Winthrop coach Randy Peele still doesn't know what to expect from his own team.
But he knows exactly what he's going to get when they go to Presbyterian tonight for the Big South Conference opener (7 p.m.).
"Every time we play them, it's an absolute fist-fight," Peele said of the Blue Hose (3-3). "I don't know if it's because we play similar styles or what, but every time we play against them, it seems like it's a one-possession game."
The respect is mutual, as Presbyterian coach Gregg Nibert is free to admit he's used the Eagles (1-5) as a barometer for their own progress since joining the league in 2007 after moving up from Division II.
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"There's no question," Nibert said. "That's the kind of program we've always talked about around here. The way we play is similar to what they do. You know you're going to get a hard-nosed, tough game between two teams that believe in man defense and play it well."
Four of the past six meetings have been decided by three points or fewer. And while Winthrop's won five of the last six games, Presbyterian finally got that conference win against the Eagles in the last meeting, a 76-74 overtime win on Jan. 29, 2011.
"It's always a physical, grind-it-out game," Peele said. "A lot of people might call it ugly, and it's like Big 10 basketball in that respect, but you know it's going to be tight."
Presbyterian can boast another high-profile win, having knocked off Cincinnati on Nov. 19. The Blue Hose trailed by 15 halfway through the second half, but came back for a 56-54 win on the road. Last year, Presbyterian won games against Wake Forest, Auburn and Princeton, as they continue to make a mark during their transition to Division I.
"It's absolutely huge for us," Nibert said. "Hey, the week before against Duke, we lost by 40 because we didn't play or coach well, but that's not who we are. We just never quit, and kept cutting into that lead until it was gone.
"But as good as that was, that's over now, and the biggest game on our schedule is against Winthrop."