February 18, 2011
For a Coastal Carolina program that not long ago appeared destined to be one of the NCAA tournament's most charming underdog stories, the past few weeks have been a sobering reality check.
First South Carolina transfer Mike Holmes was kicked off the team last month for disciplinary reasons. Then starting point guard Kierre Greenwood sustained a season-ending knee injury on Tuesday night. And finally, the school announced Thursday night that leading scorer Desmond Holloway has been suspended indefinitely as a result of an undisclosed eligibility issue.
None of that prevented Coastal Carolina from rolling to a 94-59 win over North Carolina Central on Thursday night, but the personnel losses do suggest the Chanticleers may be vulnerable entering the Big South tournament. The roster that will vie for the program's first NCAA tournament berth since 1993 won't be the one that rolled to a 25-3 record and reeled off 22 straight victories prior to a loss Tuesday night.
It's a shame Coastal Carolina has experienced all this adversity the past few weeks because the Chanticleers are just the sort of unlikely success story the nation might have embraced in March.
They play in a 1,039-seat arena better suited for a high school team. They're coached by a man better known for his success at Auburn and Clemson. And they had already shown the ability to compete with bigger conference foes, taking down LSU, Charlotte and East Carolina in non-league play.
One of the drawbacks of playing in the Big South is that a conference tournament loss can dull the afterglow from an otherwise luminous regular season. Coastal Carolina experienced that last season, winning 28 games and rolling to the Big South regular season title but falling to Winthrop in the conference tournament title game.
The Chanticleers hold a two-game lead in the Big South standings over Liberty and will host the conference tournament for a second straight season as long as they can hold off the Flames during the final week of the regular season.
Do they have enough depth and enough resilience to avoid another heartbreaking loss even after the adversity they've experienced recently? That will be the dominant story entering the Big South tournament.