2023 NCAA Tournament: Get To Know The College of Charleston

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2023 NCAA Tournament: Get To Know The College of Charleston

San Diego State will begin March Madness against one of college basketball’s best stories. We learn more about the Cougars with help from South Carolina’s Post and Courier.

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Will the Aztecs be on upset alert?

After winning the Mountain West in both the regular season and the conference tournament, the San Diego State Aztecs head to Orlando to begin the NCAA men’s basketball tournament against the College of Charleston Cougars on Thursday afternoon.

The Colonial Athletic Association champions have had a remarkable run themselves in 2022-23, tying Houston and Florida Atlantic for the most wins in the country headed into the Big Dance, but to learn a little more about SDSU’s first-round opponent, we reached out to Gene Sapakoff, who covers the Cougars for the Post and Courier.

Mountain West Wire: College of Charleston is heading to its first NCAA tournament since 2017-18 and, at a glance, it looks like the program had a dip and subsequent regrouping in the years since then. If you had to sum it up in a sentence or two, what’s been the biggest difference between this year’s Cougars team and the ones from the last couple seasons?

Gene Sapakoff: Pat Kelsey in his second season at Charleston has done a great job in getting players – and fans – to embrace an up-tempo system in which 9-10 players contribute. It’s a veteran team built around four transfers, including three from Division II schools and former Wofford guard Ryan Larson, who was the star of Charleston’s CAA Championship Game win over UNC Wilmington.

MWW: Head coach Pat Kelsey brought a strong track record of success with him from his time at Winthrop. How would you describe his coaching style to someone who hasn’t watched a lot of College of Charleston basketball since his arrival two years ago?

GS: He’s energetic in almost zany way, on and off the court. He jumps in and plays point guard during practices. He tries to set new records for pull-ups on the rim at practice. He gets this dervish style to rub off on a team, again, that goes 10 deep and plays relentlessly, mostly on the offensive end.

MWW: What can you tell us about Dalton Bolon? As the team’s lone first-team all-CAA selection and its per-game leading scorer, it seems like a lot will be on his shoulders to create against a tough San Diego State defense.

GS: The strength and weakness of the Charleston team is that depth. Bolon can score inside and outside but he’s not athletic enough to beat quality Power 5-level defenders 1-on-1, and Charleston lacks that “go-to” talent. But several guys have come up big at the end of games including Pat Robinson III with a game-winning shot vs. Virginia Tech within an unusually balanced attack.

MWW: Speaking of defense, who do you consider to be Charleston’s top player in that regard and why?

GS: Probably Ryan Larson, the guard who played four years at Wofford. He’s big enough to guard most perimeter players but quick enough to cause havoc with steals and deflections.

MWW: From your perspective, which San Diego State player(s) do you think could pose the biggest problem for the Cougars?

GS: Nathan Mensah, no doubt. As a rim protector and overall defender, Charleston has no such talent so if he can play disciplined basketball and not get tired, he will give the Cougars fits. He must avoid foul trouble against a wave of offense.

MWW: Finally, even for a program with a NAIA championship on its resume, winning 31 games and securing a 12-seed, always famed for its capacity for upsets, must be heady for the College of Charleston. What are your expectations for this team in the NCAA tournament and how do you think the game against San Diego State will go?

GS: It’s odd that the CBS Selection Sunday crew immediately jumped on Charleston as an underdog favorite, and there clearly is pressure on Brian Dutcher to finally win an NCAA Tournament game at SDSU. But if the Aztecs can avoid foul trouble and “play their game” they should be able to hold off a relentless attack and win, probably in a close game.

More NCAA Tournament!

NCAA Tournament Round Of 64: No. 5 SDSU vs. No. 12 Charleston- First Look At Cougars

2023 NCAA Seed List Revealed: Where Do Mountain West Teams Come In?

NCAA Tournament Round of 64: No. 11 Arizona State vs. No. 11 Nevada-First Look At The Sun Devils

Story originally appeared on Mountain West Wire