Preview: West Virginia - Winthrop

The Winthrop Eagles aren't the roadkill fare that West Virginia has feasted upon at the Coliseum so far this year.


Winthrop is a different kettle of fish than the designated victims West Virginia has faced at home so far this year, and the Eagles will certainly give the Mountaineers their strongest challenge to date at the Coliseum.

The Eagles finished 29-5 last year and defeated Notre Dame in the first round of the NCAA tournament, so they are unlikely to be fazed by playing a Big East team. Winthrop has won three consecutive Big South championships, and seven of the last nine, so nothing short of a quality foe is expected on Saturday.

The Eagles feature balanced scoring and productivity in their guard/forward-oriented offense. In the back court, seniors Michael Jenkins and Chris Gaynor control the action, and their experience makes the Eagles a dangers foe for any team. Jenkins (6-3, 195 lbs.) leads the team in scoring at 16.2 points per game, and also chips in 3.2 rebounds and a like number of assists per contest. Gaynor (5-10, 160 lbs.) is the distributor and defender, dishing out 4.3 assists while recording almost three steals per contest. He is third on the team in scoring at 10.3 points per outing, but is not as crisp of a shooter (32.7%).

Frontcourt scoring is provided by senior Taj McCullogh (6-7, 230 lbs.) who does most of his damage at close range. He averages 15.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, and is also second on the team in steals with 14.

The final two spots in the starting lineup are expected to be manned by Charles Corbin and Mantoris Robinson. Corbin, a 6-7, 230-pound freshman, checks in at 6.7 points and 4.0 rebounds per game, while Robinson (6-5, 205 lbs.) contributes similar numbers (6.0 points and 5.0 rebounds per contest. These two youngsters have meshed well with the three seniors, and have helped the Eagles get off to another good start in the early stages of the season.

Off the bench, Winthrop deploys its only true center in Andy Buechert (6-9, 230 lbs.) A native of Germany, Buechert contributes 4.2 points and 2.8 rebounds per game in front line relief. He is joined by another forward, freshman George Valentine (6-8, 230 lbs.), who averages ten minutes per game. In the backcourt, Antwon Harris (6-2, 205 lbs.) is the key sub, and he is quite productive in his 16 minutes per contest, averaging 5.8 points and 2.7 rebounds per appearance. Another senior, Harris provides even more stability for an Eagle team that is looking to continue its outstanding run of recent success.


Headed by new head coach Randy Peele (Gregg Marshall departed Rock Hill for Wichita State after last year's NCAA tournament), the Eagles might have been expected to go through a transition period. However, with a senior-laden backcourt, Winthrop has already recorded a win over the ACC's Georgia Tech and appears poised to again make a run for the league title,
Game Info
Sat Dec 1
1:00 p.m.

WVU Coliseum
WVU 4-1, 0-0
WU 4-2, 0-0
First Meeting
MSN Pay Per View
WVU - 153
Winthrop - 81
All of that might be an unpleasant surprise for those Mountaineer fans expecting another easy win just because they aren't familiar with the opponent. However, it won't be for head coach Bob Huggins, who knows that the Eagles, picked to finish second in the Big South conference, will be a tough out.

With its experience in the backcout, Winthrop isn't likely to crumble under the pressure of West Virginia's defense. Although the Mountaineers should be able to force a few turnovers, it's not likely that the Eagles will collapse and yield 25+ giveaways, like Prairie View A&M and Maryland Eastern Shore have done in recent contests. In college basketball, guard play means a great deal, and teams with talent and experience in the backcourt are typically going to experience success. With three seniors returning to handle the ball and run the offense, Winthrop is certainly poised to again compete for a conference title and another trip to the NCAAs.

In order to keep its home winning streak alive, West Virginia will need to continue to show its still-developing aggressiveness on offense. Several Mountaineer forwards took the ball to the basket strongly against Maryland Eastern Shore, and need to continue to develop that facet of their games. With a slew of 6-7 players in its rotation, Winthrop will certainly be able to challenge WVU drives, so it should be interesting to chart the progression of this phase of the WVU attack.

For its part, Winthrop doesn't have one area in which it excels, or any stats that leap off the page. It is simply a very good basketball team and program that can compete with just about anyone. It takes care of the ball, plays fundamental defense, wins games, and leave opponents scratching their heads while trying to figure out how it happened. West Virginia, if it does not play well, could join that group.


WVU: Cam Thoroughman (Knee) Questionable

Winthrop: None


Unlike many mid-major teams, the Eagles do not live or die with the three-point shot. Just 94 of the Eagles' 322 shots have come from long range. However, like most other areas of their game, the South Carolina school makes efficient use of the weapon. As a team, Winthrop is making 39.4% of its threes.

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West Virginia has twice topped the 100-point mark this year. The last time WVU went over the century mark more than once in a season was in 2001-02, when the Mountaineers scored 105 against Arkansas-Monticello and 102 against Robert Morris.

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The days of West Virginia players staying on the court for 38 or 39 minutes may be over. Due in part to the quicker tempo and man-to-man defensive demands, players are going to need a break or two during most games.

"It's not like you weren't playing hard, but in the zone last year you could get a rest on the court," guard Darris Nichols said recently.

This year, that's not the case. Nichols leads the team with an average of just 31.4 minutes per game, and although the averages per game are depressed right now due to the time the backups have received in blowouts, it will be a surprise to see anyone approach their seasonal averages of a year ago.

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Walkon freshman Cameron Payne did not dress for the Maryland Eastern Shore game, and is expected to be redshirted.

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