Big South Championship: Young Squads Fight to Keep NCAA Tournament Dreams Alive
The Winthrop Eagles (20-12) are one of the most successful teams that comes from the lower RPI ranked conferences when it comes to appearances in the NCAA tournament; they have made nine tournament appearances since 1999. The Eagles will look to make it an even 10 when they take on the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (20-12) in the Big South Conference championship game on Sunday on the Chanticleers’ home court.
Winthrop comes into the game on a pretty good streak with 10 wins in their last 12 games including a win at home over Coastal Carolina. They finished tied for second in the South Division of the Big South, but lost out on the tiebreakers to UNC Asheville and Gardner-Webb; that could have been their biggest break as it allowed them to miss a potential quarterfinal matchup with the Virginia Military Institute and their high-octane offense who actually finished with a better record than division winner High Point.
The Eagles are built to be successful next season rather than now, but they will surely take the present success. They have one senior who plays more than 10 minutes per game in 6-foot-5 Joab Jerome; the majority of their minutes and scoring come from juniors. Keon Moore is the leading scorer with nearly 14 points per game while Andre Smith adds around 10 per game. Winthrop’s presences in the paint are juniors as well in 6-foot-8 James Bourne and 6-foot-6 Larry Brown.
They have a dynamic freshman as well named Keon Johnson. If Winthrop does indeed make the NCAA tournament, he will be a player to watch as he can take a game over despite his 5-foot-7 frame.
Coastal Carolina, like Winthrop, is a very young team with only two seniors on the roster and a combined 10 freshmen and sophomores. They also like to play in the three-guard set which is becoming more and more popular with smaller basketball teams as the number of available dominant big men is not as prevalent as it would be in the ACC or Big Ten. Coastal Carolina does have some solid big men down low in senior El Hadji Ndieguene and sophomore Badou Diagne, both of whom average at least six rebounds per game on the team ranked in the top 20 in rebounding nationally.
They also have a superb freshman is 6-foot-4 guard Elijah Wilson, who leads the Chanticleers in both points (16.2) and minutes per game (32.7). Juniors Warren Gillis and Josh Cameron each add at least 14 points per game to compliment Wilson as potent scoring options.
This will be the third meeting of the season between Winthrop and Coastal Carolina with Winthrop winning both prior meetings including an overtime thriller on the Chanticleers’ home court. One of the things that Winthrop did marvelously in the previous two meetings was negate the rebounding advantage that Coastal Carolina has; they did that by shooting at least 45 percent in those games.
If there is a given in this game, it will be that the guards will be the offensive generators as they have combined to take 72 percent of the shots when these two teams have met this season. They will no doubt have a big role, but the winner of this game will be determined by whether Jerome or Diagne has a better game.