Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Charleston Southern begins its defense of last year's Big South regular season championship when the Bucs host Coastal Carolina on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. CSU (6-7) is looking to repeat as Big South South Division champion following a 2012-13 season in which it started 7-0 in conference play en route to finishing 12-4. CCU (7-7) finished 14-15 and 9-7 in Big South play last season, and is aiming to return to the form that saw it capture back-to-back league regular season titles in 2009-10 and 2010-11. The Chanticleers made the two-hour trip down the coast from Conway last March winners of seven straight matchups in the rivalry but the Bucs ended that streak emphatically with a 75-64 victory. CSU drained 15 three-pointers in that contest and led by as many as 20 points to clinch the league crown on the regular season's final day. CSU head coach Barclay Radebaugh and the Bucs have great memories of that game, but know this edition of the rivalry is just the beginning of a 16-game Big South slate that will end at Coastal Carolina on March 1. The Chanticleers' HTC Center will play host to the Big South Tournament from March 5-9. "Looking back at the film from last year's game definitely reminded us what a special day that was," Radebaugh said. "This is the start of a new journey, though, and we're excited for the challenges ahead. Our schedule has tested us in preparation for January 8, and now we're ready to see where we're at." Coastal lost two of the better guards in the Big South to graduation following last season in Anthony Raffa and Kierre Greenwood. The Chanticleers are led by seventh-year head coach Cliff Ellis, who enjoyed accomplished runs at the helm of both the Clemson and Auburn programs and currently stands as the 10th winningest active Division I coach in the country with 654 wins. "We just have to be ready to play," Radebaugh said. "They are well coached. Coach Ellis is a veteran and it isn't his first rodeo. He'll come in and they will be prepared to play. We know they are talented, strong, and athletic. They are one of the top teams in our league." Freshman guard Elijah Wilson has proven to be one of the top newcomers in the Big South through the out-of-conference slate. He leads Coastal and ranks ninth in the league in scoring with an average of 15.5 points per game. The Chanticleers' primary strengths lie on the defensive side of the floor and on the glass. CCU leads the Big South in field goal percentage defense and is second with a +6.1 rebounding margin. Senior center El Hadji Ndieguene, who stands 6-10, 240 pounds, paces the conference with 9.3 rebounds a night. Ndieguene has posted 37 offensive rebounds to lead the way for a Coastal team that is averaging nearly 15 offensive boards per game. "Their size and length present some matchup problems for us so it will be a good challenge to rebound against them," Radebaugh said. CSU has thrived offensively all year long, and began the week as the nation's leader in made three-pointers per game while also ranking fourth in scoring offense. Junior forward Will Saunders played the leading role in Monday's 105-45 win over Columbia International, connecting on six treys as part of a career-high 23-point outing. CSU assisted 21 of its 36 made field goals per game, and its combination of experience and production make it confident in the ability of their dribble-drive motion offense to continue putting up points in Big South play. Continued improvement on the defensive side of the floor figures to be critical if the Bucs are to have a chance at replicating last season's success. CSU limited opponents to 41 percent shooting last season, a five percent improvement from 2011-12. Opponents are shooting just over 41 percent against CSU so far this year, but nearly 39 percent from three. CSU has played some of its best defensive games this season against some of their better opponents. The Bucs held Baylor to 41 percent shooting in their near upset of the Bears and limited Alabama to season lows in points and field percentage in another close loss. Most recently, CSU forced 14 turnovers and several crucial ones to spur a late rally against Florida State. Following the Coastal Carolina game, CSU will hit the road to meet Winthrop on Saturday. Four of the Bucs' first six Big South games are at home.
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