Team Profile: 2008 BracketBuster Preview: Davidson at Winthrop
Two conference leaders will collide when the Davidson Wildcats visit the Winthrop Eagles in an ESPN2 BracketBuster matchup on Friday night.
Only one team, however, is in the mix for an at-large NCAA Tournament berth. Davidson is now a perfect 18-0 in the Southern Conference after defeating UNC-Greensboro at home on Tuesday in another nationally-televised showdown on ESPN2. With an unblemished league record, just a few non-conference wins would have made Davidson a lock for the Big Dance. Instead, the Wildcats fell painfully short in early-season games against North Carolina, Duke, UCLA, and N.C.State. A win at Winthrop would be nothing that any of those victories would have been, but the ‘Cats absolutely need it to keep any at-large aspirations alive.
As of Tuesday night, Winthrop is 8-3 in the Big South and holds a one-half game lead over UNC-Asheville. The Eagles scored victories over two ACC opponents—Georgia Tech and Miami—earlier in the year, but neither of those wins looks especially extraordinary at the moment. Three losses in conference play necessitate a near-perfect non-conference resume in order to yield a realistic at-large shot, but Winthrop failed to capitalize on any of their other opportunities prior to Big South play. The Eagles dropped contests at Baylor, at West Virginia, and at Mississippi, not to mention three other setbacks near the beginning of the season. Winthrop clearly has to triumph in the Big South Conference Tournament in order to Dance for the fourth year in-a-row.
Key Matchup: Davidson SG Stephen Curry vs. Winthrop SG Michael Jenkins
Without question, Davidson star sophomore Stephen Curry will be the best player on the floor on Friday night.
Winthrop’s senior leader, Michael Jenkins, will have to do his best to keep up with the Wildcat sharpshooter and match him point for point. He has not been able to do that so far this season. Jenkins’ points-per-game average is down from 14.8 last season to 13.9 this year and his percentages from both the field and from beyond the arc have declined considerably without former backcourt mate Torrell Martin to alleviate defensive pressure.
Curry, meanwhile, is drawing all kinds of national attention thanks to his 25.6 points-per-game average. Owning one of the quickest releases in college basketball, Curry is lighting things up to the tune of a 48.4 shooting percentage, including 42.2 percent from downtown.
This has to be considered the key matchup, even though the two guards will most likely not be guarding each other. Winthrop will use a whole host of players—perhaps at the same time!—in an attempt to contain Curry, while Davidson will rely on defensive-stopper Max Paulhus-Gosselin to put out any fire if Jenkins gets hot. Jenkins poured in a game-high 25 points in last year’s BracketBuster win at Missouri State, and the Eagles need a similar performance out of him this time around.
Prediction: Davidson 75, Winthrop 68
The Eagles have not lost inside Winthrop Coliseum since falling to Missouri State back in November. The home-court advantage should allow Winthrop to keep this game close throughout the evening, but the bottom line is that Davidson is the better team and has the best player in Curry.
One potentially dire problem for the Eagles is if they choose to key in on Curry—and they almost have to—they will inevitably get burned by a handful of capable Wildcat supporting cast members. Senior point guard Jason Richards, who dishes out 8.1 assists per outing, can fill it up from long range and also gets to the basket with surprising ease, especially via Davidson’s lethal fast-break. Boris Meno, Thomas Sander, and Andrew Lovedale form an athletic, versatile trio down low and should get plenty of good looks under the basket if Curry, Richards, and Will Archambault are hot from the outside.
While Jenkins could be the key for Winthrop, senior guard Chris Gaynor and senior forward Taj McCullough could be the x-factors. Gaynor, sweet shooting stroke and all, will have to be dialed in from long range in order to take some heat off Jenkins, and McCullough must play—and rebound—bigger than his 6-7 height suggests if the Eagles hope to pull off the minor upset.
The bet here is that Curry and company are too good to let that happen.