Winthrop coach Randy Peele isn't taking today's 4 p.m. season opener against Queens lightly.
The Eagles needed a last-second layup to beat Limestone at the Winthrop Coliseum on Nov. 14, 2009, to open the season. Winthrop has no desire to see a repeat of that debacle.
Are there similarities to the start of this campaign and the beginning to the 2009-2010 season?
Just like last season, Charles Corbin will miss the opener due to a suspension. He sat out the first four games last season due to undisclosed disciplinary reasons. Corbin will miss the first 10 contests this year as a result of an off-the-court incident last spring.
Winthrop went into last season hoping to improve its perimeter shooting, but it worsened instead. The Eagles shot 40.6 percent from the field and 28.4 percent on 3-pointers in 2008-2009. Both numbers ranked at the bottom of the Big South Conference.
Last year's team canned just 38 percent from the field and a miserable 24.8 percent from behind the 3-point arc. Again the Eagles were last in the league -- by sizable margins -- in both categories.
Against Queens, Winthrop should get plenty of chances to score. The Division II Royals dropped a 97-54 exhibition contest at Charlotte on Tuesday night.
Queens, 13-15 overall last season, plays a frantic style. The Royals like to get up and down the floor. An average game for the Royals last year would have them on the short end of an 82-80 score.
By contrast, Peele has challenged his team to hold every opponent to 55 or fewer points.
Peele has always been a defensive-minded coach. At Friday's practice he made it clear he wanted one of two things from his players.
"You are either a shot blocker or a charge taker. You can't be neither," he said.
He didn't want to hear players say they will do it in games; he wanted to see it in practice.
Today's game is the first of three over a four-day stretch. The Eagles have two contests in Winston-Salem, N.C., on Monday and Tuesday, as part of the 2010 NIT Season Tip-Off. Winthrop plays Virginia Commonwealth, 27-9 last year, at 9:30 p.m. on Monday at the Lawrence Joel Coliseum. On Tuesday they will take on either Wake Forest or Hampton.
What to look for this afternoon.
Peele said earlier this week he plans to stay with a three guard set that he employed for the Eagles' 68-52 exhibition game win over UNC Pembroke on Nov. 6. Reggie Middleton, Justin Burton and Andre Jones will start at the guard spots with Matt Morgan and George Valentine playing inside.
Winthrop should shoot better than 1-for-15 on 3-point attempts. That's how the team fared against Limestone a year ago.
Winthrop could show its lack of depth inside. Redshirt juniors Morgan and Valentine are the only players available with any game experience. Redshirt freshman Julius Francis had the fans' support during his 17 minutes on the floor in the exhibition game. He and true freshman Derrick Scott will get far less action today.
Morgan should get more touches this season and be a go-to player for the Eagles. He was the team's second-leading scorer last year (9.6 ppg) in his first season playing for Winthrop and possesses a smooth stroke out to 16-17 feet.
Valentine looks more polished on the offensive end and can do some damage in the paint. Peele expects him to be one of the best defenders in the conference this season.
He has been intense on defense in practices.
Jones is the most improved player on the team according to Peele. He netted a team-high 17 points against UNC Pembroke.