After Winthrop began the season 16-0, people started asking the question “Could the Big South be a two-bid league?” That was all shot down after UNC Asheville beat the Eagles in late January.
Regardless, Winthrop is the clear favorite in the league, even with challenges ahead. The Eagles did not dominate in all their games, struggling against teams like Campbell and High Point.
The league has loads of star power, so if a John-Michael Wright (High Point) or Davion Warren (Hampton) go off, we could have chaos in the Big South Tournament. We’ve already seen one team (Charleston Southern) drop out due to COVID-19 concerns.
Note: All games at higher seed. All game times are Eastern.
First Round (Sat., Feb. 27), ESPN3
Game 1: No. 10 Presbyterian vs. No. 7 Hampton, 2 p.m.
Game 2: No. 9 USC Upstate vs. No. 8 High Point, 4 p.m.
Quarterfinals (Mon., March 1), ESPN3
Game 3: Game 1 winner vs. No. 2 Radford, 6 p.m.
Game 4: Game 2 winner vs. No. 1 Winthrop, 6 p.m.
Game 5: No. 5 Longwood vs. No. 4 UNC Asheville, 7 p.m.
Game 6: No. 6 Gardner-Webb vs. No. 3 Campbell, 7 p.m.
Semifinals (Thur., March 4), ESPN+
Game 7: Game 3 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 6/7 p.m.
Game 8: Game 4 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 6/7 p.m.
Finals (Sat, March 7), ESPN
Game 9: Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner, Noon
Winthrop (20-1, 17-1): After starting the season 16-0, the Eagles were getting national attention. They have since lost and the attention has cooled down, though their play has not. Potential Big South Player of the Year, Chandler Vaudrin has scored in double digits in seven of his last eight games, and 2020 Rookie of the Year DJ Burns has dominated in the last two series, averaging 14 points per game. The Eagles also probably have the Big South’s Sixth Man of the Year in Adonis Arms. Arms averages 10.7 points per game, ranking in the top 50 nationally in percentage of shots taken, percentage of possessions used, and defensive rebounding advantage. He has not even started a game this season.
Winthrop is an offensive juggernaut, scoring less than 70 only twice, with one being their loss against Asheville. The Eagles rank in the top 100 of six KenPom offensive categories, including 68th in effective field goal percentage and 14th in offensive rebounding percentage.
Although not really being challenged in the non-conference schedule, Winthrop beat three solid mid-major teams in UNCG, Little Rock, and Furman. Given the right matchup, the Eagles could make an NCAA Tournament run.
The Dark Horses
Radford (14-11, 12-6): Mike Jones has made Radford into a must-watch team come March. The Highlanders are always good for a run, and they have the keys to do it again. Freshman Fah’Mir Ali leads the way this season, averaging 10.5 points per game. Behind him, they simply have seven players who are great contributors with no one real star. Their calling card is play around the basket and free throw shooting, which is the reason why they kept Winthrop to their lowest offensive output of the season when the two teams met earlier this month. Radford ranks in the top 55 nationally in two-point percentage, offensive rebounding percentage, and free throw percentage. Radford will need someone to step up though, as it’s lost its last four Big South games, with all but one being by double digits.
Campbell (15-9, 11-6): They might’ve gotten swept by both Radford and Winthrop, but the Camels have beaten everyone else. Cedric Henderson Jr. is having a Big South Player of the Year type of season, averaging 16 points per game. He has scored in double digits in the Camels’ last 13 games, where they gone 10-3, including a current seven-game winning streak. Right behind him, Jordan Whitfield is averaging 14.5 points per game. Just like both Radford and Winthrop, the Camels are one of the better effective field goal teams in the country, ranking 16th. They also rank in the top 35 of both three-point and two-point percentage, and have the player with the top free throw rate in the country in Ricky Clemons. When the Camels make their shots, they’re deadly.
UNC Asheville (10-9, 9-5): UNC Asheville is the only team to beat Winthrop this year. The Bulldogs are another one of those great field goal shooting teams, ranking 31st in the country in effective field goal percentage. This is due in large part to three double-digit scorers in Taijon Jones, Devon Baker, and LJ Thorpe. Jones leads the way with 16 points per game, ranking in the top 100 nationally of turnover rate, effective field goal percentage, offensive rating, and true shooting percentage. Baker really found his stride before the team went into lockdown, scoring 15-plus in the last four games. Thorpe is the team’s major contributor on KenPom, leading the team in percentage of possessions used, and averaging 11.9 points per game. Along with these three, Evan Clayborne and Lavar Batts rank in the top 65 nationally of block and steal percentage, respectively. Their problem is that they’ve been on COVID-19 shutdown since the Winthrop game to end January.
The Long Shots
Longwood (11-15, 10-10): Before its loss to Hampton on Wednesday, the Lancers had won eight of nine, which included a five-game winning streak. Griff Aldrich has the team moving in the right direction.
Gardner-Webb (11-14, 10-10): The Runnin’ Bulldogs are on a three-game winning streak and are one of those teams with a bevy of stars. Jaheam Cornwall has really broke out this season, averaging 14.3 points per game. Jacob Falko has scored 18 in two of his last three games. Imagine the talk on this team if Duke did not baby out of playing them…
Hampton (10-13, 9-9): Hampton always seems to have one or two players who averages 20 points per game, and this season it is Davion Warren. Warren has only scored single-digits once this season, as he has shot 45.8% en route to 21.3 points per game. To accompany him, Russell Dean ranks 62nd in the country in assist rate and 66th in free throw rate. Chris Shelton might not score all that much, averaging 10.3 points per game, but he ranks in the top 20 of the nation in effective field goal percentage, true shooting percentage, and three-point percentage. Dajour Dickens has the team as the ranked first in the nation in block percentage as well. The Pirates’ only problem is finding a way to put all of this together.
High Point (8-14, 6-11): High Point was the last team to see Winthrop, and it challenged the Eagles. Sophomore John-Michael Wright has put himself in Big South Player of the Year contention as well, averaging 20.8 points per game, and only scoring single digits once this season.
Players to Watch:
Chandler Vaudrin, Winthrop (12.3 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 6.7 APG, 46.5% FG%)
Adonis Arms, Winthrop (10.7 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 40.4% FG%)
D.J. Burns Jr., Winthrop (9.6 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 56.4% FG%)
Fah’Mir Ali, Radford (10.5 PPG, 3.6 APG, 37.9% FG%)
Lewis Djonkam, Radford (9.0 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 62.6% FG%)
Cedric Henderson Jr., Campbell (16.0 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 51.3% FG%)
Jordan Whitfield, Campbell (14.5 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 49.6% FG%)
Taijon Jones, UNC Asheville (16.0 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 47.5 FG%)
Devon Baker, UNC Asheville (13.3 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 52.9 FG%)
LJ Thorpe, UNC Asheville (11.9 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 50.3% FG%)
Jaheam Cornwall, Gardner-Webb (14.3 PPG, 3.8 APG, 44.4% FG%)
Jacob Falko, Gardner-Webb (10.0 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 41.4% FG%)
Davion Warren, Hampton (21.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 45.8% FG%)
Dajour Dickens, Hampton (7.0 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 55.0% FG%)
John-Michael Wright, High Point (20.8 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 42.2% FG%)
Tommy Bruner, USC Upstate (13.6 PPG, 4.0 APG, 40.5%FG%)
Rayshon Harrison, Presbyterian (17.5 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 39.9% FG%)
Winthrop and Gardner-Webb will play in a championship game to remember, and the Eagles pull out a tight 68-66 victory.