Can the Winthrop Eagles Soar in Denver?
As the NCAA Tournament is set to commence tomorrow afternoon, it's still undetermined whether or not any team in this year's 64 team field will have an impact anywhere near that which George Mason did with their Final Four bid of two years ago.
However, one team that may fit into the glass slipper in 2008 could be the Winthrop Eagles.
The Eagles make their eighth tournament appearance in the past 10 seasons after defeating UNC-Asheville to become the Big South Conference champion for the fourth straight year.
This season was especially difficult, following the accidental death of teammate DeAndre Adams in the offseason.
However, the team has come together following this tragic event and has gotten themselves back to America's greatest tournament. They are looking to build off of their early second round exit last season.
This year the Eagles will open up as the No. 13 seed against the formidable No. 4 seed Washington State.
The Eagles are led in the back court by guard Michael Jenkins who averaged 14.3 points per game during the regular season and was a key component in the Big South tournament.
Guard Chris Gaynor, who shot 42.7 percent from beyond the arc, will also pose problems for any Winthrop opponent.
Up front, the Eagles are expecting big things from forward Taj McCullough who averaged 11.4 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.
The key to victory for Randy Peele's Winthrop squad will be a solid defensive effort throughout the tournament. In the regular season, the Eagles ranked 25th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency.
So, though they're not a flashy team on offense, the players make up for this on the other end of the court.
The Eagles will need to come out ready to play against a very consistent team in Washington State, who ranks in the Top 20 of both offensive and defensive rankings in the country.
If Winthrop's stingy defense is able to shut down the Cougars' offense and keep it close as a defensive battle, anything can happen.
Should the Eagles defeat Washington State, they would face the winner of the No. 12 George Mason-No. 5 Notre Dame matchup.
I believe this would be a very favorable matchup as both teams are known more for their offense and tend to give up a lot of points, playing right into the Winthrop style of play.
Although it is unlikely, if Jenkins and company are able to play at the top of their game, Washington State will be in for a difficult contest. Especially from a team that has been united following a tragedy.
We will know if Cinderella has decided to pay a visit to Denver, CO on Thursday night at the Pepsi Center.
G Michael Jenkins
G Chris Gaynor
G Mantoris Robinson
F Charles Corbin
F Taj McCullough
Strong team defense, creating turnovers
Worst free throw percentage in Big South, don't score a lot of points
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