After winning six of their first 11 games, the real season begins for the Charleston Southern men's basketball team on Saturday afternoon as the Buccaneers visit defending Big South Conference champion Coastal Carolina in their 2014-15 league opener.
The Buccaneers played a difficult early-season schedule, recording a season-opening win over Mississippi. Since that opening game win, CSU has won the games they were supposed to win and have lost games that most assumed they would lose.
Charleston Southern recently went through a three-game losing streak, all on the road, losing to North Carolina State, Wofford and Colorado State. The other two losses came to Wright State and Florida State.
"We're in great shape from a confidence standpoint," said head coach Barclay Radebaugh. "We know our schedule has been among the most difficult schedules in our conference. The difficult schedule was by design. We wanted to really push and test this team and we have put them through the ringer. It all is done with hopes that it will help us now, in the Big South season. Now we will see if it did help prepare us for the conference season."
Surprisingly, what was expected to be a strength of this year's team, shooting, has been far below expectations through the first month of the season. Charleston Southern currently ranks last in the Big South in three-point shooting percentage (30.3 percent), last in free throw percentage (58.7 percent) and 10th in overall field goal percentage (42 percent).
"Some of that has been the competition we have played," said Radebaugh. "We are getting good looks. I think we are executing offensively fairly well. The shots just haven't fallen for us. I think they will. We have good shooters on this team."
Opening conference play at Coastal Carolina will certainly test those shooting percentages. The 10-3 Chanticleers lead the league in scoring defense (54.8 ppg) and in field goal percentage defense (35.8 percent). Coastal Carolina also rates second in the league in defending the 3-point shot, allowing only 29 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
"Certainly opening at Coastal is a tremendous challenge," says Radebaugh. "We all know how good they are and how well-coached they are. They are terrific on the perimeter, they are very good defensively, and they rebound the basketball. We know we have to play very well to have a chance to win. The three games last year were tremendous games, very tight games. I expect that this game also will be very tight."
CSU was picked to finish fourth in the preseason polls. The Big South seems to be very competitive at the top with the league recording several impressive wins over ACC and SEC programs.
Radebaugh feels the race for the regular-season title will include several teams and would be surprised if one team runs away from the pack.
"The league is going to be very balanced, very competitive," said the coach. "Every year there is four or five teams that can win it, and there's also two or three teams that really improve over the course of the season and make a strong run late. I don't see it being any different.
"We want to win every game and we certainly play to win every game. We played some really good teams. We understand where we are and we like where we are right now. But the most important part of our schedule is ahead of us. We're going to be a better basketball team in February than we are in January. Daily improvement is the key with us and I can see us getting better every time we step on the floor."