The 2016 FCS Playoffs — a review of the bracket

The Bracket

Links of interest:

The Citadel’s playoff path: a bye, then a familiar foe

– Lehigh football snubbed of home playoff game

New Hampshire makes field for 13th straight year

Albany left out of playoffs; coach calls exclusion “a sham”

Wofford earns playoff bid

Charleston Southern disappointed not to host playoff game

After being disappointed in the seeding, Sam Houston State coach: “It is what it is”

South Dakota State gets seed

Youngstown State in playoffs after a ten-year absence

“Samford shouldn’t even be in the tournament, let’s just get it straight”

North Carolina A&T makes playoff, but coach says “we’re still pretty down around here”

Chattanooga makes playoff field

Cal Poly gets bid, will host San Diego

Preview article on NCAA.com

First, let’s correct an error in that last article I linked above, the one posted on the NCAA’s own website:

Some other teams that will miss out on postseason action as a whole include Montana, Western Illinois and North Carolina Central, who all lost steam down the stretch and were defeated in Week 12.

North Carolina Central won on Week 12, defeating North Carolina A&T 42-21. The Eagles aren’t missing out on postseason action, either — North Carolina Central is going to the Celebration Bowl instead of the FCS playoffs, while the team that lost to the Eagles (North Carolina A&T) got a bid as an at-large team.

I also linked a “handicapping the field” article from the Bison Media Zone. Media members in North Dakota do not think Samford should have made the field.

Of course, being a resident of the Flickertail State isn’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to FCS expertise. In this particular preview, the writer referred to Charleston Southern as the “Mocs”.

I also think he has his guns pointed in the wrong direction when it comes to the exclusion of Albany. I tend to agree that Albany should have been in the tournament, but he failed to identify the most obvious beneficiary of the Great Danes’ absence — New Hampshire.

The two teams played in the same league (the CAA) and finished with the same overall record (7-4). Albany beat FBS Buffalo (admittedly, not the best FBS squad in world history). More to the point, the Great Danes won at New Hampshire.

The Wildcats also managed to lose to Ivy League cellar-dweller Dartmouth, and had no real standout victory. Albany’s worst loss was to Delaware, which strikes me as considerably more acceptable than losing to Dartmouth.

Albany head coach Greg Gattuso called the snub of his team “a sham” on Twitter. He had other comments:

I guess, if I had a question for the (selection) committee, it would be, what in (New Hampshire’s) body of work would be better than ours?

I just think the resume was better. Oh, by the way, we beat them head-to-head at their field. Remember us beating them at their field two weeks ago?

 

One criteria they might say is conference record. But to me, it’s a skewed point when (New Hampshire) didn’t play the second- and third-place teams. They didn’t play Richmond, they didn’t play Villanova. To me, conference schedule when you don’t play everybody should be thrown out (in picking the tournament).

I think Gattuso has a very legitimate argument.

New Hampshire had been in the playoffs in each of the previous 12 seasons; perhaps the committee just felt comfortable sticking them in the field. Maybe there is an unwritten rule that UNH has to be in the tournament.

Once New Hampshire was picked, the committee then got the chance to pair the Wildcats with Lehigh, and gave New Hampshire a home game in the first round. UNH’s average home attendance is 11,108, so it could be assumed its host bid (in terms of a cash guarantee) was quite good.

Albany’s average home attendance this season was 5,928. Could the committee have been thinking about the potential monetary difference if it came down to Lehigh-Albany or Lehigh-UNH? I’m sure the official answer is “No”, but cynics may have some doubts.

In related news, during an interview on a North Dakota radio show, selection committee chairman Brian Hutchinson referenced North Carolina A&T’s “bid offer” as a point in its favor.

I think he probably misspoke — after all, North Carolina A&T isn’t even hosting a first-round game — but what his comment really illustrates is that money is never far from the mind of the committee when selecting, bracketing, and seeding teams. That is unfortunate.

The committee apparently had no choice but to pair San Diego and Cal Poly against each other in the first round, despite the fact the two schools have already played this season. From the NCAA’s “Pre-Championship Manual“:

5. Regular season non-conference match-ups in the first round of the championship should be avoided, provided it does not create an additional flight(s).

6. Teams from the same conference will not be paired for first-round games (except for teams from the same conference that did not play against each other during the regular season; such teams may play each other in the first round);

7. Once the first-round pairings have been determined, there will be no adjustments to the bracket (e.g., a seeded team may play a conference opponent that advanced out of the first round).

If Cal Poly and USD had been in the same league, the rematch would have been avoided — but since they’re not, they had to be matched up, because not doing so would have created two extra flights.

That is because Poly and USD were less than 400 miles from each other, but more than 400 miles away from every other unseeded team. Here is the rule on busing/flights:

During the championship, institutions that are playing within 400 miles (one way) of their campus will be required to travel to that site via bus. Institutions traveling more than 400 miles (one way) to their game will be approved for air travel to that site.

I think it’s absurd that the “allow one more flight” stipulation only applies if teams are in the same conference, but that’s the rule, and the committee had no other option. The rule needs to be changed.

Of course, when it comes to bracketing, the committee tends to take the path of least resistance anyway. This is the second year in a row there has been a regular-season rematch in the first round.

Last year, the Patriot League champion (Colgate) played at New Hampshire, with the winner facing James Madison. Colgate and UNH had already met during the 2015 regular season.

Naturally, this year the Patriot League champion (Lehigh) will again play at New Hampshire, with the winner again facing James Madison…

The manual has this to say about awarding host sites:

3. If the minimum financial guarantees are met, the committee will award the playoff sites to the higher seeded teams.

4. When determining host institutions for playoff games when both teams are unseeded, criteria shall apply as follows: (1) quality of facility, (2) revenue potential plus estimated net receipts, (3) attendance history and potential, (4) team’s performance (i.e., conference place finish, head-to-head results and number of Division I opponents), and (5) student-athlete well-being (e.g., travel and missed class time).

This is not exactly breaking news, but it does explain one aspect of hosting that apparently bothered Charleston Southern coach Jamey Chadwell:

…Chadwell expressed disappointment about having to go on the road, but said getting a playoff opportunity was the ultimate goal.

“It’s disappointing. I don’t know all of the details, but you would think a conference champion would get more favor in the bidding process,” Chadwell said.

As it happens, conference champions don’t get more favor in the bidding process — unless they are matched up against teams in their own league in the first round (which would only occur if the two teams had not met during the regular season).

Charleston Southern hosted last year, but that was because it was a seed and met a minimum financial guarantee. This season, the Buccaneers were unseeded and paired with Wofford.

The decision to hold the game in Spartanburg probably came down to Wofford offering a better financial package, but Charleston Southern fans should be concerned about “quality of facility” being a more significant criterion for hosting than “revenue potential”.

Attendance history is also a factor. Below is the average home attendance for the 16 unseeded teams in the field:

  • North Carolina A&T: 14,472
  • Youngstown State: 14,353
  • New Hampshire: 11,108
  • Illinois State: 10,156
  • Chattanooga: 9,494
  • Central Arkansas: 8,767
  • Weber State: 8,734
  • Richmond: 8,700
  • Cal Poly: 8,413
  • Wofford: 7,625
  • Lehigh: 6,527
  • Villanova: 6,153
  • Samford: 5,897
  • Charleston Southern: 2,712
  • San Diego: 2,405
  • St. Francis (PA): 1,617

Attendance affects both a potential bid by a school, and the committee’s evaluation of its revenue potential.

Only two of the eight first-round matchups are hosted by teams that had lower average home attendance than their opponents. Richmond is hosting North Carolina A&T, and Central Arkansas is hosting Illinois State.

The second of those involves two schools with fairly close numbers in terms of attendance, but the other matchup has a much wider differential. Either North Carolina A&T wasn’t particularly interested in hosting, or Richmond put in a major league bid.

I’m disappointed that for the FCS playoffs, there is yet again a mini-South Carolina bracket in what is supposed to be a national tournament.

This is the second year in a row The Citadel and Charleston Southern have both been bracketed in this fashion, and it is a lame, lame move by Brian Hutchinson and his committee for the second year in a row.

Bulldogs quarterback Dominique Allen:

It’d be nice to face somebody else, somebody besides teams we play all the time.

Linebacker Tevin Floyd of The Citadel:

We have histories with both [Wofford and Charleston Southern], so I think we just wanted to experience something new.

Head coach Brent Thompson of The Citadel:

When it’s the playoffs, you look for some different opponents. You want to get some people to travel in and maybe work outside (the norm) a little bit. But it is what it is, and we have to win the state of South Carolina at this point.

Floyd also said he was happy to be playing at Johnson Hagood Stadium, and Allen referenced a “fun” matchup with either potential opponent, but the point is clear.

I also don’t understand why the committee couldn’t have swapped the Charleston Southern-Wofford pairing and the North Carolina A&T-Richmond pairing in order to avoid a potential second-round rematch.

In other words, the CSU-Wofford winner could have been matched up against North Dakota, while the survivor of N.C. A&T-Richmond played The Citadel (instead of the other way around, as the committee arranged things).

If the committee seeded all the teams, 1 through 24, it would be possible to have a balanced, fair tournament. Instead, bracketing decisions are made explicitly for geographic reasons, and they lead to inequities.

Weber State and Cal Poly both were 7-4 overall; Weber State was 6-2 in the Big Sky, while the Mustangs were 5-3. Now, due to unbalanced league schedules, Cal Poly played a slightly tougher slate than the Wildcats (and it also had a good non-conference win over South Dakota State). On the other hand, Weber State beat Cal Poly during the season.

You could argue that if every team in the tournament were seeded, Cal Poly might deserve a slightly higher seed than Weber State. If so, both teams would probably be seeded in the 17-20 range.

If that happened, each would play first-round road games against similarly-rated opponents. Instead, we have the current geographical setup and the “400 miles” bus/flight cutoff point.

Thus, Cal Poly plays a home game against San Diego of the non-scholarship Pioneer League, a team the Mustangs already defeated earlier this season 38-16. Meanwhile, Weber State travels almost 1,800 miles to play at Chattanooga, a solid SoCon squad that acquitted itself well last week against Alabama.

The decision to make Lehigh travel to New Hampshire also seems problematic to me; if anything, it should be the other way around. Again, however, cash is king in this tournament — though a few folks in Las Vegas are apparently putting their hard-earned money on Lehigh (which is a 4 1/2 point favorite despite having to go on the road).

Final “toughest schedule” numbers from the NCAA for Jacksonville State, James Madison, Sam Houston State, and The Citadel:

  • The Citadel: 19th
  • James Madison: 57th
  • Jacksonville State: 80th
  • Sam Houston State: 102nd

All four finished undefeated against non-FBS competition. SHSU, which was 11-0, did not play an FBS opponent, while the other three schools were all 10-1, with each losing to an FBS team from a power conference.

The committee decided to give Jacksonville State the highest seed out of this group. Did it help Jacksonville State that it made the finals last year? Probably. Did it help Jacksonville State that its director of athletics was on the committee? It couldn’t have hurt.

What it means is that if The Citadel is fortunate enough to advance to the quarterfinals, and its opponent is Jacksonville State, the Bulldogs will be the road team. It is not evident why that should be the case.

Another seeding oddity, in my opinion, was North Dakota being the #7 seed and South Dakota State being the #8. I’m not sure why the Jackrabbits would have been behind UND.

Because the committee seeded those teams in that way, SDSU has a potential rematch with North Dakota State in the quarterfinals. I don’t have a problem with regular-season rematches once teams advance to the quarterfinals, but it seems to me the committee had an easy opportunity to avoid that situation, and in a perfectly justifiable way.

Per at least one source that deals in such matters, here are the lines for the eight first-round games, as of Tuesday afternoon:

  • Wofford is a 1.5-point favorite over Charleston Southern, over/under of 51.5
  • Chattanooga is a 15-point favorite over Weber State, over/under of 51.5
  • Lehigh is a 4.5-point favorite at New Hampshire, over/under of 63.5
  • Richmond is a 13-point favorite over North Carolina A&T, over/under of 53.5
  • Illinois State is a 1.5-point favorite at Central Arkansas, over/under of 49.5
  • Youngstown State is an 8.5-point favorite over Samford, over/under of 50.5
  • Cal Poly is a 12.5-point favorite over San Diego, over/under of 65.5
  • Villanova is a 14.5-point favorite over St. Francis (PA), over/under of 37.5

As you can see, there are two road favorites (Lehigh and Illinois State).

Massey Ratings predicted scores for this Saturday:

  • Wofford 26, Charleston Southern 24
  • Chattanooga 31, Weber State 19
  • Lehigh 33, New Hampshire 28
  • Richmond 36, North Carolina A&T 24
  • Central Arkansas 23, Illinois State 21
  • Youngstown State 28, Samford 20
  • Cal Poly 35, San Diego 29
  • Villanova 21, St. Francis (PA) 7

I’m not pleased with how the tournament was constructed. However, there is nothing that can be done about it, at least not for this season. All eyes will now be following the action on the gridiron.

If you’re in the field, you have a chance. That’s the bottom line.

Football, Game 11: The Citadel vs. Georgia Southern

It has been a disappointing season for The Citadel, but it is likely that it has been an even more disappointing campaign for Georgia Southern.  The Eagles, like the Bulldogs, are 4-6, and losing seasons are definitely not the norm in Statesboro.

It will be only the third losing season for the Eagles since Erk Russell restarted the football program in 1982.  In 1996 Frank Ellwood went 4-7 in his only season in charge; Ellwood was a transitional coach following the firing of Tim Stowers.  In 2006, Brian VanGorder blew into town and left after one year, leaving with a 3-8 record.  He was replaced by the current coach, Chris Hatcher.

Hatcher had been very successful at Division II Valdosta State (winning a national title in 2004) but has not managed to lift GSU to its accustomed heights, with season records of 7-4, 6-5, and this year’s 4-6 to date.  When Ellwood completed his one season as head man in Statesboro, he was replaced by Paul Johnson, who proceeded to win 37 games and a national title over his first three years in command.  (Johnson won another I-AA crown in his fourth season, as well.)

Hatcher’s 17 wins pale in comparison, even when given the benefit of the doubt for having to pick up the pieces left by the hurricane that was VanGorder.  Stowers won 26 games in his first three seasons as the head coach; Mike Sewak won 27 in his first three years.  Even Erk Russell, starting from scratch in 1982, won 21 games over his first three seasons.  Small wonder there is some question about Hatcher’s job security.

After all, this is a school that has considered a move to FBS.  Struggling in the SoCon is not a good recipe for making a move up the football ladder.

The Eagles are 3-4 in the SoCon, having lost last week at home to Furman 30-22.  The Paladins jumped out to a 24-0 lead in that game and held on for the victory.  It was the third straight loss for GSU; the other two losses were a 52-16 beatdown at Appalachian State and a 31-10 loss at Samford.

GSU fans aren’t used to losing games by 30+ points, but it’s happened three times this season:  once to North Carolina (no shame in that), the aforementioned game against ASU and a 44-6 wipeout at South Dakota State earlier this season.  The Jackrabbits are ranked #21 in the FCS, but that is no consolation to Eagle fans.

Like The Citadel, Georgia Southern has allowed 28 points or more in 6 games this year.  In league play, the Eagles have struggled on pass defense, allowed 7.9 yards per pass attempt, worst in the conference, and 12 touchdowns, tied for worst with…The Citadel.

GSU’s rush defense is statistically better, although part of that is due to teams rushing fewer times against the Eagles than any other squad in the league.  The Eagles have done a good job forcing turnovers, which is why GSU is +2 in turnover margin (because the GSU offense has given the ball away quite a bit itself).

Georgia Southern likes to blitz, which can lead to big plays both ways.  Samford, nobody’s idea of a big-play team, had touchdown passes of 69 and 57 yards in its victory over the Eagles.   The Citadel will have opportunities to get its receivers in one-on-one situations.

The receiver the Bulldogs would most like to see in a one-on-one matchup, of course, is Andre Roberts.  It’s his last game for the Bulldogs; maybe he’ll have a chance to cap a memorable career in grand style.

On offense the Eagles are near the bottom in most categories in conference play, ranking seventh (out of nine teams) in scoring offense, total offense, rushing offense, pass efficiency, and third-down conversions.  Georgia Southern has, however, been efficient in the red zone.  The Eagles are also first in the league in time of possession.

The biggest problem GSU has had, statistically, is allowing sacks — 30 in league play, the most allowed by a conference team.  The Citadel needs to continue the trend of opponents putting GSU quarterbacks on the ground if the Bulldogs plan on winning this game.

Georgia Southern has committed more penalties than all but one team in league play.  However, The Citadel has had fewer penalties called against its opponents than any other school in the conference.  Something’s gotta give…

Lee Chapple started the first nine games at quarterback for the Eagles, but last week was replaced as the starter by Kyle Collins.  Chapple will probably start against The Citadel.  He has thrown 7 touchdowns this season, but has been intercepted 14 times.  GSU running back Adam Urbano is only averaging 63.3 yards per game on the ground in league play, but he’s a definite receiving threat, having caught 45 passes this season, which leads the Eagles.

This game will not be Homecoming at Paulson Stadium — that was last week, against Furman.  However, there will probably still be a good crowd urging GSU (including 16 Eagle seniors) on to victory.  The Citadel has historically not fared well in Statesboro, with only one victory (in 2003) in ten trips to Paulson.

However, perhaps Saturday will be different.  After all, it will be November 21, and strange and wondrous things have been known to happen on that date, most notably on November 21, 1978.

That day, The Citadel trailed Furman 18-0, but scored 35 unanswered points to defeat the Paladins 35-18.  The coach of the Bulldogs that day was Art Baker, and it was the first (and only) time Baker ever won a game in The Citadel-Furman series.  He had been 0-8 until then, losing games as head coach of both Furman and The Citadel.

He would also lose the next season, in his final game as a head coach in the series, but on November 21 he was golden.  Maybe that’s a good sign for the Bulldogs on Saturday against GSU.

Cancun Challenge matchups (that are actually in Cancun!)

It’s time for the Cancun Challenge to reach its highly anticipated climax.  All the excitement moves to Mexico, where The Citadel will play two games in two days this weekend in pre-determined, non-televised matchups.  On Saturday the Bulldogs play Central Arkansas.  On Sunday, the opponent will be Grambling State.  The games will be played at the Moon Palace Resort in Cancun.  Incidentally, this tournament is run by Triple Crown Sports, the same outfit responsible for the women’s NIT (pre-season and post-season).

Central Arkansas is a school with an enrollment of about 13,000 students.  It’s located in Conway, a city with a population of around 55,000, about 25 miles north of Little Rock.  UCA was an NAIA school for many years, then moved to NCAA Division II, and four years ago began its transition to NCAA Division I.  It’s in year three of that transition, and has a year to go before becoming a full-fledged D-1 member.  Thus, it isn’t eligible for its conference tournament until next season.

That conference would be the Southland.  UCA just completed a football season in which it went 10-2, 7-1 in the league, but it wasn’t recognized as conference champion because the league feared it would lose its automatic bid to the FCS playoffs if its champion was ineligible to compete in the postseason.

There are two other facts about Central Arkansas worth mentioning.  One is that Scottie Pippen went to UCA, where he was a two-time NAIA All-American before winning six NBA titles with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.  Pippen actually started his career at UCA as a 6’1″ walk-on (with team manager responsibilities), but then he grew to 6’7″ and the rest is history.  The other thing you need to know about Central Arkansas is that while its men’s teams are called the Bears, the women’s teams are known as the Sugar Bears.

The Citadel and Central Arkansas have never met in hoops.  So far this season UCA is 2-2, with home wins over Bacone (an NAIA school in Muskogee, Oklahoma) and UNC-Greensboro, and road losses to Northwestern and Vanderbilt.  The loss to Northwestern was just horrendous (81-39).  On the other hand, beating UNCG should be more than enough to impress The Citadel, which was swept by the Spartans last season.

UCA returns three starters from last year’s 14-16 squad (which went 4-12 in the Southland) and adds a couple of key players to that mix.  6’6″ Mitch Reuter missed most of last season for the Bears with an injury.  He’s off to a nice start this season, as is Chris Brown, a 6’8″ transfer from Wichita State.  Other players of note for UCA include Marcus Pillow, a 6’0″ guard who leads the team in scoring and minutes played, and Mike Pouncy, a 6’1″ guard who exploded for 26 points against UNC-Greensboro.  Also part of the Bears eight-man regular rotation are a pair of centers, 6’9″, 260 lb. Brian Marks (leading the team in rebounding) and 6’8″ Landrell Brewer.

There is one player from South Carolina on UCA’s roster, the wonderfully named King Cannon, a 6’5″ forward and graduate of York High School who is averaging 13 minutes per game.  Not seeing much action but worth mentioning is 6’1″ sophomore guard Imad Qahwash, who went to high school in Canada but played this summer for the Jordanian national team.  That’s not Michael Jordan’s house team, by the way.

So far this year UCA has not shot the ball particularly well, a carryover from last season when the Bears were among the poorer shooting teams in the country.  Central Arkansas is currently shooting less than 40% from the field and less than 30% from beyond the arc.  UCA shoots only 65.3% from the foul line.  So far this season, UCA’s defensive FG% stats are rather hideous in four games (opponents are shooting better than 50% from the field), but that’s obviously a small sample size.  Last year the Bears were okay defensively.

After its game against The Citadel, the Bears will play on Sunday against South Dakota State.

Grambling State is famous for its football.  Basketball, not so much (although the school does have one famous hoops alum, Willis Reed).  Grambling has been in Division I since 1978 and has never qualified for the NCAA tournament.  Only eleven schools can claim a longer (continuous) drought without an initial tourney appearance.  One of those schools, of course, is The Citadel.  The game on Sunday will be the first between the Tigers and Bulldogs.

In the last 15 years, Grambling has only enjoyed two winning seasons (14-12 in 2005 and 16-12 in 1998).  The Tigers followed up that 1997-98 season with a six-win season and a three-win campaign.  Maybe even more disappointing for a Grambling fan is that over that same time period, only three times have the Tigers had a winning conference record.  Considering that the SWAC annually ranks near or at the bottom of conference RPI ratings, that doesn’t say much for GSU.  Last year Grambling finished with a 7-19 record and an RPI of 328.  In other words, when it comes to hoops, Grambling State and The Citadel are peers.

Grambling’s new coach is Rick Duckett, who has been around.  He’s a UNC grad who had successful stretches as a head coach at the Division II level, and was most recently an assistant to Dave Odom at South Carolina.  He’s probably a good get for the school, but he has his work cut out for him.  In three games so far this season Grambling has lost a close home game to Louisiana Tech and has been blown out in two road games against New Mexico (96-50) and Oklahoma State (91-60).  Duckett wants to employ an up-tempo style, but he may not have the players to do that yet (in the three games the Tigers are averaging a slightly-above-average 72.5 possessions).

Grambling lost three starters from last season and two other key contributors.  Duckett does have Andrew Prestley, a 6’5″ forward who in three games so far this season is putting up a 17-8 line, and JC transfer Ibrahim Kpaka, a 6’4″ guard who is averaging 13 points per game.  Grambling has very little size; the biggest player in its seven-man rotation is 6’7″, 240 lb. Jamal Breaux.  Breaux is the SWAC’s leading returning rebounder and came into this season averaging 52% from the field for his career, but in three games so far this season he is shooting 36% and only collecting 4.3 boards per game.  Grambling as a team is shooting just 33% from the field and an abysmal 55% from the foul line.  Conversely, its opponents are shooting 50% from the field (43% from 3-land).

The day before playing The Citadel, Grambling State takes on Morehead State, another winless team (0-5).

It will be interesting to see how the Bulldogs fare in neutral-site games against teams with at least similar talent levels.  Playing two games in two days will be a good warmup for the Southern Conference tournament (although assuming the Bulldogs might play more than one game in that tourney is always dangerous).  I will be disappointed if The Citadel doesn’t win at least one of these two games.  Central Arkansas is probably a slight favorite, but the Bulldogs likely would get the edge over Grambling.

Live from Charleston, the Cancun Challenge

I’m still amused (or perhaps bemused) by the format of the Cancun Challenge.  Basically, it’s a four-team tournament with guests…

Vanderbilt, Virginia Commonwealth, New Mexico, and Drake are in the actual bracketing for the tournament.  Drake-Vandy and VCU-New Mexico are the first round matchups, with the winners and losers playing each other the next day.  All of that makes sense.

What doesn’t make a lot of sense is that six other teams are part of the Challenge, but won’t compete in the mini-tourney outlined above.  Those six schools are The Citadel, Grambling State, Central Arkansas, South Dakota State, Central Florida, and Morehead State.

Basically, what happens in this “tournament” is that the Vandy-VCU-UNM-Drake group each host two games in the U.S. against two opponents from the six-pack mentioned in the previous paragraph.  It doesn’t really matter which two, because they don’t impact the tournament brackets for any team.  Then all ten teams will go to Cancun, with the four host schools playing an actual tournament while the remaining squads play two pre-determined matchups against other members of the “lesser six”.  The Citadel, for example, will play Central Arkansas and Grambling State in Cancun.

Further confusing things is that there were only eight available spots for the six-pack against the “fab four” in those U.S.-based matchups, so a couple of teams had to play “filler” schools for their second game.  The Citadel thus needed another opponent as part of the Challenge, and Cincinnati Christian is it.

All of this is an effort to cram as many games into an official tournament as possible, because they all count as two games (instead of four) for scheduling purposes.

At any rate, the bottom line is that The Citadel plays Cincinnati Christian tonight.  This will be the first time the two schools have met in hoops.  Cincinnati Christian is an NCCAA school (like Grace Bible College, the opponent in The Citadel’s season opener) and is also a member of NAIA Division II.  CCU, which has about 1100 students, is a member of the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, which includes schools such as Asbury, Berea, Alice Lloyd, and the St. Louis College of Pharmacy.  (The Citadel has played Asbury twice in recent years, winning those two games by scores of 75-48 and 81-60.)  I am not sure, but I think this is Cincinnati Christian’s first year in the KIAC.  In a preseason poll listed on the KIAC website, the Eagles are picked to finish next-to-last in the league, just ahead of SLCOP.

The Bulldogs will be the first of two Division I opponents for Cincinnati Christian this season.  The Eagles will also play Liberty in late December.  The Flames were the opponent the last time CCU played a D-1 team, which was two years ago, Liberty winning 101-65.  Liberty and Cincinnati Christian also met the year before that, an 81-51 triumph for the Flames.

Cincinnati Christian was 23-14 last season.  CCU had been the top seed in the NCCAA national tournament, but lost in the quarterfinals.  Two games later, the Eagles finished their season by winning a consolation game against none other than Grace Bible College, 104-87.  That was the 40th time the two schools had met on the court, with CCU winning 33 of those contests.

This season Cincinnati Christian is 4-1, with victories over Ohio Chillocothe, Kuyper College, Boyce College, and Kentucky Christian, the last two wins coming after the lone loss, 104-67 to Mount Vernon (OH) Nazarene.  Mount Vernon Nazarene was the preseason #3 team in NAIA Division II.

It’s hard to get a read on CCU when you examine the box scores from its first five games.  The Eagles’ first three games were played at a breakneck pace (82, 91, and 92 possessions).  That included an easy win, a close win, and a blowout loss (the 92-possession game).  Then either the Eagles or their opponents lowered the throttle, as the last two games have been played at a more normal pace (71 and 73 possessions).  CCU has occasionally been turnover-prone, but has also forced its fair share of TOs.

The best player for the Eagles is probably Trenton Calloway, a 6’6″, 260 lb. center averaging 15.6 points (on 71% shooting) and 9.8 rebounds per game.  Calloway is not a good free throw shooter (38%).  Chris Scott, a 6’0″ guard, is averaging 11.2 points per game and 4.4 assists per game.  Scott also averages over 3 turnovers per game, as opposed to Tommy McGuire, a 5’10” guard who has almost as many assists as Scott (22 to 18) but has a solid 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.  The Eagles don’t have much of a rebounding presence aside from Calloway.  Their other frontcourt players include Drew Ellis, a slender (215 lbs.) 6’7″ forward, and 6’9″, 265 lb. center Luke Mace.  CCU has played at least 12 guys in each game, incidentally.

That’s about all I have on Cincinnati Christian.  The Bulldogs should win this game, and I believe they will.  I expect a more coherent performance than in The Citadel’s win over Grace Bible College.  I think if the Bulldogs stay within themselves and avoid turnovers, victory should be assured.