Winthrop junior point guard Reggie Middleton says the Eagles can be very good right out of the gate this season - bold statement for a team that began the 2009-2010 campaign with a lackluster win over Limestone, followed by a 12-point setback at College of Charleston.
Winthrop was 2-4 after six games. The second win was an uninspiring 49-46 contest at home against USC Upstate. Among the losses were to Clemson with a score of 102-66, followed by 70-51 at Appalachian State, and Radford - a two-point loss at home. The Eagles were at full strength to start last season. There were no suspensions.
Winthrop opens the 2010-2011 season at 4 p.m. Saturday at home against Division II Queens. Robbie Dreher and Charles Corbin will be in street clothes. Both are serving suspensions for off-court incidents last spring.
Along with today, Dreher will sit the first two games of the Preseason NIT on Monday and Tuesday in Winston-Salem. Corbin is out for the first 10 contests. His season-opener will come on Dec. 20 at Dayton
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"It is important for us to get off to a good start because if we play good, some of our young players will gain confidence," Middleton said. "When Robbie and Charles come back, they will add a new dimension to our team. That will make our team better."
Dreher played in all 33 games last year as a freshman and started the final 19. Corbin averaged 6.7 points and 5.1 rebounds as a junior.
Dreher's absence opens the door for junior Andre Jones to regain his starting spot shooting guard.
The loss of Corbin puts added pressure on big men Matt Morgan and George Valentine. They will log a lot of minutes in the first 10 games.
Morgan and Valentine can be spelled by redshirt-freshman center Julius Francis and freshman forward Derrick Scott. Coach Randy Peele has no other choices until Corbin returns. He would much prefer to ease Francis and Scott into the college game in select spots.
"The worst case is we only lose two (of the first 10) games," Middleton predicted.
Backtracking, Middleton said he couldn't accept any losses but he knows the Eagles will be playing teams with a lot of big men.
"We could get worn down," he said.
Peele is just as concerned as Middleton with the team's lack of depth in the post. He talked earlier in the week about the need to have Corbin "game ready" when he returns to the lineup. Peele can't allow Corbin a ramp-up period.
"He's got to be ready. Charles needs to do what he does best and that is make tough plays," Peele said.
Corbin will be back in time for the team's toughest road trip of the regular season. Dayton was 25-12 last season and beat North Carolina to win the NIT Championship. Two days later, the Eagles play Kentucky at Rupp Arena. Kentucky had five players taken in the first round of the 2010 NBA Draft. Wildcats coach John Calipari has reloaded with one of the top recruiting classes in the country.
While Middleton is setting the bar high for the early season, Peele is telling his team not to overlook Queens on Saturday. Middleton said he has learned a lot about this team based on the preseason practices and the exhibition game win over UNC Pembroke.
"This team is very hungry to win another championship. We're hungry to get back to NCAA tournament and not just play a game, but win."