Sports

Eagles should be ready for anything after non-BSC games

You can say this much for the non-conference basketball schedule Winthrop coach Randy Peele put together.

Every game offers a different look, different style, so the Eagles should be ready for anything when Big South Conference play starts in January.

They've played teams with deliberate styles (Baylor, West Virginia), teams that want to run (East Carolina, Georgia Tech), a team that would do a little of both (Missouri State). They played a pressing team (Tech) and one that wanted to take away everything in the halfcourt (West Virginia). And they faced a team (Akron) whose offense ran through a physical post player.

The Eagles (5-3) get Ole Miss out of the SEC tonight, a team that wants to add "Runnin'" to their Rebels nickname.

"They're good, better than what I thought," Peele said Tuesday. "No question, tempo will be important.

"It's an odd game, one we can win, or one they could beat the heck out of us. If we score 50, we're not going to win."

Under first-year coach Andy Kennedy, the Rebels finished 21-13 last season, including a tie for first in the SEC West (8-8), and that was without having the players to really fit the style he wants. The Rebels lost to Clemson in the second round of the NIT and Kennedy was SEC Coach of the Year.

Despite having four starters back, Kennedy's team was picked no better than fourth in the SEC West this season, but Kennedy brought in some players who fit his run-and-shoot game plan. They've reeled off seven straight wins, albeit against a so-so schedule, with six of those at home.

The Rebels went on the road for the first time this past Saturday and beat UCF 76-67. Their best home win was 85-77 over New Mexico.

Like the Eagles, the Rebels have been mixing books with hoops the past week, but on the court they've been mixing running and rebounding.

They're averaging 91 points, out-rebounding opponents 43-33, shooting 51 percent overall and 38 percent on 3-pointers. They're forcing 18 turnovers per game. Kennedy has used 10 players at least 10 minutes per game.

"You've got to do one of two things at Ole Miss," Kennedy said in the preseason, "play slow or play fast. They tried playing slow (under former coach Rod Barnes) and it didn't work. We'll play fast. Defensively, we want to apply pressure. Offensively, we want the best available shot as quickly as possible."

Chris Warren, a 5-foot-11 freshman point guard, leads Ole Miss in scoring (15.3), minutes per game (27.3), free throw percentage (.857) and has 42 assists with just 24 turnovers. He and Winthrop redshirt freshman Chris Malcolm played on the same AAU team in Florida.

"He's the straw that stirs the drink," Peele said. "I know him. He's very talented. They want to play fast, and once they shoot it, they're big and physical and they rebound."

While Warren looks to score, Winthrop senior point guard Chris Gaynor looks to dictate the pace of the game.

"Both do what their teams need," Peele said. "That matchup will be interesting. That's going to be a battle."

The Rebels have three big bodies inside -- 6-8, 280 (down from 300 last year) Dwayne Curtis, 6-8, 245 Jeremy Parnell and 6-8, 240 Kenny Williams. They average a combined 29.2 points and 20.6 rebounds.

The Eagles, particularly 6-7 senior forward Taj McCullough, have battled foul trouble, and how McCullough and 6-7 freshman Charles Corbin match up inside defensively will be another key. Of course, Ole Miss will have issues with McCullough, too.

McCullough, suffering from a sinus infection, practiced lightly Monday but was back at it Tuesday.

And 6-9 junior college transfer Andy Buechert, still nursing ankle and leg problems, was able to work out some.

Peele said Ole Miss is somewhat like West Virginia in it tries to deny passing lanes. And he's pretty sure Kennedy, who was on the staff at Cincinnati under Bob Huggins, has been on the phone to his former boss, now at West Virginia.

"West Virginia is the best team we've played so far," Peele said, "and Ole Miss second. They're going to try and run us out of our sets.

"I know we've got to defend and rebound, but we're going to have to see if we can run our stuff."

On the latest Winthrop Eagles Report podcast, Gary McCann talks about Ole Miss and other upcoming games.

Look under "Audio."

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