It seems like just yesterday that the Winthrop Eagles out of the Big South were waiting for their names to be called as part of the NCAA Tournament's selection show to see where they'd be seeded. Sure, the Eagles fell at the hands of UA-Pine Bluff in the NCAA's Opening Round Game (back when there was only one) and before that, back in 2008, they were raced out of the gym by then head coach Tony Bennett and Washington State. But in 2007, they probably permanently implanted themselves in both your and the collective consciousness of college basketball fans everywhere when they successfully took down Notre Dame, 74-64, in the first round of the tourney. And though the Eagles played in 9 of the previous 14 NCAA Tournaments, this team is a long way from the 2007 version.
Going to show that even (not-so) big time college basketball has become ever the money sport, after two bad seasons, Randy Peele, holder of a 20-win season, two NCAA tournament berths, and three conference championships, was shown the door for failing to match the heights of success the school had experienced under Gregg Marshall, now the maestro at another perennial mid-major heavy weight, Wichita State. Enter Pat Kelsey.
Kelsey was a particularly intriguing choice by the Rock Hill, South Carolina based program as he'd spent the previous two years out of the sport. Kelsey had been a top assistant at Wake Forest under the late Skip Prosser, and while he tried to persevere on after his mentor's premature, untimely death, he ultimately decided to step away from the vocation altogether, citing the impact the tragedy had on him personally. Apparently back ready to embrace the game he loved once again full on, Kelsey's taken to applying the same lessons that he learned both working with Prosser as well as playing for him at Xavier.
Under his leadership is a two guard, three forward attack, primed by star guard, sophomore Derrick Henry. Though Henry struggled with his free throws down the stretch, he hit one with 4.7 seconds remaining to take down Ohio (the actual one; not of Brady Hoke nomenclature confusion syndrome), 50-49, in what the school has called "one of the biggest regular season victories in the school's history." Okay then. Henry leads the Eagles in scoring with nearly 16 a game and could be frustrating for either Lenzelle Smith or Aaron Craft from a matchup perspective.
Joining Henry in the backcourt is fellow second year guard Andre Smith. Smith is the team's second leading scorer and also averages 3.3 rebounds per game and 2 assists, all the while shooting .359 from beyond the arc. At just 5'10, Smith has to go above and beyond to offset his defensive physical limitations, but did lead the team with 26 points in a 71-61 loss to James Madison at the beginning of the month.
As is often the case in the mid-major ranks, the starting forwards are a trio of undersized 3s and 4s who attempt to play not just above their heads, but not terribly unlike Smith, above their heights. Joab Jerome is a 6'5 junior and the team's third leading scoring starter. Jerome contribues 7.6 points per game, 4.1 rebounds per, and is coming off three double digit scoring performances in four games.
The 6-6 sophomore Larry Brown (no relation to that Larry Brown) is one of the other starters at forward. He averages half a double double but hasn't cracked double figures all year. He shouldn't be a problem for Sam Thompson/LaQuinton Ross or Deshaun Thomas, if they draw the assignment.
James Bourne completes the starting lineup. The de facto center of the group is a meaty 6'8, 240 pounds, and averages 5 points per game and 4 rebounds. His identity in the paint is mostly as a rebounder and put back scorer, but did put up 7 points and 8 rebounds against VCU in the Eagles' 90-54 loss in mid-November.
Winthrop's best weapon off the pine is super sub (and spot starter) redshirt senior Gideon Gamble. Gamble is a lean 6'7, 195 hailing from Atlanta. He can score the ball, but isn't super efficient at all times doing so. Still, he finds way to create his own shot and can score in a variety of capacities while checking in as the Eagles' fourth leading scorer.
Winthrop is out talented by a pretty sizable margin, but showed they could hang with would be NCAA Tournament types in this past weekend's win in Athens. While they can certainly control the effort they bring to the table, they likely won't have an answer defensively for the likes of Deshaun Thomas or the suddenly revitalized Evan Ravenel. This might also prove to be an effective opportunity for Aaron Craft to try to continue ironing out the wrinkles in his offensive game.
Holy Diver. The Buckeyes keep up the momentum of Saturdays definitive win over UNC Asheville and bring the pain train, 85-52.