Coastal Carolina

Chanticleers ready for anything in awaiting NCAA tournament draw

It’s not so much that Coastal Carolina coach Cliff Ellis has been trying to track the ever-changing projections and where the prognosticators have his Chanticleer basketball team pegged on the NCAA tournament bracket – it’s simply been hard to avoid.

Since the Chants claimed their second straight Big South tournament championship last Sunday and clinched their first-ever back-to-back NCAA tournament berths, ESPN “bracketologist” Joe Lunardi has had them penciled in anywhere from the opening four games in Dayton, Ohio, to being a No. 16 seed in Charlotte to a No. 15 seed in either Seattle, or Portland, Ore.

Lunardi’s updated bracket Saturday had the Chants heading to Portland to play No. 2-seeded Arizona. Meanwhile, CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm had Coastal Carolina slotted in as a No. 15 seed heading to Omaha, Neb., to play No. 2 Kansas.

It’s all guesswork, though, until the 68-team bracket is formally revealed Sunday during a live selection show on CBS, starting at 6 p.m.

“You can’t help but listen to it because if you watch a game, they go right to it. So it’s part of March Madness,” Ellis said. “I try not to focus on that. I’m trying to focus on what our team needs to do, which is work on ourselves. But indications [are] we may be going out to the West Coast, but who knows. Indications are that we’re no longer a 16 seed, that we’re a 15 seed, could go as high as 14. So I don’t know. We’ll know Sunday.”

Ellis and his team will again watch the selection show along with fans inside The HTC Center with the watch party officially starting at 5 p.m.

The Chants had most of the week off before returning to practice Friday, and Ellis said he has used that time to try to catch games involving potential No. 2 seeds if those projections hold and Coastal Carolina does indeed get a No. 15 seed this time.

“I have focused on watching some teams play. Getting the gut feeling that we were perhaps a 15 seed, I’ve been trying to watch some of the 2 seeds, just to watch and have a little idea if it’s convenient,” he said. “But I’ve also used this time to recruit, so I went down to Florida and did some recruiting. And at the same point in time, draw up some plans for what we need to do without knowing who we’re going to play.”

Last year as a No. 16, the Chants put a scare into No. 1-seeded Virginia while leading into second half before eventually losing 70-59.

At 24-9 with a win over SEC foe Auburn, Coastal Carolina has a better resume this year than it did this time a year ago while entering the tournament with a 21-12 mark.

And Ellis used his postgame news conference after winning the conference tournament to make his case that the Chants deserve better than a 16 this time.

Senior guard Josh Cameron reiterated before practice Friday that is important for the players as well.

“I feel like we’re definitely better than a 16 seed. Definitely 15 at the least, I think we should be. I think that’s very important that we at least get a 15 this year,” he said.

To that end, Cameron has taken a different approach than his coach in watching games this week during his time off.

“I’ve been watching a lot of the other mid- to lower-division teams just to see what they’re like and comparing them to ours,” he said. “That’s what really makes us see if we can be a 14, 15 or 16.”

Meanwhile, the Chants’ other senior, Warren Gillis, says he learned last year he’s better off not getting caught up in the so-called “Bracketology” or what various analysts think is going to happen Sunday.

“I haven’t followed them at all. I’ll just wait until Sunday. I saw last year that it changes every day. There’s no point in keeping up with it,” he said.

Either way, it’s an exciting time for the program as the Chants prepare to make back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances for the first time.

The program made it in 1991 and 1993 before waiting 21 years to finally get back last season.

The Chants were the preseason favorites in the Big South this time before ultimately drawing a No. 3 seed in the conference tournament and rolling to an 81-70 win over Winthrop last Sunday to earn their NCAA tournament return.

And the players said the vibe is a little different this year.

“Yeah, it’s a little bit of a different feeling because last year felt like a relief to win it; this year it felt like we sort of had to win it,” Gillis said. “We were defending a title and everything and had to reach our expectations, so it was a little different feeling. Now we want to win and make up for last year’s lost.”

Said Cameron: “It’s our second time around so we definitely want to get wins this time. We’re not here just to go out there and play. We definitely want to get wins this year.”

No matter who or where they are playing this week.