With postseason basketball underway and the Charleston Cougars electing not to participate, we can officially put the 2015-16 season in the books. Injuries to key players will be what most will remember, but down the road we should be looking at Earl Grant's second season as the point where he really put his stamp on the program.
But we have to start with the big news from Monday: Canyon Barry is graduating this year and taking his final year of eligibility to another school. I wish Canyon all the best. He walked into a crap situation (recruited by Cremins and instead played the first half of his career under Wojcik), but represented the school extremely well both on and off the court. He really blossomed this year before the injury and absolutely deserves to explore his options on a different stage. Dreams of Canyon ending his rocky collegiate career with a cutting of the nets in North Charleston will need to be amended, but the outlook is not so grim. For Rick's youngest son, I know he is appreciative of the city and community that helped him develop into the long-haired, surfing, slacklining, renaissance genius that he has become. Don't forget about us son!
Coming into 2015-16, even the most bullish Charleston fans were hoping for moderate improvement in Grant's first full year. A small boost in scoring from the Chealey/Barry-led Cougars, a record around .500 and some signs of potential from CEG's first recruiting class were all that we really asked. Injuries robbed us of seeing what the team could do at full strength, but the guys left still met or exceeded nearly every goal.
The Cougars were the Walking Dead for much of conference play, employing just seven scholarship players and one upperclassman on multiple occasions. They still finished above .500 on the season and were probably 10-12 total points away from really making noise. They decimated Ben Simmons and LSU when that was still unexpected, nearly defeated Davidson on the road, performed a 23-point comeback to beat Northeastern, got a bad break from the refs to miss a CAA bye and lost to an NCAA Tournament-bound UNCW on a miraculous play in the conference playoffs.
The Cougs did show their youth at times. There was a lot of foul trouble, a couple of bad scoring droughts and some turnover issues. In several games the Cougars were in dire need of the scoring punches offered by Barry, Chealey and Riller, but the experience of competing wire to wire for most of the underclassmen will pay off in the long run.
Anyone would take another year from the CAA's leading scorer, but next season is still set up to be a good one for CofC fans. With senior departures from the league's top teams, I would put CofC only behind Wilmington and William & Mary heading into next year. Towson, Elon and Delaware will be better but I don't see them being contenders.
Returning for Charleston are four CAA award recipients who played over 28 minutes per game. They also get back starting point guard and coach-in-training Joe Chealey. We'll also have our first look at scorer Grant Riller, who will begin his freshman year next season after missing all of this year with and injury. Prized recruit Chevez Goodwin also makes his way to the Holy City this summer. With Canyon out of the mix, I would also expect Coach Grant to really double down on a small forward recruit or a big conference transfer. There will be some new faces next year.
If the team can stay healthy, there's going to be some really good competition for playing time. That will pay dividends if coach can turn it into serious roster depth. Take a look at a projected starter and backup at each position.
PG: Joe Chealey, Marquise Pointer
SG: Cam Johnson, Grant Riller
SF: Payton Hulsey, Evan Bailey
PF: Jarrell Brantley, Chevez Goodwin
C: Nick Harris, Terrance O'Donohue
The man stirring the pot is the one most responsible for The College doubling last season's win total. Earl Grant was not the most popular name when he was selected to take over the program two summers ago, but his coaching strengths were made clear this year.
He's installed the defensive principles he learned under Gregg Marshall at Wichita State and Brad Brownell at Clemson to turn CofC into one of the toughest teams in the country to score on. He's also shooting 100% on recruits so far. With just a few weeks to pitch high school seniors before the season began in 2014, Grant picked up Marquise Pointer and Jarrell Brantley. Both were CAA All-Rookie selections; the latter picked up Rookie of the Year honors. We'll get a look at Riller (whose offensive skillset has had players gushing all season) when he gets going next year. From everything put out about Goodwin, it sounds like Grant stole a promising big man from the big schools.
Just as important, each of the young guns has come across as nothing but personable, mature and hard-working from my interactions with them. Earl's exuberance, grit and focus permeates this team and that's a major reason why the school inked him for an extension. College of Charleston is going to be real solid for the next couple of years, and the work they did this season has laid the foundation.