SAPAKOFF COLUMN: Charleston Southern win streak leads to bracketology buzz
Hush. Please don't talk about streaks or brackets.
At least keep the whispers below the sound of crackling crackers, the simple staple in the Charleston Southern basketball office as Barclay Radebaugh habitually munches and plots.
Crackers go better, the Buccaneers' head coach says, with sips of Gatorade and a staff full of complementary input.
To Radebaugh and assistants Brad Dobbels, BJ McKie and Ahmad Smith, a streak is something on the window, not the Bucs' eight straight wins going into tonight's home game against Gardner-Webb.
“We have to be smart enough to know that our conference season isn't even halfway over yet,” Radebaugh said Tuesday. “Thinking about anything beyond Gardner-Webb is a waste of time.”
Bracketology is harder to ignore for Bucs fans as CSU (12-6, 7-0 in the Big South Conference) rolls along. The lone loss in 12 games since December started was at No. 15 Wichita State, 65-53.
ESPN's Joe Lunardi has CSU and Norfolk State clashing as No. 16 seeds in one of the NCAA tournament play-in games at Dayton.
Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com has the Bucs facing projected Southern Conference champ Davidson, also 16 vs. 16.
CSU is good enough to play in two NCAA tourney games this March.
Thanks in big part to the three assistants, all in their second year at CSU. These guys combined to go 19-12 last season, the Bucs' best record since 1995.
“Definitely, one of the leading reasons for our success the last two years has been our staff,” Radebaugh said. “The best thing about our staff is how well we work together. Nobody has an agenda. Our players are certainly a reflection of their excellence.”
Dobbels, a former Bucs guard and Goose Creek High School head coach, is the “really sound X-and-Os tactician,” Radebaugh said.
CSU leads the nation in made 3-point shots per game with 9.6.
“A lot of that has to do with Brad,” Radebaugh said. “He does a great job with our offense.”
McKie, the South Carolina Gamecocks' career scoring leader, lectures on the finer points of perimeter play. Credit sophomores Arlon Harper and Saah Nimley for developing into one of the top guard tandems in mid- major college basketball, and McKie for tutelage every step of the way.
Senior guard Jeremy Sexton gives CSU another All-Big South guard candidate.
“Obviously, BJ has done a really good job with our guard play,” Radebaugh said. “BJ doesn't just say it, he can demonstrate it, and our guards really listen to him.”
Smith, a former Appalachian State player and assistant, works with the big guys.
“Ahmad is a fierce competitor,” Radebaugh said. “Very tough. It helps that he got head coaching experience in Ireland.”
It shows in the play of Mathiang Muo; the Bucs are 8-0 with the versatile senior forward in the lineup.
Setting up nicely
The Big South is for renters. Ambitious men and women come for the NCAA Division I entry-level experience and typically move on quickly, with university blessing.
“We've had some positive turnover here,” Radebaugh said. “But with that being said, it is nice to have some staff continuity. But if opportunities come, you always want what's best for them.”
Of course, it's going to be hard to keep Radebaugh if the Bucs prove the experts correct. It's surprising that a Southern Conference or higher echelon school hasn't offered a too-good-to-refuse head coach gig yet.
Things are setting up nicely.
The eight-game win streak is the third-longest in CSU history.
Tommy Gaither's 1987 team won 10 in a row and Gary Edwards' 1995 team won nine straight. Both teams won Big South titles before the league received an automatic NCAA tournament berth.
But how about those Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs?
Though 11-10, they won at DePaul in November and a few weeks later barely lost at Illinois, 63-62.
Fully capable, in other words, of interrupting bracket talk.
Expect CSU to remain the best team in the Big South, mainly because Radebaugh and Co. realize there are lots of uneaten crackers between here and March Madness.