Chuck Driesell says Citadel basketball has to take “baby steps” toward success in the Southern Conference.
At 8-22 overall and 5-13 in the SoCon this season — Driesell’s third as head coach — the Bulldogs won two more games than they did last year, both overall and in the league.
That could qualify as “baby steps,” but not much more.
In his first three seasons, Driesell has an overall record of 24-68 and a SoCon mark of 14-40. With an overall winning percentage of .260, that’s the worst three-year start for a Citadel coach since Bernard O’Neil went 13-40 (.245) in 1947-50.
Driesell, who has two years left on a five-year contract he signed when he was hired in 2010, is not happy with those won-loss numbers, but insists his program is headed in the right direction.
“I feel great about where the program is going,” he said after the Bulldogs lost in the first round of the SoCon tournament. “I’m disappointed, we all are, that we haven’t won more games. It’s a process.
“This is not the kind of place where you walk in and sign a bunch of McDonald’s All-Americans or a bunch of junior college transfers.”
Driesell points to the remarkable story at Towson, where coach Pat Skerry brought in three transfers from Big East schools and went from 1-31 last year to 18-13 this season, the biggest turnaround in NCAA history.
“We can’t do that here,” he said. “We have to take baby steps, and I think we did that last year. And we’ll continue to do that next year.”
In order to make progress next year, Driesell will have to replace the production of All-SoCon center Mike Groselle, who averaged 15.6 points and 7.6 rebounds. And he will have to figure out how to improve a defense that was among the very worst in Division I, and solve a turnover rate that handcuffed an otherwise fairly effective offense.
The Bulldogs ranked 346th out of 347 teams in defensive efficiency, according to the advanced metrics at kenpom.com, and allowed foes to shoot 47.1 percent from the field, worst in the SoCon. Driesell relied mostly on a 2-3 zone but mixed in man-to-man and other looks as well, to little effect.
Driesell said he’ll visit other programs in the offseason to find some strategies that will work for his personnel.
“When I think I know it all, it’s time to get out of the business,” he said. “This game is all about taking and sharing things, and putting your own twist on it. I’ve seen a couple of teams where I like the way they play defense, and I’m going to visit with them and see if some of those things they do can fit our personnel for next year.”
On offense, the Bulldogs’ turnover rate was 23.9 percent, ranking No. 333 out of 347 teams. Turnovers are the major reason The Citadel took 208 fewer shots than opponents, an average deficit of seven per game.
That meant the Bulldogs averaged just 64.4 points (eighth in the SoCon) despite shooting 45.3 percent (second) and averaging 15.1 assists (first).
The maturation of sophomore point guard Marshall Harris, who led the SoCon with 5.2 assists per game, and rising sophomore Matt Van Scyoc should help, Driesell said.
With Groselle gone, the Bulldogs will have no seniors next year as The Citadel still is dealing with roster imbalance left over from the 2007-08 season, when Ed Conroy brought in 12 freshmen.
But barring departures, the Bulldogs next season will have seven juniors, including Harris, 6-8 forward P.J. Horgan and 6-8 forward C.J. Bray, who missed this season with ankle issues, and four sophomores.
The 6-6 Van Scyoc made the SoCon all-freshman team, averaging 11.1 points and shooting 37.2 percent from 3-point range, but has room for improvement, especially in ball-handling.
Brian White, a 6-7 forward from Richmond, Va., will be counted on to make an early impact as a freshman.
The last four Citadel coaches had their first winning seasons in year 4.5, on average. To meet even that schedule, the Bulldogs will have to take more than baby steps over the next two years.
“We’ll have no seniors on the team next year,” Driesell said. “In a perfect world, you’d have three or four or five seniors and three or four juniors. Then, some of the close games we lost last year might go our way.”