Last Season: 25-10 (14-4, 2nd in CAA); lost to UNCW in CAA Finals
Projected Finish: 1st
Preseason All-Conference Selections: G Joe Chealey (First Team; Preseason CAA Player of the Year), F Jarrell Brantley (First Team), G Grant Riller (Second Team)
- G Payton Hulsey (4.6 ppg; transferred to Florida Atlantic)
- F Chevez Goodwin (2.3 ppg; transferred to Wofford)
- G Erik Goldbach
- F Terrance O’Donohue
- C Samba Ndiaye (Sunrise Christian Academy/Theis, Senegal)
- G Brevin Galloway (redshirted last season)
- F/C Osinachi Smart (redshirted last season)
- G Trent Robinson (walk-on)
- F Jermaine Blackmon (walk-on)
by Matthew MacCormack
It’s looking more and more like the CAA is Charleston’s conference to lose this season. The Cougars return their top six scorers from a 25-win team that lost in single digits to UNCW in the CAA Championship back in March.
Sweet-shooting senior guard Joe Chealey is the conference’s pre-season Player of the Year after dropping 17.5 points per game in his junior season. Junior forward Jarrell Brantley may have been Chealey’s chief competition for that preseason honor; the Swiss army knife averaged 14.2 ppg and 8.5 rpg last season en route to All-First Team preseason honors. It’s crazy to think that microwave-scoring guard Grant Riller, who whipped up 13 ppg as a freshman last year, is the third option on offense.
Oh, and don’t forget that Charleston had the conference’s top scoring defense (63.4 ppg) last season, thanks to the defensive prowess of Earl Grant, the CAA’s reigning Coach of the Year.
Add up all those pieces, and it comes as absolutely no surprise that the Cougars garnered 38 of the 40 first-place votes in the conference’s preseason media poll. The Cougars are the most talented squad in the CAA – and it’s not even close.
Earl Grant has established himself as a phenomenal defensive coach. The Cougars have led the conference in points allowed for the past two seasons, and each time the next best team was at least five points behind.
Both Brantley and senior guard Cam Johnson made the CAA All-Defensive team last season. At 6’7, 250 pounds, Brantley has the size to bang down low and the quickness to switch onto crafty guards. Johnson is as elite a perimeter defender as you’ll see in the conference.Despite his lack of size, guard Marquise Pointer is a bulldog. The rest of the roster is lined with length, including forwards Nick Harris (6’10) and Jaylen McManus (6’7) whose wingspans would make even Giannis Antetokounmpo blush.
The offensive balance for Charleston should be intriguing. Chealey is a classic go-to scorer; he scored 20+ a whopping 14 times last season — including all three games in the CAA Tournament – while shooting 39% from three. He also shot 82% from the free throw line on 7.2 attempts per game.
Complementing Chealey is the inside-out game of Brantley. The massive forward does most of his scoring on the block and from midrange, but he shot 37% on 84 three-point attempts a season ago.
Riller, meanwhile, is a gunner. As a freshman, Riller racked up eight games with 20+ points. His 33% three-point clip should only improve.
Losing Payton Hulsey and Chavez Goodwin to transfers leaves the Cougar’s bench a little more inexperienced than Grant might’ve liked. Senior Evan Bailey is a nice spot-up shooter off the pine. Redshirt freshman guard Brevin Galloway and F/C Osinachi Smart will likely have to play some important minutes. The team’s only freshman, center Samba N’Diaye, provides some depth in the frontcourt.
Bottom Line: All of the pieces are there for Charleston to lead the CAA wire-to-wire. UNCW lost a handful of talented pieces, and no other side seems poised to make “the leap.” Expect Chealey and Brantley to be legitimate Player of the Year candidates, and for Riller to continue filling it up. It’d be a surprise if the Cougars aren’t hoisting the CAA trophy in early March.