2015 Football, Game 1: The Citadel vs. Davidson

…But one day, when across the Field of Fame the goal seemed dim,
The wise old coach, Experience, came up and spoke to him.
“Oh Boy,” he said, “the main point now before you win your bout
Is keep on bucking Failure till you’ve worn the piker out!”

“And, kid, cut out this fancy stuff — go in there, low and hard;
Just keep your eye upon the ball and plug on, yard by yard,
And more than all, when you are thrown or tumbled with a crack,
Don’t sit there whining — hustle up and keep on coming back;

“Keep coming back with all you’ve got, without an alibi,
If Competition trips you up or lands upon your eye,
Until at last above the din you hear this sentence spilled:
‘We might as well let this bird through before we all get killed.’

“You’ll find the road is long and rough, with soft spots far apart,
Where only those can make the grade who have the Uphill Heart.
And when they stop you with a thud or halt you with a crack,
Let Courage call the signals as you keep on coming back.

“Keep coming back, and though the world may romp across your spine,
Let every game’s end find you still upon the battling line;
For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name,
He writes — not that you won or lost — but how you played the Game.”

– from “Alumnus Football”, by Grantland Rice

The Citadel vs. Davidson, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 5. The game will not be televised.

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

The game can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station. WQNT will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each home football game. 

Mike Legg (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze. Jay Harper will report from the sidelines; he will host the first hour of the pregame show as well.

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

The Citadel Sports Network — Affiliates

Charleston: WQNT 1450AM (Flagship)
Columbia: WQXL 1470AM/95.9FM
Greenville: WLFJ 92.9FM/660AM
Orangeburg: WORG 100.3FM
Sumter: WDXY 1240AM/105.9FM

From three weeks ago: my de facto preview of the upcoming season for The Citadel, which is something of a statistical review of last year. Math is involved.

Other topics related to The Citadel’s football program that I’ve written about over the past few months:

– A post in which I somehow wrote about both FCS non-conference football schedules and “The Man in the Brown Suit”
– A brief overview of the SoCon’s 2015 football signees
My take on the school’s recent football uniform history (written before the latest “unveiling”)
– The “Gridiron Countdown” series of posts, including analysis of attendance issues, among other things

Links of interest:

Season preview from The Post and Courier

– Game-week depth chart report from The Post and Courier

STATS SoCon preview (The Citadel is picked to finish next-to-last)

– College Sports Madness SoCon preview (The Citadel is picked to finish sixth)

– SoCon media and coaches’ preseason polls (The Citadel is picked to finish next-to-last in both polls)

– Game notes from The Citadel and Davidson

SoCon weekly release

Pioneer League weekly release

Pioneer League preseason poll

FCS Coaches poll

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Mike Houston’s 9/1 press conference (includes comments from Sam Frye and Tevin Floyd)

Paul Nichols previews the game on his coach’s show

Davidson College was founded in 1837, and established on land purchased from William Lee Davidson II . The school is named for his father, a Revolutionary War general who was killed in battle in 1781.

The college was originally established as a Presbyterian institution and is still affiliated with that church, though mandatory chapel was discontinued more than four decades ago. Davidson is located just north of Charlotte, with a 665-acre main campus. Most of Davidson’s 2,000 students live on that campus.

The college has an endowment of around $650 million. The school motto is Alenda Lux Ubi Orta Libertas, which is a Latin phrase that translates as “Let Learning Be Cherished Where a Basketball Goal Has Arisen”.

Davidson played its first football game against outside opposition in 1898, losing its opener 11-0 to North Carolina but following that up with an 6-0 victory over South Carolina. The next year, five games were played; that 1899 campaign also featured a loss to UNC and a win over the Gamecocks. Indeed, Davidson’s first four seasons of football all included victories over South Carolina, three by shutout.

That is, if 1898 was actually Davidson’s first season of football. The most recent online edition (2013) of the school’s football media guide includes two games allegedly played in 1897, and the Davidson “Quick Facts” sheet also lists 1897 as being the first year in program history.

However, the college’s website references the 1897 “season” as simply consisting of matchups against area club teams. The two would-be 1897 opponents mentioned in the media guide are the same two schools that Davidson officially played in 1898 — North Carolina and South Carolina. Neither of those schools includes an 1897 game versus Davidson in their media guides.

Meanwhile, the College Football Data Warehouse lists four opponents for Davidson in 1896. It also identifies the Wildcats’ first opponent in 1897 as North Carolina State, not North Carolina (and lists a different score than the school media guide). Just to make things more interesting, NC State does list Davidson as one of its 1897 opponents.

All in all, I’m a bit undecided on the “When was Davidson’s first season?” question.

The Wildcats (a moniker acquired in 1917) continued to play regional opponents throughout the early part of the 20th century, including The Citadel. The first gridiron matchup between the two schools, in 1909, ended in a 0-0 stalemate.

In 1936, Davidson joined the Southern Conference, the same year The Citadel and Furman became members. The initial league campaign was a promising one for the Wildcats, as they finished 5-4 overall with a 4-3 record in the SoCon. However, that would be the last time Davidson finished with a winning record in conference play until 1954.

Davidson found something of a gridiron savior in the mid-1960s, with the arrival of Homer Smith as head coach. Smith, one of the more respected coaches of his generation, gradually built a title contender, thanks in part to instituting a two-platoon system that featured many more scholarship players. Everything came together in 1969.

That season, Davidson went 7-4, with a 5-1 record in the Southern Conference, sharing the league title and grabbing a berth in the Tangerine Bowl. It was the only time Davidson ever got even a piece of the conference crown. Incidentally, the Wildcats’ solitary SoCon loss in 1969 was a 34-28 setback at The Citadel.

Smith had a reputation as an offensive mastermind, and that is reflected in some of Davidson’s 1969 games. The Wildcats put 77 on the board against Furman, and 59 more versus VMI.

Entering the league finale against East Carolina, Davidson needed a win to clinch a tie for the conference title. ECU led 27-0 with less than a minute remaining in the first half, but Davidson scored six unanswered touchdowns and won, 42-27.

Things went south for the football program in a hurry, though, after that 1969 season.

It wasn’t exactly a surprise. Prior to the 1969 season, Homer Smith told reporters that football was unwanted at Davidson by “most of the faculty and staff…at least 80%. These people are working, some feverishly, to do away with subsidized college football.”

Smith also claimed the same was the case for Davidson basketball (!), but that Lefty Driesell’s teams had been successful enough to essentially pay for themselves.

(The column linked above mentions that Furman had also moved at that time to reduce its football budget. Furman eventually reversed course. Davidson did not.)

By February of 1970, Homer Smith was no longer Davidson’s football coach. Smith left (eventually taking the job at Pacific) after Davidson’s board of trustees slashed the football budget by almost half.

Over the next three seasons, Davidson won a total of six football games. Then as the 1973 season wound down, the administration at Davidson went one step further, in the process winning that year’s “Worst Communicators” award by acclimation. While the team was on the road at Air Force, a press conference was called. I’ll let John Kilgo (at that time writing for The Robesonian) describe what happened:

Davidson decided to de-emphasize football. There would be no more football scholarships. They would be distributed on a basis of “need” only.

The press was brought in and told what the decision was — but no one bothered to pick up the phone and relay the word to [head coach Dave Fagg] or Athletic Director Tom Scott. Fagg, who was aware the action might be taken, was notified officially by a newsman who called to question him.

When Fagg and his team got back to [campus on] Sunday, Davidson president Sam Spencer was out of town. He had still not bothered to inform his athletic director or head football coach that the football picture had been completely changed.

If you’re thinking that the Davidson administration couldn’t have possibly been more obtuse, you’re wrong:

The Spencer Administration did not accept [head coach Dave Fagg’s] advice about scheduling. The coach wanted to play other schools that award scholarships on a need basis. This would have taken Davidson out of the Southern Conference football picture.

Dr. Spencer obviously disagreed.

He feels Davidson can play what he calls “the less ambitious schools” in the Southern Conference. Dr. Spencer was not available for comment, but when asked to identify some of these colleges, a Davidson spokesman replied: “That’s a good question. I could not name the so-called less ambitious schools in the Southern Conference.”

Kilgo theorized that Spencer was referring to Furman, The Citadel, VMI, and Appalachian State. However, he pointed out that Davidson had struggled against those schools even with scholarship players — and that it was “not clear how [Davidson hoped] to compete against them [with] no players on football grants.”

In 1974 Davidson won two games, beating Hampden-Sydney and Defiance College (both Division III programs). A victory over D-3 Kenyon was the Wildcats’ only triumph in 1975.

In those two years, Davidson played a total of six Southern Conference games, two each against VMI, The Citadel, and Appalachian State. The Wildcats lost all six contests by an average score of 48-6.

By 1976, Davidson was ready to make a move. At least, that was the idea.

Davidson College announced Tuesday [June 22, 1976] it is dropping out of the Southern Conference, where it has been a member for 40 years, to seek “national-level” basketball competition…

…[Davidson officials] consider as a possibility joining a new conference being discussed by six Southern schools. They include East Carolina, South Carolina, the University of Richmond, William and Mary, and Virginia Military Institute.

That potential league didn’t happen. Davidson leaving the SoCon in 1977 didn’t happen either:

Davidson College announced the school will not leave the Southern Conference in July [of 1977] as previously announced.

“Being in the Southern Conference gives our minor sports a chance to compete in postseason play,” said athletic director Thom Cartmill. “There is an automatic NCAA tournament bid, and it makes scheduling easier.”

In other words, Davidson didn’t wind up in a new conference. The school thus had to decide whether to compete as an independent in basketball (and presumably most, if not all, of its other sports) or remain in the SoCon. It chose the safer route.

By this time basketball was the only varsity sport for which Davidson was offering athletic grants-in-aid. It seems rather clear that by then, Davidson had caught the “big time hoops” bug for good, and that sport has been the school’s primary (if not sole) focus for the past forty years when it comes to decision-making on the athletics front.

It is obvious (at least to me) that the most influential person in the history of Davidson athletics is Charles G. “Lefty” Driesell. Davidson had never won the Southern Conference title in hoops before Driesell’s arrival in 1960; by the time he left after the 1969 season, basketball was part of the college’s ethos.

I think it is fair to suggest that if it weren’t for Lefty Driesell, Davidson would no longer have a Division I athletics program. It is likely the school would have dropped down to Division III during the early 1970s if not for the success of his basketball teams.

Davidson did not technically compete for the SoCon title from 1974 to 1982, playing only one or two league schools (usually Furman and/or The Citadel) in most of those seasons. By 1983, though, the rest of the SoCon was ready for Davidson’s football program to participate in the league, or else the college would need to find a new conference to call home.

Since it didn’t have a lot of options at the time, Davidson agreed to play a league slate in football (a minimum of five games at first, later apparently increased to six). The immediate problem was that the Wildcats and the other conference schools already had their schedules set for the next several years, so a compromise was reached. What a compromise it was.

Davidson wound up playing in “designated league games” against the likes of Lafayette (twice), Penn (twice), James Madison (three times), and Bucknell (three times).

If you think that was bizarre, it gets better. Davidson’s games in 1985 against Bucknell, Penn, and James Madison all counted in the standings. The Wildcats’ games against Western Carolina, Furman, and The Citadel all counted in the standings that year too — but only for Davidson.

Western Carolina, Furman, and The Citadel were not credited with a league victory after each defeated Davidson, because the other league members that didn’t get to play the Wildcats were not about to let those schools get an edge in the standings by picking up what was assumed to be an easy win (and in fact, those three schools outscored Davidson that season by a combined total of 102-7).

Things didn’t get much better for the Wildcats in 1986. The squad went 0-9 overall, including a number of blowouts (63-14 versus Marshall; 63-6 against Appalachian State; 59-0 versus Furman).

In a four-year stretch between 1985 and 1988, Davidson won a combined total of two games (both against Wofford).

In the latter two of those four difficult seasons, the Wildcats were no longer playing in the Southern Conference.

A request by Davidson for an exemption from playing league football was rebuffed by the rest of the conference membership. The school’s administration had earlier elected to place its football program in the newly formed Colonial League (later renamed the Patriot League).

The decision basically put the rest of Davidson’s varsity sports in limbo, though the college actually remained in the Southern Conference for all sports except football and women’s hoops (which was dropped by Davidson in 1986) through the 1987-1988 school year.

Davidson competed as an independent in men’s basketball for two seasons, then joined the Big South for two years. The school would eventually return to the SoCon in all sports but football, starting in 1992-1993.

Of course, Davidson left the league again last year, this time for the Atlantic 10. However, from this point on in its varsity sports history I’m going to focus on Davidson’s football program.

Two years in the Colonial League were enough for Davidson, which went 0-7 in league play in those two seasons. The school’s board of trustees voted to move the program to Division III, though that stance would soon become moot; a 1991 NCAA bylaw change mandated that Division I schools would have to conduct all sports at the D-1 level (a decision occasionally referred to as the “Dayton Rule”).

The program proceeded to compete as a I-AA independent for the next decade, generally playing D-3 schools during that time. The change in schedule led to more wins; Davidson went 5-3 in 1990, won five more games in 1992, and added six victories in 1993 and 1996.

Head coach Tim Landis won eight games in both 1998 and 1999, but then departed after seven seasons. He was replaced by Joe Susan, a former Princeton assistant coach.

The new boss led the Wildcats to a perfect 10-0 season, the most wins in school history. He then immediately left Davidson to become an assistant coach at Rutgers.

Susan is now the head coach of Bucknell. The coach he replaced at Bucknell was the same coach he had replaced at Davidson — Tim Landis.

Davidson joined the Pioneer Football League for the 2001 season, and its football program has remained in that conference ever since. The Pioneer League is a football-only conference for schools that compete at the Division I level but don’t offer athletic scholarships in the sport.

For the past two years, the Pioneer League’s champion has received an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs. There are eleven current conference members: Davidson, Campbell, Stetson, Jacksonville, Morehead State, Valparaiso, Butler, Dayton, Drake, Marist, and San Diego.

Mercer, of course, played in the league for one season before joining the SoCon last year.

Davidson’s win-loss record while a Pioneer League member has ranged from decent to really bad. The “really bad” includes the last few seasons.

The program has won only eighteen games in the last seven seasons, and has only one victory over the past two years. Unfortunately for Davidson, even that lone win carries a huge asterisk.

You can watch highlights of Davidson’s 56-0 victory over College of Faith (NC), assuming CoF’s uniforms don’t give you a headache. You can also read comments from an anonymous Davidson player on Reddit that were posted soon after the contest. Here are the first two:

I play for Davidson College, the team that played CoF last week. This was the most embarrassing [] ever…We had our starters out before the end of the first quarter and barely ran our offense because we felt bad for almost putting up 50 in the first half. If we had just kept playing I don’t see how we could’ve scored less than 150. They were so bad and it sucks as a player to have to try and justify any reason why we should’ve been playing them to other people. It was embarrassing as an athlete. But I suppose it’s a win, and we’re moving on to the rest of our schedule now.

Also they didn’t have athletic trainers… A bunch of their players got hurt and our trainers had to handle it for them.

The NCAA doesn’t think College of Faith is a legitimate school, and isn’t counting statistics for any future games played against it or any other schools the NCAA doesn’t deem “countable opponents”. In fact, College of Faith was specifically referenced when the NCAA made the ruling this past May.

Davidson had provisionally scheduled a game against College of Faith for this season, too, but in March the college replaced CoF on the schedule with Kentucky Wesleyan (which was another school that had played CoF last year).

(As an aside, East Tennessee State had also scheduled College of Faith for this year, but dropped CoF and replaced it with…Kentucky Wesleyan.)

When Davidson defeated College of Faith last season, it marked the first career victory as a head coach for Paul Nichols. It is also his only career victory as a head coach after two seasons at Davidson.

That is a far cry from his career as a player. Nichols was Davidson’s starting quarterback in 2000 when the Wildcats went undefeated.

Putting aside the College of Faith game for a moment, it does appear that Davidson made progress in 2014, at least when compared to its wretched 2013 campaign, a year in which Davidson lost every game it played by at least thirteen points.

Last season, Davidson lost one game in five overtimes (against Dayton), another by one point (at Campbell; the Wildcats led until the final minute), and a third by six points (versus Stetson).

There were also some blowout losses. VMI beat Davidson 52-24, while Princeton defeated the Wildcats 56-17.

A trip to Des Moines did not go well, as Drake manhandled Davidson 51-14. The Wildcats were also thrashed on their own Senior Day, 56-0, by Jacksonville. In those two games, Davidson was outscored in the first half by a combined 72-0.

It didn’t help Davidson’s cause when starting quarterback J.P. Douglas was suspended from the team in October following an on-campus altercation. Douglas was charged with assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury. The charges were later dropped, but his gridiron career with the Wildcats was already over by that point.

Here is a comparison of The Citadel and Davidson in select statistical categories for the 2014 season. The Citadel’s stats are for SoCon games only (seven contests). Those opponents: Wofford, Chattanooga, Western Carolina, Mercer, Furman, Samford, and VMI.

For Davidson, I decided to throw out the College of Faith game, so the statistics below are for the other 11 games the Wildcats played last season. Davidson’s opponents in those eleven games: Catawba, VMI, Morehead State, Princeton, Dayton, Drake, Campbell, Stetson, Jacksonville, Marist, and Valparaiso.

 

Davidson The Citadel
Offense yards/pass attempt 5.6 6.8
Offense yards/rush attempt 3.55 5.35
Offense yards per play 4.64 5.56
Offense points per game 20.27 24.86
Penalties per game 5.9 5.3
Offense 3rd down conv % 33.9 46.3
Offense 4th down conv % 58.6 60
Offense Red Zone TD% 62.2 66.7
Defense yards/pass attempt 9.2 9.1
Defense yards/rush attempt 4.98 5.69
Defense yards allowed/play 6.66 7.02
Defense points allowed/game 43.36 25.86
Defense 3rd down conv % 50.3 41.5
Defense 4th down conv % 61.1 52.9
Defense Red Zone TD% 70.3 60
Time of possession 29:35 32:40

The one common opponent for the two teams last season was VMI. Both games were played at Foster Stadium in Lexington, VA.

Davidson-VMI box score

The Citadel-VMI box score

Davidson describes its offensive package as “multiple”. Last season, the Wildcats threw the ball (or were sacked attempting to pass) 56.6% of the time. Passing yardage accounted for 64.6% of Davidson’s total offense. [Note: those numbers do not include the game against College of Faith.]

Taylor Mitchell will start at quarterback for the Wildcats. He started the final four games of last season following J.P. Douglas’ arrest.

Mitchell, a 6’1″, 191 lb. sophomore from Buford, Georgia, was 81-161 passing last season, with two touchdown passes against eleven interceptions, averaging 4.78 yards per attempt.

Running back Jeffrey Keil rushed for 725 yards and eight touchdowns last season, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. He was named the Pioneer League’s Offensive Freshman of the Year.

Another sophomore running back, Austin Wells, saw considerable time last season and also serves as the team’s primary kick returner.

Davidson’s best offensive player is probably senior wideout William Morris, a 6’1″, 179 lb. native of Dallas. Morris (a first-team all-Pioneer League selection in 2014) caught 98 passes last year for 1,224 yards, averaging 12.5 yards per reception.

Morris had 16 receptions for 208 yards against VMI last season. The Citadel’s defense will certainly have him on its radar.

Average size of Davidson’s presumptive starting offensive line (per its two-deep): 6’1″, 291 lbs. The five players combined to start 48 games for the Wildcats last season.

Both right tackle Josh Daryoush and right guard Matt Brantley started all 12 games for Davidson in 2014. Caleb Krause, the center, has started 31 games for the Wildcats during his career.

Last season, Davidson operated out of a 4-3 base defense (which I’ve also seen listed as a 4-2-5). The Wildcats could have a very different look on Saturday, of course, given the Bulldogs’ triple-option attack.

Defensive end Chris Woods, a senior from Burlington, North Carolina, received some preseason honors. He had 5.5 tackles for loss last season.

Woods only weighs 214 lbs., the lightest member of Davidson’s defensive line. Defensive tackles Grant Polofsky and Alex Behrend both started 11 games last year.

Linebacker Zach Popovec started nine games as a freshman. Fellow outside ‘backer Ricky Tkac is the leading returning tackler for the Wildcats.

Senior cornerback William Curran started seven games last season. The other three listed starters in the secondary combined to start just two games in 2014.

Sophomore placekicker Trevor Smith had a solid year for Davidson in 2014, making 9 of 13 field goals and 28 of 29 PATs. He made a 44-yarder against Dayton (sending that game into OT), his longest made field goal of the season.

John Cook shared punting duties in 2014. He averaged 36 yards per punt, with a long of 55.

None of his punts were blocked, while 3 of his 26 punts landed inside the 20 (with no touchbacks). Cook is also the backup quarterback for Davidson.

Long snapper Conrad Mueller is in his second year in that role for the Wildcats.

The Wildcats averaged 20.7 yards per kick return last season, slightly better than average nationally (and almost two yards per return better than The Citadel). Davidson’s kick coverage units were inconsistent from game-to-game; Princeton, in particular, dominated the special teams battle when the two teams played.

Davidson only returned one punt all season (for seven yards). I thought that was a typo at first, but it isn’t.

Odds and ends:

– Paul Nichols is only 34 years old, and the Davidson head coach also has a very young coaching staff. College graduating class years of his eleven assistants: 2005, 2008, 2012, 2011, 2007, 2001, 2012, 2010, 2013, 2014, and 2015.

– Dave Fagg was the head football coach at Davidson (his alma mater) for two separate stints, 1970-1973 and 1990-1992. He was also the head wrestling coach at The Citadel for one season, 1964-1965 (serving as an assistant football coach for the Bulldogs in 1964). There probably are not too many people who have been Division I head coaches in both football and wrestling, and at different schools.

– Davidson has 95 players on its roster (as of August 28), and they come from 24 different states. North Carolina is home to 21 of those players, while 15 are natives of Georgia. Other states with significant representation: Florida and Ohio (nine each), Texas (eight), and Maryland (five).

Nick Wheeler and Derek Jones, both sophomores for the Wildcats, were classmates at Eagle High School in Eagle, Idaho.

Junior linebacker Nate Casey (Tega Cay/Westminster Catawba Christian) and freshman offensive lineman Daniel Runck (Mt. Pleasant/Wando) are the only two South Carolina residents on the squad.

– Of those 95 players, there are 13 seniors, 19 juniors, 29 sophomores, and 34 freshmen. Last season, Davidson reportedly had 77 freshmen and sophomores on its roster.

– After playing The Citadel, Davidson will host Catawba next Saturday. The Wildcats then have a week off before beginning Pioneer League play on September 26, travelling to Kentucky to face Morehead State.

– Earlier in this post I quoted from a John Kilgo article, a stinging criticism of the actions of Davidson’s administration circa 1973. Kilgo has been an institution in the Charlotte sports community for more than 50 years.

He co-wrote Dean Smith’s as-told-to autobiography (the two were good friends) and hosted Smith’s TV show. Kilgo also enjoyed a noteworthy career as a radio commentator, and was a writer/publisher for a variety of newspapers.

In the mid-1960s, he was Davidson’s sports information director. For the past 15 years, he has been the play-by-play voice for Davidson men’s basketball.

– Per Davidson’s game notes, 34 members of the Wildcats’ 1965 squad will be in attendance on Saturday, dressed in red and seated behind the Davidson bench. According to Paul Nichols on his preview show, two assistant coaches from that year will be there as well: Dave Fagg and Dick Tomey.

After leaving Davidson following the 1966 season, Tomey would eventually have a long, successful career as a head coach at three schools: Hawai’i, Arizona (including the “Desert Swarm” years), and San Jose State.

– Famous people who attended Davidson but did not graduate include Woodrow Wilson, William Styron, and Stephen Curry.

If you’re wondering why I wrote the previous sentence in that manner, it’s because Davidson’s list of alumni athletes on Wikipedia includes Curry but notes in parenthesis that he “did not graduate”, singling him out despite the fact he is far from the only listed ex-player not to get his degree from the school. Apparently Curry’s lack of a college diploma is a cause of angst in certain quarters.

– Mike Houston has faced Davidson once as a head coach. In 2013, his Lenoir-Rhyne team defeated the Wildcats 34-18. In that game, Lenoir-Rhyne rushed for 419 yards; the Bears also scored a touchdown on a 98-yard kickoff return. Davidson’s William Morris, then a sophomore, had 119 yards receiving and a TD.

The contest was Paul Nichols’ second game in charge of the Wildcats, and his home debut.

– The Citadel leads the alltime series against Davidson 31-21-4 and has won the last eight matchups (and 14 of the last 15). The two teams’ last meeting was in 1985, a 31-0 victory for the Bulldogs.

Despite the fact the two programs haven’t met on the gridiron in 30 years, Davidson has played The Citadel more times than any other school except VMI (which has faced the Wildcats on 58 occasions).

– The Citadel’s fans are being encouraged to wear light blue to the game against Davidson (this request was also printed on the season tickets). Presumably the team will wear the traditional home uniform of light blue jerseys with white pants. At least, I hope so.

– Mike Houston’s radio show will air on Wednesday nights this season from 7-8 pm. It will originate from Fiery Ron’s Home Team BBQ in West Ashley. Mike Legg will host the show, which will be broadcast on WQNT (1450 AM) in Charleston.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 41.5 point favorite over Davidson on Saturday.

This game is not expected to be close, and I don’t really think it will be. However, I am less than comfortable with the premature enumeration of fowl.

Regardless, I’m not expecting an absolute shellacking. Davidson’s tendency to throw the football more often than not could pose problems for the Bulldogs; the program in recent years has not been noted for stellar pass D.

Offensively, The Citadel should move the ball without too much difficulty, though the Wildcats’ statistics against the run last season were not that bad. The key will be making sure all the skill position players are on the same page, which could be an issue with a new quarterback, and the fact that it is the opening game of the season.

The experience and ability of the Bulldogs’ offensive line should be a major advantage for The Citadel, however.

Assuming a victory, the final score probably won’t be the best way to evaluate the Bulldogs on Saturday. Consistency of execution on offense, playmaking on defense, success on special teams — those are the elements that will matter in the long run.

I’m looking forward to this game. I’ve been looking forward to it since last season ended.

Haven’t we all.

Bulldog hoops: whoa, a real live winning streak

Well, in my last post I said it was time for The Citadel to go on a winning streak, and lo and behold the Bulldogs have delivered.  It’s a modest three-game stretch, to be sure, but it’s still two games longer than any previous winning streak the team has had this season.

Chuck Driesell is now employing a seven-man rotation.  He has elected to play mostly zone on defense, with a 1-2-2 as his primary look, although I guess you could call it a 3-2, or even a 2-3, depending on what the “point” defender does.  (In his postgame wrapup with Darren Goldwater after the Western Carolina game, Driesell was amusingly vague about the defense, as if he were concerned a future opponent was listening to the broadcast.)

Bo Holston or Austin Dahn seem to play that point spot the most.  They are both athletic and active, fairly long-armed defenders, so that makes sense.  My concern with the zone is that it tends to give opponents opportunities to create open three-point shots, but so far The Citadel has watched Samford, Appalachian State, and Western Carolina go a combined 15-70 (21.4%) behind the arc.  Donald Sims (of the Mountaineers) and Andy King (of the Birmingham Bulldogs) each went 4-8 from three-land; the rest of their teammates (and Catamounts) shot less than 13% from outside.

One of the things the zone has done, though, is slow the opponents down (well, Appy and WCU — Samford doesn’t need any help to slow things down).  I thought the Mountaineers and Catamounts were both lethargic on offense, especially in the first half.  To have success against the 1-2-2, you have to be patient, but you can’t be static. The players on those teams didn’t move particularly well without the ball, and the passing was less than crisp.

Sims (who was outstanding) was the only reason Appalachian State was not completely embarrassed in the first half.  Western Carolina wasn’t so lucky.

On the other side of the ball, I thought the Bulldogs played to their strengths.  There weren’t nearly as many contested shots taken early in the possession; the team usually worked the ball around until A) Mike Groselle got position inside; B) Cameron Wells saw an opening and took it; or C) Zach Urbanus got an open look for a three.

The best example of this was Austin Dahn’s game against Western Carolina.  Dahn got to 1000 points in his career at The Citadel in that game, which in my opinion was his best game of the season.  He didn’t take a single bad shot, and as a result scored 13 points on only 6 field goal attempts, an outstanding efficiency rate.

Dahn can be an effective offensive player because while he’s capable of making three-pointers, he has what I call a “semi-slash” type of game overall.  When he doesn’t take shots out of the offense’s natural rhythm, it can be tough for the opposition to account for him, what with it already having to deal with Wells and his driving ability, Groselle’s inside play, and Urbanus’ three-point shooting acumen.

Speaking of efficient play, Groselle’s breakout season has continued.  He was relatively quiet against Samford, but against Appy and WCU he was a combined 16-21 from the field.  Oddly, he only attempted three free throws in those two games, but I suspect he’ll start getting to the line more often if he keeps up his current Southern Conference shooting pace (72% FGA).  Also, Groselle’s teammates are getting better and better at finding him when he gets the little angles and creases that give him the upper hand in the paint.

Cameron Wells in the three victories:  68 points on 41 FGA (15-16 FT), 13 assists, 5 steals.  Alas, he also has 13 turnovers in those three games.  Other than that, he’s been the All-SoCon player we all know and appreciate.

The Bulldogs as a team were on their way to their best offensive performance of the season against WCU, but an alarming flood of second-half turnovers took care of that. The Citadel scored 43 points on 33 first-half possessions, but only scored 25 in the second half on 36 possessions, which is what happens when you have 14 second-half turnovers.  Luckily the Catamounts’ first-half miseries included scoring just 15 points on 33 possessions.

Against Appalachian State, on the other hand, The Citadel scored 81 points on just 64 possessions, the season’s top offensive effort.  This included shooting 62% from the field (Holston was 7-7).  Zach Urbanus was 5-8 from three-land in his best shooting performance to date.

The seven-man rotation does have a downside.  Because Cosmo Morabbi is injured and DeVontae Wright is apparently not quite ready yet for significant action, Wells and Urbanus in particular are having to log heavy minutes in the backcourt, which I think partly explains the turnover problems.  (It’s also a reason to play zone defense, as it helps keep them out of foul trouble.)

I hope Morabbi is able to come back and help out before the season ends, as an experienced guard is definitely a commodity the Bulldogs could use.

The Citadel plays Davidson at Belk Arena on Wednesday night before a break in the schedule.  Since 1961, the Bulldogs have only won at Davidson twice.  Two years ago, The Citadel turned the trick against a Wildcat team missing Stephen Curry, although even with Curry, Davidson arguably may have struggled that night (in a 64-46 Bulldog victory).  The game was the tenth of eleven straight wins for The Citadel that season.

Currently, Davidson is reeling, having lost six of its last seven games, including three in a row, but it’s still the same team that beat The Citadel 68-53 in December at McAlister Field House.  In that game, the Wildcats held the Bulldogs to 33% from the field, as the Cadets only made 13 of their 44 2-point attempts (The Citadel actually shot 43% from beyond the arc).

The Bulldogs also committed 18 turnovers and had no real answer for Davidson big man Jake Cohen, who scored 21 points (on only 8 FGA) while collecting 12 rebounds and blocking 3 shots.  Cohen can also hit the three-pointer (he made two in that game).  In other words, he’s a very difficult matchup.

I think The Citadel is playing much better basketball than it was when it played Davidson.  I also suspect Cameron Wells will score more than two points on Wednesday night (he fouled out after 19 minutes in the first game).  That being said, it’s a road game, the Wildcats are always well-coached, and Davidson usually seems to play at least one game each year against The Citadel where it shoots lights-out from outside the three-point line.

It should be interesting.  That’s a good thing.  It’s about time this season got interesting…

Trying to rise above a history of misery

Yes, it’s Southern Conference tourney time.  If you’re a fan of The Citadel, you may want to cover your eyes while reading some of this.  If you’re not, you may want to cover them anyway…

First, the good news.  The Bulldogs rebounded nicely (literally and figuratively) from their loss to Wofford by beating a ragtag Georgia Southern squad 74-53 on Monday night.  The Eagles hung around a little too long for my liking, making two good runs in each half, and were down by just six points with over 13 minutes left in regulation.  In the next seven minutes of the game, however, Georgia Southern had more technical fouls (2) than made field goals (1).  It’s hard to complete a comeback when that happens.

The Citadel thus got a much-needed bye into the quarterfinals of the Southern Conference tournament.  Besides not having to play four games in four days in order to win the tourney, the extra day may also help the Bulldogs in their preparation for the event, as there are some on-court adjustments that need to be made.  Among other things, The Citadel committed 18 turnovers on Monday night, many of them unforced.

Demetrius Nelson and Cameron Wells each had five turnovers, which is too many, but they also combined for 42 points (Nelson had 11 rebounds as well).  John Brown had four, and that’s a bit more worrisome, as he isn’t in a position to handle the ball nearly as often in a scoring or closely guarded position (and thus shouldn’t have as many turnovers).  Brown forced things a bit on offense, particularly in the first half, which was a carryover from the Wofford game on Saturday.

In the Southern Conference tournament, teams are almost certainly going to employ Wofford’s strategy of doubling Nelson repeatedly while giving Brown space on the wing, because Brown is not yet an offensive threat unless he’s making layups or dunks.  How Ed Conroy and company adjust to this will go a long way to determining The Citadel’s tournament fate.

Having said that, it should be noted that despite those 18 turnovers and decent-but-not-great outside shooting, the Bulldogs went on the road and under a good deal of pressure (given the importance of winning the game) defeated a conference opponent by 21 points.  The fact it’s actually possible to be disappointed in some aspects of The Citadel’s play after a result like that speaks volumes about how good this team has been, and the expectations it now has.

Those expectations include making a serious bid at a first-ever Southern Conference tournament title.  Before casting a forward glance towards Chattanooga, however, perhaps it’s best to realize just how arduous a task the Bulldogs face.  When it comes to The Citadel and its history in the Southern Conference tourney, a few paragraphs are in order, because just a few words cannot begin to adequately describe the horror…

One of the more curious things about The Citadel’s wretched history in the SoCon tourney is that there is no firm answer to just how many times the school has lost in the event.  That’s because the league has mutated so many times there is a dispute as to what year the first “official” conference tournament was held.

Before 1920, The Citadel was one of many schools in a rather loose confederation known as the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association.  (The Citadel initially joined in 1909.)  There were about 30 colleges in the SIAA by 1920, including almost every member of the current SEC and about half of the current ACC, along with schools such as Centre, Sewanee (somewhat amusingly, later a member of the SEC), Chattanooga, Wofford, Howard (now called Samford, of course), and Millsaps, just to name a few.  As you might imagine, the large and disparate membership had some disagreements, and was just plain hard to manage, so a number of the schools left to form the Southern Conference in late 1920.

In the spring of 1921, the SIAA sponsored a basketball tournament, which would be the forerunner to all the conference hoops tourneys to follow.  Any southern college or university could travel to Atlanta to play, and fifteen schools did just that.  Kentucky beat Georgia in the final.  The Citadel did not enter the event, but several other small colleges did, including Newberry.  The tournament featured teams from the new Southern Conference, the old SIAA, and squads like Newberry, which wasn’t in either league (it would join the SIAA in 1923).

In 1922 the SIAA held another tournament in Atlanta, this one won by North Carolina, which beat Mercer in the final.  The Citadel entered this time, losing in the first round to Vanderbilt.  The SIAA tournament remained all-comers until 1924, when it was restricted to Southern Conference members.

Some sources suggest that the 1921 tournament is the first “official” Southern Conference tournament, some go with the 1922 event, and others argue for 1924.  From what I can tell, the league itself is a bit wishy-washy on the issue.  On the conference website, it states:

The first Southern Conference Championship was the league basketball tournament held in Atlanta in 1922. The North Carolina Tar Heels won the tournament to become the first recognized league champion in any sport. The Southern Conference Tournament remains the oldest of its kind in college basketball.

That’s great, but the conference’s own record book lists Kentucky as having won the first tournament title in 1921 (on page 113; oddly, that year is excluded from the game-by-game tournament results that begin on page 114).  Of course, the edition of the record book on the conference website is three years old and lists The Citadel as having once lost 37 straight games, which is incorrect, so take it for what you will.

Personally, I think that the idea of having a conference tournament is to determine a league champion, and it stands to reason that such a tournament would only include league members.  So the first “real” Southern Conference tournament, in my opinion, was held in 1924.

There is a point to this, trust me.  The difference between counting the Vanderbilt loss as a SoCon tourney loss and not counting it is the difference between The Citadel’s alltime record in the event being 10-55 or 10-56.  Not that they both aren’t hideous totals, but as of now The Citadel shares the NCAA record for “most consecutive conference tournament appearances without a title” with Clemson, which is 0-for-55 in trying to win the ACC tournament.  Counting the Vanderbilt game would mean The Citadel is alone in its conference tourney infamy.  No offense to the Tigers, but I don’t believe the 1922 game should count, because it wasn’t really a Southern Conference tournament game.

By the way, you read that right.  The Citadel is 10-55 alltime in the SoCon tournament.  That’s just unbelievably bad.  It comes out to a 14% winning percentage, which is more than twice as bad as even The Citadel’s lousy alltime conference regular season winning percentage (35%).  The Citadel lost 17 straight tourney games from 1961-78, and then from 1985-97 lost 13 more in a row.  Incidentally, the single-game scoring record in the tournament is held by Marshall’s Skip Henderson, who put up 55 on The Citadel in 1988 (in a game Marshall won by 43 points; karma is a you-know-what, as the next night the Thundering Herd, which had won the regular season title that year, lost to UT-Chattanooga by one point).

Those losses aren’t all in consecutive years, as The Citadel didn’t always qualify for the tournament, particularly in the years before 1953, when there were up to 17 teams in the league at any given time, and only the top squads played in the tourney.  The Citadel’s first “real” appearance, in 1938, resulted in a 42-38 loss to Maryland.  The Citadel would lose two more tourney openers before winning its first game in 1943, against South Carolina.  That would be the only time the Bulldogs and Gamecocks faced each other in the tournament, and so South Carolina is one of two teams The Citadel has a winning record against in SoCon tourney play (the Bulldogs are 2-0 against VMI).

The next time The Citadel would win a game in the tournament?  1959, when the Bulldogs actually won two games, against Furman and George Washington, and found themselves in the tourney final.  Unfortunately, the opponent in the title game was West Virginia, led by Jerry West.  West scored 27 points and the Mountaineers pulled away late for an 85-66 victory.  This would be the only time The Citadel ever made the championship game; it’s also the only time the Bulldogs won two games in the tournament.

After a 1961 quarterfinal victory over Richmond, The Citadel would not win another tournament game until 1979, when the Bulldogs defeated Davidson before losing to Furman.  The game against Davidson was played at McAlister Field House, and was the 20th victory of the season, which until Monday was the most games ever won by a Bulldog squad (now tied, of course, by the current edition of the Bulldogs).

The Citadel would win single games in 1982 and 1985 before going winless until 1998, when it finally broke a 13-game tourney losing streak by beating VMI.  The Keydets would be the next victim as well, in 2002, and were apparently so embarrassed they left the league.  The Citadel’s latest win in conference tournament action came in 2006 against Furman.

Twenty different schools have defeated The Citadel in tournament play, with Davidson’s eight victories leading the way (against one loss to the Bulldogs).  East Tennessee State went 6-0 against The Citadel while in the league.

At least ETSU won’t be around this season.  The Citadel’s first game in this year’s tournament will come against either first-year league member Samford or Furman.  The Paladins are 5-2 alltime in tourney play against The Citadel, with the Bulldogs having won the first and most recent meetings.  Records against other tourney teams:  Chattanooga 0-1, Elon 0-1, College of Charleston 0-1, Georgia Southern 0-2, Western Carolina 1-1, Appalachian State 1-6, and Davidson 1-8.  (The Citadel has never played Wofford or UNC-Greensboro in the tournament.)

The very first game worries me.  If it’s Samford, don’t look for another 25-point win.  The Citadel caught that team on a bad night.  Samford is well-coached and its slow-slower-slowest offense can give even a patient team like The Citadel fits.  I am concerned about how the team will react when the bright lights come on for the first time and suddenly everything is on the line, especially when in the unfamiliar role of favorite.  If the opponent is Furman, it would be a much more confident Paladin squad (after coming off a victory) than the one which recently lost to The Citadel, and one that would be more than happy to end a rival’s dream season.

If The Citadel survives the opener and moves to the semifinals for only the second time in 24 years, the opponent could be one of three teams, a trio against which the Bulldogs had a combined regular season record of 1-4, with the one win coming at home by two points.  Of course, one of those potential opponents, Chattanooga, is also the host school for the tournament.

It has been fifty years since The Citadel made its first and only trip to the title game, and if the Bulldogs somehow win two games (for only the second time ever), the opponent will likely either be Davidson, with a healthy Stephen Curry in tow, or a red-hot College of Charleston squad ready to avenge two regular-season defeats at the hands of the Bulldogs.

It’s easy to see that winning the tournament will be a very tall order.  Combine that difficulty with the sordid history of The Citadel in the SoCon tournament, and it’s really hard to imagine the Bulldogs cutting down the nets on Monday night.  That’s a scenario that seems unlikely to unfold.

However, there is another way to look at things.  This isn’t your typical Bulldog squad.  This is a team that has the league’s second-best record, that has won 12 of its last 13 games, that has proven it can win away from home, and has demonstrated it can win even on nights when its key players aren’t at their best.  It has won close games and blowouts, is led by the newly minted coach of the year in the conference, and features an all-conference post player along with an outstanding, versatile group of guards.  If there ever was a team from The Citadel capable of overcoming all that negative history, and making some positive history of its own, this is the one.

Saturday night can’t get here soon enough…

Time to start a new streak

Well, it wasn’t going to last forever, but it would have been nice for the winning streak to have lasted for at least one more game…

What was the difference between Saturday’s game and the previous eleven?

It was really a lot of little things.  Some of them were aberrations (like Demetrius Nelson struggling from the foul line), but some were not, and what is important is that the Bulldogs must learn from the loss and make the necessary adjustments, because other teams will study tape of this game and try to emulate Wofford.

Of course, emulating Wofford first means having a player capable of a good Noah Dahlman imitation, and that won’t be easy.  Dahlman showed why he is a serious candidate for first team All-Southern Conference with an excellent night, rarely forcing anything but taking advantage of any and every opportunity.  Dahlman scored 17 points on only 9 field goal attempts (exactly the same numbers he had against the Bulldogs in Spartanburg) and also contributed 7 rebounds to the Terriers’ cause.

Wofford’s strategy on defense was to double-team Nelson whenever possible, which they did more successfully than most SoCon outfits (the College of Charleston could learn a thing or two about how they did it), and they did this in part by leaving John Brown open on the wing throughout the game, knowing he wasn’t an offensive threat.  Brown had a frustrating evening.  For one of the few times since he burst onto the scene at the beginning of January, he seemed a half-step behind or a split second late to a number of loose balls and rebound opportunities.  His trademark frenetic style never seemed to have an impact on the game.

Ed Conroy tried a couple of different things to counter the way Wofford was playing defensively (including playing Daniel Eykyn for Brown for a brief period during the second half), but the Bulldogs never really got into an offensive rhythm.  The Citadel did not get many open looks from outside, and as a consequence went 3-15 (20%) from three-point land.

Dahlman’s going to get his points, but at least he didn’t burn The Citadel for 36, like he did Thursday night at the CofC.  The shot to break the 55-all tie was a tough one converted by a player (Brad Loesing) who came into the game shooting only 29.7% from beyond the arc (and who had missed his previous nine three-point attempts).  He made the shot, though, and you just have to give him credit for it.  The Bulldogs did force thirteen turnovers, but on the whole Wofford had an efficient night on offense.  The Bulldogs were also outrebounded by the Terriers (28-22).

Now the Bulldogs have to regroup and focus on their immediate goal, which will be to regain the momentum gathered during the eleven-game winning streak and clinch a first-round bye for the Southern Conference tournament.  The action moves to Statesboro, Georgia, where on Monday night The Citadel tangles for a second time this season with Georgia Southern.

A win in that game would be the Bulldogs’ 15th of the season in SoCon play (and 20th overall, of course) and would tie the College of Charleston for second place in the South Division, with The Citadel holding the tiebreaker by virtue of its sweep of the Cougars.  A loss would mean the Bulldogs would have to play in the opening round against UNC-Greensboro, the sixth-place team from the North Division.  The difference between having to win three or four games in order to claim the tournament title is huge.

Injuries and suspensions have left Georgia Southern ripe for the picking for most Southern Conference teams, and as a result the Eagles have lost ten of their last eleven games, with the only win a non-conference victory over Jacksonville State.  Georgia Southern’s last conference win came against Furman on January 24.

Georgia Southern is the league’s worst defensive team, and against Davidson on Saturday the Eagles allowed 99 points on only 81 possessions, as the Wildcats shot 55% from the floor.  Davidson raced to a 16-0 lead in the game, and in that stretch GSU only attempted two shots while committing seven turnovers.  The Eagles committed 25 turnovers during the game, while Stephen Curry was scoring 34 points (on only 19 FG attempts).

The Bulldogs won’t have Curry, but they should have enough to defeat a depleted and possibly demoralized Georgia Southern team.  In the first game between the two teams, The Citadel won at McAlister Field House 84-75 as Demetrius Nelson and Bryan Streeter combined for 38 points and 12 rebounds, with John Brown adding 11 boards.

Willie Powers and Julian Allen teamed up for 34 points, 15 rebounds, and 6 assists for Georgia Southern in that game, which is noteworthy because neither will play for the Eagles on Monday.  Powers was lost for the season after that game with a knee injury, while Allen was suspended at the beginning of February (along with Trumaine Pearson and Antoine Johnson, both of whom also played against The Citadel).  The Eagles are down to seven scholarship players.

Incidentally, The Citadel has not swept the Eagles in the regular season since 1998.  The Bulldogs’ last victory in Hanner Fieldhouse came in 2003.

The loss to Wofford on Saturday won’t by itself cost The Citadel a chance at achieving any of the season-long goals it would have had before the game.  However, the Bulldogs have now taken their mulligan.  The Citadel has to win on Monday night, and must do so on the road, with all the pressure associated with trying to produce a successful finish for what has been to this point a remarkable regular season.

In a way, things are now simplified for the Bulldogs.  If The Citadel is to live the big dream, a trip to the NCAA tournament for the first time, it has to start a new winning streak, and that streak must be four games in duration.  The Bulldogs can either win on Monday and then win three games in the SoCon tourney, or they will have to win four times in four days in the SoCon tourney.  The first option is by far the more manageable of the two.  Let’s hope the new streak starts on Monday night.

Bubbling Basketball, 2/23/09

Every season about this time I start to take a look at how the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is shaping up, and begin to project the bracket, just like numerous other lost souls, some of whom get paid to do so.  It’s probably a pointless exercise, because A) it’s still too early, and B) it’s not really possible to replicate the selection committee.  Kyle Whelliston at The Mid-Majority made this point in a chat about ten days ago, and he’s absolutely right.  As he says, individual projecting “involves one person trying to simulate the groupthink brain processes of ten people”.

Even if you took a bunch of projections and combined them, it’s not quite the same thing, because it doesn’t account for the interaction between people sitting together in one room and developing a consensus.  It also doesn’t account for the nuts and bolts of the process, which involves a lot of voting on teams, grouping of teams, etc.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to guess at what the brackets might look like on Selection Sunday, though…

Before I get into specifics for this year’s tournament, I want to address the notion that various teams are “locks” for the tournament.  To me, a “lock” is a team that could lose every game the rest of the season and still make the NCAAs.  In other words, there aren’t a lot of locks at this point.  Nothing is more ridiculous than to assert a team is a lock in your brackets, then to take lock status away from that team and put it back in the mix of teams competing for at-large berths, all because it lost a game or two.

ESPN.com did just that this past week with Butler, which had been a “lock” in that site’s version of “Bubble Watch” for about a month.  Once Butler dropped games to Loyola of Chicago and UW-Milwaukee, though, the Bulldogs were “de-locked”.  Butler is now again a “lock” on ESPN.com after beating Davidson on Saturday.  Truthfully, Butler won’t be a lock until (or if) it wins the Horizon League tournament.

On this site, you won’t see any team called a lock unless it really is one.  Sipping on some Paul Masson somewhere in the great beyond, I think Orson Welles approves of this notion.

I’m not going to play the assign-a-team-a-regional game today.  I’m going to simply break down the prospective field by groups of eight:

Group 1:  Pittsburgh, Oklahoma, Connecticut, North Carolina, Memphis, Michigan State, Duke, Louisville

I don’t think the committee is going to penalize Oklahoma too much for losing a close game at Texas in which Blake Griffin was a non-factor due to injury.  As of right now, though, Pittsburgh almost has to be the number 1 overall seed.

Group 2:  Villanova, Kansas, Missouri, Clemson, Wake Forest, Purdue, Washington, Marquette

I think Washington will grab a top-16 seed if it wins the Pac-10 regular season title outright.  It would also help the selection committee when assigning teams to regionals.  There is a distinct lack of western options when it comes to highly seeded teams.

Group 3:  Arizona State, Xavier, UCLA, Utah, Florida State, Illinois, West Virginia, LSU

I don’t know what the committee will do with Utah or LSU in terms of seeding.  I know LSU has a gaudy SEC record, but this season that’s not the most impressive of accomplishments.  Utah has done similar work in the Mountain West — and of course, beat LSU earlier this season by 30 points.  I think LSU is a 6 seed-type, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Tigers wind up with a 4.

Group 4:  Texas, Gonzaga, California, Syracuse, Tennessee, South Carolina, Florida, Dayton

Distinguishing between the bubblicious SEC teams is not easy.  Kentucky has swept Tennessee and may deserve to be in this group;  it can move to this level by winning at South Carolina or at Florida (the Wildcats also have a home game against LSU, so it’s all in front of them).  The Vols played a much tougher non-conference schedule than its fellow SEC East contenders and will presumably be rewarded for it.  Florida has 21 wins, but the average RPI of the teams it has beaten is 176.  Of course, South Carolina’s average RPI victory is 179, while Kentucky’s is 169.  LSU?  173.  (Tennessee’s is 125.)

You get the idea.  This is not a banner season for the SEC.  This is highlighted by Gonzaga’s average RPI win being 155, better than any of the SEC contenders save Tennessee, despite the Bulldogs playing in the WCC (and having also played a non-conference game against Texas Southern of the SWAC).  Comparing the SEC numbers with those of standard-bearers for the Big East and ACC is even more instructive.  Pittsburgh has beaten teams with an average RPI of 100; North Carolina’s number is 96.  Honestly, I think the SEC teams could each be a group below where I’ve listed them.

Group 5:  Wisconsin, Ohio State, Butler, Kentucky, Boston College, UNLV, Arizona, Minnesota

I like UNLV’s resume a little more than some people.  Vegas has some tough road losses to overcome (Colorado State, Wyoming, TCU), but also has road wins over Louisville and BYU (the latter completing a sweep).  Minnesota also has a win over Louisville, but needs to win a couple more games down the stretch. 

Group 6 (six teams):  Brigham Young, Penn State, Utah State, Maryland, Virginia Tech, Temple

The remaining 19 bids go to small-conference automatic qualifiers.  One-bid leagues, in my estimation:  MAAC, Southern, Missouri Valley, Colonial, Big South, Big West, MEAC, SWAC, Ivy, Sun Belt, Northeast, America East, Summit, Southland, Atlantic Sun, Patriot, Big West, MAC, Ohio Valley

I don’t think Davidson has enough juice to warrant an at-large bid, no matter how much Stephen Curry’s injury is taken into consideration by the selection committee.  Creighton is making a strong push late in the season, and has a win against Dayton, so the Blue Jays may have a chance at an at-large, if needed.  Siena played a great schedule, but didn’t beat anyone on it.  None of the other sixteen conferences listed has a serious at-large candidate.

Other teams still in the mix include Michigan, Cincinnati, Miami (FL), UAB, Georgetown, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, St. Mary’s, Southern California, Texas A&M, Notre Dame, Rhode Island, Nebraska, and Providence.  That doesn’t mean other schools couldn’t make last-minute runs into the at-large pool, obviously.

Starting around Group 3, you have a lot of teams that haven’t really separated themselves from the field.  It would be surprising, but not completely shocking, for a team from Group 3 to ultimately miss the tournament.  You could make good arguments against all the teams in Groups 5 and 6.  Utah State is in a bit of a tenuous position, because one loss could be enough to end its at-large chances, and of course to need an at-large bid in the first place it would have to lose at least one game (in its conference tournament).  Maryland jumped into the prospective field with its overtime win over North Carolina, giving it two wins over top-6 RPI teams.  The Terps still have work to do.   Of course, you could say that about a lot of teams.

A few other notes:

  • While I’m not overly impressed with Butler’s profile, the Bulldogs have eleven road wins this season — not eleven road/neutral wins, mind you, but eleven “true” road wins.  That currently leads the nation, and is the kind of thing that can differentiate a team (in other words, it’s easier for the committee to justify its selection/seeding).
  • Right now I have only four Big XII schools in the tournament in my projections.  I suspect when the dust settles that the Big XII will wind up with five teams in the tourney, but some team has to make a move.  The best candidate to do so is probably Oklahoma State, which has the computer numbers but not the wins. 
  • Tennessee and Georgetown rank 1-2 in strength of schedule (as of today).  The Volunteers have a slightly better record, and have performed a little better over the last twelve games (6-6 versus 4-8).  The Hoyas still have an opportunity to make the field, despite all their losses, but they have to start winning games.  Louisville comes to town on Monday night.
  • Speaking of big games for at-large consideration, Temple plays at Dayton on Saturday.   It’s possible that the Owls need to win that game to garner at-large consideration.
  • UAB has its shot to make a statement on Thursday night, at home against Memphis.  Right now the Blazers’ resume has a gift-wrapped road win over Arizona and very little else. 
  • I think the SWAC champ can be pencilled in for the play-in game, which is not exactly news, but that league is taking being the lowest-rated conference to a new level; no team has an RPI better than 206, and seven of the ten teams in the conference have RPIs of 294 or worse.  Against Division I competition, the SWAC is 5-96.
  • St. Mary’s is probably an NCAA-caliber team, but I don’t know what the selection committee will think of the Gaels, given both the injury status of Patty Mills and the fact St. Mary’s hasn’t really beaten any team of consequence other than Utah State.  My guess is that the Gaels need to win the WCC tourney.
  • Memphis has to be a serious candidate for a 1 seed; among other things, the Tigers have the longest current winning streak in the country, at 18 games.  The next longest current winning streak is 10, by none other than…The Citadel (which, alas, is not a candidate for an at-large bid).

A big win, but don’t get carried away just yet

Let’s start this column with the newest installment of the “Milestone Report”, chronicling just a few of the latest firsts, streaks, and records set by this season’s edition of the basketball Bulldogs:

  • The Citadel’s 18th win on the season tied the 1985 squad for second-most in school history, with only the 1979 team winning more games (20)
  • The Citadel continues to set a new school standard for Southern Conference victories with its 13th league win of the season, and extends its record run of SoCon road wins (the Bulldogs are now 7-2 on the road in conference play)
  • With that 13th win, the Bulldogs shattered an 82-year-old SoCon record, the mark for biggest league turnaround in consecutive seasons, which had been established by Auburn in 1927; the Tigers went from one conference victory to twelve that season, while The Citadel has gone from one win to thirteen (and counting)
  • The Citadel broke a 14-game losing streak to Davidson
  • The Citadel won for the first time at Davidson since a 1990 contest, a game played during a brief four-year period (1989-1993) when the Wildcats were not in the Southern Conference; as a result, Wednesday night’s victory was the first time The Citadel had won a league game at Davidson since 1961

Davidson entered the game with an RPI of 49.  The Wildcats have dropped out of the top 50 of the RPI following the loss to The Citadel (as of Thursday the Wildcats are at 56), but will almost certainly finish the season in the top 100.  To be honest, I am not completely sure when the Bulldogs last recorded a victory over a “Top 100 RPI” team.  I believe that it has not happened since 1989, when The Citadel beat South Carolina.

Incidentally, The Citadel’s RPI has jumped up to 148 (I’m using ESPN’s RPI numbers).  The Bulldogs are one spot ahead of none other than VMI. 

Of course, Davidson didn’t have Stephen Curry last night, and that certainly made a difference.  Whether it made enough of a difference to have changed the outcome of the game is debatable.  In the first game between the two teams, Curry put up 32 points (with only 16 FG attempts) and added five assists  — one assist more than Davidson had as a team last night.  Even if you didn’t count Curry’s shooting numbers, though, Davidson still had a good FG% as a team in the game at McAlister Field House (although obviously with teams having to concentrate on Curry, his teammates have better opportunities).

The Citadel and Davidson are 1-2 in the league in FG% defense (the Wildcats lead that category) and in 3FG% defense (with the Bulldogs ranked first).  Given that, it’s not surprising that the game featured poor shooting by both teams, and without its star, Davidson never got into a shooting rhythm.  The Wildcats could not even make free throws (9-17 for a team that averages 71% from the line).

What should concern Davidson more than the bad shooting, though, was the fact that the Wildcats were not able to contain the Bulldogs on the boards.  The Citadel had a season-high 48 rebounds last night to Davidson’s 31 (after Davidson won the rebounding battle 35-25 in the first matchup).  Demetrius Nelson had a big night scoring inside, but he had scored 18 points in the first game, so that wasn’t a major surprise.  The difference was that he also added 14 rebounds (after only having 4 against Davidson at McAlister) to the Bulldogs’ cause. 

Davidson did have 13 offensive rebounds, but when you miss 73% of your shots from the field, you’re going to get more opportunities for boards on the offensive end of the floor. 

John Brown had 12 rebounds in 22 minutes of action.  That’s the fifth time this season he’s had 12 boards in a game (he’s now hit that mark three times in a row).  Brown has played more than 20 minutes in ten games this season.  He has had double digit rebound totals in seven of them (and nine boards in of one of the others).  That’s not even counting his 12-boards-in-15-minutes performance against Samford.  Brown is averaging 13.47 rebounds per 40 minutes of play (14.75 per 40 over his last four games).  When he stays out of early foul trouble, he is a force. 

Davidson leads the league in turnovers forced, and The Citadel committed a few too many last night (13).  The Bulldogs had 19 turnovers in the first matchup, so they improved a little, but again Curry’s absence has to be considered (he had five steals in the January game).  On the flip side, despite missing its point guard, Davidson only committed seven turnovers.

Nelson missed five free throws, the only blip in an outstanding effort.  Cameron Wells was 8-8 from the charity stripe, though, which alleviated an off-shooting night for him from the field.

Everyone who has been following the Bulldogs is excited right now, and deservedly so, but I want to sound a note of caution.  I mentioned earlier in this post that the last time The Citadel won a road game against a top-100 opponent was against South Carolina in 1989.  That year had some parallels to this season. 

In 1989, The Citadel was trying to rebound from an 8-20 campaign.  The team started the year slowly, but gradually improved.  The win over the Gamecocks was the exclamation point on a run during which the Bulldogs won six out of seven games, including a beatdown of longtime hoops bully Marshall (the final game ever played at Deas Hall, the most fantastic Division I basketball arena in human history).  Earlier in the year The Citadel had also beaten the College of Charleston on the road, which would be the last win at the CofC for the Bulldogs until this season.  With two games remaining in the regular season, the Bulldogs were in a position to claim second place in the SoCon regular season, with an outside shot at first.

The Citadel wouldn’t win another game.  The Bulldogs lost a tight game on the road to Western Carolina, then lost at UT-Chattanooga, and then lost in the first round of the Southern Conference tournament to East Tennessee State (which would then proceed to win the tourney).

I’m not saying we’re in for a repeat of 1989.  For one thing, this year’s team is simply better.  You can ask Ed Conroy — after all, he played on the 1989 team.  It’s just that there is still work to be done this season, and to consolidate all the gains made on the court this year, the team needs to finish strong.  Also, while I don’t want to be perceived as being overly pessimistic, I think it’s important to acknowledge that the margin of error for the program is still small.  It’s not as small as it has been, though, and that’s a credit to Conroy and the players. 

The Southern Conference tournament is going to be tough for everybody.  If you’re The Citadel, you have to worry about Davidson (with Curry), UT-Chattanooga (a good team, and the tourney host), the College of Charleston (can the Bulldogs really beat that team three times in a row?), and a bunch of other squads that could pose matchup problems.  Drawing Elon or Appalachian State in the tourney would not be fun. 

Of course, those teams have to worry about drawing The Citadel…

That’s why getting the bye is so important.  Speaking of that, the “magic number” for The Citadel to clinch a bye in the tournament is now 2.  For those unfamiliar with the “magic number” concept (it’s a baseball expression), what that means is any combination of two Bulldog victories or College of Charleston losses will guarantee a bye for The Citadel.  Two Bulldog wins would do it, as would two CofC losses.  One Bulldog win and one Cougar loss would be enough.  The CofC has four games remaining, and The Citadel has three.

The Citadel now has eight days before its next game.  I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.  I’m inclined to think it’s a good thing, because the Bulldogs probably need a bit of a break.  There is always the fear that the team will lose momentum, but I believe it helps that when they play again, it will be at home before what should be a very good crowd.  I can’t wait.

Quick note:  I’ve had a few more visitors to the blog than normal; I’m glad some of you have enjoyed it.  To answer a couple of questions that have been asked:

  • The photos at the top are of General, Anthony Jenkins, and Jack Douglas, as most fans of The Citadel know.  I don’t really have a lot of pictures from sporting events involving The Citadel; the shots of Jenkins and Douglas are scanned newspaper photos, and I struggled to get a decent scan of them (as you can probably tell)
  • The blog is intended to be a general sports blog with an emphasis on the mighty Bulldogs; I’ve actually focused a little more on The Citadel’s athletic teams than I had originally anticipated (mainly because of the hoopsters, although I am more than ready for Fred Jordan’s crew to take the field)

Valentine’s Day present: nine straight wins

Now that’s a Valentine’s Day to remember:  The Citadel 72, College of Charleston 58, in the Bulldogs’ first game ever at Carolina First Arena (with 5,168 spectators in attendance).

I have to admit that I wasn’t so sure about The Citadel’s chances of winning this game, despite the solid victory at McAlister three weeks ago.  I felt the Bulldogs were perhaps due for a bad game, and that the College was on a roll after its comeback victory at Davidson and subsequent thumping of Western Carolina.

After watching the first half, though, I realized that my fears  were misguided.  The Citadel had committed nine turnovers in only twenty-seven possessions, meaning that the Bulldogs had turned the ball over every third time down the court (a terrible percentage, to say the least).  Normally that would be a recipe for disaster, but instead The Citadel only trailed by one point (29-28).

The Bulldogs were shooting the ball well, and when not committing turnovers were doing a good job running their offense, using the shotclock, making the Cougars work on defense  (which some of the CofC players did not appear to enjoy), and controlling the pace of play.  The Citadel had handled the College’s press with relative ease (which had also happened in the first meeting), and I figured that as long as the Bulldogs took care of the basketball in their normal fashion in the second half, they would be in good shape.  That is exactly what happened.  The Citadel turned over the ball over on its first possession of the second half, but then committed only two more turnovers the rest of the game.

Then there was the rebounding.

The Citadel outrebounded the CofC 13-8 in the first half, which was a marked departure from the first contest between the two teams, when for the game the Cougars had 38 rebounds to the Bulldogs’ 25.  The reason The Citadel didn’t just win on Saturday, but won going away, was that the Bulldogs completely dominated the glass in the second half, essentially reversing the board differential from the first game, and finished +17 (38 rebounds to the CofC’s 21).  The most impressive statistic in the game, to me, was that the Bulldogs got more offensive rebounds (13) than the College got defensive boards (12).

That had to have frustrated Bobby Cremins and the CofC fans, especially since the Cougars started three frontcourt players in the 6’7″-6’8″ range and brought another 6’8″ forward off the bench, and none of those guys were stringbeans, either.  Meanwhile, The Citadel countered with a starting lineup featuring one 6’8″ post player (Demetrius Nelson) and a bunch of guards, including John Brown, who is 6’4″ but essentially fills the power forward role for the Bulldogs — and it was Brown who proved to be the primary nemesis for the Cougars’ big men, gathering 12 rebounds (5 offensive), scoring 14 points on 7-10 shooting (I think every made basket was a layup), and generally being a nuisance on the defensive end of the floor.   Interestingly, Brown had the same rebounding totals (12/5 offensive) in the first matchup.

In this game, though, he had help on the boards from Nelson (7/3 offensive) and, somewhat surprisingly, Zach Urbanus (who had the same 7/3 ratio).

I would like to riff a little about an aspect of Ed Conroy’s coaching that I have gradually come to appreciate.  The Citadel runs a very disciplined offense, one that usually involves working the clock and controlling the pace of play.  The Bulldogs are generally at their best when the number of possessions in a game hovers around 60 or so.  Whenever I am watching, and things start to get a bit frenetic, or someone takes a shot with 25 seconds or more remaining on the shotclock, I’m inclined to start mumbling things like, “Slow it down!  Slow it down!  You’re playing too fast!  Work the clock!”  You get the idea.  I’m particularly prone to think this way late in games when The Citadel has a lead.

The key is, though, that while a Bulldog will occasionally force a shot, it doesn’t really happen too often — and more importantly, the players maintain a sense of aggressiveness.  There is a distinction to be made between a disciplined offense and a conservative offense.  It doesn’t do you any good to run the shotclock down to 5 on each possession if you regularly wind up hoisting a 30-foot jumper.

So while I may have wished that Cosmo Morabbi had not attempted a contested three-pointer with the Bulldogs up 14 and just over 4 minutes to play, and with 26 seconds still remaining on the shotclock, I can understand that the freedom he has in being “allowed” to attempt that shot is critical.  Maybe that time he made a mistake, but by being aggressive and not timid, he also was in a position to make two other three-pointers during the game, including the shot that signalled the game was The Citadel’s to lose, a three-pointer at the 10:20 mark that stretched the Bulldogs’ lead to nine — and a shot taken with 25 seconds still remaining on the shotclock.

That’s good coaching.

There has been some discussion about yesterday’s victory by The Citadel being “historic”, with references to “The Citadel’s first two-game series sweep since the 1932-33 season” in this column by Gene Sapakoff in The Post and Courier, as well as Jeff Hartsell’s game story (“an event that comes around every 76 years or so”).  This angle pops up in other press reports, too.

Now, with all due respect to the above chroniclers, I think the whole “first sweep since the 1930s” thing is overblown and a bit misleading. Before Saturday, the Bulldogs had not swept the Cougars in a two-game set since 1933, but following the 1937 season (a year during which the schools met three times, with The Citadel winning the latter two matchups), The Citadel and the College of Charleston did not play again until 1956.  After that one game, the series again went into hibernation, and did not resume until 1977. In addition, The Citadel and the CofC only began playing twice per year again in 1997 (except for a two-game set in 1983, which was split).  The truth is there was a 60-year period in the series during which The Citadel (or the College of Charleston, for that matter) had only one opportunity for a “sweep”.

Also, of course, technically The Citadel has not “swept” the College of Charleston this season — yet.  The two schools could meet for a third time in the Southern Conference tournament, although as things currently stand that potential matchup could only happen if both teams advanced to the championship game.  With yesterday’s win, the chances of The Citadel getting to the final improved slightly, because the Bulldogs are now in position to get a first-round bye (as a top-2 finisher in the South Division).

That would be critical, particular for The Citadel.  It would be much easier to win three straight games than have to win four games in four days in Chattanooga (no team has ever gone the “four in four” route to win the SoCon tourney).  Also, given The Citadel’s putrid history in the Southern Conference tournament, having to play one fewer game to actually win the thing would surely come as a relief.  Three tournament wins would be more victories than The Citadel has had in the last 22 tournaments combined.

To guarantee getting that bye, The Citadel has to win at least three of its remaining four games.  The win over the Cougars gave the Bulldogs a little cushion, as the game at Davidson on Wednesday is not a must-win for bye hopes.  However, there is still work to do.  The Citadel also has home games remaining against Furman, a team the Bulldogs had to go to overtime to beat in Greenville (and the Paladins appear to be improving), and Wofford, which beat The Citadel in Spartanburg — the last time the Bulldogs lost a game.  The Citadel finishes the season at Georgia Southern, which has been decimated by injuries and suspensions.  It’s still a road game, though.

The Citadel would get an additional mulligan (or more) if the College of Charleston is unable to win out.  The College has three straight road games up next on its schedule; a slip-up by the Cougars at any of those games would greatly help the Bulldogs’ cause.

As I write this the status of Stephen Curry for Wednesday’s game is uncertain, as Davidson’s all-everything player injured his ankle on Saturday night against Furman.  Even without him, though, the Wildcats would be a formidable opponent, particularly at Belk Arena.  Obviously Davidson is a much better team with him.

While awaiting updates on Curry, it’s worth taking stock in what the Bulldogs have accomplished already.  17 victories clinches a winning season for the first time in seven seasons.  The Citadel has only won more games than that in a season twice in its history (18 in 1985 and 20 in 1979).  The 12 conference victories is a school record, although past teams didn’t have a 20-game league schedule.  Still, no Bulldog squad has ever finished a season with a .750 winning percentage in conference play, which the current group is on pace to do.  The Citadel continues to add to its record for consecutive conference wins.

It’s been a great run so far, but there is still (hopefully) more fun on the horizon.