-1992, or to the malaise of the late 1990s-early 2000s.

The key to the difference in the compared eras lies in the makeup of The Citadel’s base of supporters, which can be divided into two groups:  alums and their families, and those fans without an obvious connection to The Citadel.  I believe the eroding of the base has much more to do with the second group.

First, however, I want to discuss the “alums” category, including some things on which not everyone may agree, and for which I can’t point to a specific statistic.  What I believe, though, is that by and large graduates of The Citadel are significantly less likely to be natural supporters of the school’s athletic teams than, say, alums of larger state schools.

Not only are there more students at larger schools, but a higher percentage of those students grow up rooting for that particular school.  Quite a few of them actually choose to go to school based on their lifelong support of its athletic teams.  Those students eventually graduate, and so there is a fairly sizable base of true-blue fans just from that group.

Nobody who is not on athletic scholarship chooses to go to The Citadel because of its varsity sports teams.  Because of this, I think that a smaller percentage of its students are destined to become lifelong devoted fans of college football, hoops, etc.  That’s true of most small schools, of course.  (I believe The Citadel has fewer sports fans among its students than even among other small schools, however — at least, that was my impression when I was in school.  That also applied to things tangentially related to sports.  Was there buzz on campus for Bull Durham or Hoosiers?  No.  Full Metal Jacket, yes, a thousand times yes.)

That makes the fact the athletic teams are supported as well as they are by the alumni all the more remarkable.  I think it has a lot to do with the natural camaraderie built up by four years in the corps of cadets.  Alums come back for the games, but they really come back to see each other, or just to be part of the experience that is The Citadel again, even for just a Saturday afternoon.  It’s a nice vibe, complete with the justly-celebrated tailgating scene (which may be too good a scene when it comes to trying to increase attendance inside the stadium).

One of the things I have noticed, though, is that there is a bit of a “doughnut hole”, if you will, among alums attending games.  Basically, when I go to games I see a lot of alums representing the over-50 crowd, and I see a fair number of young grads, but there is a gap between those two groups in the gameday support.  You don’t really see a lot of guys in their 30s and 40s, at least in comparison.  Some might disagree with me on that, but this has been my observation.  I could be wrong, of course.

Obviously those alums in their 30s and 40s are more likely to have school-age kids, and perhaps because of that, they don’t have as much free time (or discretionary income).  I would guess that’s not particularly unusual for a college alumni fan base.  That isn’t to say there aren’t a good number of kids at the games, because there are.  However, the lack of grads in that age group at football games is noticeable (at least to me).

Okay, that’s my riff on alumni support.  Now I want to talk about the other potential game attendees, and why there aren’t as many of them as there used to be.  Here comes my theory.  (Drum roll.)

Television.

Back in the good old days (which weren’t really all that great), the NCAA controlled regular-season college football broadcasting.  It had extremely restrictive rules on how often schools could appear on TV, and also limited the number of overall telecasts.  As late as 1978 there were a total of 58 college football games broadcast on TV during the regular season (13 of which were televised nationally).  Last season there were 58 televised games involving FBS and FCS schools just in the third week of October.

Change came as a result of a 1984 Supreme Court decision that ruled the NCAA’s way of doing things violated the Sherman Antitrust Act.  Schools (and conferences) were thus free to negotiate TV deals for themselves.  The decision also coincided with the rise of cable television, notably ESPN.  Suddenly there were outlets that needed programming, and schools and conferences that had programming to offer.  The world of college football hasn’t been the same since.

It used to be that if you lived in the Lowcountry and wanted to see some college football action, but you didn’t want to drive up I-26 to Columbia (or further up the road to Clemson/Athens/Atlanta), your one option was to head to Johnson Hagood Stadium to watch The Citadel.  The odds that you could watch one of the state’s major college teams on TV instead were not good.  Between 1969-1978, there were seven televised Clemson regular-season football games  (one national, six regional).  In that same period, South Carolina only appeared on TV during the regular season five times (all regional broadcasts; the Gamecocks did not have a nationally televised regular-season game until 1980).

Even after the Supreme Court decision opened the floodgates, South Carolina did not draw a lot of TV time; for example, in 1989, the Gamecocks appeared on television during the season just once (in a 45-0 loss at home to Clemson — ouch).  This was partly due to South Carolina still being an independent in football at the time.  Once the Gamecocks joined the SEC, appearances on the tube became a more regular occurrence.  Clemson was on TV more often during the 1980s, thanks to deals the ACC had with Raycom and ESPN, although the Tigers’ appearances on TV during the early part of the decade were mostly on tape-delay, due to Clemson being on probation.

Now, of course, you can see the Tigers and Gamecocks almost every week on TV, along with many other major college programs, at every time of day and night.  You can also see a select number of FCS teams in action, but not nearly as many, and mostly as part of regional telecasts.  The Southern Conference has a modest agreement with SportSouth to show eight league games all season (The Citadel will appear in just one of them).

The constant TV exposure for Clemson, South Carolina, and the rest of the FBS schools is great for them.  It promotes their programs, and increases their respective fan bases.  For schools like The Citadel, though, it can be a problem.  Trying to attract fans who aren’t naturally affiliated with the program means competing against a lot of other entities, especially in a city like Charleston.  The Citadel isn’t on TV enough itself to get the publicity benefits that accrue to the bigger schools, and then football fans have the option to watch those other schools on television.

As an example, let’s look at last season and what the folks selling tickets at The Citadel were up against for each home date:

  • The home opener (8/30) was a night game against Webber International.  Attendance was announced as 11,247.  Quite honestly, I think The Citadel was lucky to get that many fans for what was a de facto glorified scrimmage.  South Carolina had played on Thursday night, but Clemson played Alabama in primetime in a much-hyped affair (the lesson, as always:  don’t believe the hype).  Locally, the ticket office also had to compete against a bluegrass/BBQ festival held at Boone Hall Plantation.
  • The next game at JHS came against Princeton on 9/20.  13,120 fans attended that game, most of whom would be mystified by what went on at halftime.  This was an afternoon game.  South Carolina played Wofford at night in Columbia (that game was on PPV).  Clemson played an afternoon home game against South Carolina State.  Another game of interest in the region, Florida-Tennessee, was played that afternoon as well.  An extra local competitor was the Scottish Games and Highland Gathering, held at Boone Hall, which drew 6,000 people that Saturday.  I’m guessing bagpiper groupies were not sure which event to attend.
  • On 9/27, Western Carolina came to town for a 1pm showdown.  Clemson played Maryland that afternoon in a game televised by Raycom.  South Carolina had another PPV home night game, this time against UAB.  North Carolina played Miami at noon in the only other regional game of any consequence.  Attendance for this game was only 11,216, and I don’t think the presence in town of the MOJA Arts Festival had a whole lot to do with it.
  • Elon played at The Citadel on 10/11 in a game slightly impacted by rain (but more impacted by hideous SoCon officiating).  This day was a good example of how 21st-century college football TV choices are different from those in the ’70s and ’80s.  The Citadel hosted Elon at the same time as the all-important Texas-Oklahoma game (that ultimately wasn’t quite important enough for the Longhorns) AND a road game for South Carolina that was televised by Raycom.  Also on TV that day were Georgia-Tennessee and Notre Dame-North Carolina.  The City of Charleston also conspired against the ticket office with its Taste of Charleston weekend (although the main event was held on Sunday).  Total attendance:  12,582, on a Parents’ Day Weekend.  Oof.
  • Georgia Southern played at Johnson Hagood on 11/1, opposite the Coastal Carolina Fair and a host of locally interesting TV games:  Georgia-Florida, Tennessee-South Carolina, and Clemson-Boston College.  11,190 people made it to JHS.  Many of them probably wished Kevin Higgins had gone for two in overtime.
  • Homecoming (on 11/15) was held opposite South Carolina-Florida (on CBS) and Duke-Clemson (on Raycom).  14,213 fans watched The Citadel escape (thanks, Andre) with a win over a wretched UT-Chattanooga squad.

Another thing that wasn’t around in 1978 (or even 1988) is the Charleston Southern football program.  Heck, back then CSU wasn’t even CSU; it was Baptist College.  I’m not sure how much of an effect the Buccaneers’ home games have on Bulldog home games played the same day, to be honest.  They may not have much impact, but every potential ticket not sold counts, in a manner of speaking.  For the record, last season CSU and The Citadel played at home on the same day on 9/27 (CSU attendance:  2,541), 11/1 (3,213), and 11/15 (2,434).

In 2009, incidentally, CSU and The Citadel will again have three home games on the same day, the first three home dates on the Bulldogs’ schedule.  Clemson or South Carolina will play home games on each of The Citadel’s five home dates, although for none of them will both of those schools be at home.  Times for those USC/Clemson games won’t be known until later in the season because of television.  Those TV “windows” also mean that it’s impossible to guess what other national/regional games might have an impact on the schedule (other than Florida-Georgia, which is pencilled in for 3:30 pm on 10/31; The Citadel plays Samford at 1 pm that day).  Also, as far as special local interest events are concerned, this year’s Scottish Games will take place the week before The Citadel’s home opener, much to the relief of the bagpiper groupies.

Compare today’s options for local area sports fans to those of 1978.  South Carolina had no games televised that year.  Clemson had only two regular season games televised (despite an 11-1 season).  If one or both were on the road or playing a rather lame opponent at home, then your choices were usually limited to a sole TV game, often featuring teams of limited interest.  A big football fan might very well be inclined to watch the local team play VMI or Delaware or Marshall (all of which were on the home schedule that year).  He would probably bring his transistor radio along and listen to Bob Fulton or Jim Phillips (or perhaps Larry Munson, which might have been more fun) while watching The Citadel.

I think that’s a big deal.  It’s hard to get the casual fan to the stadium these days.  Now, once you get him to Johnson Hagood (or at least to the tailgating areas), then you stand a decent chance of keeping him.

Anyway, that’s my theory.  The non-affiliated fan who might have been a potential customer/convert twenty and thirty years ago has more sporting options on a gameday Saturday, because of television.  He is probably more inclined to become a fan of an FBS school if he wasn’t already, because it’s easier to follow those teams now even from a distance, because of television.  FCS schools like The Citadel don’t benefit from increased exposure because they simply aren’t on the tube nearly as often as the FBS schools.  They could make up lost ground if they were on at least as often, but they’re not, so they don’t.  It’s a triple whammy.

So, what to do about it?

Well, that’s the million-dollar question.  The Citadel has hard-working, competent people whose very jobs involve trying to improve its numbers at the gate.  They know what they’re doing, and I’m not going to pretend to be as expert as they are on the subject.  Having said that, I have some opinions, some of them of the macro variety, some micro…

Obviously, I think it’s most important to cater to the local “outsider” to bring up the numbers.  At this particular time, though, it also wouldn’t hurt to redouble efforts with the alumni base, which has seen a decade of poor on-field results overseen by a series of coaches, and games played in an aging stadium with facilities that were, frankly, unacceptable.  Out-of-touch alums need to be introduced to the “new” Johnson Hagood Stadium, which is clean, has a cool video board, is wheelchair-accessible and family-friendly, has an electrical system that won’t fail when the french fry machines are turned on, etc.  Plus, the current coach is entering his fifth season.  Stability!

I think it’s important to emphasize what makes going to a football game at The Citadel unique and fun.  The essential uniqueness, of course, is the corps of cadets.  That’s what The Citadel has to offer that other schools don’t.  It is key that the corps be energized for those three hours on a Saturday afternoon or early evening.  I believe the administration needs to make it worth the cadets’ while (weekend/overnight privileges, that type of thing) to be a primary source of entertainment.

The corps needs to be at least semi-organized for providing its special brand of mayhem.  I actually like that the cadets have been moved to the East Stands; it makes them more visible (and, for the visiting team, noisier).  Now it’s time to accentuate their enthusiasm, preferably in as zany a fashion as possible.  All I ask is that “Hey Baby” gets dropped.  Please?

Speaking of music, the band needs to be more incorporated into the scene than it is now.  There needs to be some coordination between promotions and the band in terms of not just when music is played, but what is played.  Note to some alums:  quit asking them to play “Dixie”.  Those days are over.

My other comment about music is that (old fogey alert!) the pre-game rap/hip-hop/heavy metal routine at about 200 decibels is extremely grating and, to me, not in keeping with the general gameday experience at The Citadel.  I know the football players like to get wound up by listening to some of that stuff, but there is too much of it right now.  I’m not asking for the current mix to be replaced by Frank Sinatra tunes (although that would cool in a retro-hip way), but there needs to be a little balance.  Also, I can go to any game and listen to somebody abuse the sound system while playing the latest in headbanging drivel.  Games at The Citadel need to be (and should be) different.

In keeping with trying to impress potential new fans, it never hurts to accentuate the military aspects of the gameday experience.  Pre-game flyovers are always good.  Guys parachuting in with the game ball, halftime shows featuring various specialty outfits (military marching bands or drill units) — those things tend to go over well.

That reminds me — what happened to the Touchdown Cannon Crew?  Now there just seems to be a Touchdown Cannon Dude.  Where are the riflemen?  There is probably a story behind their absence.  One thing this brings to mind is that, whenever possible, it’s nice to keep some continuity in the school’s gameday traditions.  The Citadel is big on tradition, although you would never know it by looking at its football uniform history.

Another thing to emphasize when trying to recruit new fans is the affordability aspect of going to games at Johnson Hagood.  In the current economy, in particular, this has to be a plus.

If you want to have decent seats at South Carolina games, for example, you have to give a lot of money to the Gamecock Club just to have the option of buying season tickets.  Then you have to pay a “premium” on those same seats.  Then after finally getting to buy the tickets the sucker customer needs to buy an expensive parking pass just to be able to park near Williams-Brice Stadium.  When you include travel costs, concessions, etc., soon (to paraphrase Everett Dirksen) you’re talking about real money.  All that for USC games, and we’re not talking about the USC that wins Rose Bowls, but the USC that has never played in a major bowl.  38-35!  Enough said.

Another thing to emphasize, or improve, is to make the games “kid-friendly”.  There are plenty of kids at games, but there needs to be a lot more.  Ticket promotions, giveaways with children in mind, the whole nine yards.  Some of this is already happening, which is good.  Another idea would be to have a specific organization just for youngsters — the Junior Bulldog Club, say.  Members could get perks, like being able to go out onto the field with the players before the game for the coin toss or some other type of ceremony, not unlike what you see at international and domestic European soccer matches.  After all, indoctrination should occur early in life.

Speaking of kid-friendly, one of the best things The Citadel has done in recent years is re-establish the live mascot program.  General and his good buddy Boo are kid magnets, as is their cartoon friend Spike.  I’ve actually heard a few gnarly old codgers grumble about Spike (some of the gnarliest codgers aren’t that old, either).  Those people are morons.  Mascots, in general, aren’t really meant to entertain somebody who is busy trying to figure out where he put his flask.  They’re largely there to keep children entertained while their father is screaming at the coach for running the ball on third-and-ten.  Just keep that in mind.

Finally, I have to say something about the cheerleading program.  Larry Leckonby needs to take a hard look at that issue and make some decisions.  It’s a part of the gameday experience that is currently a complete disaster.  Whether we outfit the cheerleaders in camo and go the gung-ho route, or revert to the days of importing them from other schools (probably not feasible), or simply not have cheerleaders at all, something needs to be done.  The current situation is not good at all.  The lack of enthusiasm for the program from the corps of cadets (and from the cheerleaders themselves) is disturbing.

In conclusion, I do think attendance should improve this season, barring something unusual happening.  The home schedule is much more interesting, with games against instate schools Presbyterian, Furman, and Wofford, along with a visit from Appalachian State.  The best way of increasing attendance going forward, of course, was best expressed by former Bulldog assistant coach Al Davis:  “Just win, baby.”  Since you can’t always count on wins, though, you have to do all the “little things” to try to fill a stadium.  Here is hoping that Johnson Hagood will be packed with fans this season and beyond.