After six years out of coaching, Cremins took over the Cougars and led them to a 20-win season entering the Southern Conference tournament.
College of Charleston (20-10, 13-5) earned a bye and opens Thursday. The first round begins Wednesday at North Charleston Coliseum with three games: Chattanooga-Wofford, Western Carolina-Elon and Georgia Southern-The Citadel.
Davidson (26-4, 17-1) and Appalachian State (24-6, 15-3) are the favorites, but Cremins likes the way his team overcame early struggles to reach 20 victories for the first time in three seasons.
"I really hope this team plays well in this tournament," Cremins said. If they do, the NCAAs could be next.
Early on, it didn't look like the Cougars would do much in league play. Cremins admitted he overscheduled at the start of the season. He also might have be too tough on his players in his eagerness to get things shaped up after taking the job in July.
Cremins put Dontaye Draper at point guard, something the senior had trouble coping with at first. There were big losses defeats to Villanova, Kentucky and Cremins' alma mater of South Carolina that left the Cougars sinking at 3-6.
They trailed league rival Chattanooga 47-34 with less than 13 minutes left when something clicked, Cremins said. Led by Draper's 18 points, Charleston rallied for a 62-60 win and begin a run of 12 victories in 13 games.
"That just turned us around," Cremins said.
These aren't the same powerful Cougars that went 19-0 in their Southern Conference debut in 1999 _ the school's last NCAA tournament appearance _ under former coach John Kresse.
Charleston has gone 0-4 this season against Davidson and Appalachian State and the Cougars come into the tournament off a disappointing 74-65 loss at Georgia Southern this past Saturday.
But Cremins looks like he's eased up on his players, Appalachian State coach Houston Fancher said.
"Just like the freedom he allows his players. I don't know they had that so much in past years," Fancher said. "They have a sense of confidence and are going into this tournament loose."
The Cougars will need all their confidence and freedom to crash the expected Davidson-Appalachian State final on Saturday night.
Davidson, the defending tournament champion, is seeking its fourth NCAA bid in 10 seasons. Appalachian State set a school record for victories this season.
Cremins, though, believes his team has a chance.
"I feel like this team accomplished a lot," he said. "Now, it's a whole new season."
League tournaments began this week for the smaller conferences. The Ohio Valley, Horizon League and Big South tournaments opened Tuesday; the Sun Belt and Patriot League gets under way Wednesday; and the Northeast, Missouri Valley and Atlantic Sun open Thursday.
Also, the America East, Colonial Athletic Association and Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tourneys start Friday, with the Mid-Continent Conference opening Saturday.
The bigger conference tournaments open next week after teams play out the regular season this week.