The College of Charleston men's basketball team has a lot at stake over the next two weeks, and Cougars fans can take comfort in a couple of things.
Charleston's next five games, all Southern Conference contests, will be played at Carolina First Arena. And center Jeremy Simmons is expected to be in the lineup for today's 7 p.m. tip-off against Chattanooga.
"He's a big part of the team, a walking double-double," teammate Andrew Goudelock said of Simmons. "When he's not out there, everybody has to chip in. The freshmen have played real well. And the more they play, the better they get. That's been a positive."
Simmons has missed four games after suffering a sprained MCL on Jan. 21 in the Cougars' victory over Furman. Without Simmons, the Cougars have gone 2-2, suffering their first league losses.
"It felt good just to get out there, just to shoot a couple of jump shots and work out with the team a little. I know I'm not 100 percent yet, but by Thursday I think I should be fine," said Simmons, who first practiced on Monday.
"The two games we lost, I know there were some ways I could help inside, rebounding and things like that. But I was on the sidelines cheering for my team."
Simmons has averaged 12.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks a game this season. But Willis Hall, a 6-6 freshman from Charlotte who broke NBA rookie Stephen Curry's high school scoring record at Charlotte Christian, has done a solid job of filling in, averaging 12.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.0 blocks in the past four games.
"I was real fortunate this injury was not as bad as it could have been," Simmons said. "I thought it was a lot worse, but it just turned out to be a sprain. I was going for a rebound and came down wrong. My leg bent and I stretched my MCL. The first couple of days I rested. After awhile, I got on the bike and started getting my range of motion back. Then I was able to get on the court, shoot some jump shots and do some layups."
Cougars coach Bobby Cremins said the final decision on whether Simmons plays will be up to the trainer.
"Jeremy's our best shot blocker, our best rebounder, our best big man," Cremins said. "He's a very important part of our program. We need him. Jeremy Simmons makes us a better team, makes me a better coach."
After Chattanooga, the Cougars face Samford on Saturday, The Citadel on Monday, Elon on Feb. 11, and they end their homestand Feb. 17 against Appalachian State.
At 9-2, the Cougars have the league's best overall record and one fewer loss than Western Carolina and Wofford. The SoCon Tournament winner gets an automatic spot in the NCAA Tournament, while the league's regular season champion automatically qualifies for at least a spot in the NIT.