The search is on for The Citadel’s new baseball coach

Media interest in the position of baseball coach at The Citadel was once a bit on the light side.

The first mention of Chal Port in The News and Courier came in a column by sports editor Evan Bussey on August 30, 1964:

…Chal Port joined The Citadel staff this summer. Port will be head baseball coach as well as serve as a football assistant.

He’s a graduate of the University of North Carolina, and played two years of professional baseball. For the past six years he served as head [football and baseball] coach at Titusville, Pa., High School.

“As long as he gets us some of those big Pennsylvania linemen, he won’t have to do any coaching,” quipped Jack Hall, another Cadet assistant yesterday. “We’ll set a quota of four tackles and four guards a year.”

Those spare paragraphs on Port came after Bussey devoted most of his column to The Citadel’s new wrestling coach, Dave Fagg (who was also hired to be a football assistant). Both Port and Fagg were also mentioned near the end of a long article on fall football practice, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it throwaway line.

I’m guessing there will be a little more local media coverage when Fred Jordan’s replacement is named…

“Raw” feed of Fred Jordan’s retirement presser at Riley Park (via WCSC-TV)

WCIV-TV report

I enjoyed Fred Jordan’s comments during his press conference. Of particular interest were his thoughts on the SoCon tournament, where he got right to the point:

…unfortunately, when the league moved it for the first time, just for that two-year span, it destroyed that momentum. And it left a sour taste in a lot of people’s mouths, because it went afar for less money. And that’s not good business. [And the] thing about it, people got tired of The Citadel winning. No brag, just fact.”

(Those last two sentences were presumably for the benefit of former UNCG coach Mike Gaski.)

Jordan is the winningest coach in the history of the Southern Conference, but the league’s honchos probably didn’t enjoy his observations about the fate of the conference tournament. Sometimes, the truth is hurtful.

I would say Jordan’s remarks might hurt his chances of being enshrined in the SoCon Hall of Fame, but his chances of induction are probably close to nil anyway. After all, Chal Port has never been elected — or any other player or coach from The Citadel, for that matter.

I would respectfully disagree with the coach, though, about the idea that The Citadel’s sustained success between 1994-2013 will “never be done again”.

This notion has been pushed by P+C columnist Gene Sapakoff. When mentioning Fred Jordan’s seven NCAA tourney appearances, Sapakoff tweeted that “We’ll be dead before there are another 7” NCAA bids for The Citadel, an idea he doubled down on in a later newspaper column.

Sorry, but I’m not buying the suggestion that The Citadel is incapable of that kind of run in the future. (Also, when it comes to personal days left on the planet, Sapakoff can manage his own timetable, thank you very much.)

It’s not an easy job, and times have certainly changed, but there is still opportunity at The Citadel. It should be pointed out that in one 15-year span, Chal Port’s squads played in five NCAA tournaments, which strikes me as not dissimilar.

I expect the next head coach at The Citadel to have high expectations for the program. The fan base certainly will — and deservedly so.

The Citadel’s last two hires to run the baseball program were:

  • a high school football/baseball coach from Pennsylvania who had no connection to the military college (but who had served in the Air Force)
  • a local high school baseball coach who had played for the previous coach

Both of them wound up spending more than a quarter-century in charge. If the new coach stays at The Citadel until the school’s bicentennial in 2042, he will still have had a shorter career in Charleston than either Port or Jordan.

That is a selling point, by the way.

Will the job “stay in the family”, or will there be a new relative in town wearing light blue and white?

Among possible candidates who played at The Citadel are current assistant coaches David Beckley and Britt Reames; Kyle Bunn, associate head coach and pitching coach for ex-Bulldog Chris Lemonis at Indiana; Chris Swauger, manager of high Class A Peoria in the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization; and ETSU coach Tony Skole, a member of The Citadel’s College World Series team in 1990.

Each committee member listed the qualities they wanted to see in the next Citadel coach. Among Senter’s six bullet points are “demonstrated experience in turning programs around as a head coach or an assistant coach” and “preferred candidate with head coach experience.”

The “preferred candidate with head coach experience” line would tend to eliminate most of the realistic alumni candidates, with the exception of Tony Skole — and in the case of Skole, you’re talking about someone who A) already has a job in the SoCon, and B) has been in his current position for 18 years. Would he be interested?

Another potential candidate being bandied about in the press is current North Greenville coach Landon Powell, who is also a former star player at South Carolina (and an ex-major leaguer). As is the case with Skole, I don’t know how interested Powell might be in the job, though he hasn’t exactly taken his name out of consideration yet. There are at least two major questions to be asked about Powell:

  • Would he be able to cope with the unique environment at The Citadel?
  • Would the job be a “stepping-stone” position for him?

The first question, of course, is something that applies to any prospective coach at The Citadel (including alums). The second question is arguably more interesting.

There have only been two head baseball coaches at The Citadel since 1965. The position hasn’t been just another rung on the D-1 ladder for upwardly mobile coaches.

This is 2017, though. What if the best candidates for the job right now are likely to consider it as a way to audition for a post in the SEC or ACC?

That could be the case, and if it is, that opens up the field to a significant degree. There are undoubtedly a bevy of aggressive coaches (including some current D-1 head coaches) who would like the chance to get noticed at a place like The Citadel, a school in the SEC/ACC footprint with a tradition of success and a loyal fan base.

That particular dynamic is definitely something the selection committee will have to consider.

Members of that committee:

  • AD Jim Senter
  • Jay Dowd, CEO of The Citadel Foundation
  • Anthony Jenkins, author of the most famous slide in The Citadel’s baseball history
  • Gene Pinson of the Board of Visitors
  • Col. Jim Scott, president of the Diamond Dogs Club
  • Senior associate AD Geoff Van Dollen.
  • Baseball supporters Jimmy Reed and Wade St. John

Included on Jim Senter’s list of qualifications for the new coach: “Someone who can reengage Citadel alumni and baseball supporters to maximize fundraising, season ticket sales and attendance at Citadel baseball games”. This item has received a little bit of scrutiny (as has Jay Dowd’s inclusion on the selection committee).

Personally, I have no issues with this. After all, Fred Jordan’s second comment at his retirement presser concerned fundraising. I don’t think it’s a knock on the Diamond Dogs Club at all (which has done very good work over the years), but simply a reflection of what it takes to compete at the D-1 level.

You have to be more than just a coach these days. Admittedly, that was always the case. It’s even more of a requirement now, though.

Fred Jordan on recruiting:

On The Citadel’s struggles in recent years: “AAU (travel) baseball really affects the mid-major, and the mid-major that’s a little different…that’s probably the biggest difference from a recruiting standpoint…The Citadel doesn’t get a guy like Terrance Smalls in today’s times…Brian Wiley, I can remember watching Wiley strike out 15 [batters], and [I] was recruiting a guy off his team, that was two years older than him, a hitter…and we ended up getting [Wiley]…It’s a different world, and it’s difficult for everybody. You look around the state, it’s not just The Citadel.

Later, in that same article:

Committee members also emphasized recruiting in a changing college baseball landscape. One member pointed out that Southern Conference Tournament champion UNC Greensboro had as many as 12 transfer players on its roster.

“I don’t know how we do this, but whoever the new coach is, he has to figure out how to compete with that,” the committee member said.

The Citadel has always had to compete with a few schools that featured a heavy dose of transfers, though the transfer phenomenon seems to have accelerated in recent years.

It is just another reason why retention is so important to success at the military college. A coach just can’t fill multiple holes on the roster by bringing in a bunch of transfers.

When it comes to recruiting at The Citadel, football coach Brent Thompson made some comments (in response to a question) at one of his press conferences last season that are well worth repeating:

…really, a lot of it is more the development and retention of those players. I think over the past three years, since I’ve been here, we’ve lost very few players. We’re going to naturally be a better football team when we’ve got fourth- and fifth-year players, rather than those first- and second-year players. We’ve got a veteran ball club at this point, and that’s what we attribute a lot of [our success].

…When it comes to recruiting, the first thing that we really look for are good football players. We know that we can win and we can train good football players. They’ve got to have it inside of them first…

We’ve got to do our research. It takes a long time for us to figure out the players [out there] we want to recruit here. It comes down to the academics, it comes down to the corps of cadets, it comes down to being a good football player.

Sometimes it’s just not a good fit for us, and we understand that, and we can move on from that. [Basketball coach] Duggar Baucom has a great saying: “The next ‘No’ gets me closer to the next ‘Yes’.”

…We know that there are plenty of good football players out there for The Citadel, that fit what we do.

Thompson’s comments ring true for recruiting at any sport at The Citadel. You have to identify players who can compete on the field, in the classroom, and in the corps of cadets. You have to retain those athletes, and you have to develop them into better players.

Someone who is a non-factor as a freshman on the baseball team may turn out to be a key cog in the lineup or a weekend starter three years later, but he won’t be if he is no longer on the roster, or if he hasn’t further enhanced his skill set.

The next coach of The Citadel has to understand that from his first day on the job.

The hiring process will be interesting to watch, even if there won’t be a lot to see. Plenty of folks will be trolling for any and all tidbits until the new coach is named.

It’s an important hire for the military college. Baseball means something at The Citadel. Fred Jordan’s work over the last 26 years is a major reason why it does.

Best of luck to the selection committee.

2016 Football, Week 2: The Citadel vs. Furman

The Citadel…was expected to nose out a victory from the visiting Furman contingent, while the Baptists, being exceedingly jealous of their position in the football world, were counted on to put their last ounce of strength into the fray with a view to nothing less than copping the contest. Hence Hampton Park bade fair to be the scene this afternoon of a hotly contested battle between two well nigh evenly matched teams.

Preview article, The Evening Post, November 1, 1913

 

The Citadel football machine ran up the biggest score of its season yesterday, when it swamped Furman, 75-0. Although the Baptists were fully as husky as the local boys and played a hard game throughout, they were simply up against a far superior team…

…End runs, off-tackle plays, line plunges, and forward passes were all successful ground-gainers, and it is the consensus of local opinion that The Citadel has improved 100 per cent since she smothered the College of Charleston 72-0 in her previous appearance here…

…There was plenty of drive and pep in the Blue dashes, the quartet of Folger, Weeks, Holliday, and James, showing much sang-froid and elan, as they say at Furman.

…taking all this into consideration, The Citadel put up the best exhibition of offensive play in years, and it is doubtful if the famous 1909 gang had anything on Folger, Weeks, and Company in their exhibition of yesterday.

Game story, The Sunday News, November 2, 1913

The Citadel vs. Furman, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 10. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Kevin Fitzgerald providing play-by-play and Sadath Jean-Pierre supplying the analysis. 

The contest can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station. 

Mike Legg (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze.

It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

Game story for The Citadel-Mercer, The Post and Courier

– Box score from The Citadel-Mercer

– The Citadel faces a choice at quarterback

–  Johnson Hagood Stadium’s East Stands won’t be used this week

– Tyler Renew is the SoCon offensive player of the week

– Game notes from The Citadel and Furman

SoCon weekly release

Brent Thompson’s 9/6 press conference (video)

Brent Thompson 9/7 radio show (video)

– Furman set for first SoCon challenge at The Citadel

– Box score from Furman-Michigan State

– BTN highlights of Furman-Michigan State (video)

Entire Furman-Michigan State game in less than 23 minutes (video)

Promotional spot for Furman-The Citadel (video)

FCS Coaches’ Poll

A quick review of last Thursday’s opener…

For the third straight year, The Citadel eked out a win over Mercer. This time the Bulldogs built a big lead early, let it slip completely away, then retook the lead and held on.

I thought Jordan Black did a nice job in his first start. The coaching staff also should be commended for not overburdening him, but instead letting him use his strengths, including mid-range passes. The absence of turnovers was pleasing.

The offense was mostly shut down after the first quarter, but Mercer’s defense has to get some credit for that. Also, with the game on the line, the Bulldogs marched 65 yards down the field, in just over seven minutes, setting up the game-winning field goal.

The biggest play of the night, in my opinion: after a bad pitch on the aforementioned drive resulted in a 2nd-and-17 on The Citadel’s 20-yard-line, Black completed a 15-yard pass to Tyler Renew (who hurdled over a defender for the last four yards). That set up a manageable 3rd-and-2, which Black converted with a 5-yard run.

Two plays later, Black hooked up with Reggie Williams on a 25-yard completion. Then, on 3rd-and-7 from the Mercer 32-yard-line, Cam Jackson brushed aside an early challenge from a defender and used his blockers well to pick up a key first down. Shortly thereafter, Cody Clark kicked the 35-yard field goal that proved decisive.

The Citadel’s defense struggled at times during the the first half, which is indicated in Mercer’s yards-per-play statistics. The Bears averaged 6.4 yards per play. However, Mercer only had 96 yards of total offense in the second half.

The Bulldogs did a good job in the Red Zone, allowing just one touchdown in Mercer’s three trips inside the 20. The Citadel also had three sacks and forced two bookend turnovers (a strip-sack by Kevin Graham on Mercer’s first offensive play from scrimmage, and an interception by Kailik Williams to end the Bears’ last possession).

Mercer’s surfeit of offensive penalties could arguably be attributed to pressure from the Bulldogs’ D.

The Citadel’s special teams units were solid, the missed field goal aside.

I won’t miss seeing John Russ under center for the Bears against the Bulldogs. He’s a good college quarterback, a smart playmaker. I expect Russ to lead Mercer to several conference wins this season.

The Citadel won a road game in league play against a quality opponent. It’s a victory that looks good now, and could look really good in November.

Furman was supposed to be a pushover for Michigan State, but the Paladins gave the defending Big 10 champions all they wanted on Friday night. It was a one-possession game midway through the fourth quarter.

Darius Morehead, a “true” freshman running back, rushed for 83 yards on 20 carries against a normally stout Spartans defense. Furman only committed one turnover, and could have had a real chance to win if it had done a better job in the Red Zone. The Paladins had two separate drives in which they had first-and-goal from the five-yard-line or closer, only to settle for field goals.

On defense, FU forced two turnovers and held the potent Michigan State ground game to 4.3 yards per rush.

While it was a loss, it was still a very encouraging performance by a team that has struggled in each of the last two seasons. The Paladins’ coaches and players will be very confident when they arrive at Johnson Hagood Stadium on Saturday.

The next few sections include statistics for 2015 SoCon contests only, unless otherwise indicated.

Before making some statistical comparisons, a quick review of each team’s 2015 SoCon season (and yes, I’m repeating myself with regards to The Citadel’s season and stats):

Furman was 4-7 overall last season, 2-5 in conference play. After losing two of its first three games, FU opened league play in 2015 with a 24-21 victory over VMI. The Paladins trailed 14-0 midway through the second quarter before rallying past the Keydets. A blocked punt returned for a touchdown was a key play in the game. Also of note: Furman had almost a 16-minute advantage in time of possession.

FU won a non-league game against South Carolina State before resuming its SoCon campaign, but the Paladins threw up a dud at Chattanooga, losing 31-3. Furman only managed 59 rushing yards during the contest, and was also victimized by a pick-six.

After a bye week, Furman hosted The Citadel. The Bulldogs won the matchup 38-17, overcoming an early 7-0 deficit by scoring 24 straight points. The Citadel rushed for 388 yards. My review of that game can be found here: Link

Furman rebounded from that loss to The Citadel with a stirring comeback at Samford, winning on a last-second field goal 20-17. The Paladins had trailed 17-0 at halftime. FU’s rushing output of 252 yards was easily its highest of the season.

The momentum from that victory was short-lived, however, as the following week the Paladins were crushed in Cullowhee by Western Carolina, 48-10. The Catamounts led 31-3 at halftime after turning two early turnovers into touchdowns; Furman was never in the game after that.

Furman then lost at Mercer, 27-20 in overtime. FU trailed 20-0 before making another comeback, tying the game late on a touchdown run by running back Kealand Dirks. However, Dirks received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after spiking the football following his TD, which meant the Paladins had to attempt a 35-yard PAT. It missed, setting up the OT session won by Mercer.

In its final game of the 2015 season, Furman lost 38-28 at Wofford. The Terriers outrushed the Paladins 417-109, with 73 of Wofford’s rushing yards coming on a game-clinching fourth-quarter drive after Furman had rallied to within a field goal.

The Citadel opened its SoCon campaign in 2015 with a fine home win over Western Carolina, 28-10. The Bulldogs’ next conference game was also at Johnson Hagood Stadium, against Wofford, and The Citadel ran past the Terriers 39-12.

Following that victory, The Citadel won consecutive road games in impressive fashion, versus Samford (44-25) and Furman (by the 38-17 score mentioned earlier). The Bulldogs then edged Mercer 21-19, and retained the coveted Silver Shako with a tough 35-14 win over VMI.

Both of those games were at home. The Citadel lost its final league game of the season, 31-23 at Chattanooga; despite that setback, the Bulldogs still won a share of the Southern Conference title.

In conference play, Furman’s offense averaged 17.4 points per game. The Paladins averaged 4.8 yards per play, including 3.2 yards per rush and 6.7 yards per pass attempt.

Furman threw the football 213 times, averaging 30.4 tosses per league game. FU passed or was sacked attempting to pass on almost half (49.4%) of its offensive plays from scrimmage. Paladin quarterbacks were sacked nineteen times in seven SoCon matchups.

In terms of yardage, 63.5% of FU’s total offense came via the air. Furman scored fourteen touchdowns in conference play, six rushing and eight passing. The Paladins were intercepted eight times (twice versus the Bulldogs) and fumbled thirteen times in league contests, losing six of those fumbles.

Defensively, The Citadel allowed 18.3 ppg in SoCon action. The Bulldogs allowed 5.1 yards per play, including 3.7 yards per rush and 6.7 yards per pass attempt. As I mentioned last week, my statistical review of The Citadel’s 2015 league campaign included the tidbit that the Bulldogs’ yards per rush stat was an improvement over the corresponding 2014 average by almost exactly two yards.

The Bulldogs sacked opposing quarterbacks twenty times in league play, and intercepted thirteen passes (breaking up twenty other throws). SoCon opponents averaged 30.3 pass attempts per game versus The Citadel, with those tosses accounting for 46.1% of all offensive plays run from scrimmage against the Bulldogs. Furman attempted 26 passes against the Bulldogs in last year’s matchup, picking up 159 yards on those throws (6.1 yards per attempt).

The Citadel’s defense recovered seven fumbles in conference action.

Furman had 106 third-down attempts in SoCon play, converting 46 of them into first downs (43.4%). The Paladins went for it on fourth down eleven times in conference action, successfully picking up the first down six times (54.5%).

FU was in the Red Zone eighteen times in seven league contests, scoring nine touchdowns in that situation (for a RZ TD rate of 50%; hey, that was easy math).

Furman’s time of possession per game in conference play was 30:56. While this is close to break-even in terms of TOP, the Paladins occasionally controlled the football for major portions of individual quarters. That included the third quarter of last season’s game versus the Bulldogs, when FU had the ball for exactly 11 minutes.

Other quarters in which Furman had the football for an extended period of time: the first quarter against VMI (10:44), the fourth quarter versus Samford (11:56), and in the fourth quarter of two of the Paladins’ non-conference matchups (10:59 against UCF and 11:30 versus South Carolina State).

In games (including non-conference matchups) last season in which Furman had what I’ll call dominant possession quarters, defined as controlling the football for 10:30 or longer, the Paladins were 4-1, with the loss against The Citadel.

On Friday night, Furman had yet another dominant possession quarter, holding the ball for 11:47 of the third quarter against Michigan State. The Spartans turned that around in the fourth quarter, as MSU possessed the football for 10:41 of the final period.

FU averaged only 4.1 penalties per SoCon game. Curiously, the average yardage assessed for Paladin infractions in league play was more than 10 yards per flag, so when Furman committed a penalty, it was often a major foul.

The Citadel’s defense held conference opponents to a third-down conversion rate of 33.7%. Furman was 5 for 13 converting third downs against the Bulldogs in last season’s contest.

Against the Bulldogs, SoCon opposition was 8 for 13 on fourth-down tries (61.5%). Last year, the Paladins converted their only fourth-down attempt against the Cadets.

In Red Zone situations versus league teams, the Bulldogs allowed a TD rate of 52.2% in 2015. Furman’s offense was in the Red Zone three times in last year’s matchup. The Paladins scored two touchdowns and kicked a field goal.

As we all know, SoCon officials rarely call penalties against The Citadel’s opponents (with last week’s game against Mercer a notable exception to that rule). In 2015, the Bulldogs were called for 42 penalties in seven conference games (6.0 per contest), while the opposition was only flagged 29 times (4.1 per game).

In last year’s game, Furman and The Citadel combined for nine penalties. Naturally, six of them were against the Bulldogs.

FU allowed 31.4 points per game against conference opposition. League teams averaged 5.7 yards per play against the Paladins, including 5.5 yards per rush and 6.2 yards per pass attempt.

Furman’s defense faced 177 pass attempts in SoCon action. The Paladins’ D had only six sacks in conference action (and just eight sacks all season).  Only 37.0% of their opponents’ plays were pass attempts (or sacks while attempting to pass).

FU allowed 2,838 yards of total offense in seven SoCon games, with 38.9% of that total being passing yardage. The Paladins allowed 26 touchdowns in SoCon play, 19 via the rush (five of those rushing TDs were by the Bulldogs).

Furman intercepted five passes in league play (one was against The Citadel), and recovered three fumbles.

Offensively, The Citadel put up 32.6 points per game in conference action. The Bulldogs averaged 6.1 yards per play, including 5.6 yards per rush and 9.7 yards per pass attempt (on 63 total throws in seven SoCon contests).

League opponents intercepted two Bulldog passes (as mentioned, the Paladins got one of those), and broke up four others.

The Citadel lost eight fumbles in seven SoCon games. As I noted in last week’s preview, the Bulldogs lost twelve fumbles in their other six matchups, losing at least one fumble in every non-league contest except the matchup against South Carolina.

Holding onto the football will be a point of emphasis for The Citadel all season. The 2016 Bulldogs passed their first test on that front, with no turnovers and only one mishandled pitch (which was recovered by The Citadel).

Furman’s defense allowed a third-down conversion rate of 47.6% against league teams. On fourth down, Paladin opponents were eight for twelve (66.7%).

SoCon opposition entered the Red Zone against FU 27 times in conference play. The Paladins allowed 19 touchdowns in that situation (70.4%).

The Citadel’s third-down conversion rate on offense was exactly 50% in SoCon games. On fourth down, the Cadets were 3 for 8 (37.5%). In last year’s game between the two teams, the Bulldogs were 7 for 12 on third down and had no fourth down conversion attempts.

In 2015, The Citadel’s time of possession in SoCon play was 32:13. The Bulldogs had a Red Zone TD rate of just 56.3% in 2015 against conference opposition. The Bulldogs scored three touchdowns in five Red Zone situations against the Paladins.

For individual statistics, all games (SoCon and non-conference) are included.

A quick review of the four non-conference games Furman played last season:

Furman opened the 2015 campaign with a tough home loss to Coastal Carolina, 38-35. The Paladins had 525 yards of total offense, including 365 passing yards from Reese Hannon — a school record. The game was statistically very even, two Furman turnovers being the difference.

The next week, the Paladins were thumped 42-3 by Virginia Tech. The Hokies had 583 yards of total offense, and Furman didn’t help itself by committing three more turnovers.

Furman then upset UCF, 16-15. The winning margin came courtesy of a 55-yard fourth-quarter field goal by Jon Croft Hollingsworth, the longest in Paladins history. After not forcing a turnover in its first two games, Furman intercepted three passes and recovered a fumble against the Knights.

FU’s game versus South Carolina State was played in difficult conditions, with both rain and wind affecting the contest. The Paladins won the turnover battle, 3-0, and were never seriously threatened after halftime. The final score was 17-3.

Furman returns 15 starters (including offense/defense/specialists), including six on offense and seven on defense.

Offensively, it appears the Paladins will generally operate out of the pistol formation.

FU did not announce who its starter at quarterback would against Michigan State until shortly before kickoff in East Lansing. It turned out to be junior P.J. Blazejowski.

Blazejowski (6’0″, 193 lbs.) started three of the final five games last season for Furman, and also played last season against The Citadel after Reese Hannon was injured.

You may recall Blazejowski from his performance against the Bulldogs in the 2014 matchup, when he compiled 382 yards of total offense in a wild game The Citadel managed to win in OT. He will make his 12th career start on Saturday (if he remains the starter, which seems likely).

Entering this season, he had a career pass completion rate of 58.3%, averaging 7.5 yards per attempt, with 13 TDs and 13 interceptions. Against Michigan State, Blazejowski was 15-30 passing, for 123 yards. He threw one interception (which came after the Paladins had picked off a Michigan State pass attempt on the preceding play).

I mentioned in my brief summary of the Michigan State game that freshman running back Darius Morehead (5’9″, 171 lbs.) had a promising collegiate debut for the Paladins. Morehead was a track star in high school, winning the Tennessee D2-AA state title in the 100-meter dash.

His primary backup is Richard Hayes III (5’11”, 201 lbs.), a senior who played safety last year for Furman. Hayes actually tied for the team lead in tackles against the Bulldogs in last season’s meeting, with ten. Based on that game, I think it is safe to say that he’s not afraid of contact.

Six different receivers caught passes last week for Furman. As always with the Paladins, the tight end is a key player. Duncan Fletcher (6’4″, 234 lbs.) had four receptions last week, and also completed a 16-yard pass on a trick play; that tied for FU’s longest completion against MSU.

Last year against the Bulldogs, Fletcher was on the receiving end of a wide receiver pass, one that went for a TD. He began his collegiate career as a quarterback, and played that position versus The Citadel in 2013.

Andrej Suttles (5’11”, 187 lbs.) was a second-team All-SoCon selection last season. The redshirt senior wide receiver has 138 career receptions. He also sees action at punt returner, and had one return last week against Michigan State for five yards.

Furman’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’3″, 293 lbs. Junior center Matthew Schmidt (6’3″, 290 lbs.) played tackle for the Paladins last year, before having his season cut short by an injury suffered in the game against the Bulldogs.

Against Michigan State, Furman started a true freshman at left tackle, Tim Coleman (6’3″, 285 lbs.). The other side of the line, however, features two experienced performers — senior right guard Jackson Buonomia (6’3″, 299 lbs.) and redshirt senior right tackle Harrison Monk (6’4″, 278 lbs.).

Starting defensive end T.J. Warren (6’2″, 233 lbs.) is a redshirt senior who has also seen time at linebacker during his career for the Paladins. According to Furman’s game notes, Warren (a native of Chattanooga) will attend Marine Corps Officers Candidate School at Quantico following graduation.

Furman’s starter at DE opposite Warren is also a redshirt senior. Brian Ross (6’4″, 246 lbs.) has made 13 straight starts. He can be a factor on special teams, too, having blocked a punt last year against VMI that he picked up and ran in for a TD.

Seven of the eleven projected starters for the Paladins are seniors, either fourth- or fifth-year players. One who isn’t is redshirt sophomore DT Jaylan Reid (5’11”, 265 lbs.), a member of last year’s SoCon all-freshman team.

Middle linebacker Carl Rider (6’2″, 232 lbs.) has seemingly been at Furman since the Truman administration. Now finally a redshirt senior (allegedly), Rider was a first-team All-SoCon selection in 2013.

Furman’s active leader in tackles with 260, Rider intercepted a pass last year versus the Bulldogs.

Safety Trey Robinson (6’2″, 220 lbs.) was a second team all-conference pick in 2015, and the senior is a preseason first-team choice this year.

Jon Croft Hollingsworth (5’11, 169 lbs.) handles all of Furman’s kicking duties — placekicking, punting, and kickoffs. The junior did the same last year.

He made two field goals last week versus Michigan State. Hollingsworth also missed a field goal against the Spartans, a 50-yarder, but he is more than capable of making a long kick (as UCF found out last season).

Hollingsworth averaged 38.9 yards per punt last season. On kickoffs, he had 18 touchbacks.

Luke Cuneo is in his second year as the Paladins’ holder. As I noted last year, Cuneo is one of the smaller football players in Division I; the Massachusetts native is 5’6″, 165 lbs.

Furman has a new long snapper this year, true freshman Evan Vaughn (6’1″, 230 lbs.) Vaughn was a Shrine Bowler at Belton-Honea Path High School.

Starting cornerback Aaquil Annoor (5’10”, 165 lbs.) returned one kickoff last week against Michigan State. The sophomore had eight returns last season, all in the final three games.

This is not the greatest ticket sales stadium graphic in the history of The Citadel: Link

Furman fans will be sitting on one end of the West Stands on Saturday, because no one will be sitting in the East Stands. To recap:

The Citadel is considering tearing down the visitors’ side at Johnson Hagood Stadium and expects to make a decision by the end of the week, athletic director Jim Senter said Monday.

Flaking lead paint, a health hazard, was discovered on the east side of the 21,000-seat stadium over the summer, and fans were not allowed to sit on that side during the Sertoma Football Classic earlier this month.

The Citadel had planned to repaint the east side stands over the summer. But a lead-testing report received on July 28 confirmed a level of lead-based paint applicable to disposal standards of the S.C. Dept. of Health and Environmental Control and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Conditions on the east side of the stadium deteriorated quickly over the summer, said Col. Tom Philipkosky, senior vice president for operations and administration.

“We have been monitoring conditions there, and it got worse very quickly this past year,” he told [The Citadel Board of Visitors’ operations and risk management committee]. “And unfortunately, we caught up to it late.”

Lead paint also is on the underside of the structure on the east side, Senter said.

“So we have to mitigate the entire east side stands,” he said. “At this point, the most important thing is, can fans be seated on the top side with safety? And then, how do we go about utilizing the underneath side, where the restrooms and concession stands are located?”

Johnson Hagood Stadium was originally built in 1948. The old home side was knocked down in 2005, with the new west side stands opened in 2006 and the West Side Tower, housing luxury suites and the press box, opened in 2008.

The fact this problem wasn’t discovered (at least, in its totality) until shortly before the beginning of the season is more than a little irksome, but that can’t be helped now. The question is, what will The Citadel do going forward?

I don’t know, but the long-term answer has to involve replacing the East Stands, and sooner rather than later. Even before the current issue arose, that section of the stadium was problematic.

The visitors’ side of the football stadium needed to be a high priority for the school, in terms of maintenance and upgrading/replacing the structure. I’m not sure that has been the case.

It is now, though, and that’s a good thing. I’m hopeful that in the long run the visitors’ side of the stadium will become a source of pride for the school and something that is appreciated by travelling supporters. That should be the goal.

Regardless, the lack of seating will be a problem this season (I’ll be curious to see what happens for the Parents’ Day and Homecoming games). I get the distinct impression, however, that Jim Senter is going to get things moving.

Part of my confidence in Senter’s ability to navigate the stadium issue is the deft way he handled the Charleston Southern situation, the other off-the-football-field event that has been in the news of late.

The Citadel will play Charleston Southern again (starting in 2018), but the scheduled four-game series will not be a home-and-home. Johnson Hagood Stadium will be the site for all four games. That should never have been in question, really. As Senter pointed out:

“The bottom line is if we draw 9,000 or 10,000 people for each of those games,” he said. “And their capacity is (4,000). Frankly, we’re leaving money on the table that both of us need. So the arrangement is that we will provide 3,000 tickets for (CSU) to monetize, so it would be pretty much like they had the game there, monetarily.”

To his credit, Charleston Southern director of athletics Hank Small saw the writing on the wall:

“At some point, you have to make a decision,” he said. “We’d love to play College of Charleston and The Citadel in basketball home-and-home, as well. But that’s not happening. So what do you do about it? Do you say, we’re just not going to play people? Or do you make the decision that we want to play?

There have always been two major issues related to The Citadel playing Charleston Southern in football. One has to do with schedule flexibility, the other CSU’s stadium. Those concerns have not received a lot of attention from the local media, though one gets the idea that perhaps the press may finally begin to cast a more critical eye on CSU’s facilities issues (after all, it’s not just about The Citadel — College of Charleston isn’t going to play any basketball games at the “Buc Dome”, either).

One thing left unsaid by both ADs is that no matter where the games are played, the overwhelming majority of fans will be supporting The Citadel. Hence, there is no philosophical or practical reason to play the games anywhere other than Johnson Hagood Stadium.

That is something that nobody seems to really want to discuss, but it is reality. Charleston Southern simply doesn’t have that many fans. This isn’t an indictment of its program; it’s just the truth.

On the heels of the program’s most successful season, and after a huge amount of publicity from its televised game at North Dakota State (a contest that was covered onsite by a columnist from The Post and Courier and at least one Charleston-area TV station), Charleston Southern’s announced attendance for its home opener last Saturday was 1,780.

1,780.

That was the lowest attendance of any of the 41 games hosted by FCS schools during the first week of the season. Even Georgetown, which plays its home games at a “stadium” that only has temporary bleachers, drew more fans for a game against Davidson.

It was the second-lowest total for a CSU home game during Jamey Chadwell’s tenure as the Buccaneers’ head coach. It was also the smallest crowd for a Bucs home opener since 2005.

For the record, The Citadel has not appeared in a game with attendance that low, home or away, since at least 1966.

I was a little surprised, but I probably shouldn’t have been. After a strong attendance boost in Chadwell’s first season in North Charleston, the crowds haven’t consistently been coming, other than for home games against Coastal Carolina and The Citadel. In fact, if you take the games against those two schools (and their respective fan bases) out of the equation, average attendance at CSU home games has declined in each of the last two seasons.

There is no doubt that Jim Senter and his staff are well aware of those facts.

The beginning of this post includes blurbs from a preview article and game story for the first matchup between The Citadel and Furman, a 1913 contest played at Hampton Park that was won by the military college 75-0.

The Citadel scored eleven touchdowns in the game, with six different players accounting for them. There were six rushing touchdowns, three passing TDs, a touchdown scored on a blocked punt, and a TD after The Citadel fumbled the ball into the end zone, where a blue-clad lineman fell on it.

Furman was held to two first downs, one in each half. One reason for that is the Baptists elected to kick off to The Citadel after most of those touchdowns, rather than receive the football (teams were allowed to do that back then, which I guess says something about the perceived value of field position in those days).

Incidentally, I called Furman’s team the “Baptists” in the preceding paragraph because that’s how it was described in the newspaper. About a decade later, the football team at Furman would be nicknamed the “Purple Hurricane”. The gridiron squad wouldn’t officially become the “Paladins” until 1963, when students voted to call all of their varsity athletic teams by that moniker (previously, it had been limited to the school’s basketball team).

Furman wasn’t done playing football in the Low Country after its game against The Citadel. Two days later, the twenty-player squad rebounded nicely from that loss by defeating College of Charleston, 30-0.

(Yes, the game against CofC was played just two days after the matchup with The Citadel. It was a different time.)

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service:  mostly sunny with a high near 88, then turning partly cloudy that night with a low around 76.

Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 15.5-point favorite over Furman. The over/under is 46.5.

Last year, The Citadel entered this matchup as an eight-point favorite.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: Chattanooga is a 23-point favorite over Presbyterian; Samford is a 5.5-point favorite at Central Arkansas; Western Carolina is a 15-point favorite over Gardner-Webb; VMI is an 8.5-point favorite at Morehead State; Mercer is a 32.5-point underdog at Georgia Tech; and Wofford is a 40.5-point underdog at Mississippi.

East Tennessee State is off this week. ETSU will be back in action next week in the “Second Battle of Bristol” against WCU.

Last week in non-conference action, SoCon teams were 6-1 against the spread, with only Western Carolina failing to cover.

North Carolina, which The Citadel will play in its regular-season finale, is a 10-point favorite at Illinois.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is 12th among FCS teams, unchanged from the previous ranking. Furman is ranked 45th, a six-spot jump after its performance at Michigan State.

Massey projects The Citadel to have an 82% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of 28-14.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Chattanooga (9th), Samford (21st), Western Carolina (28th), Wofford (31st), Mercer (49th), Gardner-Webb (56th), VMI (64th), East Tennessee State (109th).

Mercer’s ranking was the same this week as it was last week. Gardner-Webb leaped 25 spots after its 31-6 road rout of Elon.

ETSU moved up 11 positions following a surprising 20-17 2OT win at Kennesaw State. The Buccaneers were a 26-point underdog, having lost 56-16 to KSU in Johnson City last year.

– As noted by Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier, this season marks the first time The Citadel has begun its gridiron campaign with two Southern Conference games since 1963. That year, the Bulldogs lost to William & Mary in their opener before defeating Davidson in the season’s second contest.

In fact, 1963 is the only other year The Citadel has opened the season with two SoCon games. The last time the Bulldogs played two conference games to start the season, the year was 1935 and the conference was the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA). That team, under the tutelage of Tatum Gressette, began the year 2-0 by defeating Erskine and Wofford in league play.

Both of those games were played in October, as the 1935 season did not begin until October 5.

– Before 2010, The Citadel and Furman had only met one time on the gridiron in the month of September (that happened in 1976). However, since 2010 the two schools have played in the ninth month no fewer than four times, counting this Saturday’s game.

The 2011 matchup was also contested on September 10, which is the earliest any game in the series has been played.

I’ve mentioned this before (actually, several times), but The Citadel-Furman can’t be an end-of-season matchup because of the military college’s academic calendar. That’s not a big deal, because historically the game has been played at midseason more than at any other time.

Having said that, it really shouldn’t be played in September, either. I wish the SoCon office would set aside the second or third Saturday in October on the league schedule every year for these two teams to play. I know it’s not that easy to set up a conference schedule, but I suspect there may be more room to maneuver in October than in September or November (due to more “guarantee games” being played in those months).

– According to the roster included in its game notes, Furman has 30 players from Georgia on its roster, the most from any state. Other states represented: South Carolina (17), North Carolina (14), Florida (12), Tennessee (12), Alabama (6), Ohio (2), and one each from Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

The Paladin who will be closest to home on Saturday is Hilton Head resident Brad Meccariello, a redshirt sophomore. The 5’11”, 185 lb. safety went to Hilton Head Academy.

– Furman has three changes this season from its 2015 schedule. Michigan State, Kennesaw State, and East Tennessee State replace Virginia Tech, UCF, and South Carolina State as opponents, evidence the Paladins’ slate is more stately this year.

FU will play the same seven league teams it faced last year, of course, with ETSU now included as an additional conference foe. Coastal Carolina repeats as a non-conference matchup for the Paladins.

– Furman got a guarantee of $655,000 for playing Michigan State.

– After playing The Citadel, Furman will host Chattanooga next week in Greenville.

– Next season, Furman’s three non-conference games will be at North Carolina State, at Colgate, and home against Elon. In 2018, the Paladins will play Colgate, Elon, and Clemson (the latter two on the road).

In 2019 (a year in which FCS schools can schedule 12 regular-season games), three of FU’s non-league opponents are set: Georgia State, Virginia Tech, and Kennesaw State, all away from home. Presumably, Furman will add a home game against a non-conference opponent to complete its slate for that season.

Furman is also scheduled to play at North Carolina State in 2021, and will host Colgate that same season. The following year, the Paladins will travel to Hamilton, New York, to conclude the four-game series with the Raiders.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47 players), Georgia (23), Florida (9), North Carolina (7), Alabama (4), Pennsylvania (4), Texas (4), and one each from Louisiana, Maryland, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nevada, and West Virginia.

– It’s only one week, but I took a look at the FCS national statistical rankings anyway. The Citadel leads the nation in fewest penalties (1); considering the contest in question was a Southern Conference game, that has to be a borderline miracle.

Among individuals, Tyler Renew is 8th nationally in rush yards per game (after his 146-yard effort versus Mercer), while Malik Diggs is 6th nationally in solo tackles per conference (he had nine such stops against the Bears, finishing with 11 tackles overall). Quinlan Washington averaged 32 yards per kickoff return in two opportunities, which ranks 6th nationally after one week.

– The game notes factoid of the week: Reggie Williams averaged 14 yards per play last week, carrying the ball four times for 45 yards, including a 29-yard TD (that was a very nice play call, perfectly executed), and making that big 25-yard catch on the drive that set up the winning field goal.

– Triple option oddity: more players caught passes last week for The Citadel (five) than had rushing attempts (four).

– Saturday’s game will be Military Appreciation Day.

While The Citadel is opening with two league contests, after Saturday’s matchup it won’t play another SoCon game until October 1, when the Bulldogs travel to Cullowhee to face Western Carolina. The next home conference game isn’t until October 15, against Chattanooga.

That puts a little extra emphasis on this week’s game for the Bulldogs, not that more juice is really needed when Furman comes to town.

Of course, this is a big game for the Paladins as well. If it wins this matchup, Furman gets a shot at home against Chattanooga next week with the chance to go 2-0 over the 2015 conference co-champions.

There is also the fact The Citadel has won three of the last four meetings between the schools, including the last two. Furman desperately wants to get on the right side of the ledger again as far as the series is concerned. Otherwise, the Paladins are looking at a potential 0-4 start (a trip to Conway to play Coastal Carolina is Furman’s fourth game on its schedule).

Furman has only won seven games in the past two seasons. A bad start this year would not bode well for head coach Bruce Fowler.

This is a critical game for Furman, and the Paladins will treat it as such. The Bulldogs better be ready.

I think they will. It should be a fun game on Saturday.

Quick notes on minutes from a recent Board of Visitors meeting

A recent (June 23) meeting of The Citadel Board of Visitors made local and national news, but that’s not what this post is about.

I just want to briefly highlight some parts of recently released minutes for another BOV meeting, points of discussion that were directly or tangentially related to The Citadel’s department of athletics. That meeting was held on April 24-25 this year.

The board also met by teleconference on June 1, but nothing related to sports at The Citadel is present in those minutes.

Since June 1, the board has held a board meeting for June 12-13, the aforementioned June 23 meeting, and a teleconference on July 1. However, minutes from those meetings have not yet been released (which from a timing perspective is not unusual).

April 24-25 meeting

At this meeting, John B. Sams was elected by the board to be its new chairman. Also of importance, varsity sports were occasionally discussed!

Lt. General Rosa’s remarks to the board were “brief”, but he had this to say:

President Rosa focused his remarks on…several key issues facing the college: the absolute need to replace Capers Hall, the need for a campus parking garage, appropriate utilization of college-controlled land to generate revenue, further refinement of the long term financial model, and the need for the athletic department to become self-sustaining through aggressive fundraising.

As has been pointed out to me, the parking garage is definitely of interest to varsity athletics, particularly during basketball season (especially since the Bulldogs are about to start winning big on the hardwood, drawing overflow crowds to McAlister Field House in the process). Later during the meeting, there was another mention of the proposed garage.

The note on the department of athletics’ need to be “self-sustaining” speaks for itself.

Jim Senter, the school’s director of athletics, was called on for a report:

Mr. Senter noted that he anticipated the FY 15 budget would be balanced and the FY 16 budget would have an increase of 2.5%. He is pleased with the consolidation of The Citadel Brigadier Foundation with The Citadel Foundation to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of fundraising…

…Mr. Senter closed by stating a more detailed financial analysis of the Athletic Department would be presented at the June meeting.

Duggar Baucom and Craig Mosqueda (the new basketball and volleyball coaches, respectively) were both introduced by Senter during the meeting.

I’m not sure Senter presented that “detailed financial analysis” of the department during the June 12-13 meeting. It is possible he did, though it wasn’t specifically listed on the agenda. On the other hand, neither was another item that was to be presented at that June 12-13 session: a proposal to establish a nursing program at The Citadel.

Claudius E. Watts IV then spoke to the board about The Citadel Foundation:

Mr. Watts…noted a strong year for TCF. Plans for a capital campaign are nearing completion with an anticipated start date of fall 2015, and enhancing athletic fundraising is also a priority…

There was also a brief mention of a “naming opportunity for a major gift currently being negotiated”.

With regards to sports at The Citadel, nothing contained in the minutes was particularly surprising. Making varsity athletics self-sustaining is a key part of Initiative #3 in The LEAD Plan, after all (which I wrote about two years ago).

It’s just further evidence that the need for more money is never far from the thoughts of anyone associated with The Citadel. Which, in the year 2015, is a very appropriate mindset.

I’ve said it more than once, but I’ll say it again: football season can’t get here fast enough…

Duggar Baucom is The Citadel’s new hoops coach. Is he the right choice?

Links of interest:

School release

Article on Duggar Baucom’s hiring from The Post and Courier

Video report from WCIV-TV (with additional interview of Duggar Baucom)

Video report from WCSC-TV (with additional interviews of Duggar Baucom, Jim Senter, and Quinton Marshall)

On Monday, The Citadel hired Duggar Baucom as its new head basketball coach. Baucom is 54 years old, and a bit of a late bloomer in the coaching profession.

His story has been chronicled many times. To sum it up as succinctly as possible:

Baucom was a police officer, then a state trooper. He suffered a heart attack at age 30 that caused him to change careers, eventually going back to school and graduating from UNC Charlotte. Baucom worked as an assistant basketball coach at various colleges (starting as a GA under Bob McKillop at Davidson).

He got his first college head coaching gig at D-2 Tusculum, winning 37 games in two years there and parlaying that into the VMI job. In his second year in Lexington, Baucom decided (by necessity, he would say) to operate the dramatically uptempo style that would give him national notoriety.

After a decade at VMI, he is now in Charleston, charged with improving the hardwood fortunes of another military school. Baucom is a surfer and golf aficionado who is about to enjoy life on the coast, and with a little more cash in his pocket (an increase in salary of over $40,000 per year).

More than twenty years ago, I was talking to an assistant basketball coach at The Citadel when the subject of Loyola Marymount’s 1990 hoops squad came up. That was the year the Lions advanced to the Elite Eight after the death of star player Hank Gathers, a run that included a mesmerizing 149-115 obliteration of defending national champion Michigan.

LMU was coached at the time by Paul Westhead, who employed a run-and-gun style called “The System”. The result was an incredible scoring machine of a team, one that in 1990 averaged 122.4 points per contest, still the all-time Division I record. Earlier that same season, the Lions had lost an overtime game in Baton Rouge to LSU by a final score of 148-141 (the game was tied at 134 at the end of regulation), a simply astonishing game that had to be seen to be believed.

Those were fun games to watch. I asked the coach whether or not he thought that style would become more prevalent.

“I hope it doesn’t,” he said. “I think it reduces the importance of coaching.”

Duggar Baucom, it is safe to say, has a different point of view. From an article written two years ago:

“Coaches are a lot more control freaks than they’ve ever been,” says Baucom, which is not a complaint you hear very often from a coach at a school [VMI] that claims to foster “punctuality, order, discipline, courtesy, and respect for authority.”

“I call ‘em joystick coaches,” Baucom tells me. “They try to orchestrate every movement instead of letting ‘em play. It becomes kind of like a wrestling match. There’s teams in [the Big South] that run 20 seconds of false motion to get the shot clock down, and then run a set. I watch some teams play and it looks like the kids are in jail.”

Under Baucom, VMI led the nation in scoring in six of the last nine seasons. The Keydets were the last D-1 team to average over 100 points per game over a full season, doing so during the 2006-2007 campaign.

Can he recreate that kind of offense at The Citadel? More importantly, can he consistently win at The Citadel?

The answers to those two questions, in my opinion:

1) He might be able to produce an explosive offensive team, but it depends in part on the overall point-scoring climate of D-1 hoops, something which he obviously doesn’t control. Right now, averaging over 100 points per game over the course of a season is almost impossible due to the current state of the college game.

2) Baucom can consistently win games at The Citadel, but only if his teams’ historic defensive statistics significantly improve.

My statistical look at Baucom’s career at VMI encompasses his last nine seasons with the Keydets. I chose not to include the 2005-06 campaign, his first year as head coach. That season (in which VMI went 7-20), he had not yet installed the “loot and shoot” offense (that happened the following year). Baucom also missed 12 games in 2005-06 after complications arose during an operation to replace his pacemaker.

Year W-L LG Adj. O Adj. D Poss/gm Nat’l avg
2007 10-19 5-9 110 331 90.9 66.9
2008 10-15 6-8 126 331 79.2 67.0
2009 20-8 13-5 107 280 80.9 66.5
2010 6-19 5-13 195 346 84.2 67.3
2011 14-13 10-8 50 340 75.6 66.7
2012 14-16 8-10 180 311 73.6 66.1
2013 11-17 8-8 172 331 71.1 65.9
2014 18-13 11-5 90 306 74.7 66.4
2015 9-19 7-11 295 260 77.1 64.8

The win-loss column reflects Division I games only. “LG” refers to league games, all in the Big South with the exception of the 2014-15 season, VMI’s first in its return to the SoCon.

The “Adj. O” and “Adj. D” columns represent VMI’s national rank in adjusted offense and adjusted defense, per kenpom.com. “Poss/gm” refers to possessions per game, with “Nat’l avg” the national average in possessions per game for that particular season.

One of the things that interested me when I reviewed these numbers was that the “frenzied style” used by VMI wasn’t really quite as frenzied as advertised, at least when compared to years past. It is an indictment of the way the game is played today that 77.1 possessions per game would be enough to lead the nation in that category, but that’s exactly what the Keydets did last season.

In 1989-1990, 16% of the teams ranked in the final AP poll averaged more than 80 possessions per contest. That’s just the ranked teams, mind you — there were many other squads playing at that pace (though none matched Loyola Marymount’s 103 possessions per game, then and now a staggering total).

These numbers don’t include non-D1 games, a non-conference scheduling staple of Baucom’s tenure at VMI (as they are for many other low-major programs, of course). VMI regularly played three or four NAIA/D2 schools each season.

Looking at the results of those matchups, I wondered if Baucom scheduled some of the teams in part because they were willing to run up and down the court with the Keydets. There weren’t any Wimp Sanderson types opposing VMI in these games, that’s for sure.

VMI had a 116-possession game during the 2007-2008 season against Southern Virginia, a 144-127 Keydet victory that must have been fascinating to watch, if only from an academic perspective. Incidentally, that’s the same number of possessions (in regulation) that occurred during the famed LMU-LSU game in 1990 I referenced above.

Starting in the 2006-2007 season, here are the points scored by VMI against non-D1 foes: 156, 144, 135, 125, 135, 156, 112, 123, 118, 133, 113, 113, 111, 108, 99, 99, 106, 120, 94, 151, 101, 109, 122, 116, 102, 110, 121, 112, 110, 128, 124, and 133.

That is one reason why I didn’t concentrate on yearly scoring averages when reviewing the overall statistical record.

The 2006-2007 season may have been Baucom’s Platonic ideal in terms of pace of play. VMI averaged over 90 possessions per game (the only D-1 team to do that over the course of an entire season since at least 2002). Beginning on January 10, 2007, VMI embarked on a 13-game stretch against Division I competition in which its point totals were as follows: 104, 116, 97, 102, 103, 117, 96, 99, 105, 102, 107, 108, and 92.

Alas, the Keydets only won five of those thirteen games.

That last loss, 109-92 to High Point, was the final game of the regular season. Then a funny thing happened. VMI dialed down its pace of play to more “normal” levels, started playing a sagging zone defense, and promptly won consecutive games in the Big South tournament, beating two teams (Liberty and High Point) that had swept the Keydets during the regular season.

In the conference title game, VMI continued to slow things down, and wound up narrowly losing to Winthrop (84-81).

Maybe that led to a slight adjustment by Baucom in the years to follow. I don’t know.

It’s possible, though, that he infused his philosophical approach to hoops with a dose of practicality. VMI didn’t approach the 90-possession plateau after that season, with its highest per-game rate since then being 84.2 in 2009-2010, a year in which the Keydets only won six D-1 contests.

The success in that 2007 Big South tournament was not a fluke. While VMI never won the tourney under Baucom, the Keydets generally fared well in the event during his time in Lexington (making the final three times), a marked contrast to The Citadel’s continued struggles in the SoCon tournament.

With a little luck, Baucom may well have led VMI to the tourney title at least once. He had a very good record in tournament play when the Keydets hosted a game or were playing at a neutral site. Most of the time, VMI only lost in the Big South tournament when it had to play on an opponent’s home floor.

VMI’s record in the Big South tournament, 2007-2014

  • Home (3-0)
  • Neutral (6-1)
  • Road (1-7)

The Keydets lost the aforementioned 2007 Big South final to Winthrop in Rock Hill; lost the following year to Liberty in Lynchburg; lost at Radford in the 2009 Big South title game; lost games in Conway to Coastal Carolina in 2010, 2011, and 2014; and lost the 2012 final to UNC-Asheville at Kimmel Arena in Asheville.

Since it appears the Southern Conference tournament is going to remain in Asheville for the next few years, The Citadel needs to make sure UNC-Asheville is not allowed to join the league.

In 2007, VMI finished 331st nationally in adjusted defense. Only six teams in all of D-1 were worse on defense (in terms of points per possession, and further adjusted for schedule) than the Keydets.

That began a pattern under Baucom. He produced high-scoring teams generally better-than-average in terms of offensive efficiency, but saddled with defenses that were not very good, even taking into account pace of play.

Two years later, the Keydets won 20 D-1 games, including a memorable 111-103 victory over Kentucky at Rupp Arena. Surprisingly, VMI’s successful campaign occurred despite having a below-average defense (280th out of 344 D-1 squads).

The win over Kentucky (which came in the season opener) was a 93-possession game, the most possessions in any of VMI’s games that season against D-1 opponents. The Wildcats decided they could run with the Keydets. That was a mistake.

The following season, VMI was the second-worst defensive outfit in the country, and the record reflected it. The Keydets would continue to be a bottom-50 team in adjusted defense every year until last season, when the team finished a slightly more respectable 260th (out of 351 D-1 teams).

In case you were wondering, The Citadel’s defensive efficiency was better than VMI’s in five of those nine seasons. This past season, of course, the Bulldogs were the worst defensive squad in the country.

While the Keydets were never a good defensive rebounding team under Baucom, they also struggled for several years on the offensive glass. However, in the last three seasons, there was a distinct improvement in offensive rebounding percentage.

  • VMI’s national rank in offensive rebounding percentage by year, 2007-2012: 232, 254, 320, 326, 264, 303
  • VMI’s national rank in offensive rebounding percentage by year, 2013-2015: 150, 136, 131

I don’t know if there was a concerted effort to get better in that area, or if the increased offensive rebounding totals are simply a product of changing personnel.

I tend to agree with those who believe that for The Citadel to be successful in hoops, it needs to be different. The Bulldogs either need to use a patterned, deliberate style (such as the “Princeton offense”), or do the exact opposite and run-and-gun for forty minutes. Pick an extreme, and gravitate to it.

While I’ve been critical of the current state of college hoops, with its clutching and grabbing and incessant timeouts, that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a slower-paced game, especially when it is of high quality. I was a big fan of Ed Conroy’s teams. This past season, I enjoyed watching Tony Bennett’s Virginia squad, which played a muscular-but-skillful brand of basketball.

If anything, I thought The Citadel would be best served “going slow”. Clearly, Jim Senter had other ideas.

Part of his reasoning, I’m sure, is about the box office. He wants more people in the seats, and probably figures that a perpetual scoreboard explosion is a good way to attract curious onlookers to McAlister Field House.

With that in mind, Baucom will have more on his plate than just coaching the team. He has to sell his program to the local community, and to the corps of cadets as well.

As far as the local scene is concerned, this may not be a bad time to make a renewed effort to attract fans, with College of Charleston scuffling a bit, still trying to find its way with a relatively new coach and league. There is plenty of room for both of the college basketball teams in the city, but becoming the lead hoops story in town wouldn’t hurt any.

Regarding the corps, I was encouraged by this season’s cadet presence. It can still get better, and I think it will. There is momentum on that front.

Baucom might also consider reaching out to some of the more recent graduates from the basketball program. Several of them were hoping that former assistant coach Doug Novak would get the job, and were understandably disappointed when that didn’t happen.

I’ve seen a couple of criticisms of Baucom’s preferred style of play that I wanted to quickly discuss, mainly because I think both are misguided.

1) This style of basketball is just a “roll the balls out” type of coaching, or non-coaching

I think an actual “roll the balls out” coach would be a very static, middle-of-the-road operator. He certainly wouldn’t be interested in pressing, trapping defense, or approaching the game from a mathematical point of view:

“Its basketball inflation,” Baucom said. “The more possessions we can create the less value they have. We’re trying to get more shots than the other team, force more turnovers, get offensive boards. The key is passing and catching and spacing.”

2) This style of basketball is at odds with The Citadel’s institutional history

Honestly, I don’t get this at all. I guess the argument is that it is undisciplined basketball, but I don’t think that’s true. At its very core, it seems to me that it requires a great deal of discipline. To be conditioned well enough to play this way takes discipline. To never take a play off while on the court takes discipline. To get in the proper defensive position while pressing takes discipline.

The best argument against Baucom’s style of play, in my opinion, is that it may be difficult to recruit players who can flourish in his system.

I think it’s possible that one reason Baucom’s teams never approached the 90-possession days of 2006-2007 in subsequent seasons was that the coach realized he didn’t “have the horses” to run quite that fast and still win games. If so, I believe that presents a potential issue.

That’s because I believe the best chance for this system to work at The Citadel is if it is stretched to its natural limit. In other words, if the team is going to play this way, it needs to strive for 90+ possessions per game on a regular basis.

Instead of having a possession differential when compared to the rest of the country of between six and twelve possessions per game (as was the case for VMI over the last five seasons), The Citadel should have a possession differential of between fifteen and twenty possessions per game. That’s the best way, employing this system, for the program to become an upper-echelon Southern Conference outfit. It’s the best way, employing this system, for the Bulldogs to win the league.

To do that, though, The Citadel has to bring in players capable of handling that pace and doing the things that have to be done to win games. Rebounding, three-point shooting, superior point guard play, the ability to defend — those elements are requirements if the team is going to be successful.

Of course, that’s true regardless of how fast or slow a team plays. It seems to me, though, that a higher level of athleticism is needed to play at a supercharged pace.

I think back to that 1989-1990 Loyola Marymount squad. LMU wasn’t exactly the “little engine that could”. It may have been an upstart program from the West Coast Conference, but the Lions had two NBA-caliber players, Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble. Both were transfers, having been originally recruited to play for Southern Cal by George Raveling, one of the great basketball talent evaluators of his era.

Also on that LMU team: an elite college jump shooter (Jeff Fryer) and a better-than-you-realized rebounder/post defender (Per Stumer, who played professionally in Europe for over a decade). Backup point guard Terrell Lowery later played major league baseball. Yes, that team had some great athletes.

Can the Bulldogs’ new coach bring in the talent necessary to win this way? That’s the big question. One thing is for certain, he’s not wasting any time. On the day Baucom was introduced at The Citadel, he got a commitment from a 6’7″ sharpshooter from Virginia.

I don’t know if The Citadel can win playing racehorse basketball, but we’re about to find out.

I’ll be watching with interest when next season rolls around. We all will…

The Citadel begins its search for a new basketball coach

After five seasons, Chuck Driesell will no longer be the head coach of The Citadel. In his statement announcing the decision, director of athletics Jim Senter said:

We are most appreciative of the hard work and tireless effort that Chuck and his staff have put into Bulldog basketball over the past five years. His impact on the young men he recruited and coached is admirable, and their efforts represent our core values of Honor, Duty and Respect.

This was a difficult decision, but in the end our won-loss record was not where we believed it should be. We will begin our search immediately to find a coach who is the right fit and will support our mission of educating and developing principled leaders while directing The Citadel basketball program to a more competitive level.

Well, that’s honest. Simply put, Driesell didn’t win enough games.

Senter’s decision may have been difficult on a personal level, but as a practical matter it should have been easy. If he had kept a coach who in five years had only won 27% of his games (25% in SoCon play), in effect Senter would be telling the world (and the fan base) that basketball at The Citadel was of no consequence whatsoever.

Historically, The Citadel has struggled on the hardwood. Everyone knows this. That doesn’t mean the school shouldn’t try.

Senter did not meet with the media on Monday, instead choosing to stand behind a written statement. That drew some criticism from a few members of the fourth estate.

I can understand their frustration. After all, TV guys need their visuals; a press release doesn’t do a lot for them in that respect.

I do wonder, though, if Senter simply elected to give Chuck Driesell a final day in the sun. If Senter had spoken publicly at the same time as Driesell (or shortly thereafter), then the coach wouldn’t have received nearly as much “face time“.

Monday was about Chuck Driesell. Going forward, it will be about finding a new coach.

Speculation about the identity of that new coach began approximately 0.3 seconds after the news broke that Driesell wouldn’t be back at The Citadel. Jeff Hartsell gave a quick rundown, but also noted one difficulty when it comes to divining who the legitimate candidates might be:

…it’s difficult to tell from where The Citadel’s next coach may come. [Jim] Senter’s experience includes nine years at Colorado, two years as AD at Idaho State and a stint at San Diego State, so he has many connections out West. But his first coaching hire at The Citadel was in volleyball, and he stayed in-state to choose Craig Mosqueda from Division II Anderson University.

Senter could hire someone familiar with the local scene, or someone who now resides in Coeur d’Alene, or someone from somewhere in between.

Hartsell mentioned most of the names thrown around on Monday. They include:

– Pat Beilein, mentioned by ESPN college basketball writer Jeff Goodman. Beilein was formerly the head coach of West Virginia Wesleyan, a Division II school. He won 20 games in his final campaign there.

On the one hand, Pat Beilein is the son of Michigan head coach John Beilein, and if he’s half the coach John Beilein is, he would be a great choice. The elder Beilein is one of the nation’s outstanding coaches.

On the other hand, Pat Beilein isn’t a college head coach right now. He was a video coordinator with the Utah Jazz, a job he took after his second year at West Virginia Wesleyan, but he doesn’t seem to have that job anymore either.

I’m not sure what the younger Beilein is doing right now, to be honest. He was recently seen with his father, watching a recruit.

My guess is that Goodman tossed Pat Beilein’s name out into the media ecosystem as a favor.

– Duggar Baucom, the head coach of VMI. Baucom has a respectable record of 151-159 in Lexington, and that includes a win in the *other* Lexington — a 2008 victory over Kentucky at Rupp Arena. Even if Billy Gillispie was the Wildcats’ head coach at the time, that’s still a victory to put on the mantel.

Baucom employs a run-and-gun style at VMI. He is reportedly underpaid. However, would Baucom really want to leave VMI to rebuild a program at another military college? He might be more interested in another kind of challenge.

Also, VMI and The Citadel are not the same. Each school has certain specific advantages and disadvantages when it comes to general operations and recruiting. What has worked for Baucom at VMI may not necessarily work at The Citadel.

Baucom was interested in the job in 2010, when it last opened. Another coach who had interest was…

– Doug Novak, who was Ed Conroy’s right-hand man at The Citadel. More than a few people were disappointed that Novak wasn’t more seriously considered for the job; he got a lot of credit for the team’s success in Conroy’s last two seasons.

Novak has something else in common with Baucom, as neither man played college basketball. Novak was a tennis player at Tennessee before transitioning to basketball during a couple of junior college stops.

Currently, Novak is the head coach at Division III Bethel College (MN). Bethel was 19-9 this past season.

Incidentally, Jim Senter’s first coaching hire at The Citadel was volleyball coach Craig Mosqueda, who was previously the head volleyball coach for six seasons at Anderson. Before Novak became an assistant coach at The Citadel under Ed Conroy, he had been the head basketball coach for six seasons at…Anderson.

Other names bandied about in various places:

– A pair of former South Carolina players (B.J. McKie and Michael Boynton)

– Two more ex-Bulldog assistant coaches (Ken Potosnak and Marty McGillan)

– Newberry’s Dave Davis, a longtime D-2 and NAIA head coach

– Luke Murray, a Rhode Island assistant who is the son of part-time Charleston resident Bill Murray; presumably, he would be Gene Sapakoff’s choice, which would understandably hurt his candidacy

– Duffy Conroy, a longtime assistant at UW-Milwaukee, and the brother of Ed Conroy

It’s disappointing that the “coach killer” phrase has been thrown around with regards to this job. Among those who apparently feel that way is former Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg, who tweeted (regarding The Citadel, Army, William & Mary, St. Francis-NY, and Northwestern) that “a good assistants job that you are getting paid is better than a bad head coaching job that you will fired from in 4 years”.

Of course, The Citadel has never fired a coach after four years. In fact, from 1973 to 2006, The Citadel only had three head coaches.

Four of the eight coaches preceding Chuck Driesell actually left to coach other Division I schools. One of them, Norm Sloan, later won the national title. Driesell’s immediate predecessor, Ed Conroy, is enjoying life in New Orleans as the head coach at Tulane.

Indeed, all five schools in question have shown some patience with coaches. William & Mary head coach Tony Shaver has been at that school for eleven seasons; Northwestern employed Bill Carmody for thirteen years; St. Francis-NY has had three coaches since 1991. As for Army, it does not appear that the careers of Bob Knight or Mike Krzyzewski suffered from their respective stints at West Point.

Meanwhile, after an eight-year run that included an NCAA bid and five NIT appearances, Greenberg was fired by Virginia Tech. He will not be a candidate at The Citadel.

Jim Senter has probably known for a while that he was going to be bringing in a new basketball coach. That doesn’t mean the hire will happen right away. I wouldn’t be surprised if the wait lasted until around the time of the Final Four.

We’ll be waiting…

McAlister Musings: Getting ready for The Citadel’s 2014-15 hoops season

Note: this season, I am again participating in a cross-blog/forum exercise known as “Scanning the SoCon”. As part of this, there will be a preview for each league school. I am writing the preview for The Citadel, which you can read below (it is being posted on ‘Mocs Mania!’ as well). Previews for the other conference schools can be found here: Link

  • The Citadel’s 2013-14 record: 7-26, 2-14 in the SoCon (last)
  • Chuck Driesell’s record at The Citadel (four seasons): 31-94 overall, 16-54  in the SoCon
  • Biggest positive from the 2013-14 campaign: the Bulldogs won three of their last four games, including a rare SoCon tournament victory
  • Negatives from 2013-14: a school-record 17-game losing streak, the nation’s fourth-worst defense, an offense that ranked in the bottom 60 nationally, and an incredible ability to give up buzzer-beating shots

It’s hard to identify the low point of The Citadel’s 2013-14 basketball season, a campaign in which the Bulldogs lost 17 games in a row, did not win a league game until February 24, failed to beat any team in the RPI top 300, and finished with no road victories.

Was it the loss to Division II West Alabama, a contest the Bulldogs trailed by 23 at halftime? That’s not a bad candidate, but I think I would vote for the 82-53 loss to Georgia Southern on January 30, a game in which the Bulldogs were at one point outscored 29-0 over 12 minutes of game action.

Some might argue the season nadir was Chuck Driesell’s comment that he needed “to coach up optimism” after an 18-point home setback to Western Carolina. The next game for the Bulldogs was the above-mentioned Georgia Southern debacle, so apparently coaching players in the art of being more hopeful is not a quick fix.

Let’s be honest: when it comes to optimism for The Citadel’s basketball program, it’s in short supply, at least for the fan base. It’s not just about last year, either.

The Bulldogs have had double-digit losing streaks in each of the last three seasons. The Citadel has won fewer than 23% of its conference games over the last four years, and it’s not like the SoCon is on the same level with the ACC.

I hope the players and coaches have a positive outlook for 2014-15. For longtime supporters, though, it’s probably going to be a “show me” kind of season.

Note: the statistics in the next two sections do not include the four games The Citadel played last season against non-D1 opponents. Unless otherwise stated, statistics are per kenpom.com.

I mentioned earlier that The Citadel had one of the country’s least-defensive defenses. The Bulldogs were 348th out of 351 Division I teams in adjusted defensive efficiency, ahead of only Maryland-Eastern Shore, Cornell, and Grambling State.

Those three squads combined to win 13 games. The team immediately above the Bulldogs in the defensive ratings, Presbyterian, won six games — but lost to The Citadel.

The Bulldogs did not force many turnovers (bottom 10 nationally in that category) and struggled mightily to keep opponents off the offensive boards (bottom 50 nationally). Opponents shot two-point shots against The Citadel at a 51.1% clip, significantly higher than the D-1 average (48.5%).

The opposition did not go to the foul line that often against the Bulldogs; indeed, The Citadel was actually in the top 100 in preventing free throw attempts. Of course, that could be a double-edged sword, as it arguably suggests a lack of defensive aggression.

For The Citadel to have any chance of success this season, the Bulldogs must get much better on defense. While the team obviously needs to force more turnovers, what I would most like to see is an improvement on the defensive glass.

That has been a constant problem for the past two seasons, and if it isn’t solved, the defense will continue to be well below average. The Citadel simply has to assert itself on the boards.

The Bulldogs were largely ineffective on offense. The numbers weren’t as bad in conference play, but they still weren’t good enough.

Rebounding was a negative (as it was defensively), and The Citadel also couldn’t get to the foul line. The Bulldogs were in the bottom 50 nationally in both offensive rebounding percentage and free throw rate.

The Citadel did improve its offensive turnover rate, which had been an enormous bugaboo over the previous two seasons. While its overall numbers merely suggest a modest step up in that department, the league statistics were actually solid, as the Bulldogs had the second-best offensive turnover rate in conference play.

As far as three-point shooting went, The Citadel was respectable from beyond the arc (its 37.2% shooting from 3-land was third-best in SoCon play). There was a decided lack of efficiency in and around the paint, however, as the Bulldogs’ overall 2-point shooting rate was only 45.1%.

All the above numbers are indicative of a lack of productivity from interior players, and that was in fact a major issue (if not the major issue) for The Citadel in 2013-14. Injuries decimated the frontcourt, leaving Driesell bereft of experienced big men (player attrition from previous seasons did not help). The freshmen tried hard, but they weren’t quite ready.

This year, there are four returning post players with significant experience. If they can stay healthy, the Bulldogs should improve their rebounding and defensive work in the paint.

Four players from last year’s team did not return.

Nate Bowser, a 6’9″ forward/center, appeared in twelve games his freshman season for a total of 81 minutes. He only played in one contest after January 2. Bowser is no longer enrolled at The Citadel, and is currently a student at Oklahoma.

– After playing in 19 games during his freshman campaign, 6’3″ guard Raemond Robinson appeared in 26 games last season for the Bulldogs. He shot 35% from three-point range in 2013-14 while averaging 2.9 points per game. This summer, Robinson announced that he was transferring to Charleston Southern.

Dylen Setzekorn graduated from The Citadel in May with two years of hoops eligibility remaining. Setzekorn, a 6’7″ guard/forward, played in 42 games for the Bulldogs over two seasons. He is now playing at North Georgia, where he is in graduate school.

Matt Van Scyoc averaged 14.3 points per game for The Citadel in 2013-14, which led the team. The 6’6″ sophomore swingman transferred to Indiana State after the season.

Van Scyoc shot 43.5% from the field, 36.5% from beyond the arc, and 86% from the charity stripe. His offensive production will be sorely missed. Someone will have to replace his scoring punch — perhaps multiple someones.

The Citadel does have three seniors (and a redshirt junior) returning for this season, along with several other players who will be key contributors.

– Marshall Harris III is a 6’1″ pass-first senior point guard, with an assist rate of 29.8% and a 2-to-1 assist/turnover ratio last year. Harris had a 28.9% turnover rate, which was too high. He was also bothered by foot problems during the season.

His overall shooting percentages were decent, though in SoCon play he did not fare as well from beyond the arc. He wasn’t a volume shooter by any means, but Harris took his fair share of free throws, with the highest FT rate on the team.

– Ashton Moore was named to the ten-man preseason All-SoCon team by the league’s coaches. The 6’0″ senior averaged 14.1 points and 3.6 assists per game last season, both marks second-best on the team. He led the squad in minutes played.

Moore can be a streaky offensive player. He was excellent down the stretch for the Bulldogs last year, scoring 22+ points in five of the last seven games. That included a 35-point effort against Davidson (on just 19 shots) and outstanding performances versus Samford and UNC-Greensboro.

He only averaged 2.4 fouls per 40 minutes last season. That was actually a higher percentage of fouls than Moore had committed the previous year, when he had the sixth-fewest fouls per 40 minutes in the country.

– At 6’3″, sophomore Warren Sledge is a bigger guard than Harris and Moore, which could be helpful from a defensive perspective. Sledge was injured at the beginning of last season, but showed some promise when he started playing for the Bulldogs.

He needs to cut down on turnovers, and Sledge only averaged one steal every 77 minutes of play; he should do a little better than that. His assist rate was solid, and his shooting from beyond the arc, while limited, was good.

Quinton Marshall is a 6’5″ guard/forward who is one of the better athletes in the SoCon, as Samford found out late in the year. To become a better offensive performer, the junior needs to limit his turnovers and improve his free throw shooting (only 52% last season).

He averaged just over five rebounds per 40 minutes of play. Ideally, Marshall would be more of a force on the boards.

Last season, The Citadel entered the season without P.J. Horgan or C.J. Bray. For the Bulldogs to be successful in 2014-15, both must be healthy and ready to play from the opening tip.

– Bray is a 6’7″ product of James Island High School. When not hampered by ankle or shoulder problems, the redshirt junior is a post player with an interesting skill set.

He has a nice touch from outside, and enough strength to hold his own in the paint (Bray was a fine high school football player).

As a freshman, Bray was a dependable presence on the defensive glass. That was three years and several injuries ago. If he can return to that form, it will be a big lift for the Bulldogs.

– Now a senior, Horgan was believed to be through with basketball after suffering a lower back injury. In fact, it was announced in October of 2013 that his career was over.

However, the 6’9″ forward/center returned to the team and by January of 2014, he was playing. It was a bit rough at times (in his first game, he fouled out after 15 minutes of action).

By February, he was healthy enough to log 35 minutes in a lopsided loss to Davidson. He had 10 points and 9 rebounds in a late-season victory over Georgia Southern.

With Horgan and Bray out of action (or not ready to contribute major minutes), the frontcourt was primarily left to two freshmen, Brian White and Tom Koopman. That wasn’t really fair to either one of them, but at least they got a lot of experience.

– White actually had an fine freshman campaign for The Citadel. He impressed many observers with his efficient play and made the SoCon’s all-freshman team.

He had the best eFG rate (53.6%) on the team, blocked a shot every now and then, and had a respectable turnover rate. White (now listed at 6’8″) can improve in some facets of his game; he had just one double-digit rebounding game against a Division I team, and had only ten assists all season.

Regardless, White was clearly a bright spot for the Bulldogs last year, and is expected to be even better in 2014-15.

– Koopman is a 6’8″ native of the Netherlands who was overwhelmed at times last year (according to Blue Ribbon, he also suffered significant weight loss during the campaign). He did show flashes of what he could become, though, including solid performances against Nebraska and (later in the season) Georgia Southern.

With more help in the frontcourt, and having completed his freshman year at The Citadel, there is a reasonable chance Koopman could be The Citadel’s most improved player this season.

Four freshmen join the Bulldogs this year.

Jake Wright is a 6’4″ guard from Hopkins, Minnesota. He may be the freshman most ready to contribute for The Citadel, assuming he brings his shooting touch from high school to McAlister Field House.

Wright played at a high school that includes among its alums current NBA player Kris Humphries. Thus, there are only three degrees of separation between Wright and Kanye West.

Brandon Thompson, like Wright, is also a shooting guard. One difference between the two: Thompson is only 5’11”.

Thompson is from Gaithersburg, Maryland. He played at Covenant Life School, a small private school that is a member of the Potomac Valley Athletic Conference, and averaged 18.3 points per game his senior season.

Tim Broom is also a guard, but he is more of a lead guard than a pure shooter. The 6’2″ Jacksonville native was a high school football safety, too.

Some of the adjectives used to describe Broom in print include “rugged” and “sturdily built”. If that translates into being a quality defender, he could see action early and often.

– Nadi Beceri is a 6’7″ post player who went to Bergen Catholic High School in Maywood, New Jersey. He could get some minutes in the frontcourt rotation, with the amount possibly dependent on how much Horgan and Bray are able to play.

Chuck Driesell called Beceri “a blue-collar player” who is “not afraid to mix it up”.

The Citadel’s non-conference slate includes games against three power conference schools, as the Bulldogs will face Florida State, Virginia Tech, and Michigan State (all on the road). The Bulldogs also play at College of Charleston.

As has been the case for the past three seasons, The Citadel will compete in the All-Military Classic, which is being held this year in West Point, New York. The Bulldogs open that tournament against VMI (which will be a non-conference game) and play either Air Force or Army the next day.

At home, The Citadel plays Navy and Bethune-Cookman, along with three non-Division I schools — Toccoa Falls, Bob Jones University, and Warren Wilson College.

Last year, the Bulldogs played four non-D1 squads, so three is a minor improvement. Ideally, the military college would not play more than two, but filling out a home schedule can be difficult for a low-major.

The conference as a whole has 20 scheduled matchups with non-Division I schools, which is down from last season’s 32. It’s not an exact comparison, of course, due to the turnover in SoCon schools over the past year.

Incidentally, The Citadel eschewed exhibition games this year in favor of two so-called “secret scrimmages” against Stetson and North Florida.

The Citadel was picked to finish last in the SoCon by the league media vote and next-to-last by the coaches. NBC Sports also predicted the Bulldogs will finish next-to-last, as did The Sports Network, while SB Nation thinks The Citadel will be the worst team in the league.

Considering the team’s record last season, and the fact the Bulldogs lost their leading scorer from that squad, those are understandable placements.

In all honesty, I would have ranked the Bulldogs a little higher. Blue Ribbon had The Citadel in seventh, and I think that’s about right in terms of a preseason projection. There are other schools in the league that had many more personnel defections (hello, Samford) and weren’t exactly dominating on the hardwood in the first place.

It appears that The Citadel’s new director of athletics, Jim Senter, is interested in improving the gameday atmosphere at McAlister Field House, and is taking steps along those lines. Such action is most welcome, as it is long overdue.

I generally do not make predictions about how a season will turn out. I won’t this time, either. However, I do have expectations.

For this season to be considered a success, the team must finish with an overall winning record, and a winning record in conference play. Nothing less will be acceptable.

That may seem unrealistic for a program that has lost 94 games in the last four seasons, never winning more than ten games during any of those years. It doesn’t matter.

This is Chuck Driesell’s fifth year as the head basketball coach of The Citadel, and it’s time to see some positive results. Otherwise, the school should (and likely will) move in a different direction.

I’m ready for the season to start. I’m also ready to celebrate a bunch of victories.

2014 Football, Game 6: The Citadel vs. Charlotte

Edit 10/12/2014 — The followup post: Game review, 2014: Charlotte

The Citadel vs. Charlotte, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on Saturday, October 11. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed for free on the SoCon Digital Network, the league’s new streaming platform.

The game can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Mike Legg (the new “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze. It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each home football game that will be hosted by Ted Byrne. The pregame show and game broadcast will be produced by Jay Harper, who will also provide updates on other college football action.

Links of interest:

Game notes for The Citadel and Charlotte

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston 10/7 press conference

Mike Houston on the SoCon media teleconference

Video clip of Brad Lambert’s 10/7 press conference

49ers face undesirable option

Mitchell Jeter is the SoCon Defensive Player of the Week

Profile of DeAndre Schoultz by The Aiken Standard

Mike Houston said of his team and the game against Wofford that “we’re moving on“, and that’s fine with me. That’s not to say the ruling on the game’s final play will be forgotten. There will always be a giant asterisk associated with that contest.

This week’s opponent is Charlotte. I grew up referring to the school as “UNC Charlotte” or “UNCC”.

Now, however, the school wishes to be referred to simply as “Charlotte”, at least for its sports teams. The actual name of the institution remains the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

It might surprise some people to know that the change to “Charlotte” for varsity athletics was actually made in 2000. I think it’s fair to say that it’s taken a while to catch on as the default name. Of course, continuing to call the school “UNC Charlotte” in other arenas has probably made it harder to get everyone on board with the move.

In this post, I’ll mostly call the football team “Charlotte” or the “49ers”. I’ll throw in an occasional “UNCC”, though, in honor of the great Cedric “Cornbread” Maxwell.

The city of Charlotte had wanted a public school to call its own since the end of the Civil War, but it had to wait a while. When the State of North Carolina decided to establish a land-grant college in 1887 (after an argument over the terms of the Morrill Land-Grant Act), the location of the new school was in play.

However, Charlotte lost out to Raleigh, which became the home of the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts. That school is now known, of course, as North Carolina State University.

In 1946, North Carolina opened fourteen evening college centers across the state in an attempt to meet the educational demand created by returning World War II veterans. One of the fourteen centers was in Charlotte.

Three years later, the state closed the schools, but the Charlotte Center was taken over by the city and renamed Charlotte College, operating as a two-year program. That takeover-and-survival happened in 1949, and is the primary reason the university’s sports teams are now called the 49ers.

The college moved to its current campus in 1961, became a four-year school in 1964, and was made part of the UNC university system in 1965. It is now the fourth-largest school in the system and has over 27,000 students, including 21,500 undergraduates.

While this is the second year of Charlotte’s modern-day football program, the school actually fielded teams in 1946, 1947, and 1948. They were known as the “Owls” (due to the students attending classes at night) and played other schools’ JV squads.

In 1947, the Owls played a Thanksgiving Day game against a team called the “Brookland-Cayce All-Stars” in Columbia. The coach that season was a former guard at Clemson named Marion “Footsie” Woods.

Why did the school decide to start (or technically, re-start) a football program? Chancellor Philip Dubois:

This is a long-term strategic plan that will pay huge dividends for students, alumni, faculty and staff at this vibrant university. It will foster a full university experience that many students crave as undergraduates.

It also will help build closer relationships with our growing ranks of UNC Charlotte alumni and the greater Charlotte community. Despite the economic challenges facing us all, this university is growing by leaps and bounds. We expect to have 35,000 students on campus by 2020 and we have strong support for football. We expect that will grow even stronger as we get closer to making it a reality.

Another factor may have been trying to create a common bond among students at what is still in many respects a commuter school (only 24% of undergraduates live on campus). Then there was the sentiment expressed by at least one alumnus:

For us to be a real school, and for us to have a college community that schools with football have, we had to have football.

Originally, Charlotte was going to be an FCS program, with no real designs (at least officially) on moving up to FBS. That changed in a hurry. From May of 2012:

A source with knowledge of the football-driven situation confirmed to the Observer on Tuesday afternoon that the 49ers will return to the league they played in from 1995-2005…

…The timing of Charlotte’s move is not known. The 49ers begin playing football in 2013 as an FCS (formerly I-AA) independent and must stay at that level for at least two years before moving up to FBS. Charlotte’s other sports programs could conceivably join CUSA earlier than that.

That is exactly what happened. (Another move mentioned in the linked blog post that didn’t happen: a CUSA-Mountain West merger. Uh, no.)

Next season Charlotte’s football program will begin competing in CUSA. Is it ready for that jump?

So far, the 49ers’ progress on the gridiron has arguably been a little slower than fellow CUSA startups Old Dominion and UTSA. ODU won seven games against scholarship D-1 programs in its second season, while UTSA won eight games in its second campaign, including five against FBS teams.

To be fair, it’s still early. The rest of Year 2, and the following seasons to come, will tell the tale.

Charlotte was 5-6 in 2013. The 49ers made their debut at Jerry Richardson Stadium with a 52-7 thrashing of Campbell, part of a 4-2 start to the season that included a a 42-21 win at Presbyterian and a dramatic, come-from-way-behind 53-51 victory over Gardner-Webb. In the latter contest, Charlotte trailed by 21 points entering the fourth quarter, but scored 29 points in the final period (including touchdowns on three consecutive offensive plays) to get the win.

The rest of the year was a bit of a struggle, however. Charlotte lost four straight games, including sizable defeats to UNC-Pembroke, Charleston Southern, and Coastal Carolina. The 49ers also lost to Division III Wesley College before closing their initial campaign with a resounding 61-17 victory over Morehead State.

UNCC opened this year by winning at Campbell 33-9, then hammering Johnson C. Smith 56-0. The 49ers followed that up with a 40-28 victory over North Carolina Central, though there were warning signs despite the triumph.

In that game, Charlotte led 40-0 after three quarters, but had to put its starters back on the field later in the fourth quarter to ensure its large lead wouldn’t be completely blown.

The next game was a matchup at Elon, and the 49ers lost their first game of the season 20-13. Charleston Southern then came to town and left with a 47-41 OT victory, a contest that Charlotte trailed 34-17 before making a valiant comeback.

Last week, the 49ers went to Gardner-Webb and lost 27-24, scoring a late TD to pull within three points, but never getting the ball back after the Runnin’ Bulldogs recovered an onside kick. Charlotte is now 3-3 on the season.

The head coach of the 49ers is Brad Lambert, who was a defensive back at Kansas State in the mid-1980s before beginning a career as a college coach. Lambert was on Jim Donnan’s staffs at Marshall and Georgia before taking a job as Jim Grobe’s linebackers coach at Wake Forest in 2000.

Six years later, Wake Forest would win an improbable ACC title and play in the Orange Bowl. The following season, Lambert would become the Demon Deacons’ defensive coordinator. The job with the 49ers is Lambert’s first head coaching position.

On offense, Charlotte runs a no-huddle, hurry-up spread offense. The 49ers run the ball 58% of the time, but 54% of their total yardage has come via the pass.

The pass completion rate is 51%, averaging 8.7 yards per attempt. Charlotte has thrown seven touchdown passes, but has been intercepted ten times. The 49ers are averaging 5.4 yards per rush.

In its last three games (all losses), Charlotte really struggled on third down. The 49ers were 5-15 against Elon, 2-9 against Charleston Southern, and 2-14 against Gardner-Webb.

One thing that stands out about Charlotte’s numbers are the number of plays from scrimmage, both for the 49ers and their opponents, particularly in relation to time of possession.

UNCC is averaging 68.3 offensive plays per game, which is not an exceptional amount. However, it’s actually a high rate when you consider that Charlotte has a time of possession average of only 24:40. Opponents have had the ball almost eleven minutes more per game than the 49ers.

Charlotte’s offense is thus running 2.77 plays per minute, which is a very high number. For comparison, Coastal Carolina (which likes to line up and go, too) averaged 2.57 plays per game in 2013.

So far this season, The Citadel’s offense is averaging 2.23 plays per minute (last year, that number was 2.03).

This has a tendency to skew both the offensive and defensive statistics for the 49ers. What it does to the defense on a practical level is open to question. It certainly hasn’t helped the D in its last three games.

Elon had the ball for 36:17 against the 49ers. Charleston Southern’s time of possession was 41:52. Gardner-Webb’s was 36:49.

That can wear out a defense. Charleston Southern ran 89 plays in regulation from the line of scrimmage (not counting plays wiped out by penalty).

Elon ran 97 offensive plays against Charlotte. The Phoenix has not run more than 76 plays in any other game this year, but may have decided to go up-tempo to take advantage of the 49ers’ lack of depth.

Charlotte is a big-play team in every respect. It gets ’em, and it gives ’em up. Offense, defense, special teams — 49er games are rollercoaster affairs.

The offense has produced twelve pass plays of 35 yards or more, including three in its last game against Gardner-Webb for 55, 59 (TD), and 80 (TD) yards. The 49ers have had six rushing plays of 40+ yards, including a 77-yard TD run versus Charleston Southern and a 70-yard rush against North Carolina Central.

That tendency to break a long gainer is a major reason why Charlotte has had 11 touchdown drives this season that lasted less than 1:30 in duration. Three of those possessions were one-play scoring drives.

The defense has chipped in with three scoring plays of its own, including a pick-six last week in the Gardner-Webb game.

Conversely, opponents have also had some moments to savor. Charleston Southern had two 45-yard plays, a run and a pass reception (with the run going for a TD).

Gardner-Webb’s scoring plays included a 71-yard reception and a 95-yard kickoff return, and the Runnin’ Bulldogs had two other pass plays of 30+ yards. North Carolina Central’s four 4th-quarter touchdowns included a fumble return by its defense and a 21-yard reception (with a 35-yard completion setting up another Eagles TD).

Charlotte and its opponents have combined to average 4.7 turnovers per game and 16 penalties per contest. Also, while the 49ers have had a solid year kicking field goals (14-18), their opponents are only 5-15.

In other words, Charlotte’s games this season have featured a lot of erratic but entertaining play.

Starting quarterback Matt Johnson has started every game for Charlotte over the past two seasons. He’s a big QB (6’3″, 230 lbs.) who can run or pass. He threw for 335 yards against Charleston Southern, and ran for 150 yards versus North Carolina Central.

Like several of the 49ers’ skill position players, he’s a big-play threat. Johnson can make it happen via the air (eight completed passes of 50+ yards) or the ground (a 70-yard run against North Carolina Central and a 49-yarder versus Gardner-Webb).

In the SoCon media teleconference, Mike Houston described Charlotte running back Kalif Phillips as “dynamic”. He’s a 5’11”, 205 lb. sophomore from Kannapolis.

Phillips is averaging 5.6 yards per carry and almost 100 yards rushing per game. He has ten rushing touchdowns, including a long of 77 yards versus Charleston Southern. Phillips can catch the ball, but has not really been asked to do so this season (only two receptions).

The most difficult individual matchup for The Citadel on Saturday might be 5’9″, 152 lb. receiver Austin Duke, a true blazer from Independence High School in Charlotte.

He caught 62 passes last season for 727 yards and six touchdowns, and is well on his way to exceeding those numbers this year. In fact, Duke is likely to surpass his 2013 reception yardage against The Citadel, as he already has 712 yards receiving through six games (on 44 receptions).

Duke is averaging over 16 yards per reception and has five TDs, including an 80-yarder against Gardner-Webb, a 65-yard score versus North Carolina Central, and touchdowns of 61 and 74 yards against Charleston Southern. His TD catch versus Elon went for a mere 19 yards. He’s very good, and very dangerous.

Fellow wideout Dmarjai Devine is more than capable of picking up the slack if teams pay too much attention to Duke (if it’s possible to pay too much attention to Duke). Devine has caught twelve passes this season, including 55- and 59-yarders just last week against Gardner-Webb.

Will Thomas, who backs up Duke at receiver, was Charlotte’s first official football signee.

The 49ers’ H-back, Justin Bolus, went to James Island High School. He has a relatively modest six catches so far this season, but Bolus bears watching — he burned Campbell for a 62-yard reception. Bolus underwent stomach surgery twice in 2012, but returned to the gridiron and played in all 11 games the following year.

Charlotte has a large offensive line, with both tackles and both guards starting every game this season for the 49ers. Average height and weight of the starters: 6’4″, 304 lbs.

Right guard Daniel Blitch, a redshirt senior, is a transfer from Wake Forest. Blitch and right tackle Danny Book (who started his career at Albany) are both 6’6″; left guard Casey Perry, at 335 lbs., is the heaviest of the starters.

The 49ers operate out of a base 3-4 defense, though how they decide to line up against The Citadel’s triple option attack is another matter. While Charlotte has already played one option team in Charleston Southern, the Bulldogs will present a slightly different look.

“This is truly a triple-option,” said Charlotte coach Brad Lambert…”It’s very similar to what they run at Navy, Georgia Tech and Georgia Southern that we’ve seen before. Over the years we’ve played against this kind of offense quite a bit. So we know what we’re getting into.”

[Mike] Houston knows what he’s doing with the triple-option. He rode it all the way to the NCAA Division II championship game at Lenoir-Rhyne last season. After three years as the Bears’ coach, he left for The Citadel in January.

“Mike’s won a truckload of games over the years,” Lambert said. “Wherever he’s been, he’s been a proven winner.”

…[Aaron] Miller “is operating the offense pretty good,” Lambert said. “He’s making better decisions the further they get into it.”…

…“We’ve got to stay fundamental against them,” Charlotte safety Desmond Cooper said. “They’ll be running, running, running, then hit you with a pass.”

Mike Houston described the 49ers’ defense as “tall, lean, and athletic”, adding that “they run very well”.

The defensive line is rangy, with no player on the two-deep shorter than 6’2″. The heaviest member of the d-line is starting nosetackle Larry Ogunjobi, a 275 lb. redshirt sophomore from Greensboro.

Charlotte has had some injury problems in its linebacking corps. The two starting inside linebackers on the season’s first depth chart are both out. Their replacements are both redshirt freshmen; one of them, Dustin Crouser, has two interceptions for UNCC.

Outside linebacker Nico Alcalde (6’2″, 205 lbs.) has started every game for the 49ers over the last two seasons. Fellow outside ‘backer Tyler DeStefani (6’4″, 220 lbs.) is a redshirt senior pursuing a masters’ degree in mathematical finance.

Safety Branden Dozier has a fumble return and an interception return for a touchdown this season. He’s a transfer from Butler County Community College who wears #3, the same number sported by 49ers running back Kalif Phillips.

Fellow safety Desmond Cooper is also a transfer, having started his career at Wake Forest. Cooper is a redshirt senior.

Cornerback Greg Cunningham Jr. has two interceptions this year, one of six Charlotte players with at least one pick. Cunningham is 6’2″, while the other starting corner, the excellently named Tank Norman, is 5’10”.

Placekicker Blake Brewer is 12-16 converting field goals this season, with a long of 50 yards. He also serves as the 49ers’ kickoff specialist.

Arthur Hart, the starting punter, is a freshman from Grafton, Wisconsin. He attended the Model Secondary School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Washington, DC. Hart has been hard of hearing since birth.

He is averaging 36.6 yards per punt, not a huge number. However, only one of Hart’s 27 punts this season has been returned (for six yards).

Damarrel Alexander is Kalif Phillips’ backup at running back and also the principal kick returner for the 49ers. He has a long return this season of 30 yards. Austin Duke also returns kickoffs for Charlotte (though only one so far this year).

Ardy Holmes, a transfer from Marshall, is the starting punt returner. Holmes took over those duties against Gardner-Webb after regular return man Corey Nesmith suffered a foot injury.

Odds and ends:

– The Citadel is the first SoCon team that Charlotte has played, either this year or last. The 49ers have played six games against Big South opposition (going 2-4) and are 1-1 versus MEAC teams and 0-2 against CAA squads.

– Saturday’s game will, rather curiously, be the last road game of the season for Charlotte. The 49ers will have a bye next week and then play their final four games at home, against James Madison, Coastal Carolina, Wesley College, and Morehead State.

– Charlotte’s tight ends coach, Johnson Richardson, was a tight end at Wofford before beginning his coaching career. He is the grandson of Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, for whom the 49ers’ football stadium is named (Richardson gave the school $10 million to help it build the facility).

– For the third time this season, The Citadel will play a gridiron opponent for the first time, with Charlotte joining Coastal Carolina and Gardner-Webb in that category.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 12-point favorite over Charlotte (as of Thursday morning). As always, keep in mind that FCS odds are often…odd.

– Charlotte is transitioning to FBS status and thus is in the process of increasing its scholarship allotment for football. According to Adam Smith of the Burlington Times-News, the 49ers currently have about 75 players on scholarship. The ceiling for FBS is 85; the limit for equivalencies in FCS is 63.

– In a recent interview, Jim Senter mentioned that under his administration, facility rentals would be a key element in providing incoming funds to the department of athletics.

It is no surprise, then, that a page devoted to such rentals recently popped up on the school’s sports website.

– This weekend is Parents’ Weekend at The Citadel, and as usual there are a lot of things going on all over campus. I don’t know how many people will be in attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium, but there is no doubt in my mind that the tailgating areas will be packed to capacity. They always are.

– Congratulations to the seniors who will get their rings this week. As always, a reminder: rings are nice, but diplomas are even nicer.

– I’m also happy for the freshmen who this week will pass the first of many benchmarks in their cadet careers. I’m sure they thought cadre would never end, but it could have been worse.

They could have been freshmen during a cadre period that lasted until November 2. [Involuntary shudder]

– Spike The Bulldog is now 5-1 in the Capitol One Mascot Challenge, having triumphed over Iowa State’s Cy The Cardinal last week. This week, our hero takes on Big Red, the nightmare-inducing mascot for Western Kentucky.

Vote for Spike!

I have two main concerns about this game:

– Charlotte has a lot of talented players. The 49ers may not be the deepest team, but you only have to play 11 at a time.

Will the Bulldogs be able to contain Austin Duke and Kalif Phillips? How does the defense prevent a dual-threat QB like Matt Johnson from having a big game?

Can the offense move the ball consistently and avoid the turnover bug? The 49ers, if nothing else, are a ball-hawking squad.

– The other consideration is more psychological. Mike Houston said “we’re moving on,” and it’s important that the players do just that.

My greatest fear is that the call at the end of the Wofford game winds up costing The Citadel not one but two wins, because of a hangover effect. The coaches must prevent that from happening.

One thing everyone learned over this past week is that The Citadel’s fan base is a passionate group. It demands effort and quality in all areas.

I’m quite sure Mike Houston already knew that, but I suspect new AD Jim Senter may now have a new appreciation for just how much the fans care about the football program (and the school). They can be a boisterous lot, too.

I’ll be in the stands on Saturday, along with a few of my occasionally rowdy friends. I have high hopes for the atmosphere at Johnson Hagood Stadium this weekend.

I also have high hopes for a victory.