We won by HOW many points?

The Citadel 70, Samford 45.  At Samford.

Just to put that score in perspective, The Citadel last won a road game by 25+ points in 1960, against VMI (76-45).  In 1958, the Bulldogs beat the Keydets in Lexington, VA by 32 (86-54).

Other 25+ point road wins since 1940 (games are not listed by home/road in the media guide prior to that year, although it’s likely that there was no 25+ point road victory prior to 1940 anyway):  Furman in 1951 (62-36); Davidson in 1945 (60-26); and Clemson in 1943 (63-38).  All of these games were Southern Conference matchups (yes, Clemson was in the SoCon in 1943).

It’s not all that surprising that all of The Citadel’s lopsided road victories occurred in conference play, since A) most of the Bulldogs’ road games are against conference opponents, and B) a good chunk of The Citadel’s out-of-conference road games over the years have come against major-conference teams.  The Citadel isn’t going to play Piedmont, for example, on the road.

Tangent:  of all the games I’ve seen The Citadel play, Piedmont was the only opponent where I thought, “I could play for that team”.  I’m not saying I would have started or anything like that…

Let’s see, what else about this game is worth noting…Samford missed its last 10 three-pointers as part of its woeful 6-32 night from behind the arc…Samford made no field goals over the last 8:30 of the game, a stretch in which it only attempted two non-three pointers from the field…there were no fast break points for either team according to the “play analysis” stats…The Citadel scored 70 points in only 59 total possessions…John Brown had 12 rebounds despite playing only 15 minutes because of foul trouble, although part of that was having plenty of rebounding opportunities thanks to Samford’s poor shooting, not to mention Samford isn’t a good rebounding team anyway…10 of the 11 players seeing minutes for Samford had at least one three-point attempt (the one guy who didn’t only played three minutes)…Samford had an 80% assist-to-made basket ratio, which is great, except that it only had 15 made baskets…Samford was only called for nine fouls for the entire game.

So The Citadel is now 11-10 overall and 6-4 in the league.  The Bulldogs now have a reasonable chance at finishing with a winning record in league play, which hasn’t happened since the 2000-01 team finished 9-7 in the conference.  It would only be the second winning season in the league for the school since the 1984-85 team went 11-5 in the SoCon.

That 1985 team’s 11 wins is the school record for conference victories in a season, and obviously if The Citadel were to have a winning season this year in the league it would at least tie that mark for victories.  Of course, the difference is that there are 20 league games this season (which, as I’ve said before, is ridiculous).  Still, a SoCon win is a SoCon win, especially for this program.  Imagine if Ed Conroy and co. managed to go 12-8 in the league this season (which as of today is The Citadel’s projected conference record by Ken Pomeroy’s ratings system).  Those 12 wins would equal The Citadel’s total number of conference victories from 1946-56, an eleven-year stretch (the school lost 102 SoCon games over that period).

Before I get to the upcoming game, a note of caution.  The Citadel has played some good basketball over these last three games, but it’s not time to pencil the team into the Final Four just yet.  This is the same club that got thumped at home by UC-Davis, and was fortunate to escape a terrible Furman team in OT.  It’s also the same team that lost earlier this season to Elon, Thursday night’s opponent, one of only two league victories for the Phoenix so far this season.

Against Samford, the Bulldogs took advantage of a team that appeared to be leg-weary and could not throw the ball in the ocean in the second half, and while The Citadel played good defense, Samford did get some open looks.  Still, I don’t want to devalue that performance.  Cameron Wells was sensational no matter how poor Samford may have been, and it’s worth noting that it was the third straight game The Citadel had outstanding results in defending the three-point shot.  Samford, as mentioned above, was 6-32 behind the arc.  The College of Charleston was even worse (2-18), and Western Carolina was only 4-15 from three-land.  That’s an 18.5% three-point shooting percentage for Bulldog opponents over those three games.  For league games, The Citadel now leads the SoCon in defending the three (28.4%).

Last season The Citadel allowed opponents to shoot 40.0% from beyond the arc, which was in the bottom 15 nationally.  That contributed in a major way to opponents shooting an effective field goal percentage of 51.3%, worst in the entire country.  This year the Bulldogs have an OppeFG of 44.5%, a significant improvement, and that percentage is dropping even lower as the season progresses.

Okay, now to the rematch with Elon, which defeated The Citadel 56-54, a game marred in the closing seconds by a shaky shotclock operator.  Elon parlayed that win into the start of a three-game winning streak that left it 4-4, 1-1 in league play.  Apparently the Phoenix ate some bad turkey over Christmas, however, because since that third consecutive win Elon has lost eight of nine games, the only victory a one-point upset of Chattanooga last Saturday at the Koury Center.  Elon is now 5-12 overall and 2-7 in SoCon action.  Many of the losses have been competitive — the Phoenix lost at Wofford by three (same as The Citadel), by four to Samford, by four to Navy, and by seven at Western Carolina.  There isn’t any shame in losing at Davidson by 15, either.  However, Elon has also lost by 26 at Maryland (pre-Terp meltdown), by 24 at Appalachian State, and by 17 in a home game against UNC-Greensboro.

The first game between the Phoenix and Bulldogs was a very slowly paced affair (57 possessions for The Citadel) in which Elon won by shooting over 50% from the field (to The Citadel’s 42%).  The Citadel made only 5 of 21 three-point attempts and went to the foul line only eight times.  Interestingly, The Citadel outrebounded Elon 29-23 in that game, noteworthy in particular because rebounding savant John Brown did not play in that game.  (Ed Conroy waited until after the new year to unleash Brown on an unsuspecting Southern Conference.)

Elon was 10-14 from the foul line in the game, but that was an anomaly, as it is the conference’s worst free throw shooting team (just over 60% in league play).  Elon has not shot the ball well in conference action from the field, either.  Also, above I discussed The Citadel’s improvement in defending the three-ball.  Elon is just the opposite, as it has allowed its opponents to shoot a collective 38% from behind the arc, a percentage among the nation’s worst and last in the Southern Conference (and in conference games the number is even worse:  41.3%).

These two teams have gone in very different directions since December 6.  I expect The Citadel to win the rematch, but it won’t be easy.  Nothing is ever easy at The Citadel.  It will be interesting to see how the Bulldogs play as a solid favorite.  I’ll also be watching to see what the attendance figures are.  Previous attendance for home Thursday conference games:  845 against Georgia Southern on January 8, and 1133 against Western Carolina last week.

I anticipate the trend of rising attendance to continue.  I hope the level of play continues to rise as well.

Verdict on the non-conference results: Not bad

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

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

Last season:

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

This season:

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 reasons why The Citadel will beat Michigan State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Don’t forget about Love Ishie, too.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Longtime rivals UC Davis and The Citadel to play Monday night

Before writing a little bit about Monday night’s game, I just wanted to briefly comment on the results of The Citadel’s first two SoCon games.  First, it’s great to actually win a conference road game (or any road game, for that matter).  I also think it’s good that the team is probably a little disappointed it didn’t pull off the road sweep.  Expectations may be gradually increasing for this team.  This happens when in one year you go from a 30-point loss at UNC-Greensboro to a 7-point win in the same building.  Holding UNCG to 5-29 from beyond the arc was also a welcome development (struggling down the stretch from the foul line, not so much).

I will say this.  The SoCon owes The Citadel a couple of makeup calls against Elon in both football and basketball (actually, in football three or four makeup calls are in order).  I can’t say I was upset to see Elon choke away a potential FCS berth by losing to Liberty.  Elon should never have been in a position to get a bid in the first place, because it was given a win over The Citadel by hilariously inept Southern Conference officiating.  Just desserts and all that.

The hoopsters’ matchup at Elon featured a really convenient (for the Phoenix) shotclock reset situation at the end of the game.  Nice.  No telling what the umpiring will be like at Riley Park for the first SoCon series of the year.

Okay, on to the battle with the Aggies…

I’ve been trying to figure out how this matchup (the first ever between the two schools) came to be ever since the hoops schedule came out.  My best guess is that UCD was going to have to play Presbyterian in Clinton, S.C., anyway (in a return game from last season) and figured if it had to travel all the way to South Carolina, why not make it a two-game trip.  I don’t know if this means a journey to Davis is in the cards for The Citadel in the next couple of years.  If it is, I hope the team doesn’t spend too much time at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science.

The institute is just part of a sprawling campus scene at UC Davis, which is one of those schools nobody on the east coast has ever heard of that just happens to have 30,000 students.  It’s part of the UC system, along with fellow Big West schools Irvine, Riverside, and Santa Barbara.  It’s located in Davis (surprise!), which is a city of about 60,000 near Sacramento.  Davis is a haven for bicyclists, and for toads.  Seriously.  From a Wikipedia entry (and remember, wiki is never wrong):

Davis’ Toad Tunnel is a wildlife crossing that was constructed in 1995…Because of the building of an overpass, animal lovers worried about toads being killed by cars commuting from South Davis to North Davis, since the toads hopped from one side of a dirt lot (which the overpass replaced) to the reservoir at the other end. After much controversy, a decision was made to build a toad tunnel, which runs beneath the Pole Line Road overpass which crosses Interstate 80. The project cost $14,000. The tunnel is 21 inches (53 cm) wide and 18 inches (46 cm) high.

The tunnel has created problems of its own. The toads originally refused to use the tunnel and so the tunnel was lit to encourage its use. The toads then died from the heat of the lamps inside the tunnel. Once through the tunnel, the toads also had to contend with birds who grew wise to the toad-producing hole in the ground. The exit to the toad tunnel has been decorated by the Post-Master to resemble a toad town.

The Wikipedia entry also refers to Davis as being “known as a strongly leftist-liberal town,” which after reading about the toad tunnel shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.

UCD started off as a farm for UC Berkeley (basically, an extension service) and gradually morphed into a free-standing university, being officially established in 1959.  It’s still an agricultural school (hence the nickname “Aggies”) but has added several other academic disciplines.  In reading about UCD I noticed that it has an Army ROTC program, which is apparently the largest of its kind in the State of California.

UC Davis is in its sixth year as a Division I school after a successful run in NCAA Division II.  Last season the Aggies finished last in the Big West with a 1-14 record (9-22 overall).  UCD lost 13 of its last 14 games and completed the campaign sporting an RPI of 283.  Over the last three seasons the Aggies are 2-33 in road/neutral contests.  The Citadel can relate to those types of numbers.

This season, UCD is 3-6, with wins over Loyola-Marymount, Tulane, and Cal State-Bakersfield, and losses to UW-Milwaukee, Iowa State, South Alabama, Portland, Arkansas, and Sacramento State.  The Aggies are a really good free throw shooting team (81.8%, which is currently third nationally) and have a very nice assist/basket ratio (70%, also third nationally).  They have not been a strong defensive team, allowing opponents to shoot 47.5% from the field.

The Aggies average a little over 70 possessions per game.  It will be interesting to see which team controls the tempo, as The Citadel has averaged just over 60 possessions per game.  Few teams have collectively played their games at a slower pace than the Bulldogs.

UCD has three players averaging in double figures in scoring.  Joe Harden is a 6’8″ guard (!) averaging 15 points and 8 rebounds per game.  Dominic Calegari is a 6’10” forward who can shoot the three.  He’s 16-31 from beyond the arc so far this season (and a career 40% 3-point shooter).  Vince Oliver, a 6’3″ guard, is averaging 10.8 points per game.  Mark Payne is another tall guard (he’s 6’7″) who leads the team in assists, with 5.3 per game (he also boards at a 5.6 clip).  The Aggies employ a nine-man rotation.

I’m not sure what to make of UCD, a tall team that doesn’t rebound particularly well and has no shotblockers.  Defending the three could be a challenge for The Citadel, and the Bulldogs definitely don’t want to send the Aggies to the foul line.  If the Bulldogs can keep UCD from having a good night from beyond the arc, The Citadel can win this game.  The other factor to consider is the layoff.  Neither team has played a game in the past nine days.