McAlister Musings: The Citadel (and #EmbraceThePace) begins SoCon play

Links of interest:

Preview of the upcoming league campaign from The Post and Courier

School release

– Game notes from the respective schools for The Citadel versus UNC-Greensboro

Duggar Baucom has the Bulldogs “embracing his pace” in Year 2

Game story for The Citadel-Virginia Tech

– Shooting slump? What shooting slump?

SoCon preseason coach’s poll (The Citadel was picked last)

SoCon preseason media poll (The Citadel was picked next-to-last, ahead of VMI)

SoCon weekly release

Three future Bulldogs sign with The Citadel

Game coverage for UNC-Greensboro versus The Citadel:

ESPN3: Kendall Lewis will handle the play-by-play, while Sadath Jean-Pierre provides the analysis

Radio: Mike Legg, the “voice of the Bulldogs”, will call the game on WQSC 98.5 FM/1340 AM

SoCon play begins on Wednesday night. Records for each team in the league entering conference action:

Team Overall Home Away Neutral Streak kenpom rank
UTC 9-3 5-0 3-2 1-1 W1 70
ETSU 9-3 4-1 3-2 2-0 L1 82
UNCG 9-4 6-2 1-2 2-0 L1 159
Samford 8-4 4-2 4-2 0-0 W1 177
Furman 7-6 3-2 4-4 0-0 L1 153
The Citadel 7-6 6-1 1-5 0-0 L2 313
Mercer 5-7 4-2 0-3 1-2 L3 191
Wofford 5-8 4-0 1-5 0-3 L1 219
WCU 4-8 2-2 2-5 0-1 L1 305
VMI 3-8 3-2 0-6 0-0 L1 323

In the kenpom ratings, the SoCon is currently the 19th-ranked conference (out of 32 leagues). It is ranked between C-USA and the Horizon League. This maintains an upward trend for the league, which finished 19th overall in last year’s kenpom ratings after ranking between 25 and 30 in the previous four seasons.

Let’s take a look at The Citadel’s “Four Factors”. Well, I guess I should first give a quick explanation about the Four Factors for anyone not familiar with them.

Dean Oliver is a well-known basketball statistician who has worked for several NBA teams. He wrote the widely praised and highly influential book Basketball on Paper, which included the concept of the Four Factors. Simply put, these are four statistical categories that correlate strongly to winning and losing. They are effective field goal percentage, turnovers per possession, offensive rebounding percentage, and free throws attempted per field goals attempted.

Effective field goal percentage is basically a statistic which adjusts for the fact that a three-point field goal is worth more than a two-point FG. Turnovers per possession and offensive rebounding possessions are rate stats. FTA/FGA is a way to see how effective a team is at getting to the foul line (and how successful it is at making free throws once it gets there).

Here (courtesy of kenpom.com) are The Citadel’s “Four Factors” as of 12/26/16.

Category Offense Off rank Defense Def rank Nat’l avg
Effective FG%: 50.6 154 59.8 347 50.1
Turnover %: 16.7 52 17.7 253 19.2
Off. Reb. %: 28.3 215 34.5 314 29.8
FTA/FGA: 31.6 250 43.2 298 35.2

 

Note: kenpom statistics do not take into account games against non-D1 teams.

There are 351 teams in Division I, so being ranked 347th in defensive eFG% is not too good. Almost all of the Bulldogs’ defensive statistics are subpar.

Of those stats, the one that is most surprising is probably defensive turnover rate. The Citadel finished last season turning over its opponents on slightly over 19% of possessions, which ranked in the top 100 nationally. This year, that percentage is down to a significant degree (in a related development, the Bulldogs’ steal rate has declined as well).

Of course, last year’s numbers include the entire season, while this year’s statistics to date only reflect ten non-conference games (and none of the three contests against non-D1 opponents).

The Citadel only forced eight turnovers against Iowa State (in a 91-possession game), and didn’t have much luck with Arizona State either. The defensive turnover rate was a little better against Virginia Tech.

In the seven D-1 games the Bulldogs have played against non-power 5 teams, here were the turnover rates for The Citadel’s opponents: 21%, 14%, 18%, 22%, 14%, 28%, and 20%. That’s more like it.

Turnover rate isn’t everything, though. The Citadel actually won both of the above-listed games in which its opponent only had a 14% TO rate (Stetson, USC-Upstate). Meanwhile, Campbell turned the ball over at a 28% clip against the Bulldogs — but the Camels prevailed anyway, 97-91.

I also broke down the rest of the Four Factors for those same seven games versus non-P5 teams (in order, those matchups were: at College of Charleston, at Stetson, Presbyterian, Colgate, USC-Upstate, Campbell, at UMBC). The Citadel was 4-3 in those contests, winning at Stetson and against Presbyterian, Colgate, and USC-Upstate.

I think it is worth examining those games in greater detail because they are a better approximation of the level of competition the Bulldogs will be facing in SoCon action. Admittedly, the league appears to be a bit stronger overall than this particular sample size.

For example, the kenpom rankings (as of 12/27/16) for this “group of seven” are as follows: 89, 226, 241, 290, 301, 311, 347

The current kenpom rankings for The Citadel’s nine SoCon opponents: 70, 82, 153, 159, 177, 191, 219, 305, 323

At any rate, here are The Citadel’s Four Factors stats for the seven games in question:

  • Offensive eFG percentage (national average is 50.1%): 35.1%, 59.3%, 66.7%, 62.9%, 52.0%, 50.8%, 46.6%
  • Offensive rebound percentage (national average is 29.8%): 40%, 25%, 35%, 30%, 33%, 30%, 28%
  • Offensive turnover rate (national average is 19.2%): 27%, 10%, 11%, 16%, 14%, 20%, 15%
  • Offensive FTA/FGA rate (national average is 35.2%): 34.3%, 35.8%, 66.7%, 54.8%, 32.9%, 53.3%, 17.3%
  • Defensive eFG percentage (national average is 50.1%): 45.8%, 58.8%, 54.0%, 63.7%, 57.6%, 67.3%, 51.9%
  • Defensive rebound percentage (national average is 70.2%): 64%, 77%, 63%, 56%, 73%, 72%, 65%
  • Defensive turnover rate (national average is 19.2%): 21%, 14%, 18%, 22%, 14%, 28%, 20%
  • Defensive FTA/FGA rate (national average is 35.2%): 71.2%, 46.0%, 43.5%, 15.1%, 34.9%, 50.9%, 61.2%

I listed the defensive turnover rate statistics again, just to have everything included in the bullet points.

Yes, that is a lot of numbers, and some of them can be headache-inducing, but they do tell a story.

The Citadel’s offensive eFG% was better than the national average in six of the seven games — all but the season opener at College of Charleston. Conversely, that game against CofC is the only one of the group in which the Bulldogs’ defensive eFG% was better than the national average.

As far as rebounding is concerned, The Citadel has been respectable on the offensive end of the court, but needs to improve on the defensive glass. Bulldog opponents are getting too many second-shot opportunities, and that has led to a lot of easy baskets.

The rebounding issues partly explain why teams are converting 2-point field goal attempts against The Citadel at an extremely high rate (59.8%; the national average is 48.8%).

One factor that affects the Bulldogs’ ability to rebound is that The Citadel is not a particularly tall team. In terms of “average height”, a kenpom statistic that attempts to determine the size of a team based on minutes allocated to its players, the Bulldogs rank 349th, a full two inches per player below the national average. The only “shorter” teams in D-1 are Alabama A&M and St. Francis of Brooklyn.

In addition, The Citadel is 331st in “effective height”, which is an average of the center and power forward positions. Ken Pomeroy has written that effective height tends to be associated with success in key defensive categories, which makes plenty of sense.

For instance, UCF leads the nation in defensive eFG%. In a related development, the Knights’ starting center is 7’6″ Tacko Fall.

I’ve already discussed The Citadel’s defensive turnover rate. On offense, the Bulldogs have done a good job protecting the ball, aside from the game at CofC and a minor blip against Campbell.

The Citadel has had a few games this season in which it allowed the opponent to shoot too many free throws. As an illustration, just look at that number versus CofC (71.2%!). In that game, College of Charleston attempted almost as many free throws (42) as it did two-point shots from the field (43).

A key factor in the Bulldogs’ 120-111 loss to UMBC was the free throw disparity. The Citadel was 14-18 from the line, while the Retrievers were 37-49.

That’s a 23-point differential for made free throws in a game that went to two overtime periods. It was probably the reason why Duggar Baucom’s face turned an unusual shade of red late in the contest.

Do you need a scorecard when you attend a game at McAlister Field House? Yes, you probably do. The Citadel’s rotation includes at least eleven players for most games, including a bunch of freshmen.

# Name Pos Ht Wt Yr Hometown
0 Preston Parks G 6’1″ 175 Fr. Greenville, SC
1 Frankie Johnson G 5’9″ 150 Fr. Darlington, SC
2 Quayson Williams G 5’11” 170 So. Greensboro, NC
3 Matt Frierson G 6’1″ 150 So. Laurel, MD
4 Ezekiel Balogun F 6’6″ 235 Fr. Lagos, Nigeria
5 Warren Sledge G 6’3″ 180 Sr. Keller, TX
10 Leandro Allende G 6’6″ 190 Fr. Caguas, PR
11 Tom Koopman C 6’8″ 210 Sr. Weert, Holland
12 Chris Ross G 6’2″ 170 Fr. Dallas, TX
21 Bobby Duncan F 6’4″ 210 Gr. Fayetteville, NC
23 Kaelon Harris G 6’4″ 225 Fr. Tulsa, OK
24 Tyler Burgess F 6’7″ 195 Fr. Easley, SC
32 Brian White F 6’8″ 205 Sr. Richmond, VA
35 Zane Najdawi F 6’7″ 205 So. Midlothian, VA
50 Griffin Peevey C 6’7″ 220 Fr. Waco, TX

I’ve watched most of The Citadel’s games on ESPN3, as I’ve only been able to attend one game in person (the matchup against USC-Upstate). My initial impressions of some of the freshmen:

– Frankie Johnson is listed at 5’9″, but he is really about 5’6″. It doesn’t matter; he can play. It was easy to see why Duggar Baucom likes Johnson. To borrow a term from Star Wars, the game seems to go into hyperdrive when Johnson is on the hardwood.

Johnson was a fine high school quarterback. Watching him whip passes across the court, I wondered if Johnson could be a good baseball pitcher as well. Fred Jordan, take note!

– Preston Parks is only shooting 29.2% from three-point land, but he is capable of lighting it up at any time. He made four three-pointers against Presbyterian, five versus USC-Upstate, and six at UMBC.

Parks scored 25 points against USC-Upstate, and was the key player down the stretch in the Bulldogs’ victory over the Spartans. He scored or assisted on 10 of The Citadel’s last 12 points in the contest.

– Kaelon Harris is a broad-shouldered Tulsa resident who isn’t afraid to take the ball to the basket. Harris had 30 points against Arizona State, and 26 versus Stetson.

He needs to work on his free throw shooting (59.7%), particularly because with his style of play, he is going to get a lot of chances to score from the foul line.

– Leandro Allende is a 6’6″ guard who can and will shoot from beyond the arc. He is also capable of competing in the paint, and has the kind of rangy length that can pose problems for teams facing the Bulldogs’ full-court press.

During the game against UMBC, John Feinstein (serving as the analyst on ESPN3) suggested that Allende wasn’t really someone the Bulldogs were counting on to shoot from outside, at least long-term. I have to disagree with Feinstein on that one.

– Ezekiel Balogun is a physical forward from Nigeria. He is a more selective three-point shooter than most of the Bulldogs, but he has made 6 of his 13 tries from three-land this season.

Balogun’s biography on the school website states that he has a 6’11” wingspan and a 36-inch vertical. With that in mind, it is no surprise that Balogun currently leads the Bulldogs in blocked shots per minute played, averaging one block for every 13.3 minutes on the court.

The Citadel has six upperclassmen who see action on a regular basis. Veteran observers are familiar with these players, but I’ll list them here anyway.

– Zane Najdawi leads the Bulldogs in many statistical categories, including points per game (17.9) and rebounds per game (8.2). The sophomore has scuffled offensively in his last two outings, but should be the main focus on that side of the court as The Citadel begins SoCon play.

Najdawi is very good at getting to the foul line. He ranks 17th nationally in fouls drawn per 40 minutes.

– Quayson Williams has scored in double figures in ten of the Bulldogs’ last eleven games. He is shooting 44.7% from three-land in all games. That percentage drops slightly when non-D1 games aren’t considered, to 43.1%, but that is still excellent.

Outside shooting is Williams’ bread and butter — almost 72% of his field goal attempts are trifecta tries.

– Brian White’s offensive output has been inconsistent. He did not score against Presbyterian, Campbell, or College of Charleston (playing only two minutes versus CofC), and made only one field goal against USC-Upstate. On the other hand, White had a big 23 points in the Bulldogs’ victory at Stetson, 20 points versus Colgate, and 21 points at UMBC.

In two of the three high-scoring games mentioned above (along with a 16-point performance against Toccoa Falls), White was able to take — and make — a bunch of three-pointers. From at or near the top of the key, he is very effective from beyond the arc.

For the season, he is shooting 53.1% from three-land. Fifteen of his seventeen made three-point shots this year have come in just three games.

– Warren Sledge leads the team in minutes played. He got off to a rough start this season with his outside shooting, but has now made 11 of his last 23 three-point shots, a good sign heading into the conference campaign.

Sledge’s value to the team does not necessarily show up on the stat sheet, but he is a key contributor who has started every game this season for the Bulldogs.

– Matt Frierson is a three-point specialist in the truest sense of the term. Of his 83 field goal attempts so far this season, 79 have come from beyond the arc.

His current percentage of 32.9% isn’t terrible, but Frierson has been in a bit of a slump. Not counting a 4-for-7 effort versus Campbell, he has only made 4 of his last 30 three-point attempts.

Frierson shot 34.7% from beyond the arc last season, so there is a decent chance that he could begin to heat up from downtown. The Bulldogs could use the extra scoring punch he is capable of providing.

– Tom Koopman generally plays about 7 to 10 minutes per game as a frontcourt reserve. The senior from Holland is a handy guy to have around, soaking up fouls that otherwise might be charged to Najdawi, and occasionally providing a bucket or two as a bonus.

Against USC-Upstate, Koopman scored eight points in just nine minutes. He had seven points in just seven minutes versus Presbyterian.

So far this season, The Citadel has had five games that weren’t decided until the final minute of regulation (or overtime). Expect that trend to continue as the Bulldogs begin their conference campaign.

From the SoCon’s weekly release:

Southern Conference teams played 90 league games during the 2015-16 regular season. Twenty-one games (23 percent) were decided by one possession or went into overtime. In 2015, the league had 23 of 90 (26 percent) conference games decided by one possession.

In 2014, the league had 17 of 88 (19 percent) conference games decided by one possession. In 2013, the league had 30 of 108 (28 percent) conference games decided by one possession. In 2012, the league had 32 of 108 (30 percent) conference games decided by one possession.

The Citadel will play five league games in an eleven-day stretch (three at home), so the next couple of weeks are going to be big ones for the Bulldogs.

– UNC-Greensboro is 9-4 this season, 6-4 versus D-1 competition. The losses have come against Virginia, High Point, Wake Forest, and Georgetown.

The Spartans are led by 6’8″, 255 lb. senior R.J. White, a preseason all-SoCon selection. After UNCG’s loss to Georgetown, Hoyas head coach John Thompson III said that White might have been the best offensive post player GU had faced to this point in the season.

UNCG guard Dionte Baldwin had two good games versus The Citadel last season, with a combined 38 points and 15 assists in the two contests. Baldwin (6’0″, 191 lbs.) is a senior from Greensboro.

The Spartans play at a pace that is a bit below the national average, so the battle for tempo could be interesting.

According to kenpom.com, The Citadel has a 27% chance of defeating UNC-Greensboro. That site projects a final score of 95-89.

Per one source that deals in such matters, UNCG is a 7.5-point favorite, with an over/under of 184.

– Furman (which hosts the Bulldogs on 12/31) is 7-6 overall, 5-6 against D-1 opponents. None of FU’s losses have been by more than six points. The general consensus among league hoops aficionados seems to be that Furman is better than its record indicates.

Preseason all-league pick Devin Sibley (6’2″, 175 lbs.) leads Furman in scoring, at 15.4 points per game. Daniel Fowler (6’4″, 175 lbs.) is also having a solid season for FU thus far.

As is the case with UNC-Greensboro, the Paladins’ pace of play is below the national average. The Citadel has a 9% chance of winning at Furman, per kenpom.com.

– Wofford and The Citadel play in Spartanburg on January 2. The Terriers are 5-8 (as of 12/26), with just two victories against Division I competition.

However, Wofford is still projected to be a middle-of-the-pack team in the Southern Conference. The Terriers are led by preseason all-conference choice Fletcher McGee (6’4″, 194 lbs.).

McGee is averaging 16.1 points per game, and is also shooting 41.4% from three-land. His teammate, Eric Garcia (6’0″, 185 lbs.) is shooting 51.7% from beyond the arc.

Wofford is another SoCon team that likes to dial down the pace. Per kenpom.com, The Citadel has an 18% chance of picking up a road victory.

– On January 5, the Bulldogs host East Tennessee State, one of the two preseason favorites in the SoCon (Chattanooga being the other). ETSU is not afraid to play an uptempo brand of basketball; given that and the Buccaneers’ talent advantage, this could be one of the tougher home games The Citadel will play all season.

T.J. Cromer (6’3″, 195 lbs.) and Hanner Mosquera-Perea (6’9″, 230 lbs.) were both named to the SoCon’s preseason all-league squad.

Cromer had two good games against The Citadel last season, including the Bucs’ 101-92 OT win at McAlister Field House. He is averaging 17.3 points per game this season.

Mosquera-Perea is a transfer from Indiana (where he played for three seasons). The native of Colombia is described on ETSU’s website as “possibly the most highly decorated recruit in program history”.

East Tennessee State also added four new junior-college transfers to its roster. The Citadel has a 12% chance of defeating the Buccaneers, according to kenpom.com.

– Two days after ETSU’s trip to Charleston, VMI will make an appearance at The Citadel. The Keydets are currently 3-8, with only one D-1 victory (against Charleston Southern).

Q.J. Peterson (6’0″, 185 lbs.) is back for one more season in Lexington. The preseason all-SoCon pick led the league in scoring last season, and is averaging 18.5 points per game so far this year.

VMI actually plays at the third-fastest pace in the conference, slightly above the national average. Kenpom.com’s projection gives The Citadel a 69% chance of beating the Keydets, which is nice.

The Citadel certainly faces a challenging start to its league campaign. It would not be shocking if the Bulldogs struggle out of the gate in SoCon play.

That said, I think The Citadel is going to be better this year than last. There is a chance the Bulldogs could be a very tough out for their opponents, particularly as the season progresses.

I would encourage anyone who enjoys basketball to make an effort to see The Citadel in person. The Bulldogs may look fast on TV (or online), but it can be hard to fully grasp the pace of the game they play unless you are in the arena.

It is a fun brand of hoops (especially when The Citadel is making shots).

I look forward to seeing a few more games up close myself. I’m also hopeful the Bulldogs will pull out a few more wins this season.

McAlister Musings: Forget about being close, just win

Statistics are through January 13, 2014

– The Citadel’s record: 4-14, 0-3 SoCon
– SoCon rank in offensive efficiency (through three games): 3rd
– SoCon rank in defensive efficiency (through three games): last
– SoCon rank in free throw shooting (through three games): last
– SoCon rank in 3-point shooting percentage (through three games) 1st

Yes, the offensive statistics through three league games aren’t bad at all. The Citadel has shot the ball well in its last three games, and fared well on the offensive glass. The Bulldogs also committed fewer turnovers in those three games (though still too many).

However, The Citadel still managed to lose all three of those games, blowing double-digit second-half leads in two of them. For a team that desperately needs a win (or two, or three, or four), it was rather dispiriting.

In those two losses (at home against Chattanooga and on the road versus Wofford), the Bulldogs basically let one player on each team dominate them inside and on the boards. Both UTC’s Z. Mason and Wofford’s Lee Skinner had what amounted to career nights against The Citadel, combining for 17 offensive rebounds and 19 made 2-point field goals (on 31 attempts).

Because of that, the Bulldogs are currently last in league play in defensive rebounding percentage. The Citadel is also last in the SoCon in forcing turnovers. The Bulldogs have given their opponents so many “extra” chances to score that even solid perimeter defending hasn’t been enough.

In the “bad luck” category: The Citadel has done a good job keeping its SoCon opponents off the foul line (ranking 4th in the league in that category). However, those opponents are shooting 77.1% from the charity stripe, the highest percentage against any team in the league.

In the “not bad luck” category: The Bulldogs picked a bad time to go into a free throw shooting slump. No team has shot worse from the foul line than the Bulldogs in league action.

This comes after The Citadel did a fine job shooting free throws during the non-conference slate. However, the Bulldogs have not gone to the foul line enough all season as it is.

The Citadel is shooting slightly less than one free throw attempt for every field goal try (33%). The national average for FTA/FGA is 41%.

Of course, three games don’t reflect the entirety of the season, and the Bulldogs struggled mightily out of conference. The Citadel has as many losses to non-D1s as it does victories over D-1s, having lost to West Alabama and beaten Presbyterian.

For the season, The Citadel is in the bottom 50 nationally in offensive turnover rate, FTA/FGA, two-point field goal percentage, steals rate (offense), defensive rebounding percentage, steals rate (defense), and defensive turnover rate. Thanks to all those issues, the Bulldogs also rank in the bottom 50 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

In the Kenpom ratings, The Citadel is currently ranked 339th out of 351 Division I teams.

On the plus side, The Citadel has done a good job beyond the arc, both on offense and defense.

The Bulldogs’ tendency to throw the ball away on a semi-regular basis has been a problem for the past three seasons, as has the defensive issues. I will say that the defending has improved this season, at least on opponents’ initial shots. However, the inability to control the defensive glass has crushed The Citadel.

On his postgame radio show after the loss to Wofford, Chuck Driesell said of his team that “we’re getting close”.

With all due respect to Driesell, I don’t think he can say that. Not right now, anyway.

The goal for this season can’t be to have a record like last year (8-22) or the year before (6-24). This isn’t about trying to eke out a couple of victories or break a losing streak.

Getting close, in the context of this season, is putting together consecutive wins, and building on that — winning four out of six, seven out of ten, etc. Falling short in SoCon games isn’t getting the program to where it needs to be.

Because make no mistake, the Southern Conference is not good this year. It wasn’t very good last year either, but in 2013-14 the league has been dreadful.

There is no reason The Citadel can’t win a bunch of SoCon games, and the next couple of weeks will present the Bulldogs multiple opportunities to bounce back from their bad start in conference play.

On Thursday, The Citadel travels to Greensboro to face the Spartans. UNCG isn’t that bad, relative to the rest of the league, but this is a chance for the Bulldogs to win a road game.

UNCG actually has a turnover rate that is worse than The Citadel’s. Now, the Bulldogs haven’t proven capable of forcing many TOs all season, but this will be one game in which they have a shot at improving on that statistical category. If they can do so, they can win the game.

On Saturday, The Citadel hosts Furman, and then plays Appalachian State at McAlister Field House the following Thursday. I think the Bulldogs should win both contests. Not “can win”, but “should win”. Furman isn’t any better than The Citadel, and Appalachian State has arguably been worse so far this season.

In other words, the Bulldogs ought to win at least two of their next three games. If they don’t, it will be a disappointment.

After the loss to Elon, the sixth straight for the Bulldogs, Chuck Driesell had this to say:

You look at the stats and you think we could have won this game. But we were playing a good team on their home court. We kept our composure, but a couple of breaks didn’t go our way. But more guys are stepping up; everybody’s starting to come around.

I hope so. There would be nothing better than some positive news from the hardwood. Good basketball makes for a shorter winter.

Otherwise, Punxsutawney Phil will see his shadow at McAlister Field House once again.

McAlister Musings: SoCon voting issues, preseason ratings, and corps attendance

Before I get to the three specific topics I am discussing in this post, some links of interest:

My preview of The Citadel’s 2012-13 basketball season

Chuck Driesell talks Bulldog hoops with Danny Reed (video)

More hoops talk with Chuck Driesell and Danny Reed (video)

Jeff Hartsell was there to Meet the Bulldogs, and was impressed with two freshmen

Mike Groselle is one of the candidates for the Senior CLASS award

Groselle is ready for the season to start (video)

Preview from The Post and Courier

Quick note: In that first Chuck Driesell interview, the coach mentions having had a bunch of his father’s old game reels converted to DVD. I bet a significant number of people (mostly Maryland fans) wouldn’t mind paying for copies of those.

Recently the Southern Conference released its annual preseason polls, both from the media and the coaches. The Citadel received the fewest votes in either poll, but that’s not what I’m writing about. My concern has to do with the way the polls were conducted.

I don’t have a major issue with the media poll, although I would like to know how the conference came up with a total of 30 voters. There are twelve schools in the league, so how were the votes apportioned?

Obviously it’s only a preseason poll and thus not a big deal, but I do have serious reservations about a media vote that did matter, namely last season’s all-conference team selections. I’ll get to that later.

However, first I want to take a look at the coaches’ poll, because it is a puzzler. All twelve coaches voted, but coaches could not vote for their own team. They also could not vote for their own players in the voting for the preseason all-conference team. I’m more interested in the breakdown for the team polling, however.

Total number of points for the teams in the North division: 246

Total number of points for the teams in the South division: 241

That makes no sense; both divisions should add up to the same number of points. Each division should have 246 points allocated to its six teams in some fashion. That is the case for the North, but the South somehow got shortchanged five points.

Because Davidson received all eleven possible first-place votes (Bob McKillop not being allowed to vote for his own team), the Wildcats should have received the maximum number of possible points, 66. Instead, Davidson got 65 points, so one of those five “missing” points belongs to Jake Cohen and company.

Conversely, the fewest possible number of points a team could get in this particular voting setup is 16. That would happen if a team were the last choice in a division by all the other coaches. The Citadel was the preseason last-place selection in the South division, and got, uh, 15 points.

The Citadel actually got fewer points in the SoCon preseason coaches’ poll than was technically possible. If that isn’t bulletin board material, I don’t know what is.

It’s only a preseason poll, though, so why should anyone care? I’ll tell you why. It is just part of a pattern of questionable polling/selection practices administered by the conference. Exhibit A in that respect is last season’s All-SoCon teams.

Last season there were four obvious choices for first-team honors in the Southern Conference: Jake Cohen, De’Mon Brooks, Mike Groselle, and Eric Ferguson. They were, by any legitimate measure, the league’s top four players. Cohen, Brooks, and Ferguson did make the first team, but Groselle was relegated to the second team in favor of Wofford’s Brad Loesing and UNCG’s Trevis Simpson.

Am I biased? Yes. However, check out this statistical comparison:

Player A Player B
Points 501 550
PPG 16.7 18.3
eFG% 59.1 44.5
Rebounds 288 127
Rb/g 9.6 4.2
Assists 54 22
A/g 1.8 0.7
Steals 43 23
S/g 1.4 0.8
Blocks 19 6
Turnovers 65 67

Player A is Mike Groselle. Player B is Trevis Simpson.

I’m not trying to knock Simpson, who is a good player, and one of the league’s better performers last season. I think you could make a decent case for him over Loesing, actually. I just find it hard to imagine how someone could vote for both of those players over Groselle.

Groselle was the league’s leading rebounder and finished second in scoring to Simpson, who took 151 more shots over the course of the season (which is reflected in his eFG%). I know that UNCG won the North division, and I suppose Simpson could get extra credit for that, but if the Spartans had been in the South they wouldn’t have finished in the top half of that division. They did lose 19 games last season, after all (The Citadel lost 24).

I can’t tell you how close the voting was, because the league didn’t provide voting totals for its all-conference teams, at least not publicly; it also didn’t release how many people voted for them. This stands in stark contrast to a conference like the ACC, which publishes that information.

I don’t really understand why the league releases point totals for the preseason polls (which are meaningless) but not for its all-conference teams (which are not meaningless). Maybe it is afraid someone will compare the number of voters to the point totals and discover a discrepancy. I don’t know.

I haven’t even discussed the qualifications of the voters. I can’t, since I don’t know who they are. I don’t know if they are actual media members or merely affiliated with one of the schools. I also don’t know if the voters are evenly distributed by region.

It would be nice to know these things.

If you have a statistical bent when it comes to college hoops, then you probably know who Ken Pomeroy is, and you may know who Dan Hanner is. Both are affiliated with Basketball Prospectus, although Pomeroy has his own site, which is very popular with the tempo-free stats crowd (Hanner writes for RealGM.com).

Anyway, both have released their preseason ratings. It is no surprise that The Citadel is not rated highly.  The Bulldogs are 297th out of 347 Division I teams in Pomeroy’s preseason ratings, and 292nd out of 345 in Hanner’s rankings (Hanner does not rank Northern Kentucky and New Orleans, which are transitioning to D-1).

The Citadel is the lowest-rated SoCon team in Pomeroy’s ratings, but is ahead of two league schools in Hanner’s rankings. Samford and Appalachian State are below the Bulldogs in the latter system.

While Hanner’s rankings are part of the just-published 2012-13 College Basketball Prospectus guide, The Citadel is still predicted to finish last in the league in the SoCon section of the annual. The writer for the SoCon section is Joey Berlin, a freelance writer from Kansas City.

In discussing last year’s Bulldogs, Berlin wrote that “Despite the school’s name, the only impenetrable fortress at Citadel games was the opposing team’s basket.”

Pomeroy rates the SoCon 20th overall among conferences, and the new-look CAA 16th. I’m not sure that will provide much comfort to the College of Charleston’s administration as that school prepares to change leagues (assuming it does eventually do so).

Another ratings system was recently released by David Hess, who is affiliated with TeamRankings.com. In Hess’ ratings, The Citadel is 314th out of 347 teams. The Bulldogs are projected to have a record of 9-18 (5-13 SoCon), with a 0.2% chance of winning 20 games and a 0.1% chance of finishing with the best record in the league.

When I looked at his list of The Citadel’s toughest and easiest games, I was mildly surprised to see that the Bulldogs’ toughest game (at least prior to the start of the season) is projected to be the game at St. Bonaventure, as opposed to the games against Georgia Tech, Clemson, or Davidson.

During the 2011-12 campaign, The Citadel averaged 1,840 fans per game over a 14-game home season. For conference games, the number was 1,813. When the Bulldogs played on the road in the Southern Conference, the average opposition attendance was 2,546.

The Citadel only outdrew two other league teams for SoCon home games, Elon and Samford. The Citadel’s numbers were very similar to those of Furman and Wofford.

That’s not a big surprise, as the Bulldogs went 6-24. However, The Citadel obviously needs to improve on that average. For one thing, I believe increased attendance can occasionally affect the results on the court, not only in terms of inspiring the team or intimidating the opponents, but in influencing SoCon officials (especially for weekend games). The Bulldogs need all the help they can get.

There is a built-in group of potential basketball attendees, though, who could really boost the totals and exponentially increase the support/intimidation factor. That would be the corps of cadets.

I have been at McAlister Field House on more than one occasion when a rowdy group of cadets managed to discombobulate the opposition. It doesn’t take a lot of them to have an impact, either.

(Incidentally, from personal experience during my cadet years, I can attest that natives of New York and New Jersey seem to be particularly good at annoying opponents.)

There are those in the corps who come to every game to support the team. Quite a few of them are athletes themselves, including members of the football and baseball teams. Then there is the pep band, which is traditionally outstanding.

The pep band and the “regulars” are great fans, and deserve credit for providing most of the atmosphere McAlister Field House has on game days.

I just wish that the basketball team got support in the same manner that the football team does for home games. Of course, attendance by the corps at football games is mandatory — which leads me to make a couple of suggestions.

I don’t know what The Citadel can do about league games played on Saturdays. I’m not about to advocate that members of the corps should be required to go to Saturday night basketball games (although of course they do attend football games on Saturday).

For Saturday games, I think it is important to make it really worthwhile for cadets to show up. Perhaps free overnights can be considered. At the very least, provide free food. That usually works.

Also, there are cadets who are stuck on campus over the weekend, serving tours or confinements. I would like to see those cadets in the stands cheering on their team, instead of walking on the quad while toting a rifle.

For weeknight contests, I advocate a rotation. The Citadel plays five league home games this season on weeknights. The “hardcore” plan would feature mandatory attendance at three of those five games (hey, it’s only a couple of hours). The “okay, we won’t bother you more than once” plan would have cadets attending at least one game.

For the one-game only plan, each battalion would attend one game. For example, on January 10th, the legendary 1st Battalion would go watch the Bulldogs battle Chattanooga. For the CofC game, 2nd Battalion would get the call. You get the idea.

I would set up the “hardcore” plan like this:

January 10 (Thursday) — Chattanooga — 3rd and 4th Battalions

January 14 (Monday) — College of Charleston — the entire Corps of Cadets

January 31 (Thursday) — Wofford — 1st and 5th Battalions

February 14 (Thursday) — Georgia Southern — 2nd Battalion

February 28 (Thursday) — Furman — the entire Corps of Cadets

Of course, any cadet who wanted to go to a game could go, even if his battalion wasn’t scheduled to attend. I think regulars would get to sit in specific sections for these games.

This setup would be worth at least two wins for The Citadel, in my opinion. I also believe it might increase attendance among the “non-cadet” crowd.

One other suggestion: I think it’s important to indoctrinate the freshmen cadets as quickly as possible. I understand that most of the freshmen were in attendance for “Meet the Bulldogs”, which was an excellent move. I would also make the November 14th contest against Montreat (a Wednesday night game) an “all knobs attend” affair.

I know I’m asking a lot here of the cadets. However, I think it’s important to help out the hoopsters, and jazz things up a bit. I also believe that the basketball program has a great deal of potential if The Citadel could ever turn the corner. The current average attendance is only about 30% of the capacity of McAlister Field House. Even doubling that (in terms of paying customers) would really do wonders for the bottom line.

The season is about to start. Saturday’s game on the hardwood against VMI will be here before you know it.

Hoops update: Wofford and Furman travel to McAlister

Just some quick thoughts on the upcoming games at McAlister Field House…

The Citadel’s last three losses have been a) by one point at home to UNC-Greensboro, in as brutal a fashion as I’ve seen the Dogs lose in a while; b) a 29-point thrashing at Davidson that featured one of the worst first-half performances in the program’s recent history, which is saying something; and c) a double-OT setback at Georgia Southern in which The Citadel did a lot of things right but lost thanks to a series of first-half turnovers and a lopsided free throw disparity (the latter noted by Chuck Driesell, deservedly so).

The Bulldogs need to catch a break. First, they need to be in a position to take advantage of a break, which they were in Statesboro — it just didn’t work out. Will they be in position to pick up a win against either Wofford or Furman?

Let’s take a look at those always-critical “Four Factors” stats for The Citadel, courtesy of kenpom.com:

Four Factors                    Off  Rank        Def  Rank         D-1 avg.
Effective FG%: 48.0 199 56.7 341 49.0
Turnover %: 21.5 224 17.9 302 20.8
Off. Reb. %: 28.3 285 31.6 126 32.5
FTA/FGA: 30.1 306 30.7 57 36.5

The Bulldogs continue to struggle defensively, with the horrific eFG% more obvious than a $50 hooker outside Mark Clark Hall. Only four teams are worse than The Citadel in that category (for the record, they are Kennesaw State, Longwood, Monmouth, and Northern Arizona; those four teams plus The Citadel have a combined record of 23-79).

The Citadel also does not force enough turnovers on defense. The Bulldogs do a decent job limiting offensive rebounds, and generally don’t give opponents a lot of free throw opportunities (Georgia Southern excepted, I suppose). Conversely, those are two areas in which The Citadel’s offense has not fared as well.

Mike Groselle has been a force on the offensive glass, as his offensive rebounding rate of 13.9% is 64th-best nationally, but the problem is that he has accounted for 40% of The Citadel’s total offensive boards. He needs more help grabbing misses.

The team as a whole needs to get to the line more. The Dogs are not a terrible shooting team, but aren’t nearly good enough to get by without free points from the charity stripe. Of course, that brings up a bigger problem, which is that The Citadel isn’t converting enough of those freebies as it is. The Bulldogs must shoot much, much better than 63% from the foul line if they hope to win a few more games down the stretch.

Wofford is 12-8 overall, and has won three straight SoCon games to move to 5-3 in the league. The Terriers are aiming for a first-round SoCon tourney bye. There are still ten league games to go, but Wofford has a one-game lead over the College of Charleston for second place in the South division, behind runaway league leader Davidson. Second place in the division will be good enough for that much-wanted bye.

The Terriers have already beaten the CofC at home, and also can claim a victory over Wake Forest in Winston-Salem. Other than Davidson, Wofford has probably been the league’s most consistent team.

On December 3, Wofford beat The Citadel 82-63 in Spartanburg. The Terriers shot 55% from the field in that game, with Keith Giltner scoring 27 points and pulling down 10 rebounds. The most glaring offensive statistic for the Bulldogs had to be the lack of assists — only four (on 22 made baskets).

Furman is 9-10, 3-5 in SoCon play. The Paladins have hovered around .500 all season, never more than two games over or under the break-even mark.

The Bulldogs’ loss at Furman on January 5 featured a mind-numbing 42-16 run by the Paladins in the second half to end the game, which turned a 35-29 Furman lead into a 77-45 loss for the Bulldogs. Furman took a lot of threes (29) and made more than its fair share of them (13). Bobby Austin came off the bench for the Paladins and made five of his six attempts from beyond the arc. Like the Wofford game, The Citadel was outrebounded by a significant margin.

At halftime of Saturday’s game against the Paladins, Colonel Jake Burrows will have his jersey number (No. 3) recognized with a banner to be hung in the rafters at McAlister Field House. Burrows, now 93 years old, is a 1940 graduate of The Citadel. He had, it is fair so say, quite a career as a cadet. From the Wofford preview at citadelsports.com:

Burrows…is the lone member of the college’s [athletic] Hall of Fame who was both Regimental Commander and First Honor Graduate of his class.  As an athlete in which he competed for three years (freshmen were ineligible), Burrows earned eight total letters as he lettered in football three times, basketball three times and twice in track. He was an all-state pick in basketball three times and twice was named All-Southern Conference and during his three years of basketball, Burrows averaged 11.5 points per game which equated to 31 percent of the team’s total points.  In his three years on the hardwood, The Citadel defeated South Carolina and Furman six straight games each.

After graduating, Burrows began a career in the U.S. Army that included serving on Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s staff during the latter part of World War II. More importantly, Burrows (in his role as Director of Cadet Activities) was the driving force behind the creation of the coveted Silver Shako, for which he probably merits an additional banner in the rafters.

Here is a recap of the Bulldogs’ season-opening 1938 victory over Furman, in which The Citadel defeated the Hurricane (!) 38-17. Burrows, a sophomore that season, led the team with eight points: Link

(Curiously, the basketball media guide records that game as a 37-17 Bulldogs victory, rather than 38-17.)

Burrows was also the leading scorer for The Citadel in its next game, a win over South Carolina. This was not an unusual occurrence. In his junior campaign, 1939, Burrows led The Citadel in scoring in all but one game all season. The Citadel won 65% of its games during Burrows’ career as a hoopster, including the “state championship” in 1939.

I am hoping that Burrows’ success on the hardwood will serve to inspire the current Bulldogs, at least for one night…

Hoops update: The Citadel returns home to host Clemson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Citadel hoops it up: Basketball 2011-12

Yes, it’s basketball season!

Last year, there was a good deal of anticipation for Bulldogs basketball, as a senior-laden team was expected to contend for league honors, or at least compete in the upper echelon of the Southern Conference. It didn’t quite work out that way, to say the least.

The Citadel finished 10-22, 6-12 in the SoCon. The Bulldogs lost nine of their last ten games, and did not win a home game after January 22. Times were tough at McAlister Field House.

New coach Chuck Driesell wanted to play a more uptempo style, but the players seemed to have trouble adjusting after playing in Ed Conroy’s more deliberate system. In truth, though, The Citadel still played last season at a slower tempo than all but 35 schools in Division I. It wasn’t quite as slow as the year before (when the Bulldogs’ pace of play was in the bottom ten nationally), but it wasn’t exactly racehorse-style ball.

The raw numbers don’t necessarily reflect it, but once adjusting for tempo it is clear that much of The Citadel’s struggles, at least from a statistical perspective, came at the defensive end of the court. The Bulldogs allowed 1.112 points per possession, which ranked in the bottom 40 nationally (all numbers in this section per Pomeroy). The Citadel forced very few turnovers and allowed opponents to convert a way-too-easy 53.7% of all two-point baskets.

Given those statistics, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Bulldogs also fared poorly in categories like steals per game and blocked shots (though I can’t remember the last time The Citadel had a legitimate shot-blocker; it was probably back in the BRK days).

The team clearly suffered from the lack of a bigger presence in the post (two years after Demetrius Nelson had graduated, he had still not been effectively replaced). Another issue was a shortened rotation, as Chuck Driesell elected to go with just seven players (for the most part) over the latter part of the season. It’s my opinion (one shared by a number of other observers) that Bulldog hoops squads have a tendency to wear out over the course of a campaign, thanks to the rigors of the basketball schedule combined with the “being cadets and students too” thing.

Now most of the regulars from last year’s team are gone, and gone with them is a lot of experience (77% of the minutes played from last season). That experience provided the overwhelming majority of the team’s points (three career 1,000-point scorers, including alltime leading scorer Cameron Wells), three-point shooting (98.7% of all made threes, including career leader Zach Urbanus), and assists (83% of last year’s total).

Given all that, it’s not entirely surprising Driesell stated that “it almost feels like this is my first year.” He has had to do what Ed Conroy did four years ago, basically. Like Conroy, Driesell brought in an eight-man freshman class in his second season.

First, though, it’s worth noting the players from last season who are back, particularly 6’8″ junior forward Mike Groselle, who should be one of the SoCon’s best returnees. Groselle is a model of efficiency who shows particularly well in “advanced stats”, including effective FG% (60.1).

That would have been good enough for third in the SoCon among players who played at least 60% of their team’s minutes; Groselle narrowly missed that standard (59%). It will be important for him to play more minutes this season (he averaged just over 24 minutes per game last year).

Groselle also ranked in the top 10 in the conference in both offensive rebounding percentage and defensive rebounding percentage. With more playing time and a little more range on his shot, I think he would be a good match for Wofford’s Noah Dahlman over the last two years — in other words, a first-team all-league player and a candidate for player of the year. I’m not the only person who thinks Groselle could have a good year; College Basketball Prospectus suggested he “could be a trendy mid-major name four months from now.”

The lone senior on the Bulldogs’ roster is 6’2″ guard Cosmo Morabbi, who had an injury-plagued junior campaign after breaking his finger in the weight room. Morabbi was the player who I thought might benefit the most from a more-uptempo system, so his injury was doubly disappointing.

Before he got hurt, though, he had struggled with his shot. Morabbi is at his most effective when he is a threat from distance, especially the corner three-ball. He was 2-4 from beyond the arc in The Citadel’s exhibition victory over Tennessee Wesleyan, hopefully a good sign.

DeVontae Wright is a sophomore guard from Goose Creek who will have a chance to play more this season, provided he improves, among other things, his assists-to-turnovers ratio. He scored 13 points in 26 minutes of action in the exhibition game.

Bo Holston is a 6’4″ forward who is more of a 3-man; he was placed in the role of the 4 at times last season, a tough assignment. Holston is an “energy guy” who started 13 games last year.

There are a few other players returning from last year who may feature in the rotation. You never know when someone will suddenly get in the mix, as Holston did last season, or as John Brown did three years ago.

Driesell’s eight freshmen are a diverse lot, at least in terms of hometowns. He brought in eight players from seven different states (two are from North Carolina). The general consensus seems to be that the globe-trotting coach brought in a class with some athleticism, but which in at least a couple of cases will need time to develop.

I’m not going to pretend to know much about any of these guys. I also did not see the exhibition game (link: box score) in person, so I’m at a disadvantage in that respect as well. I’ll make a few comments anyway. Hey, it’s my blog…

C.J. Bray is a 6’7″ forward from Charleston (James Island High School) who turned down a football scholarship from Arkansas to plays hoops at The Citadel. At the very least, he should be an athletic presence down low. He started against Tennessee Wesleyan and played 19 minutes, scoring six points.

Ashton Moore is a 6’0″ guard from Virginia. He was the breakout star of the night in the exhibition game, going 6-10 from 3 and scoring 21 points. He also played 30 minutes, more than any other player.

When Moore wasn’t hitting from downtown in the exhibition, fellow freshman guard Lawrence Miller (4-7 from 3-land) was. The 6’1″ Miller is from Charlotte.

Marshall Harris is a 6’1″ point guard from San Antonio. He only played ten minutes in the game against Tennessee Wesleyan, but dished out five assists. I would not be surprised if his playing time increases once the season begins.

P.J. Horgan is a 6’8″ post player from New Mexico. The Blue Ribbon preview was high on Horgan, noting he led his high school team to the state semifinals and was second team all-state. He grabbed four rebounds in ten minutes of play against Tennessee Wesleyan.

Driesell didn’t skimp on signing size. Another example of that is 6’7″, 232 lb. Jordan Robertson, of Greensboro, NC. Robertson did not score in the exhibition game, but did reel in seven rebounds in 16 minutes of play.

Two other freshmen did not play against Tennessee Wesleyan. Dylen Setzekorn is 6’7″, but more of a swingman than a post player (at least, that’s my understanding). He’s described by Driesell as being a good shooter.

Michael Hundley is the tallest of the newcomers, at 6’9″, but only weighs 178 lbs. (according to his roster page on the school website). In the Blue Ribbon preview, Driesell said that Hundley “could be the sleeper of the bunch. He’s long and athletic and could be an excellent shot blocker. He’s got a chance, although he might need a year.” That suggests Hundley may be a redshirt candidate.

As expected, The Citadel is not expected to contend in the Southern Conference this season. The SoCon media picked the Bulldogs to finish last in the South division. College Basketball Prospectus rates The Citadel as the 10th-best team in the league (ahead of Georgia Southern and Samford). Ken Pomeroy’s preseason ratings rank the Bulldogs lower than any other team in the conference (298th in the nation). The Sagarin ratings are a little kinder, ranking The Citadel ahead of three other SoCon squads.

Blue Ribbon’s preview noted that it was “hard not to pick the Bulldogs at the bottom of the South Division because they have so little experience.” The Post and Courier also predicted a last-place division finish for the Bulldogs.

It’s hard to argue with those predictions and assessments, given The Citadel lost so much experience from a team that lost 22 games anyway. On the other hand…

One thing working in the Bulldogs’ favor is that The Citadel is not the only team that lost a lot of players. The College of Charleston lost three starters, including alltime leading scorer Andrew Goudelock and Jeremy Simmons, a key cog in the Cougars’ rotation. Wofford lost four starters, including Noah Dahlman (the best player in school history) and hardnosed rebounder Tim Johnson. Furman lost four starters too; one of them was All-SoCon forward Amu Saaka. That’s just from the South division.

The various polls and previews had a hard time trying to figure out the order of the SoCon South after the top two spots (Davidson and the CofC). While Wofford, Furman, and The Citadel all suffered heavy graduation losses, Georgia Southern only lost one starter, and also has Willie Powers III (an excellent scoring point guard) coming back after missing last season with a knee injury.

No one seems really confident in the Eagles, though. Part of that may have to do with Powers’ extensive injury history, but much of it is based on the fact that while GSU brought back a lot of players, those players only managed to win two Division I games last season (one of those, alas, was against The Citadel).

In other words, the SoCon South is wide open, other than the top spot (where Davidson seems to be a solid pick to not only win the division, but the league) and maybe second place (with the College of Charleston bringing in highly-regarded recruit Adjehi Baru).

As far as the rest of the conference is concerned, the SoCon North in general has more returning talent, and is perceived as being more settled as the season begins, with snakebitten Samford (literally!) a consensus choice to finish last (and that was before the Birmingham Bulldogs lost their starting point guard for the season with an achilles’ tendon injury).

Chattanooga is the favorite in the North, and generally considered the second- or co-favorite for the league title (with Davidson), though not everyone is on the Mocs’ bandwagon — notably the Pomeroy preseason ratings. Omar Wattad will fire from three-land all night long, sometimes forgetting the rules allow him to shoot two-pointers too. Keegan Bell is a fine point guard who will be first team all-SoCon if his field goal percentage improves.

Appalachian State lost alltime leading scorer Donald Sims, yet some observers think the Mountaineers may be better off. Ike Butts’ return is a major reason why; not every SoCon team has a viable post player who is 6’10”, 280 lbs. Omar Carter is the league’s leading returning scorer and a player of the year candidate.

Western Carolina brings back a solid squad as well and may be a nice dark horse pick. The Catamounts finished last season strong, winning 14 of their last 19 games. UNCG will play a slightly more reasonable non-league schedule this season, which should help the Spartans avoid another 0-15 start. Elon is a sleeper pick in some precincts, although the Phoenix may be a year away.

I think it’s likely The Citadel will have some hard times on the hardwood this season. However, the Bulldogs won’t be the only league team in that position, and if some of the freshmen can contribute early and provide a helping hand to Groselle and co., it wouldn’t be a surprise to see The Citadel have a better year in the league than expected.

I do believe that with more of his own players, Chuck Driesell will be able to fully implement his style of play. I am also hopeful that he will have a deeper rotation, which would help the team avoid the late-season stumbles that have habitually plagued the program.

At the very least, the defense (particularly in the paint) should improve. Offensively, besides shooting the ball well (obviously), I would like to see the Bulldogs make a concerted effort to get to the free throw line more, which has been a problem for the last three seasons.

Odds and ends:

— I’ve been asked to contribute to a kind of roundtable discussion about the league this season. This is going to be a weekly thing for the most part. The first edition for this season has been posted to a Chattanooga blog, Mocs Mania, and can be found here:  Link

— From what I can figure out, The Citadel will only appear on television once in 2011-12 during the regular season, and that will actually be in the season opener against VMI, in the All-Military Classic in Colorado Springs, Colorado. That game will start at 11:59 pm ET on Friday, November 11, and is being televised by the CBS Sports Network (not to be confused with CBS). The announcers will be Roger Twibell and Pete Gillen. With any luck, Gillen will try to call timeout at least twice.

The Citadel’s home opener against Clemson will be broadcast online, on ESPN3.com, as part of the SoCon’s season package on that platform. It appears this will be the only time the Bulldogs appear on the package.

It is possible (though not likely) that other games will be picked up for TV and/or ESPN3.com at a later date.

— The new tagline for the season is apparently “Pack the Mac”. I hope that venerable McAlister Field House is indeed packed this season (I am sure it will be for the opener). I would like to see an increased cadet presence this year as well.

I’m ready for the season. Very ready.

Two weeks until gameday for The Citadel: the scrimmage before the storm

I didn’t think I was going to be able to attend Saturday’s scrimmage at Willson Field, but sometimes the sun shines when you expect rain, and I am quite grateful for that. I am not going to claim to have any fantastic observations about what I saw.  That won’t stop me from typing, though…

I got to campus a little late, but that was okay.  Venturing into McAlister Field House, looking for one of the new football posters, I was almost immediately accosted by a gentleman who asked me if I wanted to eat something.  He pointed to a long table filled with hamburgers and hot dogs, and it suddenly occurred to me that I was hungry.

I was a bit dazed, to be honest, and probably looked like I was on drugs (not guilty!), but no matter.  I grabbed a burger and a cookie (which was very good) and wolfed them down.

Then I got one of the new posters (I took the glossy kind, as I didn’t need it autographed), a magnet schedule (nice), and a team roster (very handy) and made my way to the field.

Jeff Hartsell has a nice writeup on the scrimmage, with some unofficial stats (link). You can also read about it at citadelsports.com (link), which also has a lot of cool photos (link) of the scrimmage, along with the meet and greet that followed it.  (I took some pictures myself, but they are mostly awful, and even the decent ones aren’t nearly as good as the school’s offerings.)

Some quick thoughts:

— I really liked the setup for this event.  Good job all around by the department of athletics.  As always, quality cookies are an easy way to please the masses.

— There were several hundred people there, which was nice to see.  I think that if there had been many more spectators in attendance, though, the venue would have been a little too small, something for the administration to keep in mind if the team enjoys a successful season in 2011.

— The Class of 2015 (i.e. the “knobs”) surrounded the field to cheer on the players. Big fan of that move.

— Maybe for future scrimmages Spike (the cartoon mascot) could make an appearance, to entertain some of the kids.

— The officials working the scrimmage wore long black pants.  In August.  In Charleston.  Luckily for them, while it was kind of muggy it was just overcast enough to keep things from becoming truly oppressive.  I left Charleston before the inevitable thunderstorm (at least I assume it was inevitable).

— Aaron Miller, the freshman QB from Clover, had a big run and seemed to have a presence about him.  He’s a very interesting prospect; one of those guys who doesn’t seem super-fast but nobody seems able to catch him anyway.

— The best pass of the scrimmage was thrown by Luke Caldwell, who is a receiver.  It was a really nice pass, though.  Just like the Samford game last season, it went Caldwell-to-Rickey Anderson, who this time caught it in stride.  Anderson seems to be good at making those downfield catches, which can’t be said for every running back. Kevin Higgins will undoubtedly try to take advantage of that.

— There wasn’t an avalanche of turnovers, so unlike last year’s GSU game I won’t be having nightmares about fumbling for two weeks, but there are still some kinks to be worked out.

— The hitting was solid.  No over-the-top pops, although Rod Harland stood out for his enthusiasm in putting people on the ground.

— The placekicking wasn’t awful, but there is still work to do.

— I didn’t see Larry Leckonby, but I assume he was there.  If so, that would mean that every living person who has served as the director of athletics at The Citadel was at the scrimmage.  (Okay, so that’s just three guys.)  General Rosa was also there, resplendent in bermuda shorts.

One thing I found interesting was the undercurrent of intensity in the crowd watching the action.  The players acted with purpose and intent, but that is to be expected.  What struck me was you could also describe many of the spectators as watching with purpose and intent.

I live in a town where the local school’s squad has high expectations for the season to come, as preseason prognosticators have it contending for league and national honors.  Anticipation is mixed with some anxiety.  There is a lot riding on the upcoming campaign.

The Bulldogs are not expected to contend for league or national honors this year. However, in the crowd today you could feel anticipation and anxiety not unlike that present in the capital city, and for good reason.  There is a lot riding on The Citadel’s upcoming campaign, too.

Two weeks until Jacksonville comes to town.  Two long weeks.