As bandwagon fills up, Peele prepares for NCAA tourney

Gary McCannMarch 11, 2008 

Winthrop coach Randy Peele directs his players from the bench during the Big South Conference Tournament championship game against UNC Ashveville. Now, Peele must prepare for the Eagles' fourth straight NCAA tournament appearance.

JASON E. MICZEK • THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

A few more folks jumped on, or back on, the Winthrop basketball bandwagon on Monday.

The past few weeks, Winthrop men's coach Randy Peele and women's coach Bud Childers have been attending a weekly luncheon at The Station Bar and Grill. Up until this week, it had been most of the same faces each week, and they'd all fit into the tight area set aside in the corner of the restaurant.

But Monday, the normal meeting area was full and eight or 10 folks had to sit in the adjoining seating area.

I guess finally winning a championship is what gets folks excited, not the actual process.

Whatever the reason, there was a tad more energy in the room on Monday and a lot of it was generated by Peele, who's so fired up about playing in the NCAA tournament he was up until 4 a.m. Monday dreaming about back cuts and half-court sets and all the things his team will have to do to win another first-round game.

"I couldn't get my mind off practice," Peele said. "I can't wait."

When it comes to staying up all night, owls have nothing on Peele.

Give him a good DVD player and a stack of game tapes and it's like dropping an ant off at a picnic. Neither can get his fill.

But Peele's preparation and hunger to get everything right have been major reasons why the Eagles are 22-11, Big South champions and off to a fourth straight NCAA tournament.

And before you forget, Peele isn't a rookie when it comes to taking a team to the tournament. He did it with UNC Greensboro in 1996, when the Spartans were Big South members. He's the only coach in league history to take two teams to the NCAAs.

In 1996, his Spartans almost beat Cincinnati, losing by five.

So, when he's staying up, it's because he knows how much work is involved in winning that first-round game.

All a team has to do, he said Monday, "is play the best game you've played all season."

Simple.

For the Eagles, he said, that means playing good defense, executing in the half-court game and tossing in a jumper or two, or as Michael Jenkins did against UNC Asheville, 11.

"It's all about matchups," Peele said. "Last year, with Notre Dame, I don't think we could have asked for a more ideal matchup."

The Eagles, a No. 11 seed, won that, of course, beating the lumbering and fifth-seeded Irish 74-64 for the program's first NCAA win. The Irish either weren't interested in guarding the Eagles or couldn't. At times, the game looked like a layup drill.

"I replayed that game in my head last night," Peele said, "and ran things in my mind about what we need to do."

Because of that win, whichever team the Eagles draw is going to be prepared.

Peele figures this year's matchup's going to be significantly more difficult. While he'd love to be a No. 13 seed, he's hoping for a 14, but knows he might be a 15, maybe a 16. He's going to be playing, at the very least, a team ranked in the top 20.

If it's a 15 or 16, the Eagles are going to get a top 10 opponent -- North Carolina, Tennessee, Memphis, UCLA, Georgetown, Kansas, Texas, Duke or someone else equally scary.

"If we get a 13 seed," Peele said, "I'll do flips down Main Street. I don't see us getting a 13. It'd be great if we did. Depends on how things happen this week. I'd be very happy with a 14 ... that would be fair."

It would take a lot of upsets in some low mid-major leagues for the Eagles to rise to a 13, but right now it doesn't matter. Like two years ago, when the Eagles were disappointed with a No. 15 seed, they almost pulled the upset of the first round before losing to Tennessee 63-61 on a last-second shot.

On Monday, he asked his assistant coaches to give him 15 teams they could play.

"Didn't like any of them," Peele joked.

Peele said he may try to "do some politicking," but when you're coaching in the Big South, there's not much chance of making a difference. His team's record will be the best thing to help him, including a couple of wins against top 100 teams, a 2-0 record against the ACC and eight wins in their last 10 games.

Unlike the coaches of some teams that will fall in the middle of the seeding process -- those eights, nines, 10s -- Peele at least has a pretty good idea of what teams the Eagles could see.

So on Monday, he also asked his assistant coaches to get the DVD recorders geared up and rolling. If a top 20 team plays a game this week and it's on TV, the staff plans to record it.

"Sunday night," Peele said. "We've got to be ready to go.

"Got to figure out how to win one more game."

"One more?" someone in Monday's lunch bunch said.

"At least one more," Peele corrected.

Sunday will be a long one for Peele. By the time he quits watching tape, the owls will be asleep.

NCAA tournament tickets

Starting Wednesday, fans can reserve tickets for Winthrop's first-round NCAA tournament game. Fans can pay for tickets for regionals they would like to attend and pick them up at the venue. Fans must reserve tickets in person. No phone or Internet orders will be taken.

NCAA selection party

The Winthrop Coliseum will host an NCAA tournament selection party on Sunday. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and fans will be able to watch the tournament selection show. Refreshments will be available and fans can purchase NCAA tickets if any remain. The team and coaches will be there. Dave Friedman, voice of the Eagles, will host a live program beginning at 5:45 p.m. on WRHI (AM 1340). Admission is free.

Gary McCann • 329-4074 | gmccann@heraldonline.com

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