Big South Tournament Final Preview
#6 VMI (14-18) at #1 Winthrop (27-4)
ESPN had better make sure their camera people can follow the ball in the Big South Tournament championship game, because the pace will be nonstop action.
Normally, top-seed and highly favored Winthrop (27-4, 14-0) likes to play at an up-tempo, 94-foot style that forces its opponent to test its own stamina and athletic ability. That will not work against the Virginia Military Institute (14-18, 5-9).
VMI is looking to run its way to a third upset in as many nights en route to an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 30 years.
Second-year head coach Duggar Baucom increases the tempo with a constant full-court press, which increases the number of offensive possessions. Baucom also has the nation’s leading scorer at his disposal.
The Keydets average 101.6 points per game, which leads the country by nearly 15 points. The problem is they give up a nation’s-worst 98.6 points per game.
VMI’s style is old school. Think back to the 1990 Loyola Marymount team led by Hank Gathers, Bo Kimble and head coach Paul Westhead. These soldiers’ mission every night is to outscore you no matter what.
“I told our guys we out-rebound them and we win the game,” Baucom said after VMI’s 91-81 upset victory over High Point. “It was all heart. We took care of business at the end.”
VMI’s go-to scorer is junior forward Reggie Williams (28.6 ppg, 7.9 rpg). The 6-foot-5 wing player has only scored under 20 points in four games (all losses) this season.
Winthrop has already beaten the Keydets twice this season and if the Eagles can make its three on their own home floor, head coach Greg Marshall can expect to see his school’s name seeded anywhere from a 9 to a 12.
The last time these two teams tangled at Winthrop Coliseum, the Eagles opened Big South Conference play with a 108-76 blowout on Jan. 6.
I really don’t think anybody stepped up,” said Baucom. “We cut it to twelve in the second half, then made some mistakes while all the time they were scoring. It went from a 12-point game to a 30-point game.”
That’s what Winthrop does to inferior teams with its size, quickness and talent advantage.
Marshall relies on a superior inside-out trip to win games. On the perimeter, Eagle guards Michael Jenkins and Torrell Martin have to break down VMI’s pressure. Once Winthrop can build a big lead, Marshall will want the ball fed inside to 6-foot-10 center Craig Bradshaw. VMI’s undersized lineup has yet to find a way to contain Bradshaw as the senior has gotten 48 points, 19 rebounds and shot 19 of 27 (70 FG%) in the previous two games against the Keydets.