When a person thinks of Southern Conference basketball, The Citadel probably isn't the program that pops into the minds of most. Though the Bulldogs have had some successful seasons as a member of the conference to first utilize an end-of-the-season conference tournament, however, that tournament remains one that the charter member Bulldogs have yet to win.
In fact, The Citadel is among a short list of teams to have never qualified for an NCAA Tournament berth. The program showed some signs of turning things around when Ed Conroy took over as the program's head coach back in 2006.
However, the Charleston-born Conroy would see too much success, as he would be snagged away by Tulane following the 2009-10 season--a campaign which saw the Bulldogs finish .500 or better for a second-straight campaign. In fact, the Bulldogs would post 36 wins in the final two campaigns of Conroy's tenure.
The 20-13 record posted by the Bulldogs under Conroy in the 2008-09 season, which marked just the second time in school history that the Bulldogs had won 20 games in a season, and was the first time it had happened since the 1978-79 season.
The season was so good that it would see the Bulldogs garner their first-ever postseason invite to a non-league, non-NCAA sanctioned tournament, as the Bulldogs took part in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, taking on eventual champion Old Dominion in the opening round, 67-59, of the CIT.
With Conroy leaving following the 2009-10 season, it left the door open for the son of another son of another famous person, although unlike Conroy's cousin, Pat Conroy, who was a former player for The Citadel and a best-selling author, Chuck Driesell's father had been known as one of the greatest coaches in college basketball history, serving in most famously in stints at Davidson and Maryland. The elder Driesell closed out his career as the head coach at Georgia State before calling it a career early into the 2002-03 season.
The Driesell name and success was enough to give an opportunity, to the young, high-energy coach, who looked to maintain and build upon the successful foundation his predecessor Conroy had begun to build. However, the change didn't go according to plan, and Driesell, who won no more than 10 games in his four seasons in the Low Country, was fired following a First-Round exit to 10th-seeded Furman in the opening round of the Southern Conference Tournament, as the Bulldogs ended the season with just seven wins.
The next hire was an important one for new Director of Athletics Jim Senter, who hadn't been on the job after taking over for another former legendary basketball coach Les Robinson, who was responsible for bringing in both Conroy and Driesell while serving in the same role as Senter's predecessor.
So where would The Citadel look for their next basketball coach? Naturally to its bitter military league rival, VMI, where Duggar Baucom had taken over a similar program in pretty much every dynamic and made them into a team to be respected in mid-major basketball.
Like The Citadel, VMI was a program that had little success in the SoCon, however, the Keydets had a bit more tradition than the Bulldogs boast, including one of the best runs in the NCAA Tournament history prior to runs to the Elite Eight and Sweet 16 made by Davidson (2007-08) and UTC (1996-97), as the Ron Carter-led Keydets made a Sweet 16 run in 1976-77.
But Baucom didn't exactly inherit a VMI program with much success, as he took over a Keydet program that in 2006-07, and from the outset, the run-and-gun style of the Keydets would make some noise. The Keydets posted what was one of the biggest wins in the history of the program in Nov of the 2008 campaign, as the Keydets went to Rupp Arena and produced a shocking result, claiming a 111-103 win. Baucom officially had the nation's attention firmly fixed on VMI, which was arguably the first time that has happened since that magical run made in the mid-1970s.
During his nine seasons at VMI, he made the Keydets a regular contender in the Big South and then in his first season with the Keydets back in the Southern Conference in 2014-15. The Keydets could compete with anyone in the SoCon due to Baucom's frenetic style, predicated on getting shots and possessions. The Keydets sacrificied defense for possessions, much like the much publicized program Grinnell College in Division III, or Paul Westhead's Loyola Marymount program of the early 1990s.
With Baucom's teams at VMI, it reminded me of the equalizer a triple option team has, if run with good execution, a chance to beat anyone in college football--FBS included--due to its uniqueness and difficulty to defend. That's how those VMI teams were under Baucom. In their last season in the Big South, the Keydets
There was some fallout from Driesell's departure, as the Bulldogs' third-leading scorer--sharpshooter Jake Wright--who decided to transfer.
Baucom was an instant hit during his time at VMI, and the success would culminate in a CIT Semifinal bid a couple of years ago, which saw the Keydets make it to the the semifinal round before being knocked out in the semifinal round, with a loss to Yale.
But there was a sacrifice for the offense-crazed Keydets, which would throw up three-pointers like they were going out of style and try and catch other teams napping with transition baskets. The key to Baucom's offense in Lexington was possessions in lieu of defense, as teams shot better than 47% from the field in VMI's first season in the Southern Conference, but the Keydets were consistently among the nation's leaders in scoring offense and three-point field goals made.
Still, it's a brand of basketball that will have the turnstyles moving at McAlister Field House this season. But the cupboard is pretty bare for Baucom in terms of what returns for the Bulldogs this season. Not only did the Bulldogs lose Wright to transfer, the Bulldogs also lost leading scorer and one of the league's best offensive threats, in Ashton Moore (18.0 PPG), as well as Marshall Harris III (4.3 PPG, 1.2 RPG), who served as one of the Bulldogs' top distributors in the backcourt.
Forward Brian White (7.1 PPG, 4.3 RPG) does return to serve as a leader in the paint for the Bulldogs this season. The 6-8 forward is one of two starters returning for the Bulldogs this season, and he will be joined by 6-5 G/F Quinton Marshall (6.0 PPG, 3.2 RPG).
Baucom will need to first get his backcourt players in-sync with his new system, and the one player that could serve as pivotal in leading the backcourt in 2015-16 could be Warren Sledge (3.1 PPG, 1.5 RPG).
Much of what Baucom will have to rely on this season will have to be newcomers, and it will start with formulating a backcourt that will fit his style, which will require quickness and ball-handling to the get the ball from one end to the other with a purpose.
One of the players to keep an eye this season as a part of Baucom's recruiting class will be 6-1 guard Matt Frierson. Frierson will be the workhorse this season, however, help will be on the way in a big way next season, as the Baucom has added a pair of transfers, in 5-9 IUPUI guard P.J. Boutte and 6-3 guard Derrick Henry from Winthrop. They will be both be eligible next season, and Baucom's plans should be able to take more shape.
Frierson is not the only impressive addition in the backcourt, however, as speedy 5-11 guard Quayson Williams out of the basketball talent hotbed of Greensboro, N.C., joins Frierson. The duo, along with Sledge, will be learning by trial and error this season.
This season, his recruiting concentrated mostly on the frontcourt, as 6-7 forward Connor Schroeder from Blacksburg, VA, and 6-8 center Garrett Mullis from Murrells Inlet, S.C. Rounding out the frontcourt additions are 6-7 Zane Nadjawi out of Midlothian, VA, and 6-6 Qwandell Newton out of Naples, FL, round out the newcomers in the front court. The Bulldogs will struggle this season, but hope is on the near horizon in Charleston, and it should be fun to watch.