December can be a cruel month for college basketball teams in the low to mid-major category. That’s when many of them are expected to hit the road, in search of guarantee money and crowds.
Southern Conference teams, for example, played 61 percent of their December games on the road, compiling an 11-31 record in those games through Dec. 30 and visiting power conference schools such as Duke, Kentucky, Georgetown, Illinois, Tennessee, Missouri, LSU and South Carolina.
Few teams in the SoCon, or in the nation, had a rougher December than The Citadel, which played all five of its games on the road, losing all five by an average of 26 points.
“The history of schools like ours is that you have a tough December,” said Citadel coach Chuck Driesell, whose team went 0-7 last December, including 0-5 on the road. “Maybe one of these days we won’t have to, and that will be exciting.”
In the meantime, the 3-7 Bulldogs turn over the calendar today, starting the New Year with one more guarantee game — at 7-4 Clemson — before moving into their SoCon schedule.
Despite the lopsided December scores — including losses by 40 at St. Bonaventure, 32 at Georgia Tech and 30 at UNC Greensboro — Driesell said progress is being made in his third season.
“We’re getting better,” he said, “in terms of understanding each other, getting a feel for the offense and in terms of execution.”
Senior center Mike Groselle said the Bulldogs actually ran their offense better in a 73-41 loss at Georgia Tech on Dec. 22 than they did in an earlier 101-73 defeat at Charleston Southern.
“Against CSU, we couldn’t even run our stuff,” Groselle said. “They just ran us out of it. Against Georgia Tech, we were running our stuff, we just couldn’t hit open shots.”
Groselle was 4 of 14 against Tech, and freshman Matt Van Scyoc had some 3-pointers rattle out while going 1 of 13 as The Citadel shot 25.4 percent.
“We shot terribly and didn’t get second shots,” Driesell said. “But our first shots were pretty good. We got the shots we were looking for, but we didn’t get second shots and we didn’t knock down first shots.”
Scoring against Clemson will be just as difficult. The Tigers are allowing foes to shoot just 41.2 percent from inside the 3-point arc, which ranks No. 25 in the nation.
“They are so big, and they will try to go inside on us,” Driesell said of the Tigers, led by 6-8 senior Devin Booker. “They are big and strong, an ACC team. We’ll try to mix it up on defense and keep them off balance, but at the end of the day we’ve got to score the ball.”
Clemson, No. 182 in RPI, has had its own issues scoring. The Tigers shot 19 percent from 3-point range and committed 18 turnovers in a 69-46 loss at Coastal Carolina, but bounced back with a 77-41 win over South Carolina State.
Clemson defeated The Citadel, 73-50, last season.