UT-Winthrop preview

First, the NCAA Selection Committee gives Tennessee a No. 2 seeding. Then the national media gives the Vols a kick in the butt.

Several media "experts" list the Vols (21-7) as a strong candidate to suffer a first-round ouster in the NCAA Tournament this year, even though their opening foe is No. 15 seed Winthrop (23-7). The two teams collide today at 2:40 p.m. in Greensboro, N.C.

The Vols won't say they're insulted but the slight hasn't passed unnoticed.

"It's a little bit of a motivating factor for us," junior forward Dane Bradshaw said. "It keeps Winthrop from having all the motivation on their side."

Maybe, but the Eagles certainly have all the momentum on their side. Winthrop has won nine of its last 10 games, whereas the Vols have lost four of their last six.

"Winthrop is better than a 15 seed," Bradshaw said. "They deserve to be looked at as a very capable team. But I don't think we should be looked at as a team that could be upset easily."

All Tennessee must do to reach the Sweet 16 is beat a 15 seed, then beat the winner between a 10 seed (Seton Hall) and a 7 seed (Wichita State). That doesn't seem too difficult, so perhaps Winthrop's popularity as an underdog pick will help the Vols stay focused on the task at hand.

"You obviously take it one game at a time," Bradshaw said. "But anyone would be lying to you if they said they didn't look ahead at the bracket and all of the possibilities. We're staying focused on Winthrop, though, knowing they're a very capable team."

Winthrop's players and coaches were keenly disappointed by the No. 15 seeding. Thus, the Eagles will give their best effort today in hopes of upsetting Tennessee and proving the Selection Committee wrong. The Vols must be ready to match the Eagles' intensity.

"Hopefully, this will bring the best out of us," Bradshaw said. "We have to be prepared for Winthrop's best shot. But there's such a great atmosphere, if you don't get excited and can't play hard for 40 minutes, then you shouldn't be out there."

Winthrop's leading scorers are 6-5 junior guard Torrell Martin and 6-6 senior forward James Shuler. Both average 13.7 points per game. Next comes 6-10, 245-pound Craig Bradshaw, who averages 12.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. He shoots 55 percent from the floor, including 37.7 percent from 3-point range. The other starters are 6-8, 215-pound junior Phillip Williams (5.7 points per game) and 5-10 sophomore Chris Gaynor (6.4 points, 4.0 assists per game).

After watching film of the Eagles, Tennessee senior C.J. Watson says there's no chance the Vols will overlook Winthrop.

"They're a very physical team," he said. "They have some good guards that can shoot it. Their post is good and they play pretty solid defense."

UT's Bradshaw put it this way:

"We have a lot of respect for Winthrop. But I have a lot of faith in my teammates that we're going to bring our best game into the tournament."

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