Wednesday, February 01, 2006

What the Hill is going on in Rock hell? (Big South Sa./M)

“I don't know what it is, but this is not the same Winthrop team that played last year," says Torrell Martin.

No, no it isn’t. The team that had to scrape and claw and scratch and whatever tussle-related verb you prefer their way to a 74-69 win over VMI isn’t even the same Winthrop team from earlier this year. How, exactly, does the same group of players that went into Marquette’s gym and posted an offensive rating of 106.2 go into the Keydet Cops’ gym and post one a full 12 points less? How do they out-rebound Marquette by 13, Auburn by 14, Memphis by 3, and VMI by only 5? How, exactly, does the league’s best statistical defense allow the league’s jacking-est team to shoot 49 percent, while shooting 35 percent themselves?

If I was a snarky columnist for a major newspaper, I’d follow that with “Even harder to answer is how Winthrop managed to do all that and still come away with a victory,” but that’s actually really easy to answer: the Eagles did pull down 21 offensive boards and forced a massive 25 VMI turnovers. When you take 25 more shots than your opponent (76 to 51), you can shoot with sub-Stormtrooper accuracy and still get away with it.

At least, you can get away with it against VMI. Methinks there’s several things Gregg Marshall will get to raise his voice about in practice this week:
• The bench continues to put bathyspheric levels of pressure on the starters to produce. The rebounding was much better than against Coastal, but 3-for-24 from the floor sure as hell wasn’t. In the VMI win and Coastal loss, reserve guard Michael Jenkins shot 1-of-12 in 14 combined minutes. Bleccch.
• Individual players are showing all the consistency of late-era Prince albums. Gaynor and Martin were their usual super efficient selves against VMI (7-to-zero assist-to-turnovers for the former; 26 points on 10-of-19 for the latter). But James Shuler (4-of-10 for 9 points) failed to build on his good game vs. Charleston, Craig Bradshaw took an iffy-to-decent offensive game (5-of-13 for 15 with 7 boards) much closer to iffyness with his 0-to-4 assists-to-turnovers, and Billy Houston’s been benched.
• Who’s bringing the poise? For all their problems the Eagles were about to get away scot-free when they missed 5-of-6 free throws down the stretch and let VMI pull within three again in the dying seconds. Winthrop shot a cover-your-eyes 12-22 from the stripe for the game.

In the Herald article Martin says there’s a lack of energy on the team, and the precedent for this kind of malaise has already been discussed elsewhere at the JCCW: last year’s Birmingham-Southern team, the 2005 prohibitive Big South fave, which also showed up for conference play after a successful-but-not-too nonconference slate expecting to cruise along at the emotional speed limit and be OK. They ended up stuck in the slow lane, were passed time and again by hungrier teams, and never got up to speed. While Winthrop’s current 8-1 Big South record doesn’t bear any resemblance to BSC’s 7-9 finish a year ago, the negligible response to what should have been a jarring Coastal loss sure as heck does call to mind BSC’s slippery slope.

The good news for Lord Winthrop’s subjects is that as the most talented team in the history of the conference, the Eagles might go three-quarters speed the rest of the season and still nab the tourney’s top seed. We’ll see. But right now Gregg Marshall’s bunch definitely have that late-season Indy Colts-esque “Hey, we used to be invincible…isn’t that enough?” vibe about them.

As for VMI, clearly they’re a different team with Duggar back on the bench. And who wouldn’t be? Their record might not improve this season, but all that mud they acquired in their two previous years as the conference’s doormat is slowly washing away.

Four other non-BSC games were played in the Big South Saturday and Monday, and I’d feel bad about not commenting on them until now if there was anything of especial import in any of them. But what we learned in each of these games can be summed up in one sentence or even less. Just watch me:

Coastal 72, Liberty 60: Coastal still can’t shoot (5-of-20 3’s), but when you’re playing Larry Blair and the Invisible Four, it doesn’t matter.

High Point 64, UNC-Asheville 45: We can go ahead and start engraving UNCA’s name onto the “Big South’s Biggest Underachievers” plaque for 2006, thanks to a shooting night in their own gym (18-of-56 from the field, 7-of-15 from the line) that practically screams “No, Fakecocks, you guys challenge for that first-round home game … we weren’t going to use it anyway.”

Winthrop 76, Charleston Southern 59: No, Charleston’s not very good, but they did shoot an impressive (and/or alarming) 48 percent in the second half against Winthrop, and…

Charleston Southern 73, Liberty 71: … thanks to Chris Moore turning all studly in conference play, they’re still better than Liberty.


Anonymous said...

There are some bad actors on the eagles and word is that they are showing.WU has some chinks and can be exploided right now.

Jerry Hinnen said...

I sincerely hope no one explodes the Eagles, as it would be quite messy. However, if they do mount a team production of "King Lear", you're right that some punishment might be warranted.