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Early Outlook - Charleston Cougars

Battle of the Big Cats in the NCAA Tournament!

NCAA Basketball: Charleston at Louisiana State Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Auburn officially learned its NCAA Tournament fate last night, earning a 4-seed and an opening round date with the College of Charleston Cougars, the 13-seed in the Midwest Region.

For Auburn, it’s the first NCAA Tournament appearance in 15 years, since the Sweet Sixteen run in March of 2003. The Tigers finished the season on a bit of a down note, losing to Alabama in the SEC Tournament and going one-and-done as the top seed in St. Louis. As it were, the certainty of a NCAA Tournament berth was well in hand by the middle of February, and the leadup was just a formality to see whether Auburn would be as high as a 2-seed, or drop to where they did.

Now, we get to turn our attention to the College of Charleston this Friday night at 6:27 pm CST way, way out in San Diego. Charleston won the CAA Tournament by beating Northeastern, erasing a 17-point deficit in the process.

Like we’ve seen from Auburn over the course of the season, the Cougars were able to erase a big margin and come back to win. They show resilience with their big three of Grant Riller, Joe Chealey, and Jarrell Brantley, who combine to average about 54 points per game. Chealey was especially good in the CAA final, scoring 32 points to help Charleston come back and win.

Now, while the Cougars are a dangerous team with those three guys, but behind them, there’s no one else that averages more than eight points per game. They will be able to boast comparable size to Auburn, with a 6’10 guy in the middle in Nick Harris, and some lengthy guards, none of whom stand less than 6’3.

As far as the schedule goes, Charleston doesn’t really have much to stand on, with the only games against really good teams both resulting in losses early in the season. The Cougars played at Wichita State and at Rhode Island, dropping both, and didn’t really play anyone else of consequence in non-conference. They did lose to Cal Poly at the Great Alaska Shootout back in November, which is by far their worst defeat, and they didn’t nab any really good wins either. In the CAA schedule, they did beat Northeastern three times (including the CAA title game to clinch a bid), and only lost once in the last two months.

You can definitely say that Charleston’s playing its best basketball at this current time, but things will get much tougher once they meet the Tigers on the floor. In terms of what Charleston does well, they’re 4th in the country in turnovers (just 318 in 33 games). That means that Auburn will have to double down to force mistakes so that they can get out and run.

Other than that, they’re middle of the pack just about everywhere:

  • 142nd nationally in scoring offense - 75.1 ppg
  • 83rd nationally in scoring defense - 68.8 ppg
  • 113th nationally in field goal percentage - 46.0%
  • 108th nationally in three-point percentage - 36.3%
  • 228th nationally in rebounding
  • 294th nationally in assists

And in terms of getting to the NCAA Tournament, they just broke a streak that was even longer than Auburn’s. Charleston hasn’t been to the Tournament since 1999, when they won the Southern Conference with a 28-2 record and earned an 8-seed, falling to 9-seed Tulsa in the first round.

The only time that Charleston’s ever won a game in the Tournament came two years before that when they won a 5-12 matchup in an upset over Maryland, and then lost a squeaker to eventual national champion Arizona 73-69. They’ll be looking for their first win in the Big Dance in 21 years, and it’ll be Auburn’s job to make sure that they don’t get it.

War Eagle, can’t believe we’re talking about the Tigers in March!