Reviewing The Citadel’s last three basketball games

Boring title for a post, but it’s the best I can do.  When the temperature drops below 25 degrees, I get less imaginative…

The Citadel is now 8-9 overall, 3-3 in the Southern Conference, after last night’s thank-God-and-Zach Urbanus-we-won 74-69 OT throwdown with the less than mighty Purple Paladins.  Furman came into the game ranked 341st in the RPI, ahead of only Alcorn State and Southern.  (Maybe there should be a SoCon-SWAC challenge next December.)  However, for a half The Citadel played like the team that hadn’t won a Division I game all season.  Furman changed defenses and forced the confused Bulldogs to commit 11 turnovers in the first half.  The Citadel finally figured out things early in the second half (and the shorthanded Paladins wore down a bit).  However, not being able to stand prosperity, The Citadel somehow blew a seven-point lead in the final four minutes.  Credit to Furman’s players for not giving up; credit to The Citadel’s players for recovering to take control in overtime.

The stats bear out that turnovers were the sole reason Furman was really even in the game.  The Citadel isn’t going to win many games when it commits 15+ turnovers (17 last night), especially when it forces less than 10 from its opponent (Furman only had 9).  The Bulldogs outshot the Paladins, outrebounded them (by 13) and did a good job both getting to the foul line and making the shots when they got there.  The pace of play was about where The Citadel wanted it to be, perhaps a little fast, but not overly so.  Speaking of pace…

My concern with the team as it continues on this long stretch of hoops (the upcoming game against Wofford will be The Citadel’s fifth in ten days; it starts another five-in-ten run on Thursday) is that the possession rate per game has increased to a level higher than where it best suits the Bulldogs.  Before the Davidson game, here were the possession totals for The Citadel’s games against D-1 competition:  72, 54, 70, 55, 53, 60, 57, 63, 70, 70, 56.   Two of the three 70-possession games came against Michigan State and South Carolina; the other was the road win at Charleston Southern, and included a lot of late-game free throw shooting.  The 72-possession game came against VCU.  In other words, in games where The Citadel could control the pace of play, 60 possessions was about where it wanted to be.

Against Davidson, in front of a large crowd, and with an aggressive opponent (and with way too many fouls being called, on both teams), The Citadel wound up with 84 possessions.  That may have been understandable, but when I watched the Chattanooga game two days later, I felt the Bulldogs weren’t patient enough on offense and played the game the way Chattanooga wanted to play it.  Ultimately, it resulted in a tough loss, and it bugged me a little because, honestly, I think The Citadel should have won the game.  That was a missed opportunity.

That missed opportunity made the Furman game that much more important.  Furman may be really bad, but The Citadel can’t count on any victories, especially conference road victories, and I was afraid the Bulldogs had blown it by playing such a poor first half.  Winning it means the Bulldogs won’t be as likely to press, as a loss would have resulted in a three-game losing streak and all the old doubts and fears and “here we go again” talk.  Now, The Citadel has a .500 record in league play heading into Saturday night’s game at Wofford.

Wofford has had an interesting season thus far.  It is currently 112th in the RPI despite a 6-7 overall record.  The Terriers lost at Dayton by three in their season opener (Dayton is currently 15-2), and then got shelled by still-undefeated Clemson.  Wofford then won a holiday tournament hosted by Air Force, beat UNC-Asheville, lost its conference opener at home to Appalachian State, waxed a non-D1 team, and then totally blew a chance at a BCS scalp, losing on a last-second OT shot to Georgia, 74-73 (the conference as a whole would have really liked that one).  In the month of January the Terriers have lost at Navy (which is now 13-4 and a serious contender in the Patriot League) and at South Carolina, won two league road games (including a win at Chattanooga), and on Thursday night lost a tough game at home to the College of Charleston, 65-63.  Wofford is 2-2 in SoCon play, with the two losses at home and the two wins on the road.

This should be a slow-paced game, since Wofford is eleventh in the conference in total possessions, both in league play and overall.  The Citadel is tenth overall, but fifth in league play (as per my point above).   The Terriers do not shoot the ball particularly well, but are one of the nation’s better defensive rebounding teams.  They also foul a lot.

Wofford has also had some injury problems.  Junior Salters was averaging 17.2 points per game through the Georgia game, but hasn’t played since.  Corey Godzinski has a broken hand and is out for four weeks.  The Terriers do have Noah Dahlman, a 6’6″ sophomore forward averaging 16.8 points per game, who despite all the injuries is still coming off the bench.  Tim Johnson is a 6’5″ junior forward avering 9.9 points per game who went for 21 against the CofC.  Dahlman and Johnson combine to average over 17 rebounds per game.

Side note for all you gambling types:  following up on a brief blurb in Jeff Hartsell’s Bulldog Bites, in games involving The Citadel in which the “over-under” has been available for betting, the “over” is now 8-1.  Last night’s OT foiled the under-wanters and resulted in another victory for the over-hopers.

Another road win in league play would be a nice way to close out this five-pack of games and would set the Bulldogs up nicely for the next five-pack.  I would say that it will be a hot time in Spartanburg on Saturday night, except that it’s going to be really, really cold…

Verdict on the non-conference results: Not bad

After Saturday’s come-from-behind-then-almost-blowing-it-at-the-end 58-57 victory over Bethune-Cookman, The Citadel is 6-7 overall, with a 5-6 record in non-SoCon matchups.  For the rest of the year, the Bulldogs will only play Southern Conference foes, unless The Citadel receives an unprecedented bid to either the NCAAs or the NIT.  (Unprecedented doesn’t begin to describe that possibility, of course.)

Let’s compare this season’s non-conference results to non-conference games from the 2007-08 campaign…

Last season:

— Four home wins over non-D1 competition, including a near loss to Webber International (66-63); a 61-point loss at South Carolina; a televised beatdown at the hands of Washington State (67-45, and it was a lot worse than that); a 27-point home loss to Southern California (O.J. Mayo’s first college road game!); a 16-point loss in The Palestra to Penn; and a narrow home victory over Charleston Southern.  Nine non-conference games, a 5-4 record, but only 1-4 against Division I competition.

This season:

— Two home wins over non-D1 competition; a 14-point loss at South Carolina; a televised 14-point loss to Michigan State in which The Citadel held its own; a 22-point home loss to Iowa; a 23-point loss at Virginia Commonwealth; a split of two neutral site games in Cancun (loss to Central Arkansas, win over Grambling State); a dismal home loss to UC Davis; a road victory over Charleston Southern; and a one-point home win over Bethune-Cookman.  Eleven non-conference games, a 5-6 record (3-6 against Division I competition).

Not that it’s the resume of a Final Four team or anything, but this season’s non-conference results were much better than those from last year.  Only two of the games could be considered true disappointments (the home losses to Iowa and UC Davis).  Winning a road game of any kind would have bettered last season’s 0-fer away from home, and the Bulldogs already have two (one in conference play) plus a neutral-site win.  I think only having only two non-D1 games (instead of four) is also a plus.

So while last year’s team was 5-7 on this date in 2008, and this year’s team is 6-7, the improvement is obvious.  Last year’s 5-7 start included an 0-3 mark in SoCon play, while this year’s team is currently 1-1 in the league, with a win and a narrow loss, both on the road.  The Citadel is actually safely out of the 300s in the RPI right now (269).  Last year’s team, of course, would only win one more game the rest of the way and finished 6-24 (1-19), with an RPI of 334.

Total wins for The Citadel, last six seasons:  8, 6, 12, 10, 7, 6

This year the Bulldogs already have 6 wins with 18 games remaining (yes, SoCon teams are again playing 20 conference games, which is ridiculous).   According to Ken Pomeroy’s projection system, The Citadel is projected to win 7 of those 18 games.  That would result in 13 wins on the season for the Bulldogs, the most in seven years.  I wouldn’t mind if the team got a little greedier, though.

The next step in the pursuit of respectability comes Thursday at McAlister Field House, when the Bulldogs face a Georgia Southern squad that is already 2-0 in the conference, and which also has a neutral-site victory over Houston.

No hoops until next year for The Citadel

Of course, next year isn’t that far off.  The Citadel’s next game is another non-conference battle, at home against Bethune-Cookman on January 3.

The Citadel lost to Michigan State by 14, and lost to South Carolina by 14.  However, the Bulldogs played a much better game against the Spartans than they did against the Gamecocks.  South Carolina managed to increase the tempo to a faster pace than The Citadel would have liked (although not quite as fast as the Gamecocks would have preferred).  The Citadel could not take advantage of the helter-skelter play to knock down more open three-point shots.  To win the game the Bulldogs had to make several more threes than USC, and a 7-6 made 3FG advantage was never going to be enough.  It didn’t help that South Carolina was unexpectedly good at shooting free throws (28-33).

The officiating favored the Gamecocks’ defensive style, which is basically a version of the “five guys press and foul, the refs can’t call ’em all” system famously run by Rick Pitino at Kentucky, only Pitino had multiple future NBA players with which to work.  The Citadel never seemed able to adjust to this (even after USC sleepwalked through the game’s opening five minutes).  I would have liked to have seen some of the Bulldogs get more aggressive (I did appreciate Cosmo Morabbi’s approach in this respect).  A poster on The  Citadel’s message board made what I thought was a good point; the Bulldogs needed to set some backcourt picks to “punish” the Gamecocks as they continued to harass the man bringing the ball up the court.

Still, it wasn’t a terrible effort by the Bulldogs, as opposed to the laughable “atmosphere” at Colonial Life Arena.  I wass amused to read that the reported attendance was 9493 (it was less than that by at least a third).  There wasn’t anything original about the Gamecocks’ pregame, from the intros (which featured a player introduced as a starter who actually didn’t start) to the band playing “Sweet Caroline” (this ongoing sports tribute to Neil Diamond must stop).  USC also cranks up Zombie Nation like every other school in North America.  It’s just so…tired.

There was nothing imaginative or innovative about any of it, the crowd was dead…that reminds me.  I honestly am not sure how many of the people at the game were rooting for either of the two schools, because I can’t believe that as much as 40% (or more) of the “crowd” was there for The Citadel, but that’s what it looked like with all the people who showed up wearing blue collared shirts.  Surely some of them were just Gamecock fans, but if you’re a Gamecock fan, shouldn’t you be wearing garnet and/or black?  It was really hard to get a read on the fan ratio because of this (along with all the empty seats).

I took a picture of the scoreboard when The Citadel first took the lead, just for posterity.  I took it quickly, just in case South Carolina scored before I could snap it (as it turned out, I need not have worried).  Here it is:

0032

The Citadel plays South Carolina in hoops for the 100th time

First, I want to comment on The Citadel’s game against Michigan State.  I don’t believe in moral victories, but I do believe in moral non-embarrassments, and the Bulldogs did well in that category.  I am used to watching The Citadel get annihilated when facing a quality opponent , especially on those rare occasions when the game is on TV.  Watching the Bulldogs play a reasonably competitive game against a ranked team was somewhat disorienting.

Speaking of TV, the game against MSU was one of just three contests The Citadel will play this season that will be televised.  (The second of the three will come Saturday against the Gamecocks.)  That needs to change.  With all the games that are televised these days, I think it is critical that The Citadel gets its fair share of exposure.  Three games per season is not going to cut it.  Recruits, even those who are considering a military school, want to play TV games.  I think it would also foster more alumni interest in the program.  Plus, Vegas would get more action on our games.  Okay, maybe that last one isn’t as big a deal.

I would suggest to Ed Conroy (not that he needs my suggestions) that he do everything he can to get OOC games that will be on TV.  John Chaney did something like this years ago at Temple.  The Citadel is hindered a bit in its ability to schedule out of conference, though, by the Southern Conference’s 20-game league schedule, which is ludicrous for a league like the SoCon (16 would be a better number of conference games).

Conroy’s already off to a decent start by playing Big 10 teams.  What I like about playing the Big 10 schools is that if you play one, you will either play a game on national television (on the Big Ten Network) or play a Big 10 school at home (like Iowa earlier this season).  I think 2-for-1s (and even 3-for-1s in some situations) are well worth it if the games on the road are televised.

From what I gather, the SEC’s new mega-deal with ESPN is going to result in a huge increase in TV games for that league (including a lot of ESPNU matchups).  Hey, if playing Mississippi State or Georgia results in another TV game, I say start up the bus and tell the driver to head to Starkville or Athens.

Incidentally, have you ever noticed that a lot of SEC basketball arenas look kind of dark on TV?  It’s a strange phenomenon.  I guess the good lighting is reserved for the football practice fields.  Speaking of dimly lit buildings, that brings us to Saturday’s game against the Gamecocks…

Tomorrow the Gamecocks and Bulldogs will meet in basketball for the 100th time.  A scintillating series, it is not.  South Carolina has won 76 of the previous 99, but the greatest of the 99 meetings was without question the 1989 clash won by The Citadel.  It’s without question the greatest because this is my blog, and I say it is.  Besides, I was there, one of the 7,857 in attendance that February night.

Both teams entered the game with 15 victories on the season.  The Gamecocks were driving to a rare NCAA berth (which they got despite losing to the Bulldogs; South Carolina would lose in the first round of the NCAAs to North Carolina State).  South Carolina led throughout most of the first half and pushed the margin to 11 on a 25-foot three-pointer by Troy McKoy at the buzzer.

The Gamecocks seemed to have all the momentum, but that changed quickly in the second half as The Citadel gradually got back in the game.  The Bulldogs trailed 71-65 with 9:30 to go when they went on a 13-2 run to grab a five-point lead.  The Citadel led 82-78 with just over a minute to play when Patrick Elmore grabbed a rebound.  Two passes later, the ball was in the hands of Ryan Nesbit on the near baseline.  Nesbit (coach Randy Nesbit’s younger brother) was 3-for-4 from three-land already in the game, but the situation didn’t call for a three.  It called for holding on to the basketball.  Ryan Nesbit didn’t care; he was hot.  Up went the shot.  It was a classic “No No No Yes Yes Yes” moment, as he swished the three to give The Citadel a seven-point lead with 1:01 remaining.

The Citadel managed to overcome some nervous free throw shooting (missing the front end of two 1-and-1s) and outlasted the Gamecocks, 88-87 (South Carolina hit a three with one second left, but the Bulldogs successfully inbounded the basketball and the game ended).  South Carolina lost the game despite shooting 54% from the field, including a sizzling 9-11 from behind the arc, and a solid 74% from the foul line.  Terry Dozier scored 25 points on 10-13 shooting and Brent Price added 22.

However, the Gamecocks were outrebounded 34-31 and committed two more turnovers than the Bulldogs.  The Citadel shot almost as well from the field as USC did and made eight three-pointers of its own, and also had the edge in free throws, as South Carolina had to resort to fouling down the stretch.  Six different Bulldogs finished in double figures in scoring.  A seventh, James Stevens, added eight points, the last of which was a free throw that provided The Citadel with its 88th, clinching point.

That game would wind up being the last victory of Ed Conroy’s playing career.  If he is to beat South Carolina for his next victory as a head coach, his team will need to play even better than it did against Michigan State.  South Carolina is 7-1, although the one loss was to the College of Charleston.  As the game notes for South Carolina say (in a tone that could be construed as dismissive):

South Carolina holds a significant edge over The Citadel in nearly every statistical category. The Gamecock offense
averages nearly 20 more points per game than the Bulldogs, while also holding a dominating edge in rebounds
(+10.6), opponent turnover average (+9.1) and steals (+7.5).

Of course, the points-per-game number is a touch misleading, since The Citadel averages 12 fewer possessions per game, and one goal for the Bulldogs in this game will be to try to keep things at a slower pace.  The opponent turnover average is no joke, though.  South Carolina is second nationally in turnovers forced and in the top ten in turnover rate.  The Gamecocks’ FG% defense is an outstanding 37.7% and USC also does a good job on the boards.  On offense, South Carolina is a very good three-point shooting team (40%), although oddly it does not have a lot of assists on its made baskets.  South Carolina has had some issues with injuries and academics and may only be able to suit up nine players on Saturday.

To pull the upset, The Citadel must avoid the turnovers that have plagued previous Gamecock opponents.  Keeping the game at its preferred pace will be key to doing that.  The Bulldogs must defend well along the perimeter (Michigan State may not have been a great test in this respect).  If it can keep the game close, The Citadel has a chance, as South Carolina is not a particularly good foul shooting team.  It’s the one statistic in which the Bulldogs have a decided advantage.

I was there 20 years ago next February when the Bulldogs pulled off a stunner.  I would very much enjoy a repeat of that result.  I can’t think of a better Christmas present.  Just in case, though, I did some shopping today.

10 reasons why The Citadel will beat Michigan State

1.  The Citadel threw the UC Davis game just to make the Spartans overconfident.

I mean, let’s get serious here.  Do you really think the Bulldogs were trying to play defense in the first half?  UC Davis shot 78% from the field.  Most teams couldn’t do that if the other team didn’t show up.  UC Davis had an eFG of 69% for the game.  Clearly, The Citadel was just setting a trap for Michigan State.  Having the Spartans win their last game by 58 points (over Alcorn State) was just an added bonus.

2.  Drew Neitzel isn’t playing in this game.

Neitzel did play in the only meeting between the two schools, which came two years ago during the 10th of Neitzel’s 11 seasons in East Lansing.  Michigan State edged The Citadel 73-41 in a game marred by biased officiating, courtesy of Big 10-friendly refs.  There is no other logical way to explain how the Spartans won that game.

3.  The Citadel gives up fewer points per game than Michigan State and commits fewer turnovers per game as well.

These are true facts.  You can look them up.  The Citadel averages 61.1 possessions per game, the 15th-slowest pace in the country, but I don’t think that is particularly relevant.  Neither is the fact that Michigan State ranks in the top 40 nationally in possessions per game (at 74.9).

4.  The Citadel’s school colors are similar to those of North Carolina.

Speaking of the Tar Heels, you can’t tell me that the Spartans won’t be traumatized when a team wearing light blue and white saunters onto the court at the Breslin Center (even if the contest against the Heels was at Ford Field).  Did you watch that game?  Mercy.  You can bet that the players at Rhode Island and Columbia are upset they can’t get a shot at MSU.

You know, if you squint Demetrius Nelson looks a little like Ed Davis…

5.  Idong Ibok could start at center for the Spartans.

Ibok is a native of Lagos, Nigeria.  He’s 6’11”, 260.  According to MSU’s game notes, Ibok (a redshirt senior who has already graduated; he made the Academic All-Big 10 team last season) has started 17 games in his career.  So far this season, he has played in six games (one start) and scored two points.

That kind of starting history/stat line bears an eerie similarity to that of Augustine “Gus” Olalere, who played for The Citadel in the early 1990s and who was also from Lagos, Nigeria.  So, it looks like The Citadel was about 17 years ahead of Michigan State on the recruiting trail.  Advantage:  Bulldogs.

(Don’t forget about Love Ishie, too.)

6.  The Citadel has never lost a game that was televised by the Big Ten Network.  The Citadel has also never lost a game broadcast nationally in high-definition.  I’m quite sure Dave Revsine will mention these two facts repeatedly during the game.

Incidentally, Steve Smith (former Spartan) is going to be the analyst for this game, which reminds me that we have a serious Steve Smith problem in our country.  Not only is there the ex-Spartan hoopster Steve Smith, soon to be impressed with the greatness that is basketball at The Citadel, but on Sunday night the NFL game will feature not one but two teams with wide receivers named Steve Smith.

Then you have the Steve Smith who used to play for the Raiders and Penn State, and the Steve Smith who coached third base for the Phillies this past season (since canned), and the Steve Smith who played basketball for La Salle and for about an hour in the NBA, and a host of other sports-related Steve and Steven Smiths (not to mention ESPN screamer Stephen A. Smith and ASU fixer Stevin Smith).  Basically, we have too many Steve Smiths.  I call for a moratorium on naming your kid Steven or Stephen if your last name is Smith, especially if you are athletic and there is a risk he could inherit your genes.

7.  The Citadel is a better free-throw shooting team.

The Bulldogs are shooting a solid 72% from the line thus far, while the Spartans are a mediocre 65% from the charity stripe.  In a close game, advantage Bulldogs!

8.  Michigan State has a lot of guys afraid to shoot the ball.

You can tell this is the case just by looking at the assist statistics.  MSU ranks 7th nationally with 19 assists per game, a sign that players would rather have their teammates shoot than take the initiative themselves.  Against Alcorn State, the Spartans had a school-record 35 assists, evidence of a timid squad.

Conversely, The Citadel averages less than 10 assists per game, which is in the bottom 40 nationally.  Obviously the Bulldogs have a lot of aggressive players who aren’t afraid to take big shots.  As Bill Raftery would say, Onions!

9.  The Spartans don’t seem to have a lot of personality.

According to MSU’s game notes, senior guard Travis Walton “loves candy”.  The other factoid listed about Walton is that he’s the team’s strongest player, but c’mon.  He’s a senior, and the best tidbit they can come up with is that he “loves candy”?  Weak.  You can’t win unless your players have more personality, like Bulldog freshman guard Cosmo Morabbi.

10.  This has been a tough year for the State of Michigan.

Let’s face it.  If there is going to be a year in which The Citadel beats Michigan State in hoops, this is the one.  Talk about bad karma…

The Iowa Hawkeyes come to town

On Thursday night, the Iowa Hawkeyes will become the first Big 10 team to ever play a game at McAlister Field House.  I’m sure people will be telling their grandchildren some day about the time big bad Todd Lickliter came to town with his band of marauding hoopsters, intent on destruction.  Then again, maybe not.

Let’s delve into some of the history (or lack thereof) between the two schools…

I first want to mention Whitey Piro.  Who is Whitey Piro?  Well, he was once the head basketball coach at The Citadel.  In 1947, Piro’s Bulldogs were 5-11.  That doesn’t seem like much of a record, but keep in mind the four coaches who followed Piro all had worse overall records.  Never has a .313 winning percentage looked so good.  Piro, who was born in Germany, went to high school in New York and graduated from Syracuse in 1941.  At Syracuse he was a star wide receiver and also played one year on the basketball team as a reserve.  He did not score a point that season, which arguably made him an ideal candidate to later coach hoops at The Citadel.

Piro played one year in the NFL, for the Philadelphia Eagles, before joining the Army Air Corps during World War II.  He would eventually have a long career as an assistant coach at Iowa (and was later a pro scout).  His son is Iowa’s executive director of development for intercollegiate athletics.

Piro is still alive and resides in Iowa City.  He is 90 years old.

After that, connections between the two schools dry up a bit.  Ed Conroy, of course, is a native of Davenport, Iowa, as is his assistant Andy Fox.  Assistant Doug Novak was once the head coach at a JC in Council Bluffs.

This will only be the fifth time The Citadel has ever played a Big 10 school in basketball.  Two years ago the Bulldogs played both Iowa and Michigan State (which will be the case this season as well).  In 1974 The Citadel played Indiana in Bloomington, and in 1970 the Bulldogs faced Northwestern in a Christmas tournament in Greenville.  The Citadel lost all of those games.

The last time The Citadel defeated a school currently in a BCS conference was 1989, when the Bulldogs upset South Carolina 88-87 in Columbia.  (At the time, the Gamecocks were members of the Metro Conference.)  Since then The Citadel’s record against current BCS schools is 0-45.  Prior to that 1989 game the Bulldogs had last defeated a major conference opponent in 1979, when they beat Clemson 58-56 in Charleston.  Thus, The Citadel has lost 70 of its last 71 games against schools currently in BCS conferences.

The Big 10 is not the only major conference The Citadel is 0-for-history against; the same is true of the Pac-10.  However, there have been very few games between The Citadel and teams from those two leagues.  That is also the case with the schools making up the Big XII.  The Bulldogs do have a win against a current Big XII school, though, having defeated Texas A&M (then of the Southwest Conference) 62-61 in 1971.

Okay, enough of that.  Let’s talk about this game.  First, a little background on Iowa’s recent hoops history.  It’s not what Iowa fans would like it to be.

Iowa had made three NCAA tournament appearances before 1979.  In 1955, Iowa reached the Final Four (in a 16-team tournament) before losing to Tom Gola and La Salle.  In 1956, the Hawkeyes made it to the title game (playing the regionals in Iowa City; the national semis were in Evanston, Illinois) before running into Bill Russell, K.C. Jones, and San Francisco.  The coach for those two teams was Bucky O’Connor.  Ralph Miller was the coach of the 1970 Iowa team that won the Big 10, the next time the Hawkeyes made an NCAA tournament appearance.

Iowa hoops in the “modern” era (when the tourney began to take on bigger-than-life dimensions) started with Lute Olson and a series of appearances beginning in 1979.  After stubbing its toe a bit that year (Iowa lost in the first round to Toledo in a game, interestingly enough, played in Bloomington), the Hawkeyes made their third (and to date, last) appearance in the Final Four in 1980.  As a five seed, Iowa had to play a first-round game against Virginia Commonwealth (the tourney had 48 teams back then) and then faced fourth-seeded N.C. State, which had received a bye, in Greensboro.  The Hawkeyes won that game, and then crushed the nascent Big East conference by winning back-to-back games in Philadelphia against top-seeded Syracuse and third-seeded Georgetown.  In the national semifinals, Iowa lost to eventual national champion Louisville, and then also lost to fellow Big 10’er Purdue in the consolation game (the next-to-last time the consolation game was played).

After that season, you better believe expectations were raised in Iowa City.  Olson continued to put teams into the field, but without the success he had in 1980.  Iowa lost in the first round in 1981 and the second round in 1982.  In 1983, as a seven seed, Olson’s charges rolled Norm Stewart and Missouri in round two before getting upended by Rollie Massimino and Villanova 55-54 in the Sweet 16.

Olson moved on, and was replaced by George Raveling, who was still one coaching move away from his inevitable job at Nike.  Raveling went to the tournament twice but was one-and-done both times.  His successor, Tom Davis, brought Iowa to the brink of another Final Four in 1987, but the Hawkeyes blew an 18-point lead to UNLV in the West regional final.  The next year, Davis guided Iowa to the Sweet 16, but the Hawkeyes were thumped by old coach Olson and his new team, Arizona.  That established a pattern for Davis, whose teams always won their first round matchup, but seldom their second.  Davis took Iowa to eight NCAA tournaments in twelve seasons.

He was succeeded by Steve Alford, who was the hot name in coaching (besides being an Indiana high school and IU legend).  Alford, though, had a bit of a disappointing run in Iowa City, only making the NCAAs three times in eight seasons.  He also only had three winning seasons in conference play over his tenure as coach.  Alford won one NCAA tournament game as head coach at Iowa, which is one fewer than he had while coaching (Southwest) Missouri State.  Alford jumped at the New Mexico job two years ago in a classic “jump or be pushed” situation.

Now the coach at Iowa is Todd Lickliter, in his second year with the Hawkeyes after a great run at Butler that included two Sweet 16 appearances in six seasons.  He’s a good coach, but he has work to do.  Iowa was 13-19 in his first season (6-12 Big 10).  Iowa lost its share of close games (seven by six points or less), but also played a lot of fairly close games, which can happen when you average just over 60 possessions per game.  Iowa scored 56 points per game, low by even Big 10 standards.  The Hawkeyes scored under 50 points seven times, including once in a game Iowa actually won (a 43-36 victory over Michigan State that drew guffaws from around the country).  Iowa was not a good rebounding team and struggled to force turnovers, while committing a bunch themselves (bottom 15 nationally in turnover rate on offense).  The Hawkeyes had mediocre offensive shooting stats across the board and were not good from the foul line (64.9%).

This season Iowa is 2-0 with home wins over Charleston Southern (by 20 points) and UT-San Antonio (by 6).  One player almost certain to give The Citadel problems is Cyrus Tate, a 6’8″, 255 lb. senior who in two games is averaging 13.5 points and 8.5 rebounds.  He has also blocked five shots in two games.  He’s the type of post player The Citadel could not compete successfully against last season, and so far this season.  Tate is one of seven Hawkeyes who have played significant minutes so far this year.  Another guy to watch is 6’5″ freshman guard Matt Gatens, who was the high school player of the year in Iowa last season.

Iowa is continuing the deliberate pace it employed last season, averaging 61 possessions in the two games it has played to date.

One more thing — according to Iowa’s game notes, the game against The Citadel will probably be the only Iowa game this season that will not be televised.  All but one of the rest of the Hawkeyes’ games are guaranteed to be on TV.  (Conversely, The Citadel will only be on television three times this season.)

Iowa is picked to finish near the bottom of the Big 10, along with Northwestern and Indiana.  Due to Iowa’s rebuilding, youth (five of its top seven rotation players are freshmen or sophomores), and style of play, if you were going to pick a Big 10 team that could be beaten in McAlister, this might be the one.  However, I don’t see it happening, at least not tomorrow night.

The best chance The Citadel has is to make more than its fair share of three-pointers while somehow holding its own in the paint.  If Demetrius Nelson and company could neutralize Tate and his friends, and The Citadel could shoot well (while not repeating the somewhat out of character 21-turnover performance against VCU), maybe the Bulldogs have a shot.  The Citadel has yet to prove it can successfully defend inside (or outside, really) against a team at the Division I level, though.

Still, there is a reason they play the games…

How a second non-BCS team could sneak into the BCS bowls

As of now, it looks likely that at least one non-BCS school is going to make a BCS bowl.  There are still three undefeated non-BCS teams, Utah (#7 in the BCS standings), Boise State (#9), and Ball State (#14).  In addition, BYU is #17 and could conceivably crash the top 12 if the one-loss Cougars were to beat Utah on November 22.

The real question is, could two non-BCS teams grab a BCS berth?  Probably not.  The rules state that if there are multiple non-BCS teams in the top 12, only the highest-ranked of them is guaranteed a bid.  Any other non-BCS school would go into the at-large pool.

The top 14 teams in the standings are eligible to be selected for an at-large bid.  Now, it’s possible that one of them could be selected over a BCS school for an at-large berth, but it strikes me as extremely unlikely.  After all, this whole setup is designed for the BCS schools, and the non-BCS’ers only got their meager semi-invitation to the party thanks to Congress raising its collective eyebrows.

That doesn’t mean it’s impossible for one of the outsiders to grab a bid.  What needs to happen is that a BCS bowl has no option but to pick a non-BCS school for an at-large bid.  How that could happen for this particular season…

There are 5 BCS bowls, so there are 10 spots available.  6 are reserved for conference champions.  No more than two teams from one conference can get bids (this is key).  Right now the top 14 in the BCS standings, by conference, is as follows:  Big XII – 5, SEC – 3, Big 10 – 2, Pac-10 – 1, Mtn. West – 1, WAC – 1, MAC – 1

So three of those Big XII teams can’t be picked, and one of the SEC teams can’t either.  Assuming the Big XII and SEC each get two teams into the BCS, which is just about a lock at this point, you have six spots left to fill.  Four of those go to the other BCS conference champions, and two are at-large selections.  One of those at-larges, though, technically becomes an automatic bid if a non-BCS school breaks into the top 12, which will almost certainly happen.  That leaves one spot for a second Big 10 team, a second non-BCS team, or…a second Pac 10 team.

Yes, a second Pac-10 team — and that team would be Southern California.  That’s because right now Oregon State still has the edge for the automatic berth out of the Pac-10, with the same number of conference losses as the Trojans and the tiebreaker by virtue of its victory over Southern Cal earlier this season.  If the Beavers win their last three games, they would go to the Rose Bowl, and then Southern Cal would become a very desirable at-large candidate.  That would eliminate any possibility of a second non-BCS school getting a BCS bid.

The other scenario involves the Big 10, which has two schools in the top 14 plus Michigan State, which is sitting at #15 and has an opportunity to at least tie for the conference title with a victory over Penn State.  Ohio State has two games left, against Illinois and Michigan, as does Penn State (the Nittany Lions play Indiana this weekend before finishing with the Spartans).  For a second non-BCS school to grab a berth, two of those three teams need to finish outside the top 14.  If you’re a fan of Boise State or Ball State, you probably should be rooting for Penn State to beat Michigan State, because there is a chance the Nittany Lions could stay in the top 14 even with a loss to the Spartans.  I tend to doubt it, but it’s possible (especially given that other schools in the top 14 will be losing too, as some of them play each other, so there will be further movement).  A loss by Michigan State definitely takes the Spartans out of the mix.

That leaves Ohio State.  I don’t think there is any way a 10-2 Ohio State team isn’t picked for an at-large berth (at least when the options are the Buckeyes or one of Ball State/Boise State).  A loss by Ohio State in either of its last two games, though, might drop it out of the top 14 (especially if the loss is to Michigan), and even if the Buckeyes hang in the top 14, 9-3 might not get it done.  Being a bit of a cynic, though, I suspect a BCS bowl given the choice between a 3-loss Ohio State team and an undefeated Boise State squad is taking the Buckeyes (I don’t think Ball State would have a prayer of getting the nod in that situation).

So basically, if you want two non-BCS schools in BCS bowls, you are rooting against Oregon State and Ohio State, and for everything else to shake out in an normal fashion, or at least as normal a fashion as you can get in college football.  (And you want the non-BCS’ers to run the table, obviously.)