Cougars Den: a .500 CAA mark would be a milestone for program

Charleston coach Earl Grant signals to his team during their game against James Madison Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016 at TD Arena. Paul Zoeller/Staff

If the Cougars can manage to beat Delaware Thursday night on the road, they’ll assure themselves of at least a .500 record in Colonial Athletic Association play this season.

It would be the first .500 mark for the Cougars since joining the CAA in 2013. The Cougars were 6-10 in the CAA in 2013-14 and 3-15 a year ago.

For fans who have followed the program for a while, this might not seem like much, but it’s a significant step forward for the Cougars. When College of Charleston decided to switch to the CAA, I was among many, who felt like the Cougars were not ready for such a jump in competition.

The talent level at the time on George Street was on par with the Southern Conference, not with the CAA. Had the Cougars remained in the SoCon, they would have won or been at least near the top of the standings in 2013-14 and 2014-15. Remember they beat Davidson, on their home floor, in 2013. Davidson went on to win the conference.

Anyone who watched the Cougars play the last three seasons can see the talent level is better now than it was those first two seasons in the CAA.

And from a statistical standpoint, the CAA has never been better than it is right now.

The CAA is 9th in the NCAA’s RPI rankings for conferences. Even when the Old Dominions, the George Masons and the Virginia Commonwealths of the world were in the CAA, the conference RPI was between 11th and 15th. When you listen to Northeastern coach Bill Coen, who has been a coach in the CAA for decade, you begin to realize that the CAA was a little top heavy back in the day.

You had George Mason, Old Dominion and VCU, all excellent teams, but the rest of the conference wasn’t very good. The CAA was 10th when VCU went to the Final Four in 2011 and 11th when George Mason made it to the Final Four in 2006.

This year, the league is as balanced as it has ever been and that’s good news for the Cougars and their fan base. Had Joe Chealey, Grant Riller and Canyon Barry been healthy, the Cougars would have been legitimate contenders this year.

Next season, with the return of Chealey, Riller and Barry and the addition of Chevez Goodwin, the Cougars should be the team to beat.

Now there are some that feel like the league was better in 2013-14 than it is this season. These so-called experts point to the fact that the CAA had better players two seasons ago – Drexel’s Damion Lee, Northeastern’s Scott Eatherton, William & Mary’s Marcus Thornton and Towson’s Jerrell Benimon to name a few – than it does this season.

There might have been more individual talent in the CAA two years ago, but teams are deeper this season than they were a year ago, which makes them better overall.

One thing the experts can’t debate is numbers. The CAA was ranked 15th among the 32 NCAA conferences in 2013-14 and 19th last year. Again, they are 9th this season. I know everything is relative, but numbers don’t lie.

The CAA is better.

I do know that this year’s College of Charleston team would have beaten the 2013-14 Cougars.

The Cougars can’t take anything for granted against the Blue Hens. One thing, they can do is score. They’ve got four players averaging in double figures, so they have the potential to put points up on the scoreboard.

COLLEGE OF CHARLESTON (16-9, 8-6 in CAA) at ELON (14-12, 6-19, 1-13 in CAA)

When: Thursday.

Time: 7 p.m.

Where: Bob Carpenter Center in Newark, Del.

Radio: WTMZ 910-AM

Live Video: Free Live Video at http://portal.stretchinternet.com/delaware/

Series History: CofC Leads 4-3.

Last Meeting: : CofC def. Delaware, 59-58, on Jan. 23, 2016 at TD Arena.

THE COACHES

College of Charleston: Earl Grant is 25-33 in 2nd season at CofC.

Delaware: Monte Ross, 131-180, in 10th season at Delaware.

PROJECTED COLLEGE OF CHARLESTON STARTERS

#21 Marquise Pointer, G, 6-0, 205, Fr. (11.3 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 3.0 apg, 29.2 min)

#12 Cameron Johnson, G, 6-4, 196, So. (11.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.4 apg, 32.1 min)

#3 Payton Hulsey, G, 6-5, 215, Jr.-Tr. (4.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 3.4 apg, 27.7 min)

#5 Jarrell Brantley, F, 6-7, 245, Fr. (11.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.4 apg, 27.4 min)

#23 Nick Harris, F, 6-10, 245, RS-Fr. (4.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 0.3 apg, 19.5 min)

PROJECTED DELAWARE STARTERS

#1 Kory Holden, G, 6-2, 180, So. (17.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 4.1 apg, 36.3 min)

#3 Anthony Mosley, G, 6-1, 180, So. (10.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.3 apg, 31.7 min)

#22 Cazmon Hayes, G, 6-4, 195, Jr. (12.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.3 apg, 35.2 min)

#11 Devonne Pinkard, F, 6-6, 200, Jr. (6.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 0.8 apg, 26.9 min)

#21 Marvin King-Davis, F, 6-7, 230, RS-Sr. (14.4 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 1.0 apg, 32.0 min)

COUGARS AMONG MOST IMPROVED IN NCAA DIVISION I

College of Charleston currently boasts a 16-9 overall record and is one of the Top 10 most-improved programs in NCAA Division I this season under second-year head coach Earl Grant through games played as of Feb. 14. The Cougars are tied for the fourth-best improvement in the country next to Saint Joseph’s and Southern Illinois.

They Said It

“Delaware has talented players and are capable of scoring. It’s another CAA game where it’s going to be a challenge. There are many nights where you have to play well in this league. They (Delaware) have come up close in several games this season. It’s definitely going to be a game where we have to play well. We have to defend and rebound. We have to attack their zone, because they play a 2-3 zone.” – CofC coach Earl Grant

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