Thursday, February 21, 2008

DM's Winthrop preview

If you're a frequenter of local college basketball message boards, you've been privy to a healthy chunk of complaining and resentment over the past few weeks. Ever since ESPN announced BracketBuster match-ups for their over-hyped, only marginally relevant, upcoming weekend mid-major extravaganza, Davidson and Winthrop fans have been exchanging cyber-blows about the justice inherent in a pairing of their institutions.

On the Davidson side, a Winthrop draw feels like a slight, a slap in the face. Piling up Southern Conference wins and pushing powerhouse programs to the brink gets our name tossed around in a few faux-NCAA deliberations, but most agree that the 'Cats are far from a sure thing come March. The BracketBuster match-up was supposed to strengthen our at-large position and increase our national exposure. We've needed a marquee win all along and that's just not something that, with an RPI of 106, Winthrop can provide.

If Davidson loses to Winthrop, the bubble conversations and at-large considerations for the 'Cats effectively stop. If Davidson wins, will anyone care?

On the Winthrop side, nostalgia for last season is setting in: "Remember when everyone talked about US? Remember when WE made the Tournament last year…and WON in the first round?" It's a fair statement that Winthrop fans are a little peeved about the turning of tables, especially when their team is surging again (9-3 in conference and leading the Big South).

Surfing their message board reveals as much. Incensed by the loss of national attention, they call Davidson a "media darling" and make special mention of their own enduring status as the mid-major team of the South. These are relatively valid critiques, but betray a sense of "what about us?" that's a little hard to hear.

Winthrop fans would cite early-season wins over Georgia Tech and Miami (FL) as clear evidence of Eagle superiority. After all, they have actually beaten ACC teams this season. And, hey, didn't Miami just knock off Duke?

But they've also dropped games against Missouri State (RPI: 159), Mt. St. Mary's (190), and conference road games against High Point (240) and Coastal Carolina (251). The Coastal Carolina loss, in particular, happened recently, on February 6th, and points to a program languishing in the shadow of last year's success.

Make no mistake. Winthrop is a tough team to beat, especially on their home floor. They are 10-1 this year in the Winthrop Coliseum, and this game, as they see it, is their last chance to make a mark on the national scene. They'll be ready for us and for the cameras, no doubt.

Your Winthrop preview:

Leading Scorer (14.0 pts/gm):
#11 Michael Jenkins (Sr.) - 6' 3" Guard

3-point Threats:
#11 Michael Jenkins (Sr.) - 6' 3" Guard (61 for 161 on the season)
#10 Chris Gaynor (Sr.) - 5' 10" Guard (50 for 112 on the season)

Big Men:
#31 Taj McCullough (Sr.) - 6' 7" Forward
#33 Mantoris Robinson (So.) - 6' 5" Guard/Forward
(and two guys -- 6' 8" and 6' 9" -- who get negligible minutes)

Weird 6' 3" Guard / Forward Concoction Who Doesn't Take Threes But Shot 10 Times Against VMI:
#21 Antwon Harris (Sr.) - 6' 3" (knows his ill-defined role)

Last Game:
80 - 70 WIN AWAY at VMI

The Eagles divide their minutes pretty evenly, especially in the front court, and are known for their defensive prowess. Against VMI, Chris Gaynor played the most minutes by far (39) and notched 8 steals. Their guards are quick and veteran, but they play a slow brand of basketball. When the pace accelerates, perhaps due to an opponent with a focal scorer (a la Steph Curry), they seem to struggle with turnovers.

Their fans don't have much respect for the defense that's played in the SoCon. We've faced only weak pressure, they say. Read message boards based in Rock Hill and you'll see they're hoping to keep us under 60 points. Let's hope they're unable.

The mere fact that I'm reading opposing message boards (and cursing under my breath) suggests the sprouting up of a new, but ever-present rivalry. It's an I-77 battle featuring two strong, underappreciated teams…each with a grudge. Tough game, but one we've got to win. And we can. Get your tickets and hit the interstate. Go 'Cats.



Patrick said...

DM--great chat and hype, as always. However, I think your writing would take it to the next level if you could shed that Cheese loving hipster of a Serge Zwicker fan...

Patrick said...

as a roomate, I meant...HOLLA!