An absolutely thrilling Big South tournament concludes Sunday with top seed and host school Winthrop taking on the seventh-seeded Campbell Camels. This is Campbell’s first trip to the championship round since 1994 (although they left the league for 16 years immediately after), and this is the fourth consecutive year Winthrop has made it this far, only to fall short the previous three years.
How to watch
Sunday March 5, 1PM EST, ESPN
How did they get here?
Top-seeded Winthrop has hosted every game they’ve played in this tournament, dispatching 8-seed Charleston Southern with relative ease in the quarterfinals and winning an exhilarating nail biter in OT vs 4-seed Gardner Webb to move on to the title game. Seventh-seeded Campbell had a longer path, as they hosted 10-seed Presbyterian before joining the tournament in Rock Hill. The Camels blew out the Blue Hose, then upset 2-seed UNC Asheville thanks to star guard Chris Clemons’ 51 points. The upset of the defending champs and Clemons’ performance have been one of the early defining moments of this March. Campbell didn’t suffer any letdown against Radford in the semis, easing past the 6-seed to take their spot in the championship round.
5 Reason why Winthrop can win
- Keon Johnson. The diminutive high scoring guard became just the second player in Big South tournament history with back to back 30+ point performances (of course Clemons was the first to do it just a few hours prior). Johnson can shoot and he’s fearless finishing at the rim. Truly one of the superstars of mid-major college basketball.
- Experience. Winthrop has been here three times in the last three years, and come up short each time—twice on a road floor and last year on a neutral (ironically in Campbell’s gym). The Eagles are at home this time around, and a slew of seniors (Johnson, Josh Davenport, Roderick Perkins, Tevin Prescott) and juniors (Xavier Cooks, Duby Okeke) want to exorcise those years of heartbreak.
- Xavier Cooks. The 6’8 junior is a match up nightmare for the Camels because of his length, athleticism, and mobility. Cooks can play anywhere from the wing to the 5, and can switch out on the perimeter defensively.
- Familiarity. Winthrop swept the season series, holding the Camels to under 1.00 points per possession in both games. Campbell coach Kevin McGeehan likes to utilize a lot of Princeton style motion within his offense (less so in this tournament though), and Winthrop’s familiarity with that scheme is a big plus. It also helps that they have versatile defenders like Cooks and Davenport who can snuff out the myriad of screens with their length.
- Health. Winthrop is relatively healthy, Campbell isn’t. Senior guard Kyre’ Hamer aggravated a shoulder injury against UNCA, and sat out the semifinal game against Radford. Hamer is a senior leader, a very good shooter, and excellent perimeter defender. The Camels will miss him if he can’t suit up Sunday afternoon. Additionally, the Camels have had to play one more game this tournament than Winthrop, and they don’t have the same depth as the Eagles, especially if Hamer can’t play.
5 Reasons why Campbell can win
- Chris Clemons. His exploits this tournament have been well documented and he has entered March lore. In three games, he’s poured in 111 points with a dazzling array of 30 footers, step back jumpers, runners, leaners, acrobatic finishes at the rim...Clemons has been nothing short of spectacular this tournament and has the look of a player who can drag his team past the finish line.
- The “playing with house money” phenomenon. Campbell wasn’t expected to be here. Winthrop was. Winthrop has the pressure of three straight title game losses and the expectations of the home crowd. The Camels could very well be the looser, more relaxed team on Sunday.
- Cohesion. McGeehan welcomed several new faces to the roster this year, and both of his offensive and defensive schemes require a lot of familiarity and fluid knowledge. The Camels could simply be gelling at the right time. Well, that and Chris Clemons could be Superman.
- Interior defense. Sophomore Andrew Eudy has been protecting the paint like a man possessed this tournament, a marked improvement for a team that could get torched inside routinely during the regular season. Defending against Cooks and his mobility is an entirely different animal, however.
- Pace. While Campbell did indeed get swept in the regular season, they were able to hold the uptempo Eagles to games that were roughly seven possessions slower than they typically play. In fact only Liberty’s pack line played Winthrop slower this year. If the Camels have the game in their wheelhouse with this level of confidence, things could get dicey for Winthrop.
It honestly doesn’t get much better than Keon Johnson vs Chris Clemons with a conference title and dance ticket on the line. Winthrop’s experience, home court advantage, and ability to disrupt Clemons with length on the perimeter leads to a 74-70 Winthrop win.