The Coastal Carolina men’s basketball will be rolling the dice early in the 2016-17 season.
As part of the MGM Grand Main Event tournament, the Chanticleers open the season at SEC foe Alabama on Nov. 11 (time TBD) and then play additional tournament games against Coppin State (7 p.m., Nov. 16), BYU (TBD, Nov. 19) and Southern Utah (6 p.m., Nov. 21).
Coastal – part of the tournament’s middleweight bracket – will host Coppin State, travel to BYU and take on Southern Utah in Las Vegas.
The game against Coppin State was originally scheduled to be played in Las Vegas, but was moved to Conway due to a late scheduling conflict, according to BYU’s website.
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The games against Alabama, Coppin State and BYU are part of the tournament’s undercard games.
“To start out with Alabama [on] Friday night before a Saturday football game, it’ll be a mad house,” said coach Cliff Ellis, who is leading CCU in a transition form the Big South to the Sun Belt this season. “That’ll be as tough a game as we play. But BYU is a tough team. As I look at the schedule, we’re upgrading our conference. We had a great run in the Big South but now we go to the Sun Belt. But if you look at our non-conference schedule, there’s seven or maybe eight teams that could be top 100 RPI, at least top 150. If you look at Kansas and people like that, I don’t know if they play that many non-conference games. So our non-conference schedule’s going to be one of the best overall in the country.”
Following the trip to Alabama, the Chanticleers will take a break from the tournament with their home opener against College of Charleston (7 p.m., Nov. 14).
After competing play in the MGM Grand Main Event, Coastal will play at Wake Forest (7:30 p.m., Nov. 23). The Chants will have their second SEC test when they play at Auburn Dec. 15 (9 p.m.).
“That should help prepare us for that brutal conference schedule,” Ellis said. “That’s going to challenge you.”
Coastal – which has moved from the Big South to the Sun Belt this season – makes its conference debut Dec. 31 at UT Arlington (5:30 p.m.).
“It’s really going to be an adjustment for us because that’s a very, very, very tough league,” Ellis said. “I’ve said this all along, it’s probably going to take us three or four years to get used to the Sun Belt and get your recruiting base. This is pretty much the first year that all of us have had to be able to recruit to the Sun Belt, because this came upon us last August, right around September. We weren’t as ready as we are now so this is really the first year we get to go all out and say Sun Belt.”
CCU – which missed the NCAA tournament a year ago after making it two straight seasons – has four games against teams that made the Big Dance a season ago, including home games against Chattanooga (7 p.m., Nov. 29) and UNC Asheville (2 p.m., Dec. 3), and contests against conference foe Little Rock – which knocked off No. 5 seed Purdue last season – (at home 7 p.m. Jan. 9 and on the road at a time to be determined Feb. 4).
Other non-conference games on the Chants’ schedule include home contests against Methodist (Time TBD, Nov. 30), Piedmont International (7 p.m., Dec. 5), North Carolina Central (2 p.m., Dec. 10) and Wofford (7 p.m., Dec. 19).
“It’s a tremendous run,” Ellis said of the non-conference schedule. “Without question, it’s the toughest schedule we’ve faced since I’ve been here. And I think it’s the toughest schedule [Coastal] has ever faced.”
Those are part of a stretch in which Coastal plays six of seven games at home – with Auburn being the exception – from Nov. 29 through Dec. 19.
“We’ll be ready for the Sun Belt, I can guarantee you that. It’s really a great schedule,” Ellis said. “It’s going to be tough on our guys. … But that’s the reputation we’ve garnered, so we’ve got to be ready for that.”
In all, the Chants have 17 home games, 13 road games and one neutral site game.
The Sun Belt tournament begins March 8 and concludes with the championship game March 12 in New Orleans.
The NCAA tournament begins with the First Four round March 14-15 and continues through the Final Four from April 1-3.
Facing a lot of turnaround this season, Ellis’ big-picture expectations have been tempered a bit. He has put together what he calls a “four-year plan” for the transition.
“This is our first full year of recruiting in the Sun Belt, so I don’t think it’s fair to put it on the players to say that we’ve got to get [to the NCAA tournament] right now because it’s unrealistic,” Ellis said. “But I hope we do.”