Every season it appears that the Winthrop Eagles end up in the same place. The NCAA tournament. In fact, Winthrop has won nine of the past 12 Big South Tournament Titles. That’s a pretty impressive stat.
Last year a five-game losing streak moved them to 5-9, but from that point on they lost just four games en route to another title. They then fell to Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the NCAA Tournament’s opening round in Dayton.
They enter Wednesday afternoon’s contest at Rupp Arena with a 5-6 record and are coming off of a 73-58 loss at Dayton on Monday night. Their lone quality win is an 83-74 victory at Wake Forest against a Demon Deacon squad that has also fallen to Stetson, VCU, UNC-Wilmington and Xavier.
But, head coach Randy Poole, who is in his fourth season at Winthrop, isn’t particularly worried about their record right now. Sure, he would like to have more wins, but the key to their pre-conference schedule is to get them ready to win the Big South, again.
And this Winthrop team has the talent to do just that.
The strength of the Eagles is their guard play. They start a trio of guards in sophomore Robbie Dreher (6-4, 185), junior Andre Jones (6-2, 190) and junior Reggie Middleton (6-1, 190).
The trio is averaging 39 points-per-game, which is over half of their scoring, as their entire team averages just 64 points. Dreher leads the way with 15.4, Jones is second with 12.5 and Middleton averages 11.1. They are the only players averaging double figures.
Middleton runs the point for Winthrop, while Dreher and Jones tend to play off of the ball. At the point, Middleton does not appear to be a guard that intimidates you with his driving ability. If you give him an opening he’ll take it, but he does not have the bounce in his step to take you off the dribble.
Dreher (44-percent) and Jones (39-percent) are both excellent shooters from distance and the Winthrop offense is designed to get them open looks. On the season Dreher has knocked down 14 threes and Jones has knocked down 13.
Their strength is their shooting ability, but if defenders fly out on them or play up on them, they both have shown some ability to get by defenders and finish at the rim. Dreher, especially, is effective at getting inside the arc and knocking down 12 to 15 footers.
Sophomore Gideon Gamble (6-7, 186) is another shooter for Winthrop and he has the ability to come off of the bench and give them a spark. He has knocked down 13-of-26 three-point attempts this season.
Inside they are led by senior Charles Corbin (6-7, 220), who started the season on an eight-game suspension. But, he is back and last time out against Dayton he had his best game of the year, as he finished with 18 points, on 7-for-13 shooting, and six boards. In his three games back he is averaging 9.7 points and 7.0 rebounds.
Although he is just 6’7″, Corbin provides the Eagles with strong interior play. He is nifty on the low blow with his post moves and knows how to use his wide body to finish at the rim. He fills up the paint and is extremely effective at going to the rim on the offensive and defensive glass.
Junior Matt Morgan (6-9, 235) rounds out their starting five at the other forward position. A season ago, he led the team with 50-percent shooting from the field and averaged 9.6 points. However, this year has been a struggle for Morgan as he is shooting a sluggish 31-percent and averaging just over six points.
This is a fairly good defensive team and because of that they want to keep the game ugly and around 50-60 points. They will primarily play man-to-man, but expect them to switch up defenses with some 2-3 zone in an attempt to rattle Kentucky.
In their loss to Dayton, the Flyers found there to be a full compliment of open perimeter jumpers against the Eagles and knocked down ten threes in the game. They also touch advantage of Winthrop’s inability to defend the baseline to get easy buckets.
This isn’t a team that wants to get out in transition. They lack both a decision-making point guard on offense and the athleticism to get back on defense. Dayton completely overmatched Winthrop with their athleticism, so obviously you can expect the Wildcats to do the same. Kentucky will out-quick them at every single position.
Another trouble area for the Eagles has been their rebounding. Dayton had 11 offensive rebounds in the first half alone and ended up outrebounded Winthrop, 46-28. Good defensive teams have to be able to close out possessions with rebounds and so far this year Winthrop is allowing way too many second chance points.
They are 0-5 in games where they have been outrebounded. On Wednesday you can expect that number to move to 0-6.
Randy Poole knows they aren’t going to win too many games in the 70′s or 80′s and that is why they want to force opponents to play sloppy. They will try to keep UK in half court and then after an offensive series they will need to get back and force the ‘Cats to get right back in another set. They want to avoid quick shots on both ends.
They will compete in the Big South once conference play hits full throttle, but I don’t see them hanging with a much more athletic Kentucky squad.
Kentucky 81, Winthrop 58