After a week of speculation and guessing, ever-changing prognostications and a whole lot of “bracketology,” the suspense ended Sunday evening for the Coastal Carolina men’s basketball team and its supporters.
The Chanticleers gathered along with a couple hundred fans inside The HTC Center to watch CBS’ live NCAA Selection Show and learn their fate, and the wait was prolonged even further as the first three regions of the 68-team NCAA tournament bracket were unveiled before Coastal Carolina finally saw its name on the screen.
Although it wasn’t what they were hoping for, players, coaches and fans stood and applauded nonetheless as the Chants (24-9) received a No. 16 seed and an opening matchup against West Region No. 1 Wisconsin (31-3) on Friday in Omaha, Neb.
“It was antsy, but we knew we were in,” Chants coach Cliff Ellis said. “I just didn’t know whether we were going to end up in Jacksonville or where we were going to [be]. I thought we might be a 15 seed. My guess was we were playing Arizona and that was a guess. It didn’t happen. I was surprised we were a 16 seed, but you’ve got to get over it and play. But Wisconsin or Arizona, they’re both great basketball teams. ... So pick your poison.”
The Chants are making the first back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances in program history after repeating as Big South tournament champions last week and claiming the conference’s automatic berth, and Ellis had been vocal in his hope that the team would earn more respect than a 16 seed this time.
Instead, Coastal Carolina draws one of the toughest matchups on the bracket, but the Chants are familiar with that position.
The program reached the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in 21 years and drew a No. 16 seed and a game with No. 1 Virginia in Raleigh, N.C.
A No. 16 has never knocked off a No. 1, but the Chants built a 35-30 halftime advantage and continued to lead into the second half before the Cavaliers pulled away down the stretch for a 70-59 win.
This Chants team enters the NCAA tournament with three more wins than a year ago, but with perhaps an even tougher obstacle in its path now.
“It creates a lot of fire. Yeah, it creates a lot of fire inside because they didn’t even really acknowledge us at all as far as having a chance against Wisconsin,” senior guard Josh Cameron said of the perceived slight. “So we definitely feel a little bit extra motivation and little more fire inside.”
Wisconsin, which defeated Michigan State in overtime in the Big Ten championship game Sunday just before the start of the selection show, is led by 7-foot senior forward Frank Kaminsky. The Big Ten Player of the Year averages 18.2 points and 8.0 rebounds per game.
Sam Dekker (13.0 points per game), a 6-foot-9 junior forward, and 6-foot-8 sophomore forward Nigel Hayes (12.4) also average in double figures for the Badgers.
That height should pose quite a challenge to a Chants team that doesn’t have a starter taller than 6-foot-7.
“We know that Wisconsin’s not a good team; they’re a great team. We’ve seen that throughout,” Ellis said. “We don’t know a lot about them, but everybody knows about Kaminsky. If you’re a basketball fan, you know they’ve got a great player.
“We’ve got to study their team, but [coach Bo Ryan] has been a friend for a long time. He’s done a great job with his team. They’re always strong, powerful, play hard-nosed defense, and offensively when you’re playing any team in the Big Ten the first thing that comes to mind is power. So we’ve just got to dig down and focus on getting ready for this game.”
The Badgers have won 16 of their last 17 games with the lone loss in that stretch coming against Maryland, a No. 4 seed in the tournament. Their other losses came on the road at Rutgers and against No. 1 seed Duke.
They went to overtime Sunday to beat Michigan State, 80-69, for the Big Ten tournament championship while locking up their first ever No. 1 seed for the Big Dance.
“We just watched their championship game against Michigan State right before the selection show. It’s a team that makes very few mistakes,” senior guard Warren Gillis said. “They’re not a team that’s going to give you anything so we have to make sure we go in there disciplined. If we do that, we’ll be fine.”
Regardless of the matchup, the fact is the Chants are on the national stage again for a second straight season and Ellis looked to be enjoying every minute of it Sunday.
Before the selection show started, he played the role of master of ceremonies, singing “Dancing in the Moonlight” and then asking the band to play Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” while thanking the fans for their support this season.
This is Coastal Carolina’s fourth NCAA tournament appearance overall with the first two coming in 1991 and 1993.
It’s Ellis’ 10th trip to the tournament as head coach including appearances with South Alabama, Clemson and Auburn.
Coastal Carolina and Wisconsin have actually played twice before, most recently during the 2005-06 season with the Badgers winning 92-54 in Madison, Wisc. They also won the other meeting in lopsided fashion, 91-57, in the 1991-92 season.
This meeting will happen at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, though Ellis knows what will be awaiting his team.
“It’s going to be pretty much Big Ten territory, so to speak. We know we’re going into that,” he said. “So we’ve just got to dig down deep and get ready and see what happens.”
It’s far from an ideal matchup, but it’s an opportunity nonetheless.
“I was a little surprised by a 16, but I mean, it’s done now,” Cameron said. “We’re here, we’re at the tournament and we’re going to try to make a run. I’m happy that we get this opportunity.”