Winthrop opens Big South Conference play Saturday at High Point, but before the Eagles can get on with that business, Presbyterian comes calling at 7 p.m. today in the Winthrop Coliseum.
The Eagles (8-6), coach Randy Peele said, had better not go to sleep on the Blue Hose despite the 1-19 record they carried into Tuesday's game against Army.
"Do not be fooled by the record," Peele said. "I don't look at it at all. It will be a war."
Maybe that's just coach-speak, but given the up and down nature of his team, you can understand why Peele doesn't want his players taking anything or anyone for granted.
Presbyterian is making the move from NCAA Division II status to Division I and will join the Big South. In an effort to make the jump quickly and to make some money for the program through guarantee games, coach Gregg Nibert's team has played a brutal schedule.
The Blue Hose will be playing their fifth game in a week tonight and they've already gone on the road to Nebraska, New Mexico, Clemson, Ohio State, Georgia, Wake Forest, N.C. State and Georgia Tech.
"They're not going to come in here in awe," Peele said. "This is a team I fear."
The Blue Hose attempt about 25 3-pointers per game, but play a disciplined style that relies on good ball movement and good passing, the kinds of things that will test the Winthrop defense.
"We've got to get back to our ability to defend," Peele said.
And with the High Point game looming, it's more important than ever to play hard and well.
Peele hinted he might tweak the starting lineup tonight, inserting 6-foot-7 George Valentine at the center spot ahead of 6-7 freshman Charles Corbin, who has started 11 of 14 games. Valentine has played in 13 games with one start and has scored just 13 points, but Peele likes the energy he's brought to the floor particularly on defense.
"He gave us a lot more activity at Marshall," Peele said. "He's coming."
The Eagles have not been as strong inside as in the past four seasons with Craig Bradshaw, Phillip Williams, Torrell Martin and James Shuler hanging around the hoop. In Saturday's overtime loss at Marshall, the Eagles were beaten 45-36 on the glass. The 45 rebounds were the most by an opponent in at least three seasons.
"We don't have an inside scorer and we're not tough enough on the glass and it showed up," Peele said after the game.
He's hoping some combination of Valentine, Corbin and Andy Buechert will click starting tonight.
And Peele knows he's got to get more out of his bench, meaning Byron Faison, Justin Burton and Marc-David Vil might see more minutes in the backcourt.
The problem, though, is a catch-22. He wants to develop his bench, but needs to win games. Does he build depth or win the game?
Right now, the bench is producing 70 minutes per game, but just 13.4 points. The starters are playing an average of 138 minutes per game, while producing 54.6 points, 81 percent of the team's production, plus 19.9 rebounds, 59 percent.
Michael Jenkins, Taj McCullough and Chris Gaynor are averaging more than 30 minutes per game. In the past nine seasons, Winthrop has never had two players average more than 30 minutes per game and have had just six players total average that many minutes per game for a season.
Mantoris Robinson is a prime example of the bench struggles. Robinson, a defensive stopper, is playing 21.9 minutes per game, but in the last 10 games, he's played 211 minutes and scored just 27 points. In the first four games, he scored 31 points, including back-to-back double figure games against Illinois-Chicago and Georgia Tech. His high since has been five points.
"Good teams get better when they go to their bench," Peele said. "We can't make that statement right now, but that's not to say we won't."
PRESBYTERIAN (1-19) AT WINTHROP (8-6)
• When: 7 p.m.
• Where: Winthrop Coliseum
• TV: Tri-County 14 (cable channel 14 in Rock Hill)
• Radio: WRHI (1340 AM, 94.3 FM, tape delay); live at WRHIfootball.com
• Tickets: Available at the box office