CALGARY, Alta. — March Madness is in full swing, and it’s lived up to the hype so far.
Several ‘streaks’ are in jeopardy, like whether or not a Hall of Fame coach will make an appearance in the Final Four. Then, we have the top-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs, who are looking to snap their own personal drought and make a Final Four appearance for the first time ever.
Following their win over the West Virginia Mountaineers in the Sweet 16, the Bulldogs are now knocking on the door of the Final Four in Houston.
While most people tend to focus solely on the NCAA Tournament, there are two teams who are looking to put an end to their championship droughts in Division I basketball.
On one side, you have a team looking to give the Mountain West Conference back-to-back winners in the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) Tournament, and their first tournament title since 1943.
On the flip side, you have a team who is looking for their first-ever post-season tournament title in men’s basketball.
Starting Monday in Conway, SC, there’s a lot on the line for both the Wyoming Cowboys and the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, who square off against one another in a best-of-three series to determine the 2017 CBI champions.
Here’s a look at how both teams got to where they are, and what they need to do to bring home some hardware.
The last time the Cowboys won a post-season title was all the way back in 1943, when they were crowned National Champions after notching a win over the Georgetown Hoyas.
Since then, the well has gone dry for Wyoming in terms of titles.
Back in the 2014-15 season, the Cowboys took home the Mountain West tournament title and punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament, where they fell to the Northern Iowa Panthers in the Round of 64.
While they have limited appearances in the Big Dance, the 2016-17 season marked the program’s fifth appearance in the CBI since 2009. This is the first year that they’ve made it past the quarter-finals, and they’re looking to make the most of their opportunity.
Under first year head coach Allen Edwards, the Cowboys enter the tournament finals with a record of 21-14 overall. They finished the regular season with an 8-10 record in conference play, good for seventh in the standings.
A loss to the Air Force Falcons in the opener of the conference tournament sent the Cowboys packing early, but the CBI came calling.
Over their three games in the event so far, the Cowboys have had the luck of the draw, playing all three games on their home court. They have disposed of three formidable opponents, making them a battle-tested team for the final series.
Wyoming has been on quite the roll over the three games. They have only trailed for a combined 50 seconds in the three games. In their opener, they trailed the Eastern Washington Eagles by a pair for a mere eight seconds.
In the quarter-finals, they never trailed the UMKC Roos. Then, in the semifinals, the Cowboys trailed the Utah Valley Wolverines for 42 seconds late in the second half, but pulled out the six-point victory.
Justin James has been leading the team on offense, much like he did during the regular season. He has led the Cowboys in scoring in each of the three games, averaging 18.6 points per contest across the three wins. The sophomore led the Cowboys in scoring during the regular season (15.9 ppg).
In their opener against Eastern Washington, the Cowboys had five different scorers reach double-figures. The more impressive fact is that three of them came off the bench. If the starters have an off day, Edwards has confidence in his bench guys, as they showed they can lead the team to victory against a tough opponent.
Alongside James, the likes of Jason McManamen, who just joined the 1,000 point club at Wyoming, and Alan Herndon are strong options on both ends of the floor. The Cowboys can hurt a team in several different ways and with different lineups.
With the way they’ve been playing as of late, betting against them in the finals will be tough.
However, Coastal Carolina is no pushover, and they get the luxury of opening the series on their home court in Conway, South Carolina.
Unlike the Cowboys, the Chanticleers have yet to win a post-season tournament. They had a brief reign of terror in the Big South, making back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Tournament in 2015 and 2015. Coastal Carolina was a 16-seed on both occasions, and fell in the first round both times.
They put up a strong fight against the Virginia Cavaliers back in 2014, but lost by 11 in the end.
Just like Wyoming, the 2016-17 season has been one of transition for the Chanticleers. While they don’t have a new coach, they did play in a new conference for the fist time, making the move from the Big South to the Sun Belt.
After a strong run in the Big South, the Chanticleers made the move to arguably a stronger conference, and while they still remained competitive, they weren’t at the top this season. Coastal Carolina finished the regular season in a three-way tie for the sixth spot with a 10-8 record in conference play.
Despite entering the CBI with a sub-.500 record (16-17), the Chanticleers have won three straight contests to punch their ticket to the tournament finale, pushing their record back above .500 in the process (19-17).
Across their three victories, Jaylen Shaw has been as consistent as they come for Cliff Ellis’ crew. Shaw has scored 22 points in all three games, leading the team in scoring each night out. What makes his three-game stretch more impressive is that he has shot better than 50% from the field in each of the three games.
For the season, Shaw is shooting 47.3% from the floor, and 40.3% from three point range.
While Shaw is playing his best basketball of the year, the dark horse for the Chanticleers will be senior Elijah Wilson. He has been a star since the day he stepped foot onto the court at the HTC Centre, and has put up 16 points on back-to-back nights to help lead Coastal Carolina to the finals.
One team hasn’t won a post-season tournament, while the other hasn’t won one since World War II. The finals of the 2017 CBI provides a big opportunity for both Wyoming and Coastal Carolina to make some noise in the college basketball world.
The Chanticleers are in a prime spot to set the tone early on, as the series opens up on their home floor on Monday night. Coastal Carolina is 14-6 on their home court, while Wyoming is just 3-9 away from Laramie.
With games two and three being played on Wyoming’s home court, the Chanticleers will want to set the tone early on and take game one. The last thing they’d want to have to do is go on the road and win back-to-back games.
With the NCAA Tournament off from Monday through to the weekend for the Final Four, there’s no excuse to miss the CBI finals. While they may not be the biggest names out there, it’s a series that you won’t want to miss.
– T. Bennett