Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Cougars Fall Back to Earth, Stumble in Grant's Home Debut

Final Score: Gardner-Webb 80, College of Charleston 67
Top Performers:
Jarvis Davis 22 pts (6-9 3pt), 4-4 FT, 5 rebs
Adjehi Baru 10 pts, 12 rebs

After dismantling a Furman team in their season opener, the Cougars regressed to what could be the mean this season. Against Gardner-Webb in Coach Earl Grant's home court debut, the Cougars looked very much like a team with a first time head coach and only a few month's time to learn a new playing philosophy.

Personal fouls were again an issue for CofC. The refs called this game tight from the very start, enforcing everything from traveling violations to moving picks and hand checks. That did not bode well for a Cougar team that had committed 27 fouls in their previous game.

But the Cougars were not doing themselves any favors with defensive positioning. Way too many times the Bulldog bigs would immediately establish themselves deep in the paint, with leverage and an angle to the basket. That left Baru dead in the water, as he gave up and-1 after and-1. Anytime the Cougars would sag down to offer some help, Gardner-Webb kicked it out for a wide open three from Jarvis Davis or open lane to the hoop. Some of this is coaching - Grant was hesitant to send help as Baru was getting eaten alive, some of it is player personnel and some of it was the players' lack of execution.

The lack of a competent power forward shot the team in the foot after they were able to overcome lack of production from the position in Game 1. Terrance O'Donohue can do some nice things, but he fouled out of the game with 9 minutes to go and did not register a point. David Wishon is what he is. He is a big body, without an offensive game, and he was a sieve on defense last night.

The most productive player in the frontcourt besides Baru, and the most pleasant surprise so far, has been Donovan Gilmore. The Human Pogo Stick sprung his way to 11 rebounds and 10 points in his homecourt debut and looks much better than any other forward off the bench. The problem is that he's not an ideal fit next to Baru. He doesn't have the weight to chip a guy out of position, and as a freshman he still needs time to understand where to be on the floor.

At the end of the day, last night was a reminder that this season will have it's ups and downs. Five of the team's eight rotation players are underclassmen. There's a first time head coach on the sidelines - one of the youngest in the country. The team was robbed of an entire summer of practice. There is no go-to talent on the team yet.

The team will be inconsistent for a while, maybe even the whole season. But they will improve as the year goes on. They'll need to rebound as soon as possible, because up next is the tallest task of the season. The Cougars travel to Puerto Rico to take on defending champion UConn on Thursday. Let's hope to see some positives.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Cougars Cruise to 75-40 Victory in Grant's Debut


Final Score: College of Charleston 75, Furman 40
Top Performers:
Adjehi Baru 16 pts, 8 rebs
Anthony Stitt 19 pts, 3-5 3pm-a

The Cougars started the 2014-2015 season strong with a 35-point victory over former SoCon member Furman last night. Shortly before tipoff, word came out that two of the Paladin's starters - Stephen Croone and Aaron O'neill - would both miss the game with concussions. Croone in particular was a big blow. He's the straw that stirs the drink on offense and without him Furman struggled to get good looks at the basket all night. 

So anemic was the Furman offense that they only made 10 field goals for the game (CofC was 31 for 59). Credit the Cougar defense. The contest, deny and box out style of Wojcik's teams is showing signs of phasing out in favor of a more swarming and active style. A little more VCU than Michigan State, which attributed to 8 steals for CofC.

On offense the Cougars leaned heavily on their seniors. Stitt and Baru combined for 35 points, with the former getting to the rim and draining his threes and the latter showing his patience and jump shot around the paint. The ball was moving a lot faster than it did last year. Joe Chealey tied his career high for assists with 7 and CofC as a team had an impressive 20-7 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Donovan Gilmore and Cam Johnson also picked up where they left off in the exhibition game. Both freshmen were leaned on heavily when the score started to stretch itself. Gilmore maintained his efficient stat lines, crunching two dunks off dump off passes and drilling a long jumper. His only misses were off what should have been a wide open alley oop, but the pass was off target and a missed short jumper. Cam Johnson used his big frame to pull down 5 boards and went 2 for 3 from behind the arc in 27 minutes of play. Neither had a turnover.

The battle for the starting forward spot opposite Baru left a little to be desired. Terrance O'Donahue got the nod, but foul trouble for himself (4), David Wishon (4) and Glenn Pierre (3) left the spot as a rotating carousel of bodies. Each one showed signs of what they could do, but Grant was forced to mostly play four guards around Baru or Gilmore for much of the game. TO, Wishon and Pierre combined for just 2 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks. 

If there was one area where the Cougars struggled it was the fouling disparity. Furman was able to briefly cut the CofC lead to 4 late in the first half because free throws kept them in it. Furman attempted 35 free throws to just 4 by Charleston. I'm not overly concerned with the ticky-tack calls on the CofC bigs because they can generally get away with those in the CAA. You have to remember these were Friday Socon refs and the game was in Greenville. But you don't want something like being unable to produce easy points come back to bite CofC like it did many times last year. Stitt, Chealey, Barry and Johnson can all get to the rim and finish through contact, I'd like to see more of that on Monday.

The Cougars will host Gardner-Webb for their home opener - a team that plays LSU today in their first game. They're a solid mid-major team and should be healthy for Monday. It will be a good barometer of where the Cougars stand as they head into Puerto Rico. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Who Starts Opposite Baru?

College of Charleston (0-0, 0-0)
Furman (0-0, 0-0)
Timmons Arena, Greenville, SC
Tipoff at 8:00 pm on ESPN3

The Cougars officially kick off the 2014-2015 season as well as the Earl Grant era when they take on the Furman Paladins tonight up in Greenville. All summer long the starting lineup has more or less been set at four of the five positions: Stitt and Chealey the lead guards, Canyon Barry on the wing and Adjehi Baru manning the middle.

The last spot, opposite Baru, is a toss up and we won't have a definitive answer until the final hour. There are three possible candidates: redshirt junior David Wishon, sophomore Terrance O'Donohue and freshman Donovan Gilmore. Let's take a look at what each one would bring to the starting lineup:

David Wishon

Pros: David has the most experience of any of the potential candidates. Last season he received consistent minutes off the bench as the first big to sub in. At 7'2 he's the tallest player in the CAA and presents major problems for opposing offenses even if he stands still in front of the rim. One thing that makes him a unique choice is that he would play center and Adjehi would move over to power forward. That would mean Adjehi would play facing the basket more often, shooting jumpers - a real skill Adjehi has had for a year or two and something Coach Grant wants to utilize.

Cons: Just as David's size is an advantage, it does create issues for teammates. He's not very mobile, so the team usually needs to wait a beat for him to get set up in the halfcourt. The sheer amount of space he takes up, and the lack of speed to shift also sometimes prevents the guards from driving to the rim.

Overall assessment: Wishon would bring a defensive presence and experience to form an NBA-sized front court tandem with Baru. The hope would be that the rumors of his improved athleticism in practice are true and he is able to facilitate the offense with passing and positioning while being an asset on defense.

Terrance O'Donohue

Pros: Even though he was the highest-ranked player in last year's freshmen class, Terrance only received minimal playing time in a pinch or in a lopsided game under Wojcik. He's still a big body at 6'7 and 225 pounds, capable of banging in the paint and collecting rebounds. His most unique asset would be his ability to make threes - something he was pretty good at in high school. If he can do that, he could somewhat fill the shoes of Willis Hall last year as the team's stretch four. Surrounding Baru with four guys capable of hitting threes would clear up space inside the arc for drives to the basket and one-on-one matchups for Baru.

Cons: Everything we've heard so far about Terrance is speculation. Just as it seemed like he would be penned in to start the exhibition game, he took an elbow to the face from Baru in practice - leaving him with a concussion and a broken nose. That meant sitting out for several days and losing ground on any edge he may have gained over Wishon. We have not seen his three point shot in a real game yet or how he would fare going from little-used bench guy to starter. Even if reports from practice are that he is ready, there's no way of knowing until the regular season has already begun.

Overall assessment: Terrance has the body and potential skill set to fill a role for the team - but we have not seen these skills come to fruition in a meaningful game or for extended minutes.

Donovan Gilmore

Pros: For most of the off-season, it seemed like a two-man competition for the starting forward spot...that is until freshman Donovan Gilmore's performance in the exhibition game. Often tabbed as "athletic" but "raw" by scouts and couches, Gilmore looked like a starting caliber player against Emory. He played within himself, going a perfect 3 for 3 from the field for six points. He also used his trademark athleticism to collect 7 rebounds. Most astoundingly, that production came in just 15 minutes of play.

Cons: If O'Donohue is inexperienced, Gilmore is downright green. He has not yet played in a real college basketball game and still has that "raw" title attached to him. He'll need time to figure out how to use his physical gifts to get to the right spots, read the defense and make the right decisions.

Overall assessment: The potential is there for Donovan to be a great player, maybe sooner than we thought after his exhibition performance, but he is probably best suited as an energy big off the bench for now.

Conclusion: If he's fully recovered from the concussion and broken nose, I think Terrance O'Donohue will likely start the most games out of these three. Grant has already said the sophomore had separated himself from the pack before the injury. Unlike Wojcik, who David followed from Tulsa to CofC, Coach Earl Grant doesn't owe the ginja ninja any playing time. Wishon will be an asset against several teams the Cougs play this year with their tough schedule. His defense and ability to box out will also make him a valuable contributor. What Terrance brings is the versatility and mobility to play inside and out. We'll see who gets the final nod tonight, and it's a competition that could very well carry on all year.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

5 Things We Learned from an Exhibition Win Over Emory

Final Score: College of Charleston 78, Emory 68
Top Performers:
Joe Chealey 23 points (6-10 3FG), 4 rebs, 3 assts, 2 stls
Alex Foster 27 pts, 9 rebs, 2 stls

Earl Grant made his unofficial debut as the Cougar's head ball coach Saturday afternoon. After some hot shooting by DIII Emory, the Cougars pulled away (leading by as many as 18 in the 2nd half) and cruised to a 10 point exhibition victory .

After the game, Grant said he intentionally did not have his guys run any set plays. The Cougs had free reign on offense and played pretty basic defense. The focus on this game, according to Grant, was to "play the right way" and make sure everyone on the roster saw some playing time.

Here are a few hot takes and other assorted knee jerk reactions from what is essentially a glorified scrimmage:

1) Joe Chealy is healthy and looking to build off last year

A knee injury just before the CAA Tournament cut short what was a strong freshman year for Joe Chealey. He was a starter from Game 1 of his college career and showed flashes of being a CAA-caliber lead guard with two game-winning plays against UNC Charlotte and a few high assist numbers sprinkled into the season. With more freedom to shoot and run, Chealey had 11 of the Cougs first 20 points and nailed back-to-back threes when Emory went on a little run in the 2nd half. He shot 8-13 from the field including a 6-10 mark from deep. He already has the size and speed to get to the rim, if he can become a more consistent shooter as a sophomore he's due for a big season.

2) The freshmen should be able to contribute early 

Even though they were not his recruits, Coach Grant has been very complimentary of the freshmen during practice. Guard Cameron Johnson got postgame media honors after playing 21 minutes off the bench, scoring 8 points on six shots and grabbing 6 boards. He's a big, stocky combo guard who brings toughness and defense off the bench, but his shooting stroke from behind the arc (2 for 3) and his ability to grab rebounds against other guards was a nice plus. 

Donovan Gilmore, the super athletic forward, has been billed as "raw" but was the most efficient Cougar on the floor. In just 15 minutes of play he had six points without missing on any of his three field goal attempts. He even had a nice slam off a Joe Chealey pocket pass. Gilmore also pulled down 7 rebounds in his time on the court, one shy of leading the team.

3) The Cougars can still be efficient shooters without running down the shot clock

I'm all for efficient offense, but last year the Cougars would hurt themselves more than help whenever they ran the clock all the way down to look for a more open shot. Wojcik was adamant it would make decent shooters into great shooters because you're manufacturing open looks, but all too often players were scared to shoot for fear of being reamed out by CDW on the sideline. What Stitt, Chealey and Barry showed against Emory was that they are just as efficient shooting off a ball screen or dribble as they are waiting for the ball to get kicked to them out of the post. 

So now instead of churning down clock, the Cougars are getting way more opportunities per minute and knocking them down at the same clip. That means more points on the board, less pressure on the defense and fans staying awake in the stands.

4) The jury is still out on Baru

I was hoping to see Baru come out and dominate this game but it didn't quite happen. He did lead the Cougars with 8 boards, but against such an undersized lower division team I wish he had put up a little more offense. He missed a dunk, which happened all too often last year, and only attempted 4 shots. Since coming in as a freshman, Baru seems to only occasionally realize he is the most athletically gifted player in nearly every game. Now a senior, this is the time to play with an attitude on offense and defense and trust the skill set he has refined over the years to complement his physical tools. 

5) There are still some little issues that need tightening

Free throws and turnovers. Those are things you can get away with slipping up on during an exhibition game but could cost you in the regular season. The Cougars earned their "#CardiacCougars" nickname last year because they could not close out games by making free throws and maintaining possession. I can somewhat look past the turnovers because the team was not running plays and is integrating lots of new players. But none of the starters had a positive assist-to-turnover ratio. 

Free throws will also need to improve, especially from the guards. Joe Chealey and Adjehi Baru were both 1-3. The team as a whole barely shot 60% despite going to the line 23 times. Hopefully it was just season-opening nerves.

The Cougars have another week to work on these issues and improve upon their performance in exhibition play before taking on Furman in the season opener on Nov. 14. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Maroon Tinted Glasses Still Fit

As is tradition on this blog, we like to start each season preview with a look back on the same kickoff post from the previous year. In November of 2013, CofC was entering a new conference with 2nd year head coach Doug Wojcik's cast of Cremins-era holdovers and first signing class rooks. Sounded like a shaky start to the season.

Those were the days. Remember how our biggest gripe last year was whether or not we liked the new athletics logo?

You all know how CofC basketball's summer went. If you happen to have lived under a rock or maybe you missed something, you can get a refresher with Sam Spence's excellent piece for the Charleston City Paper

Wojcik's actions are well-documented, but the discontent amongst Cougar fans was palpable by early conference play for pure basketball reasons too. The plodding offense, the stubborn play calling, the neck-vein-pulsing sideline anti-motivating. Fans were just waiting for an excuse to reprimand CDW the way he did his players and they smelled blood in the water at the first sign of trouble on George St.

CofC leadership made a mockery of the institution with the entire handling of the mess that was made this summer, but they eventually settled on the right call. Wojcik was swiftly dismissed and the bumbling search committee, through their own fortune or incompetence, made the right call in passing on former CofC standout Anthony Johnson in favor of Clemson's Earl Grant. 

Grant is the the coach CofC needed then and retains at the helm now. He's already demonstrating his value as the antithesis of Wojcik.
  • Isolated fan base? Native Charlestonian Grant has taken a grassroots approach to meeting with Cougar Club members, student leaders and the community at large.
  • Boring style of play? Coach Grant is encouraging his guys to take open shots and get out in transition. (hallelujah hallelujah)
  • Prickly personality? Character traits are more important here than most jobs and Grant has come across as motivated, sincere and honest in each interview he's given. 
We haven't even played a game yet and EG is checking off items on the CofC fan wish list. We're not going to crown him as the new Gregg Marshall, but the off court results are very good so far.

On the court, the new coaching staff inherits a team that had probably peaked experience wise last season. Gone are leading scorer, rebounder and put-da-team-on-his-back workhorse Willis Hall. So too are sharpshooter Nori Johnson and utility wing Anthony Thomas. That's two starters and the team's 6th man. 

But the cupboard is not completely empty. Adjehi Baru and Anthony Stitt are moving onto their fourth coach in four years after being recruited by Cremins, but have been major contributors their entire college careers. 

Baru is finishing off a career that started with being the highest ranked player to ever commit to the College of Charleston. He's picked up numerous accolades and accomplishments along the way - but never the championship that many thought would lie at the end of the tunnel. After having knee surgery to take care of pain that lingered most of last season, along with Wojcik's defensive fundamentals and new assistant coach Antonio Reynolds-Dean's tutelage, this needs to be the year Adjehi becomes the consistent player he has the skills to be.

Stitt will have the ball in his hands a lot with EG drawing up the plays. At Clemson, Grant coached Anthony's cousin Demontez Stitt to lead the action on the floor. The head ball coach has already spoken highly of Stitt's senior leadership and toughness as characteristics of the type of players he puts his trust in. I for one am excited to see the rim-attacking, defensive pest that was freshman Anthony Stitt unleashed once again. No more slow pace, feed the post, take a contested three Stitt please. 

The rest of last years contributors each showed flashes of excellence. Canyon Barry looked like a surefire candidate to lead the Cougars in scoring as a redshirt freshman before poor shot selection and injuries derailed his season. Joe Chealey was brilliant running point as a true freshman but he too is coming off of injury. Seven footer David Wishon was Wojcik's guy, but he showed enough passing and defensive instincts to warrant a spot in the lineup this year. 

Word is unknowns like Cam Johnson and Terrance O'Donahue are making great strides in practice and will demand playing time - possibly even starters minutes. Then there's the flotsam of under classmen who will hope to be the one to separate themselves and become a contributor. 

As painful as this summer was, the positive vibes coming from the coaches, team and fans should be enough for you to put on the maroon glasses once again. Throw in a winnable conference and some very motivated individuals and it's acceptable to get excited. 

Freaking college basketball is back and it should be a much more exciting time for the Cougars. Cheesy branded hashtags be damned, it's time to Restore the Roar. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

CAA Tournament Preview Extravaganza: Round 1

Friday March 7th
Game 1: #9 UNCW vs #8 Hofstra

The game nobody wanted to play. The winner of this veritable "play-in" game gets the unfortunate task of facing off against top-seeded Delaware less than 15 hours later. Neither the Pride nor the 'Hawks come into Baltimore with any real momentum, but Hofstra does hold the 2-0 series advantage against the Dub this season. The Seahawks seemed to be turning the slightest of corners down the stretch of this season but Dixon and Williams can only do so much. The victor gets congratulated with jeers from CAA fans Saturday afternoon about having not delivered enough jabs to bruise up Delaware before the latter rounds. 

The Pick: Hofstra

Saturday March 8th
Game 2: #1 Delaware vs UNCW / Hofstra Winner

Over/under 25 Flacco jersey-clad UD fans at this tournament? Even as the overall #1 seed in Baltimore, I'm not sure many have bought the Blue Hens as the team to beat. Despite having three All-CAA performers in the starting lineup, the Blue Hens are playing second fiddle to pre-season favorite Towson. In a league full of parity I would be surprised if this game is in question beyond halftime. Delaware had a chip on their shoulder against CofC in the final regular season game and I believe they will carry it into Baltimore. I foresee Upshaw having an inefficient 20+ point game as he tries to shoot Hofstra into the next round but ultimately Saddler, Usher and Baptiste pose too much manpower. 

The Pick: Delaware

Game 3: #4 Drexel vs #5 Northeastern

Now we're getting somewhere. For the middle 80% of the season I saw CofC likely playing in this middle seed matchup. That scenario fell by the wayside when the Cougars dropped their last three games. Like the Cougars, Drexel seems capable of grinding out an upset or two in Baltimore but Northeastern has the most recent win over the Dragons in the season finale and The Beasterton down low. If the college basketball gods are just we'll get a repeat of the fantastic double OT game that these two teams played on January 8th. In similar fashion I think this is going to come down to the wire, with one team making just enough threes late in the game to pull away.

The Pick: Northeastern

Game 4: #2 Towson vs #7 JMU

With the CAA Tournament leaving the familiar confines of Richmond, Virginia, former conference doormat-turned favorite Towson finds themselves defending their own backyard. JMU is a team you don't want to face in a win or go home scenario because their effort levels and outside shooting sway back and forth so violently that they can beat anybody. But the Dukes are still a year or more away from really making noise in the tournament. Benimon, Skerry and Towson have had big aspirations all year - I fully anticipate them taking care of business on Saturday and cruising into the next round.

The Pick: Towson

Game 5: #3 William & Mary vs #6 Charleston

Well well well...now we get to the headliner, the main event (just let me have this). CofC fans have differing opinions on whether or not 3rd seeded William & Mary is a favorable or unfavorable matchup. The Cougars experienced both sides of how the classic offense vs defense matchup can go. At William and Mary earlier in the year, CofC had the Tribe right where they wanted them and seemed destined to sneak out with a low scoring victory on the road before Marcus Thornton started taking (and making) and unconscious number of shots to lead a strong comeback and ultimate win. More recently in Charleston, CofC put together what will probably go down as their best game of the season. The defense put the pressure on Thornton and Rusthoven early and often but more importantly, the Cougars took what the soft W&M defense gave them and drained season highs in threes and shooting percentage en route to an 87-54 victory. 

I hope that game is crystallized in the players' heads because that's how they need to play throughout the tournament - balanced. You have to believe William & Mary is nervous about a rematch with CofC. Wojcik has preached all season that the regular season CAA run is just a set-up for the tournament; and the team has the defensive acumen, relative depth and rebounding dominance to stay in any game (also lose any game, as we've seen so often this year). The Tribe rely on three point offense and the unfamiliar shooting perspective that comes with playing in a brand new venue does not bode well for them.
If the Cougars are going to pull the upset, they will need two things to fall their way. First, the game needs to be called like a tournament contest and not like the bones-are-made-of-glass whistle fests of this past fall. CofC cannot afford to have All-CAA defensive ace Adjehi Baru riding the pine with the season on the line and Marcus Thornton driving uncontested to the basket.
The second thing is what we have preached all season: the scoring. More specifically, the outside shots need to fall. The sets Charleston sees on Saturday should not be much different than the defense they torched last time out. The Tribe players don't have the length or closeout speed to contest open looks so Nori, Anthony and Canyon need to drain them when they get the opportunity.
The Pick: The College

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Resurgent Offense Not Enough as Cougs Fall to Delaware

Final Score: Delaware 89, College of Charleston 86
Top Performers:
Jarvis Threatt 13 pts (11-13 FT), 13 assts, 6 rebs
Canyon Barry 27 pts (5-7 3pt)

Disclaimer - I was unable to watch this game because of a combination of CAA TV's shoddy product and my own inconsistent internet. So I was forced to glean what I could from tweets and box scores. 

  • The offense came back to life as the Cougars hit 13 of 26 three ball attempts and actually got to the line 22 times (hitting 17). The 13 three pointers was one shy of the season total set in the last home game against William & Mary.
  • Canyon Barry reminded us that the future is bright for Rick Barry's youngest son. He put up a season-high 27 points coming off the bench and shot over 50% from the field, behind the arc and from the charity stripe.  Canyon's biggest issues right now are his ball handling and shooting percentages; if those continue to improve he'll become a hell of a player. 
  • The Cougars held a narrow edge on the boards, 37-35
  • David Wishon was able to give good minutes off the bench for a second straight game with Baru slightly hobbled by his knee issues. The Ginja Ninja had 6 points and 5 rebounds in just 15 minutes of play.
  • The opening 3-pointer by Judson Hall is what senior night is all about. Last year, seldom used Bart Benton was made a starter and he responded with a basket that caused the crowd to erupt. The set play to get Judson a wide open three is a nice tip of the cap by Wojcik and the younger Hall responded by draining it to everyone's delight. I really like keeping up that tradition.
  • As the offense took a step forward, the defense took a step back. Wojcik cannot be happy with his guys giving up 89 points - even if it Delaware is the league's best offense.
  • Jarvis Threatt, who was suspended the first time these teams met, gave the Blue Hen offense a whole new look. He got to the line at will and had 13 assists on the afternoon. The CAA is a guard-oriented league and Threatt played like an all-league point guard yesterday against CofC's defense. 
Despite the Cougar's efforts, Delaware played like the superior team they are down the stretch. Don't forget, the top seed and automatic NIT bid were not guaranteed unless they beat CofC. Fortunately for the Cougs they only fell to the 6th seed and will face William & Mary (the team they blew out of the water three games ago) in the first round of the CAA Tournament in Baltimore. From there it's an uphill battle that will likely include another rematch with Delaware if the Cougars can advance. Look for full CAA Tournament previews this week.