It’s been almost two decades since College of Charleston made an appearance in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
The Cougars can clinch the Colonial Athletic Association’s regular-season title with a win this week over either Elon or William & Mary. At the very least that would assure Charleston a spot in the NIT, but the Cougars have loftier goals in mind.
Even if Charleston captures the CAA’s regular-season crown, the Cougars would still need to win the league’s tournament at the North Charleston Coliseum (March 3-6) to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Charleston coach Earl Grant doesn’t like to deal in hypotheticals, he prefers to concentrate on the Cougars’ next opponent. Of course, that hasn’t stopped the outside world from looking ahead to potential matchups for March Madness.
ESPN, CBS Sports, Sports Illustrated and USA Today all have the Cougars (22-6, 13-3 in CAA) playing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999.
“We’re not looking at where the experts are picking us,” Grant said. “We’re just concerned about being the best team we can be in March, the best version of ourselves, and hopefully winning the CAA Tournament and getting to the Big Dance.”
Despite winning 10 consecutive games in the CAA, the Cougars’ RPI (ratings percentage index) — which the NCAA Tournament selection committee relies heavily on for seeding purposes — is No. 73. CBS Sports, USA Today and ESPN have the Cougars as a 13th-seed, while Sports Illustrated has Charleston as a No. 15 seed.
Clemson, meanwhile, is projected as a No. 3 seed by Sports Illustrated, CBS and ESPN. USA Today has the Tigers as a No. 4 seed. The Tigers were No. 10 in the latest RPI on Monday.
A week ago, the Cougars and Tigers were projected to face each other in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, but after Clemson’s loss to Duke on Sunday, none have the two teams paired against each other. Grant was an assistant at Clemson under Brownell from 2010-14.
“I’ve followed Earl’s team a good bit,” Brownell said. “We’re certainly very proud of those guys, big fans of those guys. We’re constantly checking scores, we talk with members of their staff probably every week — somebody on our staff is talking with their staff, whether it’s sharing ideas or just commiserating over how our teams are doing.”
This week, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the Cougars taking on North Carolina in Nashville, while CBS and Sports Illustrated have Charleston facing Texas Tech in Dallas in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. Sports Illustrated has Duke facing Charleston in the East Regional, which would most likely end up taking place in Charlotte.
ESPN and USA Today have the Tigers in Dallas facing Bucknell and Vermont, respectively. CBS has Clemson pitted against Montana with the game taking place in Wichita, Kan. Sports Illustrated projects the Tigers to face Buffalo in a Midwest regional game.
“We have some quality wins,” Brownell said. “Our numbers are good. But it’s still a long way to go. It’s a hard league, it’s just hard. It is for everyone. It’s hard to build momentum either way and it can get away from you. So you’ve got to fight for a long time.”
Reach Andrew Miller at 843-937-5599. Follow him on Twitter @APMILLER_PandC