The first-place College of Charleston basketball team is good enough to dream about March Madness.
But not secure enough to look past any team in the better-than-expected Colonial Athletic Association.
The Cougars aren’t old enough to remember that Tulsa game in 1999, the last time the program made the NCAA Tournament. But plenty familiar with maroon tradition spread all over TD Arena.
Which means they’re smart enough going into Thursday night’s home game against second-place William & Mary to know the difference between cyber bracketology and hand-stitched banners.
“If you don’t have a good practice today,” head coach Earl Grant said Wednesday,” what does it mean?”
It means it’s OK for NCAA Tournament-starved Cougar fans to have some fun with an exciting February. And that College of Charleston, without the wins or remaining schedule to snag an NCAA Tournament at-large bid, has a good shot to win the CAA Tournament in North Charleston.
— This is the best team in the league, as an 18-6 record (9-3 in the CAA) indicates.
— The veteran bunch led by Joe Chealey, Jarrell Brantley and Grant Riller can handle the stress of expectations and win at the same time.
“We try not to look at it,” Riller said of the bracketology updates. “But, obviously, it’s kind of hard not to look.”
Vs. Clemson? Rick Barnes?
Joe Lunardi of ESPN has the Cougars as a No. 14 seed playing No. 3 Clemson in Dallas. That would be more than interesting as Grant worked for Brad Brownell at Clemson and Tigers assistant coaches Dick Bender and Antonio Reynolds Dean worked for Grant at College of Charleston.
Jerry Palm of CBS Sports has College of Charleston as a No. 14 seed facing No. 3 Tennessee in Nashville. The Volunteers are led by former Clemson head coach and part-time South Carolina resident Rick Barnes.
Tex-Mex dinner plans for Dallas?
A Grand Ole Opry Tour in Nashville?
Grant, not biting, said he hasn’t seen a bracket in weeks.
But Riller said players hear bracketology buzz from fellow students.
Riller also knows about that NCAA Tournament lore on Meeting Street.
“Before I got offered to come here I didn’t know too much about the history,” said Riller, an Orlando, Fla., native. “But as I started looking into it I realized how historic the program was and how much of an honor it was to play here.”
No. 12 CAA
The unpleasant streak: 18 years without an NCAA Tournament appearance, an off couple of decades after the run of four NCAA Tournament appearances under John Kresse from 1994-1999.
The recently nice streak: Six consecutive wins for these Cougars.
But, notably, none of the six wins have been romps. Which isn’t surprising considering the CAA is No. 12 on conference Ratings Percentage Index lists.
“Since my freshman year we’ve had spurts where we’ve had good teams and good players in the CAA but right about now, every team can go get you,” Brantley said. “The work ethic and how hard everybody works is a little different.”
The key Thursday night against William & Mary, Riller said, is avoiding another sluggish start.
Keep doing that and College of Charleston will be good enough to enjoy a March Madness finish.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff