Winthrop also sits at 6-2 entering this game. Their two losses were on the road to N.C. State and Georgia, games in which they were very competitive before falling late in those games. I had the opportunity to watch the Winthrop/Georgia game. I was impressed with Winthrop's performance in that game, and believe they could pose a danger to Alabama's winning streak. This Winthrop program went through some down times once Gregg Marshall left for Wichita State, but Pat Kelsey has done a good job in four seasons in resurrecting this Winthrop program. His 53 victories in his first three seasons at Winthrop are only behind Marshall in terms of success through the first three seasons. The Eagles were picked to finish third in the Big South conference in the preseason poll, and their early play suggests they will certainly be in the mix for a conference title.
Keon Johnson may only be 5'7, 160 lbs, but this guy can ball. Johnson leads the team in scoring at 18.9 ppg, shooting a blistering 47% from 3. He also averages 4.0 rpg, which is astounding for someone of his size. He also averages a little over 2 assists per game. While it's a favorable match-up physically for Justin, he'll be challenged as a defender in trying to limit Johnson's ability to produce. Any team that scores 83 a game is going to feature more than one guy, and Winthrop has several guys to keep an eye on in this game. Jimmy Gavin averages 17.5 ppg, 39% from 3, while Xavier Cooks (13.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.0 bpg) has also produced good numbers. In all, Winthrop has 8 guys averaging 5 points or more per game.
These types of games always worry me. A mid-week game against a solid, well-coached mid-major opponent, scheduled between a nice road win at Clemson, and prior to a big game in Birmingham next Monday against Oregon, along with a lack of student turnout due to the winter break, and no guarantee that Bama fans in large numbers will come out and support this team. These types of games have been nightmares for Bama in recent years. This team seems different, but it's only human for a team to have letdowns over the course of a long season. And this season in college basketball has been rife with mid-majors upsetting power 5 opponents.
A big reason our guys have been able to put together a 4-game winning streak is their play on the defensive end. What looked like a weakness through the first 3-4 games has really come together in the grind-it-out type of games that have made up the winning streak (Alabama is averaging 61.7 points, while opponents are only averaging 59.5 points in the last four games). That level of defensive play must continue against a team like Winthrop that has put points on the board; and, at the same time, Bama must be aggressive on the offensive end against a Winthrop team that has given up almost as much as it has scored (ranked 262 in defensive efficiency at KenPom).