By: Jack O’Keefe
Spread: Winthrop -5.5
5:00 pm Central – Donald N. Dedmon Center, Radford, VA
Winthrop Eagles (16-1, 13-1)
Life in the Big South Conference just feels right when Winthrop is winning. Since taking over as the head coach in 1998, Gregg Marshall instilled a sense of winning culture in the Eagles program. During his nine-year career as the head coach, Marshall led the Eagles to the NCAA Tournament seven times. It was amazing to see the powerhouse that Winthrop was becoming under Marshall, but they had not won a game in the NCAA Tournament with Coach Marshall… until his ninth and final season at Winthrop. The 2006-07 Eagles were soaring, literally and figuratively, into the NCAA Tournament with a 29-5 record and #11 seed. 29-5 record and you slot them in as a #11 seed? Slightly disrespectful, but that is how life as a mid-major goes sometimes. The Eagles outplayed the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, getting that elusive first program win in the NCAA Tournament. It was the first ever win for the Big South Conference in an NCAA Tournament First Round.
Unfortunately, the Eagles lost Gregg Marshall to the Wichita State Shockers at the conclusion of that season. Since Marshall’s departure, the Eagles have only appeared in the NCAA Tournament three times in the last 14 seasons. The Eagles did win the Big South Tournament last season; however, the NCAA Tournament did not take place, so if you want to include that, the Eagles have made it four times in the last 14 seasons. Pat Kelsey is building up the Eagles once again though, like Gregg Marshall once did. In his first eight seasons at Winthrop, Kelsey has reached 18+ wins in all but one season (his first season) as the head coach. Barring a major collapse, the Eagles look destined to win 20+ games this season, and perhaps should they not win the Big South Tournament, be in line for an at-large bid.
The Eagles are led by a trio of seniors: Chandler Vaudrin, Adonis Arms and Charles Falden. Vaudrin, a Big South Preseason First-Team selection, is averaging 12.6 points per game, 6.6 assists per game and 7.1 assists per game this season. He ranks seventh in the country for assists per game this season. Arms is averaging 11.3 points per game and 4.9 rebounds per game this season. Arms played in the junior college ranks for the first three seasons, before sitting out the 2019-20 season in respects to the NCAA transfer regulations. Falden only started 6 games during his first three seasons at Winthrop, but he has found his name in the starting lineup sixteen times this season. It pays off to be patient sometimes. Falden is averaging 10.9 points per game and 3.3 rebounds per game this season. Having a plethora of balanced scorers at their disposal, it should come as no surprise then to see the Eagles averaging 81.3 points per game this season (11th in Division-I). A good amount of the scoring for the Eagles have been provided on second chance scoring opportunities this season. The Eagles are averaging 11.4 offensive rebounds per game this season (17th in Division-I). The Eagles are looking to bounce back after their first loss of the season last outing against UNC-Asheville. It will be interesting to see how Winthrop responds to their first taste of adversity this season.
Radford Highlanders (13-7, 12-2)
Since our last preview covering the Highlanders, Radford has been doing well. The Highlanders won in our preview match as a 3.5-point underdog, which we love to see, and they have two wins over South Carolina Upstate. The last outing against the Spartans of South Carolina Upstate, Radford dismantled the lads by a score of 102-66. I can assure you that Radford will be unable to repeat that kind of performance against Pat Kelsey’s Winthrop team tonight.
Much like Pat Kelsey, Mike Jones has done a tremendous job in recent years building up Radford to a perennial contender in the Big South Conference. During his ten-year tenure, Coach Jones has compiled five seasons with 20+ wins, perhaps a sixth if they can reach that plateau this season. A few different scorers have been stepping up lately for the Highlanders, creating a more balanced offensive lineup. Fah’Mir Ali is still getting his touches and scoring for Radford, but Dravon Mangum and Chyree Walker have been playing well during the last month or so. Over the last month, Mangum is scoring 12.2 points per game and pulling down 5.6 rebounds per game for the Highlanders. Walker has also done his fair share of scoring and rebounding, as he is averaging 10.7 points per game and 9.2 rebounds per game over the last month. Still, it would be nice to have a main scoring threat each night out, like what Carlik Jones provided Radford last season.
As we mentioned in the previous preview, the Highlanders are at their best when they are playing tough nose defense against their opponent. When holding the opponent to 66 points or fewer this season, the Highlanders have a 12-4 record. The one knock I had on Radford in my preview last month was that they are sometimes careless with the basketball, but the Highlanders have done a good job combating the turnovers. In their last three games, Radford is only turning the ball over 11.67 times per game, which has significantly improved since the last time we analyzed the Highlanders. Mike Jones could pick up his 100th career Big South Conference win tonight, but I think more importantly, this is an opportunity for Radford to pull even in the standings with Winthrop. The last time these two teams squared off, Radford picked up a win 81-77 in Rock Hill, SC. All signs point to a close game this time around as well.
Winthrop has been struggling lately to cover the spread in their games. The Eagles started the season out covering in seven out of their first eight games. Since then, Winthrop has only covered the spread in one out of the last nine contests. The Eagles are a single-digit favorite for just the first time this season against a Big South Conference opponent. Radford on the flipside has been a covering machine lately. It is quite the opposite story for Radford, who only covered the spread once in their first five outings. The Highlanders have since covered the spread in 11 of the last 14 games played. I feel like we are being forced to take Winthrop here, given how low the spread is set. I do think Winthrop will win the game straight up; however, I do not feel like they are going to beat up on Radford on their home court. I will take Radford +5.5 as my best bet.
Jack’s 2020 CBB picks: (18-16)
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