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Dugger Baucom and The Citadel are sprinting towards SoCon contention

Baucom has a method to the madness.

NCAA Basketball: Citadel at Ohio State
The Citadel Head Coach Duggar Baucom
Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

If there’s a mad scientist in the Southern Conference, it’s probably The Citadel’s Duggar Baucom.

Baucom does things a little differently at The Citadel not only because he has to in order to keep up with the Joneses in the SoCon, but also because he wants to. His exciting brand of basketball has captivated SoCon audiences at both VMI and The Citadel, while driving opponent head coaches and assistants crazy.

The Bulldogs play an up-tempo, unconventional style of basketball that’s hard to prepare for on both ends of the floor. During his three years as the head coach at The Citadel, the Bulldogs have ranked in the top-20 in scoring, top-five in three pointers per season, top-three in made threes per game and top-three in three-point field goals attempted.

However, when you ask other SoCon coaches about the most frustrating thing about playing against Baucom-coached teams, they’ll almost always mention defense. Peruse college basketball statistics, and The Citadel won’t show up amongst the best defenses. That’s because The Citadel ranked 350th out of 351 teams in scoring defense last season, allowing 88.1 ppg.

“Our numbers won’t always show it, but we don’t feel like we’re going to match up man-for-man just to play one type defense,” Baucom said. “We’re never gonna be up 15 where we can lock you up whether we’re playing man or zone. So we have a tendency to change things up, and sometimes we’ll do that in the same possession, which I don’t know, maybe I’m one of the two coaches that’s crazy enough to do that. They say desperate people do desperate things. It’s become our identity, we play fast on offense and give you multiple looks on defense.”

But there’s a method to Baucom’s madness, and it doesn’t necessarily have to do nullifying scoring. Playing uptempo causes confusion and creates extra possessions. Their frenetic style of defense helps equalize the game, and put The Citadel on a level court with some of the best in the SoCon.

After all, the Bulldogs recorded wins over the four of the top five teams in the SoCon last season, defeating Wofford, Furman, Mercer and East Tennessee State.

“We played well against the upper half of the league, with the exception being UNCG, but we didn’t perform very well against the lower half of the league,” Baucom said. “We got swept by Western, VMI and Samford, so this year I hope we can be a little more consistent. You know we showed some glimpses last year, but we weren’t as consistent as I wanted us to be.”

Had the Bulldogs been more consistent towards the lower half of the league, The Citadel would have finished much better than their 11-21 overall record and 5-13 mark in the league. The Bulldogs finished eighth in the 10-team league, and just missed a bye in the conference tournament (the top six teams get a first-round bye in the SoCon Tournament).

“UNCG is consistent,” Baucom said. “Wes [Miller] has done a good job of collecting all the right pieces, and they’ll be good again this year, and I think they’re going to be the class of the league once again. The SoCon has been as good as it’s ever been the last two years RPI-wise, and that’s not good for us.”

Yet there’s reason to believe they’ll be among the top six with more consistency this season. The Citadel returns three talented starters from last season: All-SoCon center Zane Najdawi (15.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 40.7 3FG%) returns, along with sharp-shooting guard Matt Frierson (13.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg) and guard Kaelon Harris (9.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg).

“Matt played in China with Athletes in Action, and has come back with a lot of confidence and I am really pleased with his overall development, and Zane played this summer with the Jordanian National Team, and along with Dmitri [Georgiadis, who played for the Romanian U-20 National Team]. So those guys, even though they weren’t on campus, got a lot of international play, and that’s how we play anyway. We try to spread you out.”

Returning three starters can be a luxury at a military school. Coaching at a military school can be tough; many times, a coach at those programs gets thrown a curve ball, such as a guy de-committing or leaving early to transfer out of the program.

It’s happened nearly every year to Baucom, whether it was at his previous employer, Virginia Military Institute, or The Citadel. In early December last year, 2016-17 SoCon Freshman of the Year Preston Parks transferred out of the program. Then after the 2017-18 campaign concluded, lightning quick point guard Frankie Johnson decided to transfer to Wingate.

“Can you believe that when I was at VMI I had Jon Elmore [Marshall guard and son of former VMI standout Gay Elmore] and Q.J. Peterson [the SoCon’s two-time leading scorer] as my backcourt to start the year,” Baucom said. “Elmore led Conference USA in scoring and assists the past two years, and Jon would have been freshman of the year in the SoCon hands down that year. But Elmore ended up going to a bigger program and Peterson had to take a medical furlough in December and go back home. That was our first year in the SoCon in 2014-15, so that’s life at a military school sometimes.”

Nevertheless, Baucom is optimistic about the upcoming season. The Bulldogs added a couple of newcomers via the transfer route during the off-season by picking up former UT-Rio Grande Valley guard Lew Stallworth and former Arkansas State forward Connor Kern. Both transfers will be eligible right away, and will provide leadership and experience for the Bulldogs.

“When you’re trying to change the culture, at a military school, even when I was at VMI, it’s sometimes hard to get guys to be leaders,” Baucom said. “Not that we had bad leadership before, but when it comes to getting in the gym and all of all of the responsibilities and work just being at a military school brings with it, one of the things I’ve most been pleased with this during the off-season.”

Maybe that’s how a mad scientist works. He works until he creates the right elixir for whatever he’s trying to accomplish. Call it what you want, but Baucom has finally created a swagger at The Citadel in hoops, and they have the right mix of ingredients to be successful sooner rather than later.

“We chart every shot we make,” Baucom said. “[The players] put it up on a board themselves and peer pressure can be a great thing. If Matt gets in there and gets 400 makes a day, then Kaden Rice feels like he needs to get in there. Then Kaelon Harris feels like he needs to get in there, so that helps.”

His methods may be unconventional, but they allow the Bulldogs to be a factor in the SoCon, and that’s all that matters. Even though Baucom referred to his methods as “crazy,” perhaps another word would suffice if his methods pay off.