March Madness is the best time of the year, whether everybody is willing to admit it. And the best part of it is when teams that haven’t been present in the tournament for a long time can come back and compete. It allows for history to be made and for the players to become big parts of the school’s athletic lore.
As we’re just two short months away, March Madness Picks should be on the horizon. Cinderella will find the slipper that fits, the one she lost at the big athletic ball last night. And this year, the unsung team is Charleston. It’s been a long since they have sniffed the dance, but now, they’re relevant again.
The Last NCAA Appearance for the Cougars
The last time the Charleston Cougars played in the NCAA tournament, many of the stars in today’s NBA were not even born. You have to go back to the 1996-97 season. The team went 17-13 and only finished 7-7 in the conference. But, led by coach Tom Conrad, they qualified as the #15 seed, where they got trounced by UCLA.
That squad came in unprepared, surprised to be in the dance. Their offense and defense didn’t even rank in the top half of teams in the nation. Even more surprising, they came into the conference tournament limping. They were riding a three-game losing streak. But what happened next was surprising.
They defeated Coastal Carolina by 16. They went ahead after that and knocked off UNC Asheville by 10. And in the tournament final, which would determine who makes the tournament and who heads home, they found a way to defeat Liberty by 10. The #15 seed, barely over .500, and with an even. 500 conference record, the Cougars were off the big dance.
This marked the first March Madness appearance in program history. And, surprisingly, it was also the last.
Enter The 2022-23 Squad
After finishing 17-15 a season ago, nobody pegged the Cougars as a team to watch this season. The expectations were pretty minimal. After all, it’s been 26 years since their last tournament appearance. The struggles have been very real. But they sit here for the second week in a row, at #18 in the country.
They hadn’t won 20 games in a season since they did it in back-to-back campaigns from 1985-1987. Their 21 wins have already tied the program record. They are one victory away from this already being the best season ever. It helps to boost the #28 scoring offense in the country, averaging better than 80 points per game.
The squad has done it with a balanced attack, with four players averaging between 10 and 13 a night. The academic senior Dalton Bolon leads the way with 13.3 ppg a night. They get just under 12 from Reyne Smith. Ante Brzovic and Ryan Larson are both averaging roughly 10.5 a contest. These four guys, combined with Pat Robinson (9.9) and Ben Burnham (8.1), have been able to do enough to produce buckets.
They win by an average of points per game. They have a three-game conference lead right now over Hofstra, Towson, and Drexel. They will have a little wiggle room if they slip up a little.
A lot of credit has to be given to this team. This is the reason they brought Pat Kelsey in to be the coach. He only had one losing season while at the helm for Winthrop. He guided them to four regular season titles and a pair of NCAA tournaments. Going 23-2 a few years back led him to get the title he has now elsewhere.
Keep an eye on the Cougars. Their fun is just beginning.
Could They Win A Tourney Game?
March Madness can be as unpredictable as any basketball. #16 UMBC, a few years back, knocked off the defending champions in round one. #15 Saint Peters made it to the Eight a season ago. Wherever the Cougars seed, they will be expected, at this point, to be able to advance.
Having never won a game in March in program history, could they make this year the monumental moment holder? They have a chance.
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