Hoops update: SoCon play begins for The Citadel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Odds and ends…

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

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

Hoops update: The Citadel returns home to host Clemson

The Citadel vs. Clemson, 7:00 pm Wednesday, November 16, 2011, at McAlister Field House. The contest will be broadcast on the ESPN3.com platform, with Darren Goldwater calling the game alongside analyst Dean Keener. The game can also be heard on WQNT-AM 1450 in Charleston, with “voice of the Bulldogs” Danny Reed describing the action. That audio is also available online via Bulldog Insider.

The Citadel opened the 2011-12 campaign by splitting a pair of games at the All-Military Classic in Colorado Springs. The Bulldogs lost 103-100 to VMI in their opener before coming back from 20 points down in the first half to defeat Army, 83-72.

The two games were essentially played on the same day, at least if you were on Eastern Standard Time, which to me made the comeback against the Bulldogs of the Hudson that much more impressive. Army is not a good team (projected to finish last in the Patriot League), but any D-1 win at this point of the season with a squad as young as The Citadel’s has to qualify as a good win.

The Bulldogs had a chance to win both games, but could not overcome a bad start against VMI. The Keydets led by as many as 16 points in the first half before The Citadel made a run to cut the lead to two. VMI scored two late baskets to take a six-point lead into the break, and continued to increase its lead throughout the second half, actually leading 98-83 with less than four minutes to play. A furious rally by the Bulldogs fell just short.

Obviously, The Citadel needs to avoid falling behind by so many points early in the game. While the Bulldogs were able to rally past Army, that’s not something they will be able to do on a regular basis.

The game against VMI was televised by CBS Sports Network, with Roger Twibell calling the game alongside analyst Pete Gillen. In the first half, Lefty Driesell joined them via telephone for a five-minute interview segment.

Listening to Pete Gillen have a conversation with Lefty Driesell gave me a renewed appreciation of the versatility of the English language.

The star for the Bulldogs over the two games was, not surprisingly, Mike Groselle, who was named the Southern Conference Player of the Week for his efforts. His totals were great, and perhaps even more promising going forward, Groselle played 68 minutes over the two games. Considering that was at altitude, over a period of less than 24 hours, and that 37 of those minutes came against VMI and its racehorse style of play, any questions about his conditioning and general endurance have been answered.

Tangent: In its game release, The Citadel listed players who had three or more consecutive double-doubles (Groselle has now had three straight such games on two different occasions). I am surprised not to see Gary Daniels’ name on this list. I would have thought he had probably done that at least once during his career at The Citadel.

Groselle wasn’t the only player who excelled in Colorado. DeVontae Wright rebounded from a tough night against VMI (1-7 FG) and had an outstanding game against Army, scoring 26 points on just 12 shots from the field (he was 8-8 from the line).

Eleven Bulldogs played in each contest, and all of them scored against VMI. Ten of them got in the scoring column against Army (C.J. Bray was the exception, though he did have four rebounds in that game). Cosmo Morabbi attempted one three-pointer against Army, and made it, the first three he had made since the 2009-10 season (he had missed a number of games last year due to injury). I hope that is a sign of things to come for Morabbi. Bo Holston had 12 points and 7 rebounds in that game.

Lawrence Miller provided a spark against VMI, going 4-5 from three-land and scoring 14 points. Marshall Harris III had 11 points and 9 assists against the Keydets, and Ashton Moore added 10 points and 5 assists in the same game. The Bulldogs had four players come off the bench to score in double figures against VMI, as Barry Smith scored 12 points in 16 minutes of play.

Offensively, there wasn’t much to complain about in the first two games. The Citadel shot the ball well from the field and the line, made a decent percentage of threes (without taking too many), and did not commit an avalanche of turnovers. The assist-to-basket ratio was good, particularly against VMI. Groselle could use a little help on the offensive boards, though.

The defense needs to get better, however. The Bulldogs struggled defensively last season, and must improve on that side of the court to compete in the Southern Conference. The Citadel gave up 103 points to VMI on an estimated 85 possessions.

Thanks to a strong second-half effort, the numbers were better against Army, but the Bulldogs needed as many stops as they could get in the second half after giving up 49 first-half points. The Citadel did a much better job defending the three in that second frame; Army was 6-8 beyond the arc in the first half, but only 1-13 thereafter.

It has been a while since The Citadel defeated a “BCS team” in basketball. Indeed, the Bulldogs have lost 55 consecutive games to schools currently in a BCS conference, and 81 of their last 82. The lone victory in that run came near the end of the 1988-89 season, when The Citadel memorably defeated South Carolina in Columbia, 88-87. The Gamecocks actually made the NCAA tournament that year, so it’s not like the Bulldogs took advantage of a bad team.

The last time The Citadel beat Clemson? 1979, at McAlister Field House. The Bulldogs won 58-56, one of twenty victories for The Citadel in that particular campaign, the first time the school had ever won that many games in a season (and only matched once since then, three years ago).

Interesting note: the Bulldogs’ last two victories over BCS schools came against South Carolina and Clemson. Randy Nesbit was the head coach when The Citadel beat the Gamecocks, and a player when the Bulldogs defeated the Tigers. In fact, Nesbit hit the game-winning shot against Clemson in 1979.

Last year at Littlejohn Coliseum, Clemson defeated The Citadel 69-54. Mike Groselle had 14 points and 10 rebounds (five of them offensive boards) in that game.

Milton Jennings of Clemson, who went to Pinewood Prep in Summerville, also had a double-double in that game despite playing only 18 minutes; he’s an expected starter for Wednesday’s game. Jennings also had a double-double at Duke, on the Blue Devils’ Senior Night. The junior was a McDonald’s All-American, and he may be just starting to realize his potential.

Other Tigers who will start or see major action include sharpshooter Andre Young, who can fill it up despite being only 5’9″, freshman guard T.J. Sapp, and 6’5″ swingman Tanner Smith. Jennings will be joined in the frontcourt by Devin Booker, a decent jump shooter with nice touch around the rim. He’s a good rebounder as well. Jennings and Booker will be a formidable challenge for the Bulldogs’ big men.

The Tigers were a solid defensive club last year under first-year coach Brad Brownell. They held their opponents to an eFG% of 45.6, 25th-best nationally, and also forced turnovers at an impressive clip. Clemson occasionally struggled keeping opponents off the offensive boards.

Notable stat: the Tigers led the ACC in free throw shooting, which for many observers was disorienting.

Clemson played another group of Bulldogs, Gardner-Webb, in its opener. That game was tied at the half, 29-29, after G-W overcame a 13-point deficit. The Tigers broke out early in the second half, though, and reasserted control of the game, cruising to a 65-44 victory. Young was 7-9 from the field (3-4 3FG). Clemson also got 11 points from Sapp and a career-high 14 rebounds from Smith.

This will be the Tigers’ first visit to McAlister Field House since November 28, 1989. That was a big night for McAlister, as it was the first game played in the venerable arena since it had closed for remodeling two years earlier.

I was at that game, won by the Tigers 71-54 (the game was more competitive than the final score suggests). Clemson’s team featured both Elden Campbell and Dale Davis. On that particular evening, Campbell was average, but Davis was tremendous, impressing everyone in the building with his athleticism and skill.

It should be a fun night at McAlister Field House. I enjoyed the commercial The Citadel produced to promote the game. I hope a big crowd is there to “Pack the Mac”, as Chuck Driesell so eloquently put it.