It’s the 20th anniversary of the classic basketball flick SpaceJam.
Winthrop men’s basketball might feel like it’s confronting the Monstars – the colossal all-stars scrounged up from outer space in SpaceJam – when it faces Florida State on Friday night. No doubt the Seminoles are better guys than the cartoon villains that challenged Michael Jordan in the movie, but they’re similarly huge.
Under coach Leonard Hamilton, Florida State has made it a practice to have one of the tallest teams in the country each year since 2009. That’s when – according to data from KenPom.com – Seminoles players’ average height shot up from 76.8 inches to 78.9, the tallest average in the country that year. Florida State has been in the top-seven in the country in average height every year since.
Winthrop has its own Big South version of a physical Monstar in 6-foot-8 redshirt junior Duby Okeke.
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“I’ve played seven-footers before,” he said before Thursday’s practice. “But I’ve never played a team that had at least three on the team.”
Winthrop’s average height is 74.7 inches, which ranks 341st out of 351 Division I clubs. But considering two of the shortest guys involved in the Eagles’ program – coach Pat Kelsey and star guard Keon Johnson – are two of the most important, and defiant about their small stature, Winthrop might have an underdog edge it can ride.
“We’re really confident, experienced,” said Okeke. “As long as we bring it, play our defense and trust our system, we should be fine. I’m really looking forward to the challenge.”
Here’s some other things to know ahead of the Eagles’ third game of the season:
Seminoles’ height is spread out
Sure, Florida State (2-0) has 7-foot-4 Christ Kamadje – a sophomore from the Saharan country of Chad and the tallest Seminole basketball player ever – and five other players measuring 6-foot-8 or taller, but Hamilton’s teams are always tall at every position. Florida State’s guards tend to look like 6-foot-7, 221-pound sophomore Dwayne Bacon, an NBA prospect at shooting guard and second team preseason All-ACC pick, or 6-foot-4, 208-pounder Xavier Rathan-Mayes.
Winthrop is FSU’s second Big South opponent in three games
Florida State pulled away in the second half to beat the Big South’s Charleston Southern 88-67 in their season opener on Nov. 12. Highlights from that game are here.
Winthrop’s 42 free-throw attempts Tuesday morning against Manhattan were the most the Eagles have shot under Kelsey. The school record is the 49 attempted against Newberry College in 1986.
Getting to the foul line with regularity is a trend Kelsey would love to see continue, given there are six 70-percent-plus career foul shooters in the team’s regular rotation. Primary ball-handlers Bjorn Broman and Keon Johnson are 82 and 84 percent career shooters at the foul line. The Eagles were second in the Big South last season in free throw attempts and free throw percentage, but it’s a ploy that could also have some positive impact against the towering Seminoles Friday night.
Power-5 wins for Winthrop
In Kelsey’s five years, Winthrop has beaten Auburn and Clemson, the latter win coming two years ago at Littlejohn Coliseum. Even if the Eagles don’t pull out a win in Tallahassee, they’ll have another shot Monday at Illinois, a Big Ten team that has been down the last two years.
Winthrop needs consistency from Davenport
Senior Josh Davenport easily had his best game as a Winthrop player Tuesday morning against Manhattan, scoring 22 points, grabbing eight rebounds, dishing out five assists and not turning the ball over once in the Eagles’ 13-point win. Davenport has had games like that several times in the last two seasons, but never really followed it up with more of the same. In fact, he’s never had consecutive games with 10 or more points.
If Davenport – who is already invaluable for doing a little bit of everything on the court – can contribute as a regular double-digit scorer, it would relieve a huge burden from Johnson and Xavier Cooks. Redshirt senior Rod Perkins – eight and 12 points off the bench in the first two games – is also indicating early that he might be a more consistent source of offense as the season wears on.