CONWAY — The Big South tournament is not until next week, but as far as Coastal Carolina basketball coach Cliff Ellis is concerned, his team is already in playoff mode.
The Chanticleers enter the final week of the regular season in a three-way tie for first place in the conferences South Division, and with just two games to play the situation is clear.
Simply put, the Chants need to win.
Theres a lot of on the line, Ellis said Tuesday as Coastal prepared to host Presbyterian on Wednesday night at The HTC Center.
More specifically, the stakes are as follows. The top two teams in both divisions will receive first-round byes in the conference tournament, the team with the best overall league record locks up at least a spot in the National Invitation Tournament and the other division champion would be well positioned for an opportunity in one of the tertiary postseason tournaments if desired.
Its not about next week or just getting the one or two seed. Its about postseason play, Ellis said. When I came here, Winthrop was the team, but since that time as far as Big South wins its been us and UNC Asheville. But everybody else has been very good. Were just trying to [maintain] the standard.
The Chants (16-12, 9-5 Big South), who are tied in the division with UNC Asheville and Gardner-Webb, have made three postseason appearances in Ellis first six seasons. That included back-to-back NIT trips in 2010 and 2011 following regular-season conference championships and an invitation into the CollegeInsider.com Tournament in 2012 after a distant second-place finish in the league.
That run ended last year when Coastal finished fourth in its own division and was left out of the postseason altogether.
Its a different feeling than we had the past couple of years, being able to actually win the conference in the final games, junior guard Warren Gillis said. Were looking forward to preparing for these next few games. We know that we have to win both of them to get where we want to, and weve got to be focused on that.
Coastal didnt help itself last week, losing games at Winthrop and UNC Asheville to squander a two-game lead in the division, so the team will try to regroup at home with the struggling Blue Hose (6-23, 2-12) visiting Wednesday and underachieving Charleston Southern (12-15, 6-8) coming to town Saturday.
Its on us. If you win, you get it. If you lose, you dont, Ellis said. Its going to be that way this week, its going to be that way next week. So its great preparation for what lies ahead.
Standing off the court before practice Tuesday, Ellis talked about trying to establish a standard in his now seven years at Coastal. Those two regular-season championships in 2010 and 2011 were the Chants first since 1993. The postseason berths were the first since the programs lone NCAA tournament appearances in 1991 and 1993.
Thats the ultimate goal a long-awaited NCAA tournament berth that will come only if Coastal can win the Big South tournament it hosts next week.
It would no doubt be a help, though, if the Chants can set themselves up with a first-round bye via a strong finish this week.
And while its not the end goal, a division or conference championship would be a meaningful achievement for a team that wasnt expected to be in this position when the season started .
It means a lot, Gillis said. Anytime you have a chance to put [a banner] up in the rafters, its a big deal.
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318, or follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/RyanYoungTSN.