In Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, Chanticleer is the name of a rooster on a small farm. Chanticleer is a fine rooster: strong, attractive, sharp, and with the a crow compared to a church organ. But, he is still a rooster, smaller than the wild beasts beyond the boundaries of the farm. One day he wakes up from a dream in which he envisions his own death at the hands of a larger animal, a prophecy that looks to be true when he is attacked by a fox. The Chanticleers of Coastal Carolina University (CCU) may be put in a similar position. If they look at their seed, likely to be a 14 or worse, they will find that they are matched up against a superior opponent. Brackets all around the nation are likely to predict their demise. But in spite of all this, Coastal Carolina is an underdog to watch out for.
A necessity of beating a team of greater talent is playing efficient basketball. That does not have to mean shooting a high percentage, but being able to convert possessions into points. For the entire 2013-2014 season, CCU has been more adept at this than their opponents. They accomplish this through rebounding.
Coastal Carolina had the fifth most total rebounds in the country out of 351 qualified Division I teams. They were also 16th in offensive rebounds accumulated. This led to them taking more than 1,900 shots from the field, 12th most in the nation in spite of a moderate pace of play. The Chanticleers took 136 more two-point shots than their opponents did, a product of their tenacious effort on the boards.
How does a team rate so highly in rebounding when their best rebounder, El Hadji Ndieguene, ranked 199th in the country in boards per game? Credit for that goes to their head coach, Cliff Ellis, who has been around a long time and done great, underappreciated work at several schools. After leading Coastal Carolina to their first Big South Championship in 21 years, Coach Ellis has now had four teams reach the NCAA Tournament under his watch. At all of his stops, Coach Ellis has utilized a particular strategy for rebounding which allows his teams to gain an advantage, particularly on the offensive end. In his book The Winning Edge, Ellis describes wanting his players to have sight of as much of the court as possible to enhance rebounding. When they run pick and rolls they try to face the basket, and they block out opponents from the side when shots go up, trading some positioning for extra mobility and vision.
While out-rebounding the other team is part of Coastal Carolina’s strategy, victory comes when they outshoot the opposition. For the season, the Chanticleers outshot the opposing team 43.8 percent to 40 percent. Further, CCU was 4-8 when shooting worse than their counterparts but 18-3 when shooting better.
Their key to victory is apparent, and Coastal Carolina is an underdog with a true shot to pull an upset if their opponent doesn’t watch out. At the end of Chaucer’s story, Chanticleer fooled the fox into releasing him momentarily and he flew to the top of a tree for safety. If Coastal Carolina’s opponent isn’t careful the CCU Chanticleers may end up on top, too.
Commentary by Brian Moore