2018-19 MBB Schedule Release

This probably won’t be as thorough as I’d like it to be, but I did want to take a quick glance at Winthrop’s men’s basketball schedule that was released yesterday (Sept. 18th).  It was released on Twitter (and possibly Instagram, I’m not on there) via the official WU men’s basketball feed, though there hasn’t been a true press release and the schedule isn’t yet showing on the WU website.  But if you haven’t seen it yet, you can see it here: 

Non-Conference Games:

11/6 – @ Vanderbilt (last season: 12-20 overall; 6-12 in SEC; KenPom/RPI ranking: 91/131): Vandy is the only current SEC team that the Eagles have never faced.  WU will open the season in one of the strangest venues in the country (court is slightly elevated and the benches are on the baselines).  Vandy wasn’t very good last year, but Bryce Drew is bringing in the #13 ranked recruiting class (according to 247sports).  But with the Commodores likely relying heavily on a few 4 & 5 star freshmen, they may take a little while to gel, so this could be an opportunity for WU to knock off a major conference team.

Nov. 10 – @ SIU-Edwardsville (last season: 9-21 overall; 5-13 in OVC; KenPom/RPI ranking: 318/288): SIUE is another new opponent, and they have only been a D1 team for about a decade…road games are never sure things, but this is a game that WU should be favored in, though I honestly know nothing about the team that the Cougars are bringing back from last season.

Nov. 13 – Pfeiffer (D-III): WU played Pfeiffer to start the 2014-15 season, but the Falcons were a D-II team at that point and transitioned to D-III last season.  There could be records broken in this home opener, as Pfeiffer plays a very up-tempo style (they averaged more possessions/game than the Duggar-era VMI teams) and shoot a ton of threes.  They averaged 110 points/game last season.  WU’s top-scoring game in program history is 132 points vs. Morris in 1985….that record may get tested in this one.

Nov. 17 – East Tennessee State (last season: 25-9 overall; 14-4 in SoCon; KenPom/RPI ranking: 93/93): WU’s Homecoming opponent is no pushover, as one of the top programs in the SoCon comes to town.  Steve Forbes is known as one of the top young coaches in the nation.  He has some key seniors to replace, but the Buccaneers are sure to still be talented and dangerous.

Nov. 21 – @ Kentucky (last season: 26-11 overall; 10-8 in SEC; KenPom/RPI ranking: 17/12): Some publications have the Wildcats as the #1 team in the nation going into the season…so needless to say, this will be a major challenge for the Eagles on Thanksgiving Eve at Rupp Arena.

Nov. 24 – Central Penn (USCAA) – These two teams faced each other last season, with WU winning 106-65.

Nov. 28 – @ Tennessee Tech (last season: 19-14 overall; 10-8 in OVC; KenPom/RPI ranking: 219/160): WU has never faced Tennessee Tech.  The Golden Eagles have been a bit up and down in the 7 seasons that Steve Payne has been head coach, and I’m not sure how good/bad they are expected to be this year.

Dec. 4 – @ Davidson (last season: 21-12 overall; 13-5 in A-10; KenPom/RPI ranking: 43/56): I wish WU and Davidson faced each other every year.  This will be a tough test for WU, as the Wildcats are very talented, even with Peyton Aldridge graduating.  Kellan Grady and Jon Axel Gudmundsson anchor a very efficient offensive team and you know that Bob McKillop will have this team coached well.

Dec. 16 – Hiwassee (NCCAA) – Yeah, I don’t know anything about them either (though I just learned that Hiwassee is located in Madisonville, TN)…hopefully will be a good chance for WU to knock off the rust after the exam break.

Dec. 20 – Maryland-Eastern Shore (last season: 7-25 overall; 3-13 in MEAC; KenPom/RPI ranking: 349/347): UMES was one of the worst teams in D1 last season, and that likely caused the contract of head coach Bobby Collins to not be renewed in late March.  In a curious decision, UMES named Clifford Reed (who was the associate head coach under Collins) the interim head coach for the entire 2018-19 season, and they will look to hire their next permanent coach after this season is completed.

Dec. 22 – @ Southern Illinois (last season: 20-13 overall; 11-7 in MVC; KenPom/RPI ranking: 135/97): SIU came to the Coliseum last season to open the season, and handled the Eagles pretty easily, 81-66.  The Eagles will try to get revenge in Carbondale this year, though there will be a quick turnaround from a home game two days before this leading into the trip to IL.

Dec. 29 – Prairie View A&M (last season: 16-18 overall; 12-6 in SWAC; KenPom/RPI ranking: 269/245): Prairie View finished tied for 2nd last year in the SWAC.  This is another new opponent for the Eagles, and I can’t say I know much about their expectations for this season.  This is right in the middle of Winter Break, so the crowd will likely be very light for this one.

Jan. 1 – @ Florida State (last season: 23-12 overall; 9-9 in ACC; KenPom/RPI ranking: 27/35): WU closes out the non-conference with a very difficult matchup against the Seminoles, who will likely start the season as a ranked team.  Maybe the FSU players will party hard on New Year’s Eve…

As a whole, this seems to be a pretty decent non-conference slate, with a good balance of opponents.  The home slate doesn’t really have any names that wow you, but that’s nothing new.  ETSU, while not having a big name, is a very good opponent to bring to the Coliseum, especially for Homecoming.  It is a bit odd, though, that Davidson is the only D1 team from the states of SC/NC/GA/VA that WU faces in the non-conference portion of the schedule, so if you are the type of person that likes to travel around to follow the Eagles, this isn’t an easy schedule to accommodate that, with Davidson being the only nearby foe.

Big South Conference Games:

I won’t break down the full conference schedule, but it is important to note that the league (which stands at 11 members) is only scheduling 16 conference games for each team this season.  This is likely a residual effect of Liberty leaving the conference back in June.  My assumption is that the Big South was going to have the 12-team division setup when they thought that the Flames were still going to be around.  With that setup, a 16-game schedule works pretty well.  With LU leaving with so little notice, Big South teams likely already had some non-conference games lined up, making a transition to 18 or 20 conference games impossible at that point.  So this year, scheduling will be very uneven, as each team will play 4 opponents once, and 6 opponents twice.  For WU, the Eagles will not have to travel to Longwood or High Point this season.  Also, Campbell and USC Upstate will not be coming to the Coliseum.


Xavier Cooks to play in NBA Summer League

Winthrop basketball alum Xavier Cooks wrapped up an amazing career as an Eagle this spring, and he’ll now take the first step of his professional career as he’s reportedly going to play for the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Summer League.  Golden State has not officially released a roster yet, but based on information from HoopsHype, Cooks will join some young Warriors (such as Jordan Bell, Damian Jones, and first-round draft pick Jacob Evans) and a big batch undrafted players, all having the hope of making an NBA training camp roster in the fall.

The Warriors will take part in two different leagues this summer.  The first will be the California Classic Summer League in Sacramento, which is a small four-team event that starts on Monday, July 2nd.  That will be immediately followed by the MGM Resorts NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, in which all 30 NBA teams will participate in beginning on Friday, July 6th.  This participation in two different leagues gives Cooks an opportunity to play in more games than the average player, as Golden State will play in three games in Sacramento and at least five games in Vegas.  Here’s the schedule (all times EDT):

California Classic (Sacramento)
Monday, July 2nd – vs. Miami Heat, 9pm (NBA TV)
Tuesday, July 3rd – vs. Sacramento Kings, 11pm (NBA TV)
Thursday, July 5th – vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 3pm (NBA TV)

NBA Summer League (Las Vegas)
Friday, July 6th – vs. Los Angeles Clippers, 11:30pm (ESPN)
Sunday, July 8th – vs. Houston Rockets, 7:30pm (ESPN2)
Monday, July 9th – vs. Dallas Mavericks, 7:30pm (NBA TV)
Plus at least two tournament/consolation games between July 11 and July 17

It’s way too early in the process to really take a look at Cooks’ chances of landing on the regular season roster.  We have to see how he looks in the Summer League, and then see how things shake out in free agency to see what the Golden State roster looks like going into training camp.  Also, the Summer League gives Xavier a chance to have all 30 NBA teams watch him play, so even if the Warriors don’t have a spot for him, it doesn’t stop him from landing an opportunity with another franchise.  But the Warriors actually may give Cooks one of the better chances he has at getting a shot at a roster spot.  Even when you include Kevin Durant (who will be a free agent, but is almost surely going to re-sign with Golden State) and Jacob Evans (who was their first round draft pick, and will likely sign soon), the Warriors only have 10 players locked up for next year, which leaves five full roster spots, and two 2-way NBA/G-League spots open.  Some of those spots will likely be filled via free agency in July (whether by re-signing their own free agents or by bringing in someone new), but given their current salary situation with their top players tying up most of their cap, the Warriors are a team that is likely to have at least a couple of rookies on the final roster this fall.

By my memory and some digging around the interwebs, I believe that Cooks will be the 7th WU player to participate in one of the NBA Summer Leagues. Here are the six prior players:

Pierre Wooten (2004 with the Charlotte Bobcats & 2006 with the New Orleans Hornets)
Craig Bradshaw (2007 with the Atlanta Hawks)
Torrell Martin (2007 with the Orlando Magic)
Taj McCullough (2008 with the Washington Wizards)
Michael Jenkins (2014 with the Brooklyn Nets)
Jimmy Gavin (2016 with the Orlando Magic)

And that Summer League experience has led to some training camp and preseason roster spots for WU alums, with Martin getting signed by the Magic and playing in 2 preseason games in 2007, McCullough getting signed by the Wizards and playing in 2 preseason games in 2008, and Jenkins getting signed by the Oklahoma City Thunder and playing in 7 preseason games in 2014.  None of these guys ended up making a regular season NBA roster (yet…Jenkins is still playing in Europe), but they all got on the door-step.  Cooks still has a long road ahead if he wants to become the first WU player to make an NBA regular season roster, but the Summer League is a great launching pad for getting that opportunity.

Wrapping up 2017-18

Before we head into the summer and on into a post-Liberty world next year, I need to take a few minutes to wrap up what happened in WU athletics over the last week.

Lauren Proctor & Megan Kauffman are Elite
It wasn’t enough for Lauren Proctor and Megan Kauffman to become the first WU athletes to get selected as individuals to the NCAA Tennis Tournament, they also won two matches, advancing to the quarterfinals (or Elite 8) of the doubles tournament last week.  In the first round, the Eagle duo was matched up against Georgia’s Elena Christofi and Morgan Coppoc.  The match did not start well at all, as UGA’s team won the first set, 6-0.  But Proctor and Kauffman bounced back, winning the 2nd set, 6-2, and then winning the third set tiebreaker, 10-7.  Proctor/Kauffman followed that up the next day against Wake Forest’s Emma Davis and Chandler Carter, who were playing on their home court.  Again, the team from Winthrop had to come from behind after dropping the first set, 6-4.  But they won the second set, 6-4, and then won the third set tiebreaker, 10-7.  In the quarterfinals, Oklahoma State’s team of Vladica Babic and Sofia Blanco won 6-3, 6-2, to eliminate the magical run by the Eagles.  The Babic/Blanco duo ended up making it all the way to the Finals before losing.

That amazing run in the Doubles tournament followed Proctor’s appearance in the NCAA Singles tournament.  Proctor faced Idaho’s Marianna Petrei, and fell in a back-and-forth match, 4-6, 6-0, 2-6.

In the final ITA tennis rankings, the Proctor/Kauffman team finished ranked #16 in doubles, Proctor finished #41 in singles, and the Winthrop team is #57 in the nation.

Quemell Brave Competes in the NCAA East Prelims
In Tampa last week, WU’s Quemell Brave represented the Eagles at the NCAA Track and Field East Preliminary Round.  It was Brave’s second NCAA appearance, and he finished in 28th place in the long jump, improving from his 33rd place finish a year ago.  Brave’s first jump (out of three total jumps) was his best, as he jumped 7.36m.

Big South Baseball Tournament
The Eagles saw their season come to an end in Lynchburg as they went 1-2 in the Big South Tournament.  WU opened up with a 7-5 loss to Gardner-Webb, but then were able to bounce back with a 7-4 win over Longwood.  The Eagles got another chance against GWU, but the Runnin’ Bulldogs won again, this time by a 5-4 score.  Campbell ended up winning the tournament and got placed in the Athens regional for the upcoming NCAA Tournament.  As for the WU baseball program, you can see where it stands in a recent blog post I wrote before the tournament.

Winthrop Baseball Status Report

I wanted to get this article posted before the Big South baseball tournament gets started on Tuesday, May 22 (though I may be a little late in getting it up before the first game starts).  Once the tournament starts, I don’t want to worry about big picture questions, I just want to watch the Eagles play (unfortunately on-line…I can’t make it to Lynchburg) and hope to see the squad lift the trophy on Saturday and get back to the NCAAs…but I feel like this is an article that needed to be written, no matter if WU goes 0-2 this week, or wins the whole thing.  So before I get into the main reason for the article, make sure to check the Eagles out as they start their tournament journey on Tuesday night, probably around 8:30pm or so, against Gardner-Webb.

The Eagles enter this year’s tournament as the #4 seed, finishing the regular season with a 15-12 Big South record, and 24-29 overall.  This is a bit of a surprise as the Eagles were voted as the conference’s preseason favorite (by a pretty healthy margin), which was the first time since 2007 that WU was picked to win the league.  The team had high expectations this year, with even some hope that the team could get in the at-large mix for the NCAAs, so that the team didn’t have to rely on winning the conference tournament, which given its format (and often due to weather delays) is often an unpredictable battle of pitching attrition.  Not only is the overall record under .500, but the team currently has an RPI ranking in the 190s…which puts it in range for the worst season-ending RPI for Winthrop in the last 20 years (the 2012-14 stretch also saw the team finish in the 180s-190s in the RPI).  Two of the last three seasons (2015 & 2017) were promising, with the Eagles finishing with 40 wins in 2015 and a 1st place regular season finish last year (and a top-100 RPI in each of those years) but the seasons surrounding those years have not been anywhere close to that good.  The last Winthrop baseball team to make the NCAA Tournament was in 2006, and that team made it with an at-large bid.  Since that season, the Eagles had that regular season title last year and finished first in the South Division in 2014 (though were under .500 overall that season).  Also since that last NCAA Tournament appearance, WU has had two appearances in the Big South Tournament title game, in 2009 (losing to Coastal Carolina) and 2014 (losing to Campbell).

Now for a history lesson: Winthrop won the Big South Tournament twice early in the conference’s history (1985 & 1987) before the league had an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.  WU would finally break through to the NCAAs in 1995 when the Eagles won the regular season title (there was no conference tournament that season) and had a good showing, winning their first two games of their Regional (which was 6 teams in that era) over Alabama and Richmond before dropping games to Clemson and Alabama to end their season.  The Eagles got back to the NCAAs in 1999, finishing 2nd in the Big South standings, and then winning the tournament in Conway (over Coastal in the Finals).  WU performed well again on the big stage, upsetting Tulane in the first game, the top seed of their region (and 1999 was the first season with the format that we currently have of 4-team Regionals), before dropping a close contest to Auburn, and then getting eliminated by Tulane.  Two years after that, the Eagles became the first team in Big South history to earn an at-large bid, making the 2001 NCAA Tournament as a #2 seed in their region, and winning a pair of games in the Regional before getting eliminated.

Not only was that 2001 season a landmark year due to earning the at-large bid, but that was also the year when most of the renovations to Winthrop Ballpark were made, which changed the venue for WU baseball from essentially a high school level field to a legitimate college stadium.  And after a rebuilding year in 2002 and then a couple of solid seasons in 2003 and 2004, the benefits of the new stadium, and the best seasons in WU baseball history came about in 2005 and 2006.  The teams of those seasons were both at-large caliber (though the ’05 team won the conference tournament anyway), each earning #2 seeds in the NCAA Regionals.  The 2005 team won its opening game of its Regional, before falling in a pair of one-run games to get eliminated.  And then the 2006 team won two games in the NCAAs before getting eliminated.  At that point in time, with the stadium, with multiple draft picks seemingly every season (including two players picked in the 2nd round of the 2005 MLB draft), and with competitive showings in the Regionals, it seemed like only a matter of time before WU would possibly be in the running to host a Regional and/or advance to a Super-Regional and possibly more.  At the same time, Coastal Carolina was on a similar trajectory (though they were a few years behind WU in updating their stadium), earning at-larges, winning 40-50 games in most years, having players picked in the early rounds of the draft, and knocking on the door of advancing further in the NCAAs.  Coastal had been a bit more consistent in the early part of the 2000s than WU, but the two programs were at very similar points if you took a snapshot in 2005.

So what happened after that?  Starting in 2007, Coastal made the NCAAs every year except for 2014, often earning #1 and #2 seeds, hosting Regionals at times, advancing to the Super Regionals (and hosting them) in 2010, and then going all the way in 2016, winning the National Championship.  And in that same time period, starting in 2007, WU has not made the NCAAs once.  I go over all of this history to show that the Winthrop program once proved to be at-large caliber, and that another program that was in a similar position 13 years ago proved that a team in the Big South can compete at the highest level of the sport.  Do I expect WU to replicate what Coastal did?  No…but I also don’t know what happened after 2006 to stall the progress of the program after it seemed like everything was moving in the right direction.  After that last NCAA Tournament appearance, WU had 2nd place finishes in the Big South in 2007 and 2009, but neither team was close to being in range to earning an at-large and both came up just a bit short in the conference tournament.  Then after a middle-of-the-pack, .500ish season in 2010, longtime WU coach Joe Hudak was fired (and it was a surprise to me…can’t speak for everyone else).  Hudak was the coach for 19 seasons, and was at the helm for WU’s five NCAA Tournament teams…but based on what AD Tom Hickman said in the article I just linked, he felt like the program wasn’t progressing like he expected given the stadium (which got extra bells and whistles in 2008 to complete the renovations started at the start of the decade) and the success the program saw in the middle part of the decade.

Tom Riginos was hired in 2010, and the first few seasons were rough…the transition to the new coaching staff seemed to take a while to smooth out, as there seemed to be a good bit of roster instability for a few years, and team struggled on the field.  The roster has stabilized quite a bit over the last 4-5 years, and the results in 2015 and 2017 were promising, as it appeared that program could be turning the corner to getting back to being a regular at/near the top of the standings in the Big South and possibly returning to the national picture.  But the consistency hasn’t been there.  The 2016 team was middle of the pack in the league and .500 overall, and this year’s team is under .500, and also middle of the pack.  One noticeable difference between the teams of this decade and the teams of the 2000s decade is when you look at the MLB draft.  In the 2000s, 14 WU players were selected in the draft, with 8 of those players being picked in the first 20 rounds.  In the 2010s, 7 WU players have been selected, with the highest pick being in the 22nd round.

I’m not deep enough in the college baseball scene to know what (if any) things have really changed in the last 10-15 years that may be affecting Winthrop in the big scheme of things.  Also, I don’t know what sort of budget or internal issues may be around the program that may make it more difficult to get back to the national rankings and the at-large picture.  So I’m not in position to say that WU should be exactly where Coastal is, or should be in the NCAAs every season.  But should there be as big of a gulf between the two programs as there is?  I don’t see any reason why there should be.  And with Coastal now out of the Big South (and with Liberty out after this year), the door is wide open for a new alpha dog to lead the league.  Is Winthrop in position to be that team?  Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that the Eagles are at that point (though I hope I’m wrong).

So that’s a long winding road to say that I do sincerely hope that WU has a great tournament this week, and can hold up the trophy on Liberty’s field in the Flames’ last event in their Big South tenure.  I’d like nothing more than to see Winthrop’s name back on the NCAA bracket after a long absence.  But I also think that AD Ken Halpin may have to take a long look at the program once this tournament is over, no matter the result (if he hasn’t done so already).  Eight years is plenty of time to determine if the right coach is in place (even though Halpin has only been around for the last two of those seasons)…and if WU leadership thinks it is time to make a change, I won’t be surprised, especially given the heights that the Winthrop baseball program has proven it can get to in the past.

WU Spring Update

Here are a variety of items that I wanted to touch on as the 2017-18 athletic season is in its final weeks…

WU Women’s Tennis Falls in 2nd Round of NCAAs
By now, I hope you’ve seen/heard about WU’s NCAA victory over Auburn.  The Eagles faced Georgia Tech in the 2nd Round, and fell 4-0 to the #4 nationally ranked Yellow Jackets.  While WU couldn’t pull off the upset, it was a solid showing, as Lauren Proctor was actually leading her match on the #1 Singles Court when the competition ended, and Alisa Soloveva was playing her match on the #2 Singles Court pretty much dead even.  And while the season is over for the Winthrop team, the Eagles will have representation in the individual NCAA tournament for the first time in school history later this month.  Starting on May 23rd in Winston-Salem, the NCAA Individual Tournaments will begin.  Proctor will compete in the Singles competition (which starts with 64 athletes in a single-elimination tournament).  Proctor will also be in the Doubles competition with Megan Kauffman (which starts with 32 doubles teams in a single-elimination tournament).  I don’t yet see a bracket/schedule for that tournament, but I’m sure it will be posted by the NCAA soon.  Best of luck to Lauren and Megan as they break new ground for the Winthrop program.

Track & Field Conference Champions…and the NCAAs
The Big South Outdoor Track & Field Championships were held last week at High Point, and in a few events, Eagle athletes stood at the top of the podium.  Olivia Paxton won the women’s 10000M race, finishing 10 seconds ahead of her nearest competitor (who in turn was over a minute ahead of the 3rd place finisher.  Jalen Hodges won the men’s high jump and Quemell Brave won the men’s long jump, which was a repeat of this year’s Big South Indoor Championship, which saw Hodges and Brave win those same events.  And based on a jump he had earlier in the season, Brave appears to be in line to compete at the NCAA East Preliminary Championship meet (the official selections will be released on May 17).  He competed in the East Prelims last year, finishing in 33rd place.  The East Prelims will be in Tampa this year, with the long jump scheduled to be held on Thursday, May 24 at 4:30pm.

Mark Cooke Retires
Winthrop softball finished in 6th place in the Big South regular season, which earned them the final tournament spot.  Unfortunately, the Eagles were eliminated on the first day of the tournament, going 0-2.  That marked the end of the 29-year career of head coach Mark Cooke, who had announced his retirement before the season.  The peak of Cooke’s tenure was when the Eagles won the Big South tournaments in 2007 and 2008, advancing to the NCAA Tournament.  The 2007 season in particular was special, as the team went 50-18 overall, and won two games in their NCAA regional (beating Furman and North Carolina) before falling in the regional finals to Tennessee.

Lacrosse Season Ends
WU lacrosse finished in 3rd place in the regular season standings, and then made it to the finals of the Big South tournament before falling to High Point in the championship game.  Nicole Beatson was named the Big South’s Offensive Player of the Year, as she led the league with 90 goals.

Nearing the Big South Baseball Tournament
The baseball regular season ends this weekend as WU hosts Liberty in a 3-game series.  WU enters the final weekend in 4th place with a 14-10 Big South record, and based on the results of these final series, could be seeded anywhere from 2nd-6th in next week’s conference tournament.  The tournament will be held at Liberty starting on May 22.

Jayson Gee Joins the WU Basketball Coaching Staff
With Mark Prosser becoming the head coach of Western Carolina, it left the WU coaching staff with a vacancy, which was recently filled as the Eagles hired Jayson Gee to become the associate head coach.  Gee should be a familiar name as he spent the last five seasons as the head coach at Longwood.

Looking at the 2018-19 WU Basketball Roster

Winthrop men’s basketball appears to have filled its final scholarship spot today, as Chandler Vaudrin announced that he has committed to play for the Eagles.  Vaudrin is a 6’7″ point-guard/point-forward that has played the last two seasons at D2 Walsh University.  His height and his stat profile make him appear to be a D2 version of Ben Simmons, as he had multiple triple-doubles, averaged 15.5 ppg, 9.3 rpg, and 7.5 apg, and doesn’t shoot much from outside (only made 5 3PT shots in 25 attempts).  He’ll have to sit out this upcoming season, and then will be eligible for two more.  The year off should help him get used to the speed/size of the D1 game, and hopefully can get him to improve his outside shot (and he alludes to some of that in this article).  WU has had a lot of success with D2 transfers in the past, as Keon Moore, Jimmy Gavin, and Rod Perkins all came from D2 schools before being major contributors for the Eagles.  You can see some highlights of Vaudrin on YouTube.

Vaudrin is the second commitment for the Eagles this spring, joining Michael Anumba (which I mentioned in an earlier blog-post).  Assuming that none of the returning players leave (and so far, I have not heard of any transfers), then all 13 scholarship spots are now accounted for.  Here’s a rough run-down of the roster, first by class, and then by a very rough/approximate depth chart:

Seniors: Bjorn Broman, Adam Pickett, Nych Smith, Jermaine Ukaegbu, Austin Awad
Juniors: Josh Ferguson, Chandler Vaudrin (will sit out this year)
Sophomores: Kyle Zunic, Charles Falden, Raivis Scerbinskis, Tom Pupavac
Freshmen: Keondre Schumacher, Michael Anumba

PG: Broman, Smith, Schumacher
SG: Pickett, Anumba
SF: Zunic, Falden
PF: Ukaegbu, Awad, Scerbinskis
C: Ferguson, Pupavac
Redshirt: Vaudrin

Given Pat Kelsey’s system, and especially with the make-up of this roster at this time, the PG, SG, and SF spots are more or less interchangeable, so don’t get too caught up in who I have in each spot, as I’d expect three of those seven guys will be on the court most of the time in pretty much any combination.  WU is pretty thin up front, as Awad and Scerbinskis will play mostly on the perimeter (though will likely guard opposing PFs), and Scerbinskis and Pupavac did not play much at all as freshmen.  That puts a lot of pressure on Ferguson to stay out of foul trouble and to be the primary post threat.

Another interesting aspect of the roster for this season will be the walk-ons.  The Eagles graduated all four walk-ons from last year’s team, and that was a group, along with Hunter Sadlon who graduated the prior season, that was together for a long time.  Kelsey always praised that group for how valuable they were as a scout team in practice, so I would expect that he would like to bring together another group of walk-ons to replicate what Mitch Hill, Kellen Blake, Freddy Poole, Matt Erps, and Sadlon provided for the last few years.  It will be interesting to see how that part of the roster gets filled in the fall.

As we move through the summer into the fall, I’ll update if anything changes with the roster, and eventually will take a deeper look into what we should expect from this group during the season.

WU Women’s Tennis Gets Historic Victory

I intended on writing up a blog post in honor of Winthrop women’s tennis winning its 20th conference tournament title last month, but for some reason, I neglected to do it.  It’s easy to joke about how routine that Coach Cid Carvalho makes it look to win Big South titles almost every year, but just because it does happen so often doesn’t mean the feat shouldn’t be properly celebrated.  So I dropped the ball on that one…but no matter the result in the NCAA Tournament, the program winning its 20th Big South title is an amazing accomplishment.

With all that being said, on Friday, May 11 in Atlanta, the Eagles finally broke through a barrier that at times felt so difficult to break through…WU defeated Auburn in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, 4-3!

Tennis is a sport, especially in a team setting, where the more talented squad typically wins.  If one program has the advantage at each match, it’s difficult to pull off four upsets on the way to a victory.  So in WU’s earlier days of getting to the NCAAs, even if they were dominant in the Big South, they generally had to face one of the top programs in the country, and were severely overmatched in just about every matchup…which led to many 4-0 losses.  This year marked WU’s 16th NCAA appearance (unfortunately, they didn’t earn an automatic bid in their first four championship seasons), and the Eagles had been steadily making progress over the years, finally winning an individual match for the first time in 2014, and then winning two matches in 2016 and one again last year.  And just as impressively, WU’s depth on the roster was starting to show, as the Eagles were competing better across all matches, even in losses.

This year, WU drew Auburn in the first round.  The good news is that Auburn wasn’t a host team, so the Eagles would be playing a neutral court match.  The bad news is that Auburn came into the match ranked #20 in the country.  And the Eagles dropped the doubles point, losing on courts #2 & #3 (even though the nationally ranked pair of Lauren Proctor and Megan Kauffman were leading on court #1 when the doubles point was decided)….if I had to give you the road-map for a WU victory in the NCAAs, I would have had to think that a win in the doubles point would be almost necessary, as it is a tall task to beat the #20 team in 4 of the 6 singles matches.  But that’s what WU was able to do.  Proctor is ranked #37 in the country in singles, and she showed it, winning in straight sets on Court #1.  Alisa Soloveva also won in straight sets, beating the #56 ranked player in the country on Court #2.  Tayla Van Eck (on Court #4) and Kauffman (on Court #3) battled well in their matches, but neither was able to take a set in their losses.  However, Ellie Burns won in impressive fashion (6-2, 6-2) to tie the match on Court #6.  The deciding match was on Court #5, with Aida Kelic dropping the first set, 6-2, but bouncing back to hold on and win the second set, 6-4.  In a tense final set, Kelic missed out on an opportunity to close out the match when leading with the serve, 5-4, but she was able to break her opponent again, and serve for the win, winning the final set 7-5.

Not only is this victory an amazing accomplishment for the Winthrop program, but it is also the first time in Big South history that any tennis team (men’s or women’s) has advanced in the NCAA Tournament.  The Eagles get very little time to celebrate though, as their second round match is the next day, Saturday, May 12, at 1:00pm.  They’ll likely face Georgia Tech, the #4 ranked team in the nation, who is currently facing Eastern Kentucky in the first round as I type this.  That will be an even taller task than the match against Auburn, but now that WU has finally broken through, they can play with very little pressure and hopefully pull off another historic feat.  But no matter the result in the second round, it’s been an amazing season for the team, and the steady progression of the program under Coach Cid has been remarkable.