2020–21 CAA Preview: Charleston Cougars

Last season: 17–14 (11–7, fourth place CAA), lost to Delaware in CAA Quarterfinals

Head coach: Earl Grant (seventh season)

Preseason Poll Projected Finish: Sixth

Departures — ppg/rpg/apg (fg% / 3fg% / ft%)

  • G Jaylen Richard — 3/1/0 (33/24/77)
  • G Grant Riller — 22/5/4 (50/36/83)
  • G Quan McCluney — 1/1/0 (26/13/X)
  • F Sam Miller — 8/6/1 (49/42/79)
  • G Trevon Reddish — 1/1/1 (23/X/47)
  • F Jaylen McManus — 9/5/1 (41/23/84)
  • G Zach Rabinowitz — played five minutes

Additions

  • G Payton Willis (senior transfer)
  • G D’Avian Houston
  • G Dontavius King (redshirted last year)
  • G/F Cameron Copeland (junior transfer)
  • F Keegan Harvey
  • F Lorenzo Edwards (senior transfer)
  • F RJ Ogom

By Milton Posner

It took him a couple of years to move the needle, but Head Coach Earl Grant turned the College of Charleston into a perennial CAA powerhouse. In the last four years, the Cougars have never finished worse than 11–7 in conference play. In 2017–18, they won the conference’s regular-season and tournament crowns, then came five points shy of upsetting fourth-seeded Auburn in the NCAA Tournament.

Three players keyed this run: adept showrunning guard Joe Chealey, versatile powerhouse Jarrell Brantley, and elite rim finisher Grant Riller. At their peaks, each averaged about 20 points per game. When Chealey graduated and signed with the Charlotte Hornets in 2018, Brantley and Riller held down the fort just fine, winning 12 of 18 conference games. When Brantley went to the Utah Jazz in the 2019 NBA Draft, Riller fared fine in his absence, guiding the Cougars to 11 conference victories.

But with Riller graduating and signing a two-way contract with the Charlotte Hornets — the Hornets are a magnet for recent CAA studs — the Cougars’ big three has finally faded completely. Add in the graduations of sweet-shooting, floor-stretching big man Sam Miller and athletic, energetic forward Jaylen McManus, and Earl Grant’s squad projects lower in the conference than at any point in the last five years.

This is not to say that they don’t have assets. Upperclassmen guards Brevin Galloway and Zep Jasper are poised to take the next offensive step in Riller’s absence, and Minnesota transfer guard Payton Willis could be a major shot in the arm. Touted sophomore guard Brenden Tucker, who played just nine minutes per game in his freshman campaign, will have a chance to prove himself, as will redshirt freshman and Brantley-sized forward Dontavius King.

Bottom Line: Earl Grant has a solid-looking, athletic team on his hands, with three strong veteran guards captaining the offense. But for the first time in a few years, the Cougars are not a given to finish among the CAA’s elite, with a middle-of-the-pack finish looking more likely.

CAA Preview: College of Charleston Cougars

Last Season: 24–9 (12–6 CAA, third place), lost in CAA semifinal

Head Coach: Earl Grant (sixth season)

CAA Preseason Poll Finish: Second

Losses

  • G Marquise Pointer
  • G Trent Robinson
  • F Jarrell Brantley
  • F Nick Harris
  • F Jermaine Blackmon Jr.
  • F Isaih Moore

Additions

  • G Brenden Tucker
  • G Trevon Reddish
  • G Jeffrey Pizano-McInnis
  • G/F DeAngelo Epps
  • F Dontavius King

By Michael Petillo

The book on the College of Charleston for the 2019–20 season is pretty simple: they have Grant Riller, and he’s the reason the Cougars could recapture the CAA crown.

Earl Grant’s bunch won the conference two years ago but slipped to third in 2018–19 before falling to Northeastern in a close CAA Tournament semifinal game. Now, Charleston will have to overcome the graduation of star forward Jarrell Brantley (now a member of the Utah Jazz), but in a year where most CAA teams are overhauling, the Cougars could do a lot worse than having Riller to fall back on.

Riller burst onto the CAA scene in 2016, averaging 13 ppg as a redshirt freshman, then achieving All-CAA first team recognition each of the past two years. A gifted scorer, he netted 22 ppg in 2018–19 while improving as a passer (4.1 apg). Riller is a terror in the open court, isolation, and the pick and roll who always looks to drive to the rim, where he shot an astronomical 71 percent last year. His offensive rating was fourth in the country, trailing only Zion Williamson, Mike Daum, and Justin Wright-Foreman. This summer, CBB Central ranked him the best mid-major point guard in the country. With Brantley’s departure, the pressure of carrying the scoring load and running the offense falls squarely on his shoulders.

Alongside Riller, the Cougars return an assortment of quality role players looking to take the next step. Chief among them is junior guard Brevin Galloway, a quality shooter who blossomed into a starter last year and will now be a top option. Sophomore guards Jaylen Richard and Zep Jasper will look to build upon solid freshman seasons as they battle for a starting spot.

Replacing Brantley is a tall task, but senior big men Sam Miller and Jaylen McManus both had good moments last season and will be asked to do more. Miller spreads the floor with perimeter shooting; he knocked down 42 percent of his triples last season. McManus, the superior athlete of the two, has improved steadily each year under Coach Grant, and offers some scoring and floor spacing as well.

The Cougars boast a solid class of incoming freshmen, headlined by athletic guard Brenden Tucker. If Tucker — who turned down offers from Clemson, Virginia Tech, Seton Hall, Northwestern, and Xavier — can contribute right away, he’ll provide scoring punch and much-needed depth.

Bottom Line: Riller is the favorite to win Player of the Year. Grant is one of the league’s best coaches, so there is good reason to believe in the continued development of players like Galloway, McManus, and others. The combination of talent and good coaching makes Charleston an upper-echelon group. If Tucker hits right away and other role players take a step forward, Charleston could emerge as the clear-cut favorite by the time conference play begins.