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The College of Charleston Cougars Will Soon Take Over Mid-Major Basketball

One of the best cities in the world has one of the best college basketball teams in the country. The College of Charleston.

College of Charleston v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

It’s not easy to captivate a whole city with college basketball during football season. In the low country of South Carolina though, Pat Kelsey has done it with the College of Charleston.

The Cougars (7-1) are the talk of the college basketball world when they beat five teams who made the NCAA Tournament in November. They’ve won all of the games in different ways: a shootout with Chattanooga, a rock fight with Davidson, a blown lead overtime victory with Richmond, and a comeback against Virginia Tech.

Along with that, the Cougars beat MAC Preseason favorite Kent State and Old Dominion. In their only road game, they battled No. 1 North Carolina, leading the Tar Heels by five points at halftime and proceeded to keep the game within single digits until the final three minutes. Impressive stuff.

The AP voters think it’s impressive as well, as respect has been in shown in the last two weeks of the AP Top 25 Men’s Basketball Poll. Heading into Feast Week, the Cougars had 17 votes. This past week, they racked up 20 votes (remain unranked).

Let’s dig a little bit deeper into why two words – “Our City”– has taken over both Charleston and college basketball.

Play Style

You could argue over which team to support in a big city with not much to cheer for. But sometimes, it’s just easier to cheer for a team that is fun to watch.

For years at The Citadel (2.2 miles away) under Dugger Baucom, the Bulldogs ran one of the quickest and highest-scoring offenses in the country. They still didn’t really cultivate the area, didn’t win all that much and struggled in SoCon play.

At Charleston, they’ve seemed to find the right recipe for winning while running a quick and efficient offense right away.

Last season, which ended with a 17-15 record, the Cougars finished with the No. 2-ranked adjusted tempo in the country.

Their offense wasn’t the most effective though, so they slowed it down just a little bit and they’ve found their winning ways this season. The Cougars’ offense ranks in the top 85 of most of the major offensive categories: adjusted offensive efficiency, effective field goal percentage, offensive rebounding percentage, two-point percentage, and free throw shooting percentage.

Island of Misfit Toys

Everyone loves to cheer for an underdog and the Cougars’ roster is full of them.

Their top six producers are either Australian, Senegalese, a former Division I roleplayer, or a non-DI transfer.

It starts at the top with Ulverstone, Australia’s Reyne Smith. Only one DI coach gave him an offer, Kelsey. While at Winthrop, he offered him a scholarship and doubled that up when he took the head coaching job at Charleston.

In his freshman year, Smith won CAA Rookie of the Week five consecutive weeks, and set the school record (90) for most 3-pointers in a freshman season. He followed that with five 20-plus point scoring efforts in his sophomore season and now leads the team in scoring in his junior year.

Not much was really expected out of his two right-hand men in the backcourt either.

Wofford transfer Ryan Larson started 80 games at his old stop but did not get the hype of a Storm Murphy or Fletcher Magee. He probably should have, though despite his modest stat line.

Larson averaged 8.8 points per game, shot 39% from 3-point range and picked up a wild assist-to-turnover rate of 2.1.

His running mate, Dalton Bolon spent five seasons at DII powerhouse West Liberty before playing a key role on the Cougars’ roster last season. Once again, no DI offers on his Verbal Commits page.

This season, he went 5-of-8 from distance in a key victory over Davidson and scored 16 points against UNC.

On the wings are two more non-DI transfers in West Liberty’s Pat Robinson and Southeastern Oklahoma State’s Ante Brzovic. Robinson scored double digits in all three Charleston Classic wins, hitting the game-winner in the title game against Virginia Tech.

Once again, no DI offers.

Brzovic, originally from Croatia, averaged a double-double in his only season at Southeastern Oklahoma State and has owned the two ACC schools the Cougars have played so far, scoring 15 points in each contest.

Again, no DI offers.

When all is said and done, the Cougars’ roster of 17 (except for former 3-star recruit Raekwon Horton) had 14 combined offers from a coach not named Pat Kelsey.

Social Media King

Coaches, take note of what Kelsey has done on his social media this season. Not only students, but anyone who wants to be a part of something special wants to be relatable to the person who is spearheading it all. Kelsey is doing just that with his daily Twitter videos.

Leading up to games, Kelsey will go on Twitter and upload a couple-minute video hyping up the student body at CofC, closing it out by telling them to come out to “The Six” and watch a game.

That catches the kids’ attention. Every one of them gets these messages in their inbox and having a visual, makes it even more appealing.

It’s not like he’s sitting behind a desk saying it either, he’s walking around the beautiful city of Charleston or showing emotion walking around TD Arena.

He shows the same emotion after games, going into the student section and celebrating after big victories.

With stuff like this, you need a nice punch that will catch the audience’s attention. With every video, he ends it by saying their motto “Our City”, something that has quickly caught on.

‘Our City’

If you’ve ever been to Charleston, you know how special of a city it is. The beauty, the history, the culture, it rings through every step you take.

With no FBS football and the closest pro sports teams being 3.5 hours away in Charlotte, the city lives and dies on minor league baseball and college basketball.

It helps that Kelsey talks about how awesome of a city it is every opportunity he gets too.

Kelsey praised the crowd instantly in his postgame press conference after winning the Charleston Classic against Virginia Tech, saying: “To me, the story of the night is just the atmosphere at the game, it was electric. That’s the dream, that’s the vision.”

CofC’s Commitment To Winning

Kelsey mentioned the commitment to winning in that last quote and he’s been putting his money where his mouth is.

For the Charleston Classic, an event run by ESPN and not the University, Kelsey bought out the whole student section just for CofC students. With that, every game was rocking.

(I was at the game on Friday and saw it firsthand. It also just so happened that I work for the security company that ran the event and am in good acquaintance with all of them.)

The first thing I was told when I walked into the building at 10:30 a.m. after a sleepless night was, “You’re going to have a blast watching that student section.”

I did and it was a blast talking to the Charleston faithful on both days that I was in town.

Kelsey has doubled up the commitment as this weekend in a crosstown battle against The Citadel, both he and athletic director Matt Roberts bought $1,000 of tickets apiece.

I’ve been to The Citadel. That’s essentially the whole arena. If the corp doesn’t show up, it’s a de facto CofC student-only game at McAlister Arena.

When you look at it all though, the commitment to buying out neutral arenas shows how important it is to build off the positive environment they already have. Kelsey knows that his players feed off it.

He’s committed to continuing comfortability.

My Weekend In Charleston

I had multiple positive interactions within the arena about the Cougs, but of course, you’re going to get that. It was outside the arena where it matters.

With little sleep, I was either in the arena, hotel room or in an Uber. I took three of those. Every time, we had long conversations about what Kelsey has built.

My first driver, a New York City implant touched upon them for a second.

Getting picked up from the arena, a jazz-rock-loving retiree instantly talked about the Cougs and how he had multiple interactions earlier in the night about their success.

Then the morning back to the train station, a man who listens to every Cougar game on the radio, slowly drove the mile to the arena to drag out a talk about the Cougars and how much fun he and his buddy have talking on the phone about them weekly (Michael I hope you’re reading this).

People in town care.

In Conclusion

I’ve written all these words to just tell you this: If the Cougs are coming to your city, take the time out of your day to watch them play. They’re fun and will probably be a Top 25 team by the time they’re in town.

Something special is being built in Chucktown.