Chants start Big South play after roller-coaster opening

Coastal Carolina men’s basketball team will open up Big South Conference play on Thursday, when they host Virginia Military Institute with tip-off slated for 7 p.m. in Kimbel Arena.

After a season-opening stretch of six non-conference games that can best be described as unpredictable, Coastal Carolina begins the most important part of their schedule Friday night – the quest for the Big South Conference title.

The Chanticleers (5-1) open the league schedule at home against VMI (3-2) after experiencing and unexpected mix of highs and lows. The Chants knocked off LSU and Clemson to start the season 5-0, then dropped a game at the buzzer last weekend at Florida International.

The wins over the ACC and SEC opponents will go a long way toward helping the Chants’ RPI, in which they climbed to No. 18 before falling to FIU. The loss served as a well-timed reminder that the Big South championship will likely make or break Coastal’s chances of making the NCAA Tournament.

Coastal’s conference opener serves as a matchup of polar opposites. The Chants rank first in the league in scoring defense, allowing just 57.3 points per game, while the Keydets’ offense ranks first in the Big South and 10th nationally in scoring at 85.4 points per contest.

VMI is led by Keith Gabriel, who is averaging 19.6 points per game, good for second most in the Big South, while Coastal’s Anthony Raffa is fourth in the league in scoring at 17 points per outing. Newcomers Chris Gradnigo and senior John Pack have been two of the most pleasant surprises for the Chants this season.

Gradnigo and guard Kierre Greenwood are suffering from nagging injuries that could limit their availability to Friday. For VMI, D.J. Covington, last season’s Big South Freshman of the Year, has not played in the last four games because of injury.

Coastal Carolina holds a 14-5 overall record against VMI, including six straight in the last two seasons. Coastal holds a 9-1 record in the series that dates back to the 2003-04 season, when the Keydets first joined the league.

Photo courtesy of CCU Athletics

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