The NCAA tournament begins today without Winthrop.
It is just the fourth time in the last 13 years Winthrop has failed to make the Big Dance, but do we really need to be reminded, repeatedly, of what Winthrop basketball has done?
The Eagles never seemed to grab the attention of Rock Hill this season.
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They finished with a lackluster 13-17 record, 9-9 in the Big South Conference. Winthrop was ousted from the conference tournament in the first round at Virginia Military Institute on March 1.
The University of North Carolina at Asheville (19-13) is in the field as the Big South Conference tournament champion and will compete in a play-in game in Dayton, Ohio, at 6:40 p.m. today. The game shares a lot of similarities to the one Winthrop played last season in Dayton.
Asheville, like Winthrop, won the Big South tournament as the No. 3 seed. Both teams had to defeat top-seeded Coastal Carolina on its home floor to reach the Big Dance.
Asheville will play Arkansas-Little Rock. Winthrop played Arkansas-Pine Bluff last March.
The Eagles lost that game 61-44.
Coastal Carolina (28-5), despite a roster depleted by injury and suspensions, accepted a bid to the National Invitation Tournament as the regular season conference champion. The No. 8-seeded Chanticleers will play at No. 1 seed Alabama. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m., and the game will be televised on ESPNU.
And then there is Winthrop, one of eight Big South schools whose season ended in the first week of March. The Eagles can only watch the Big South's two postseason qualifiers.
So on Monday afternoon, Winthrop's media relations sent out a release to rehash the team's past success. Going into last year's game in Dayton, the talk was all about the Eagles making the tournament for the ninth time in 12 years.
At the end of the 2008-2009 season, when the team finished 11-19 and was beaten in the first round of the conference tournament, people were reminded that the team had been to the NCAAs eight times in 11 seasons.
Now, it's nine times in 13 seasons. While that's impressive, it also might be a little misleading. During the last three seasons, Winthrop has a combined record of 43-50.
Winthrop coach Randy Peele admits he might have assembled a schedule for the 2010-2011 campaign that was too much for his team. The Eagles began the season without two starters, who were suspended.
"The lesson we learned is that it is really, really hard to win your conference championship and get to the NCAA tournament," Peele said in Winthrop's news release. "It is hard to maintain that high level, but I am going to evaluate everything."
Peele outlined three determining factors to a team's success.
"They are recruiting, scheduling and coaching," he said in the news release. "You've got to have really good players. You need to make sure you don't over-schedule when you don't need to; and then you've got to do a good job of coaching those players."
The Eagles signed a 6-foot-9 post player last year by the name of Martaveous Smith.
In August 2010 he was found academically ineligible. He enrolled at a junior college in Florida, played in just 11 of 33 games and averaged 1.5 points.
The chance of Smith ever playing for Winthrop, or any other Division I program, depends on his completing two years at a junior college.
Smith was expected to be the jewel of this season's freshman class. Another freshman, Joab Jerome, worked his way into Peele's nine-player rotation with his defense and his ability to drive to the basket. He played, in all, 30 games and averaged 2.4 points and 1.9 rebounds.
Peele signed 6-foot-9 Derrick Scott and billed him as a big perimeter shooter. Scott only saw the floor in 10 games for clean-up minutes.
Peele hoped that redshirt freshman center Julius Francis, at 6-foot-11, could clog up the lane on defense. He played in just 14 games and failed to block a single shot. Still, the Nigerian became a fan favorite.
The Eagles' 2011-2012 recruiting class looks promising.
Peele has signed one of the Palmetto State's best players, 6-foot-7 power forward Fred Mattison from Westside High School in Anderson.
Mattison is a double-double kind of guy that had offers from The Citadel, Morehead State, Western Carolina, Tennessee State and Richmond.
Winthrop also landed point guard Andre Smith, a high-scoring version of former Winthrop lead guard Chris Gaynor. The 5-9 Smith scored 19.2 points for Blake High School in Tampa, Fla., which finished the season with a 28-3 record. He averaged 3.7 assists and 3.3 steals.
The Eagles got a commitment from 6-foot-6 James Bourne out of the Washington area. However, a torn ACL, his second in two years, might sideline him.
Winthrop faced 19 opponents this season. Five earned spots in the NCAA's 68-team field, and two others made the NIT, according to Winthrop. Those seven teams enter tournament play with a combined record of 171-62 for a .734 winning percentage. That's an aggressive schedule.
A look at the 2011-2012 schedule shows some more tough tests. We know the team will open the season at the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands. That eight-team field includes Marquette, Mississippi, Virginia, Drexel, Texas , Drake and Norfolk State, according to Winthrop.
The Eagles will face Clemson on the road and will host Eastern Kentucky for homecoming in a rematch of the 2010 BracketBuster game, according to Monday's news release. Winthrop is also slated to face a BracketBuster opponent on the road and travel to Ohio University, last season's BracketBuster opponent, either next season or in 2013.
Coaching is tough to assess.
You can praise Peele for drawing up senior Charles Corbin's game-winning 3-pointer at Gardner-Webb. Just as easily, you could fault him for allowing Corbin to take an ill-advised 3-point shot in the season finale at VMI.
Winthrop's last 11 games were decided by seven or fewer points. The Eagles won just four of them.
The 3-point shot hasn't been a strong suit the last two seasons, yet that is what a few games came down to: Make a 3 to win or lose.
Junior Reggie Middleton missed a pair of 3-pointers in the last 11 seconds in the Eagles' 89-85 loss to VMI to end the regular season. Junior Andre Jones missed a shot that could have sent the BracketBuster game to overtime.
Free throw shooting cost the team some games as well. If the team had made a few more foul shots and made a couple more defensive stops, Peele believes this would have been a 20-win season.
"It's a tough business," Peele said in Monday's news release, "And we've got to continue to work to get better. I am certainly not happy with where we finished."
Winthrop fans aren't happy either. Maybe they're a little spoiled, expecting to win the Big South and advance to the NCAA tournament. They hope the team doesn't start a new streak for staying home in mid-March.