Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Sleeping with the Enemy, Winthrop Eagles

I reached out to WinthropEagleFan over at Winthrop Fans to get his thoughts on the game.  He was kind of enough to give us a very thoughtful response, which you can see below.   If you visit Winthrop Fans, please follow the rules of their forums and be a good representative of the University of Alabama.

Winthrop's Strengths: 
Winthrop has a team that is capable of shooting very well from outside, and does 
not rely on just one player to carry the load.  Junior guard Keon Johnson 
(listed at 5'7", but probably more like 5'4") has been the best player overall 
this season (18.9 ppg), and also the most consistent from game-to-game.  He has 
great range from outside (47.6% from three so far this year, making 2.5 per 
game), but is also quick enough to get to the basket and is somehow able to 
finish over opponents much bigger than him.  He also draws a ton of fouls and 
shoots 85% from the FT line.  Actually, as a team, getting to the FT line a lot 
(29.5 FT attempts per game) and shooting well from the FT line (right around 75% 
as a team) is what the Eagles do best.  Johnson gets help in the backcourt from 
senior guard Jimmy Gavin (6’3” transfer from D-II Wisconsin-Parkside…see his 
interesting backstory here: http://collegebasketball.nbcsports.com/2015/05/12/23
Gavin scored 38 @ NC State earlier this year, and like Johnson, he’s able to 
shoot the three well (39.2% from beyond the arc) and can get to the basket and 
score/draw fouls.  He’s a little streakier than Johnson, though, and has not 
played that well in the last few games, though he is still 2nd on the team in 
scoring at 17.5 ppg.  The last big offensive threat is lanky 6’8” Xavier Cooks, 
who is from Australia and has hair like Sideshow Bob.  Cooks has the ability to 
post-up smaller players w/ his height/length, but also able to drive to the 
bucket when teams go big on him.  He has a really nice floater in the lane that 
he goes to from time to time.  Cooks also will shoot it from outside on 
occasion, and he’s improving there, but that’s the weakest part of his arsenal.    
He’s scoring 13.5 ppg, which is down from the start of the season as his minutes 
have been limited lately due to foul trouble in a few recent games. 
Defensively, Winthrop’s biggest strength is in defending the paint and blocking 
shots.  As a disciple of the pack-line defense, Coach Pat Kelsey wants the paint 
to be clogged, so in theory, there should not be many open lanes to the basket 
against a team like WU.  But the biggest reason the team defends the paint well 
is due to the shot-blocking/altering ability of back-up center Duby Okeke.  
Okeke is 6’8”, but averages 3.5 blocks/game in only 20 minutes/game.  Cooks also 
blocks shots well.  WU’s starting center is Zach Price (formerly of Louisville 
and Missouri), and while not as good of a shot-blocker as Okeke and Cooks, his 
size (6’10”, 250 lbs) also helps WU defend around the basket pretty well. 

Winthrop’s Weaknesses: 
Unfortunately for the Eagles, aside from blocking shots, the defense hasn’t been 
very good so far this year.  Opponents have been able to get a lot of open looks 
from outside so far this year, and also able to drive around WU’s guards and 
draw fouls (especially teams that have Power-5 level talent…UGA and NC State 
lived at the FT line against WU).  Also, the Eagles are one of the worst teams 
in the country at forcing turnovers, so not only do opposing offenses get 
comfortable against the WU defense because of that, the Eagles are unable to 
create easy fast-break buckets.  Also, Winthrop is not a great rebounding team. 

Impressions of Alabama: 
I was really intrigued by the hire of Avery Johnson in the offseason.  
Obviously, as a Winthrop fan, I was keeping a close eye on the Alabama job 
opening since Gregg Marshall was a name being mentioned for a while.  But other 
than that, I can’t say I’ve paid much attention to the Alabama program in recent 
seasons, so I don’t know much about it, other than it felt like the program just 
never could turn the corner with Anthony Grant.  It’s obvious that Alabama still 
defends well, which has been the one area that the Tide has really exceled at 
over the last several years.  And the results this season have been good for you 
guys…wins over Wichita State and Notre Dame in Orlando are impressive, and a 
road win at Clemson is solid as well.  The two losses were to two very good 
teams, so at this point, I’ve been impressed with what the Tide has accomplished 
under Johnson, especially since you guys haven’t had many home games yet. 
Also, I’m interested to see Michael Kessens play again.  In his one year at 
Longwood, he played against Winthrop once, and played a very good game, scoring 
15 points in an upset win over the Eagles. 

Thoughts on the Upcoming Game: 
Winthrop is still a bit of an unknown product.  The Eagles have won the games 
they should win (though not always comfortably) and lost the games you’d expect 
them to lose (though the losses to UGA and NC State were pretty competitive 
games, WU did not look overmatched in either game).  Coming into the year, this 
looked to be the ‘easiest’ of the three ‘money’ games that WU had on the 
schedule, since UGA and NC State were both coming off NCAA tournament 
appearances and Alabama had a new coach.  But to this point, Alabama has had the 
more impressive season out of those three teams, so WU will have to play its 
best game of the season to have a chance to win.  As a WU fan, I’m encouraged 
that Alabama isn’t nearly as good at getting to the FT line as some of WU’s 
other opponents have been (and especially now with Ingram out)…also, while very 
good defensively, teams have shot well from outside against the Tide at times, 
and WU is capable of hitting 12+ threes in a game.  Alabama also does not appear 
to be a good rebounding team, so that’s an area where WU can sometimes get hurt, 
but I’m not sure you guys are capable of hurting WU in that area as much as 
other teams.  All that being said, WU’s going to have a hard time slowing down 
Obasohan, and if the Eagles can’t get threes to fall, they’ll have trouble 
getting points against this Alabama defense. 
The last time these two teams played was 10 years ago, in a very good game which 
the Tide won, 60-57.  I’m hoping this year’s game is just as competitive, and 
also hopeful that WU can come out on top this time around. 

It may come down to our ability to make shots, both from the perimeter and the free throw line.  This game worries me, in addition to Winthrop being a pretty good team, it appears as the dreaded "sandwich game" on our schedule, coming off a road win at Clemson and with a heavily anticipated matchup with Oregon looming early next week.  We need to bring our A game.

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