Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Anyone need a used pedestal? (CCU 64, Winthrop 57)

If your horses suddenly started rearing up and trying to break out of their stalls last night, and your dog started barking at air and whimpering for no reason, and your goldfish wouldn’t eat its flakes of dead goldfish*, fear not! I have your reason right here: Coastal Carolina 64, at Winthrop 57.

How shocking was this? Here is a list of teams Coastal has failed to defeat on the road already this season: Jacksonville St. (RPI 215), Eastern Kentucky (169), High Point (222) and … wait for it… the VMI Keydet Cops (301). All told, Coastal was 0-8 on the road.
Until, of course, they walked into Rock Hill and took a game from the strongest team ever to play in the Big South. Nobody ever said basketball had to make sense, but is it too much to ask for it to stay out of Hunter S. Thompson territory?

The next question: How did they do it? Big picture, Winthrop was too good to go undefeated in the Big South.

I know, I know, it sounds like the hygienist left the nitrous oxide on just a wee bit too long at my last check-up. But when a team dominates a conference the way Lord Winthrop has dominated the Big South the last two seasons--the Eagles had won 24 straight Big South games until last night--each game they play becomes a Win-or-Die-Trying season-defining event to their opponents, while to Winthrop there’s no difference from Game A to Game B. Only a massive disparity in talent could nullify that edge in focus for the length of an entire conference season.

Until the High Point game, I thought that disparity existed. Afterwards, I wouldn’t have been that shocked if UNC-Asheville, BSC, or even Coastal won at home. But Coastal on the road?

The specifics of how it happened aren’t really that exciting: Coastal simply played better defense and shot better. Rebounds (31 to 29 CCU), turnovers (13 to 14), free throws converted (9 to 8), steals (9 to 3) and offensive balance (four players in double figures) all gave the Fakecocks little edges here and there. But the bottom line is that Coastal shot 50 percent for the game, taking 50 shots and hitting 25 of them; Winthrop took 52 shots and only hit 19, for 37 percent. In a game that’s a stone’s throw from statistically dead even everywhere else, six more field goals makes, quite literally, all the difference.

The relevant media are jumping up and down about Coastal’s zone forcing Winthrop to take too many threes, but the Eagles shot better from behind the arc (39.3 percent) than they did inside it (33 percent). Maybe Winthrop should have taken more threes? The zone likely did help limit James Shuler’s production (2-of-9, 4 points), but so did his recent ankle injury, I’ll wager.

Other points:

1. Want to see the practical upshot of teams willing to sell their first-born children to beat Winthrop? Check that rebounding margin again, 31-29 in favor of Coastal, who happened to enter the game dead last in the league in rebounds per game. CCU center Moses Sonko went for 6 points and 4 boards at home against Charleston Southern last week. And on the road against Winthrop, he has a 10-and-11 double-double. You figure it out.
2. If you’re out and about and see Winthrop’s real backcourt, let Gregg Marshall know. He’s looking for it. The true Chris Gaynor came back against Coastal, posting his first positive assist-to-turnover ratio in three games (7 to 2) but this time Torrell Martin was replaced by some poor-shooting look-alike that went 6-of-17 overall, 5-of-14 from three, and committed 5 turnovers to 1 assist.
3. It may be time for Marshall to get concerned about his bench. Four Eagles came off the pine to combine for 7 points and 2 (!) rebounds in 41 minutes. (The worst offender? Guard Michael Jenkins, who hoisted up 7 shots in his 9 minutes, hitting only one.) By contrast, CCU--not exactly known for being the deepest team in the conference--got 12 points and 4 boards in 39 minutes. (Though big C Matt Brennan disappeared again.)
4. The best news for Fakecocks fans? They won despite Leasure staying firmly in the midst of his shooting slump--he went 4-of-12 (though he did hit the biggest bucket of the night, a late three that forced Winthrop to start fouling). Unheralded senior guard Colin Stevens took up his slack, hitting 5-of-11 for 13 points while adding 6 assists, 5 boards, and only two turnovers. Give credit, too, to Leasure and Paelay for their dishwork: CCU’s three-headed backcourt finished with a 15-to-6 assist-to-turnover ratio.

The fallout? Could swing two ways: either Coastal’s win will puncture the Eagles’ balloon of intimidation and faced with confident (as well as fired up) opponents, Winthrop will suddenly find a much, much tougher run to the conference title than they expected. Or Winthrop will simply smell the “Hey, we’re better than these guys, let’s play like it again” coffee and go back to blowing people out by 40 points.

It’ll probably, of course, be somewhere in the middle. Some close games for the Eagles, some blowouts, maybe one more loss somewhere along the way. The big question is, can BSC and/or Radford win enough to challenge Lord Winthrop for home-court advantage? Craig Bradshaw evidently thinks so: "It's really disappointing," he told the Herald. "We looked at (the standings) before the game. Now, we're 6-1 and they're (Birmingham-Southern) 6-1. It's going to be a dogfight to the end."

Let that dogfight begin.

*If your cat was suddenly hissing at you and clawing the furniture, well, this only proves that you have a cat.


Anonymous said...

It's good to see someone from BSC posting on the BS message board.Unlike WU you MBB program has some class,a reflection of you're coach.HPU is not at all like RU and I think that you will find that out soon.Your site is interesting and I'll try to visit in the future.

Jerry Hinnen said...

Thank you for reading and please do continue visiting, although respectfully disagree with you about HPU and RU, and judging by both teams' decision to lose to lesser teams on the same day so do they.