By: James Marshall
The Winthrop Eagles are nothing short of dominant in Big South play, closing the regular season with a 20-1 record. Led by senior Chandler Vaudrin, the Eagles have earned every bit of their high price to win this tournament. However, will anyone be able to upset the Eagles and punch their ticket to the Big Dance?
It would be unfair to talk about teams who could upset Winthrop without mentioning the one that did, the UNC Ashville Bulldogs. Thanks to horrendous shooting from Winthrop, UNC Ashville edged out a 57-55 win, despite a quiet night from Tajion Jones. Winthrop also struggled from the free throw line more than usual, shooting a dreadful 57% from the charity stripe. For UNC Ashville, the recipe is laid out: hold Winthrop to 30% shooting from the field and a big game from Tajion Jones could see the Bulldogs upsetting the Eagles in the semifinals. Jones will be a big name to watch for against Longwood, as he led the Eagles with 16 points per game, good enough to finish top five in Big South scoring this season.
Another team to watch out for is the Hampton Pirates. Hampton avoided Winthrop this year thanks to three cancellations, but don’t think Edward Joyner won’t be looking to avenge their loss from the last time these two met, when Winthrop defeated Hampton in the conference championship in an unlikely two versus five seed meeting. Although Hampton has a tough hill to climb as a seven seed, Davion Warren is the guy the Pirates need. Warren averaged 21.2 points per game this season, finishing as the conference’s top scorer. Warren is a solid all-around guard who loves to finish at the rim and make contested shots. If Warren is locked in, look for the Pirates to make another upset run.
Unfortunately for these two squads, I think Winthrop is too deep and dominant for anyone else to compete with them. As long as Winthrop can avoid the nightmare that happened against UNC Ashville, they should be able to punch their NCAA Tournament ticket. The Eagles could avoid playing anyone with a winning record until the championship, where they will likely see Radford, a team they’ve beaten handily twice this season. Vaudrin, the Big South Player of the Year, will be looking to lead his team to back-to-back conference championships and a solid 13 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Edited by Tyler Kading