NCAA Tournament Round Of 64: No. 5 SDSU vs. No. 12 Charleston- First Look At Cougars
Charleston is experiencing a Cinderella season. Is midnight nearing?
Contact/Follow @tedmcgovern & @MWCwire
The Aztecs can’t underestimate the Cougars who have managed to produce an historic season full of accolades.
Charleston, SC – Let the March Madness begin. The Charleston Cougars (31-3) will be the No. 12 seed and will take on the fifth-seeded Aztecs (27-6) in the South Regional in Orlando, Fla., on Thursday, March 16th at 3:10 p.m. on TruTV.
The Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) isn’t considered a premier NCAA conference, but 31-3 says a lot about any competitive team. The Charleston Cougars have to be taken very seriously by any opponent. A few wins remind us of their talent, including one over the Virginia Tech Hokies early in the season. They also took down the Mountain West’s own Colorado State University Rams.
The Cougars, on the season, have five players averaging double digits in scoring- and a sixth is just under double digits. Defending them will be critical.
Senior Dalton Bolon is the team’s leading scorer with 12.3 points per game despite being held scoreless in the conference title game. Forward Ante Brzovic averages 11.3 points. Guard Reyne Smith averages 10.9 points per game, while Guards Pat Robinson III and Ryan Larson both average 10.6 points per game. On top of that, forward Ben Burnham averages 9.0 points.
The Cougars have two bigs- Brzovic (6’10”) from Zagreb, Croatia, and Charles Lampten (6’11”) from Roakoke, Texas. Size-wise they are pretty comparable to the Aztecs across the roster.
Brzovic leads with 5.9 rebounds per game, and Smith is their highest percentage 3-point shooter, at a modest 34.5%. This team doesn’t have any league-leading players, and very few stats jump off of the chart. What the stats do suggest, however, is that Charleston is a selfless team, and it makes them pretty dangerous. The Cougars also play fairly solid defense.
Their 31-3 record is exceptional, however their strength of schedule is 177. Whether they have faced a defense like the Aztecs also remains to be seen.
Whether an at-large bid was pending, the College of Charleston earned an auto-bid to March Madness with their 63-58 victory over UNC Wilmington in the CAA Championship match on March 7.
The Cougars learned their March Madness assignment in the opening minutes of Sunday’s Selection Show on CBS, along with the Aztecs. CofC players and fans at a TD Arena watch party roared when Charleston was revealed in the South regional of the bracket.
This trip will be much closer to the Lowcountry than the Cougars’ last appearance in the NCAA Tournament, in 2018, which was ironically in San Diego when Charleston faced Auburn in the round of 64.
According to College of Charleston coach Pat Kelsey, “San Diego was about one of 10 teams we thought we might play. It was really hard to zero in on one team. I watched their championship game against Utah State. I know they are a very good, well-coached team.”
“The next couple of days we’ll figure what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are and getting our guys mentally and physically prepared as well. We’ll make calls, everyone makes calls, we will watch tape.”
This is the Cougars’ sixth NCAA Tournament bid in school history, with previous appearances in March Madness in 1994, 1997, 1998 and 1999 under John Kresse, and in 2018 under Earl Grant.
CofC’s 31 wins are the most in school history since moving to the NCAA in 1994, also making up the most victories in CAA history.
After a 17-15 record in Kelsey’s first season, the Cougars were picked to finish fourth in the CAA’s November preseason poll. Needless to say they’ve overachieved, and Kelsey is a quick study.
A week before Thanksgiving, the Cougars became the first mid-major team to win ESPN’s Charleston Classic, beating besting ACC Tournament champions Virginia Tech in the finals.
That was part of a 20-game winning streak — the nation’s longest at the time, stretching from mid-November to early February.
Charleston even entered the Associated Press’ Top 25 poll at No. 23 for the first time in two decades on Jan. 2, and remained in the national rankings for a month before losing back-to-back games to Hofstra and Drexel.
The Cougars are 1-5 in NCAA Tournament games with their only victory coming in 1997, a 75-66 win over No. 5 seed Maryland.
In summary, the Cougars play bigger than their conference. They are closer to home than San Diego State, and they will believe they can win. This team has a lot of moxy.
The Aztecs will have to take exceptional care in managing the outcome of this game to prevent an upset. If they do so: the clock will strike midnight for the Cinderella Cougars.