CONWAY — Mathematically speaking, within the realm of what is technically possible, yes, the Coastal Carolina men’s basketball team could still claim one of the top two spots in their division and earn a first-round bye for the Big South Conference tournament.
But even Chanticleers coach Cliff Ellis acknowledges that’s unlikely, and so his focus is not on the standings but on the momentum his basketball team is playing with come March.
That leaves four games – three in conference – to get this group as close to its peak as possible, starting with a clash Tuesday night against UNC Asheville inside The HTC Center.
“My whole thinking is this next game,” Ellis said. “It will all work its way out. There’s two weeks left, and our focus is to become the best we can be. We need to be at the top of our game two weeks from now, and that’s our focus.”
With their loss Saturday night at home to Gardner-Webb, the Chants (12-12, 7-6 Big South) dropped to fourth place in the conference’s South Division.
Charleston Southern leads with a 9-3 league record, followed by UNC Asheville (9-4) and Gardner-Webb (8-5). If the Buccaneers and Bulldogs lose the rest of their league games and Gardner-Webb loses all but its game with Charleston Southern, all three teams would finish 9-7 and Coastal could conceivably move to 10-6 in the conference if its wins out.
Given the matchups involved, though, that scenario is doubtful. There are other ways it could shake out, but the reality is Coastal is likely going to have to play on the first day of the Big South tournament and need four wins over six days to make it all the way through to claim the championship.
“Some teams are going to have to do it in three, some are going to [need to play] four. Right now it’s looking like four for us,” Ellis said. “From that standpoint, because it’s not day to day to day, maybe that can be a positive. I don’t know, because you can go ahead and get that first game out of your system and just go on and play.”
More pertinently, though, the conference tournament – which Coastal will host – looks as wide open as it’s been in quite some time. Ellis suggested that five teams from the Chants’ own six-team division have the talent to win it all as well as one or two from the North Division.
The first step for Coastal is its performance against UNC Asheville as it tries to reinforce a home-court advantage that saw the Chants win eight-straight games in Conway by an average margin of 20.6 points before the setback Saturday.
“All we can worry about is what’s ahead of us,” senior point guard Kierre Greenwood said. “We’ve just got to take care of business, play the rest of the season out hard and see where we end up.”
As for the standings, junior center El Hadji Ndieguene admits he’s still keeping an eye on the possibilities. But he too reiterated his coach’s sentiments.
“The best case scenario is to win the next three games,” he said. “We can not control the other games. We control the next three games.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318, or follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/RyanYoungTSN.