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Team Profile: 2007 BracketBuster Preview: Winthrop at Missouri State

by Matthew Stevens | February 11th, 2007

The opening matchup of the 2007 BracketBuster is exactly what the founders of the event had in mind when they came up with the idea for the event back in 2003: two highly-rated, highly-respected mid-majors battling on national television for a major, major win in the eyes of the NCAA Selection Committee. Given where these two teams stand right now, this February non-conference game represents the most important 40 minutes of each team’s season.Missouri State (19-7, 10-5) is one of five Missouri Valley teams fighting for what are likely three or four NCAA Tournament bids. A win in this contest would make it awfully difficult for the Selection Committee to snub the Bears for a second consecutive year.

“This has got all the makings of a heck of a game,” Missouri State head coach Barry Hinson said in the Feb. 6 media teleconference. “We think Winthrop is a great test and great game.”

Winthrop’s NCAA at-large case is even more intriguing. Let’s assume for argument’s sake that Greg Marshall’s squad (currently undefeated in the Big South Conference) doesn’t win the Big South Tournament (sorry, Eagles fans, but remember this is a hypothetical). Winthrop (20-4, 10-0) is not a slam dunk as an at large team because the Eagles’ Strength of Schedule is at best mediocre (254), and they whiffed on all four of their previous chances against RPI Top 50 competition.

OK, they actually fouled off two of them, losing by seven at North Carolina and by three at Wisconsin. But a road win in the fifth and final Top 50 opportunity just might be enough to push them over to the “good” side of the bubble. A loss virtually eliminates them from at-large contention.

Key Matchup: MoState’s Blake Ahearn vs. Winthrop’s Torrell Martin
Will Winthrop’s perimeter defense be able to contain the nation’s most prolific outside shooter, Blake Ahearn? Ahearn shoots 49 percent of the field, 49 percent from three-point range, and 94 percent from the free throw line. Torrell Martin is considered Winthrop’s best player, but its leading scorer is actually Martin’s backcourt mate, Michael Jenkins. Both are more athletic than Ahearn, but Blake’s range extends all the way to Joplin, MO. If the Bears can free Ahearn for some open looks, Winthrop’s long road trip will become that much longer.

On the other side of the ball, watch for Michael Jenkins from behind the arc (44% on the season) and for Martin to penetrate the lane. Neither team is particularly strong inside, but Winthrop’s 6’10” F/C Craig Bradshaw probably holds the edge over any of MoState’s post players.

Prediction: Winthrop 72, Missouri State 69
Normally we wouldn’t bet against a Barry Hinson-coached team in Springfield, Mo., but Missouri State hosts Valley behemoth Southern Illinois two days prior to this game. Against Marshall’s up-tempo, 94-foot style, the Bears may not have enough energy late in the game after being worn down by SIU’s suffocating defense earlier in the week.

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