If you've taken a look at the Winthrop basketball schedule, you've probably noticed tonight's game at Mount St. Mary's nestled between last week's road trip to Ole Miss and Friday's home game against Old Dominion.
The game in Emmitsburg, Md., against the Mountaineers (5-4) from the Northeast Conference wears all the trappings of a little respite from facing a team from the mighty SEC and one from the Colonial.
A sure "W".
The greatest fear for Winthrop coach Randy Peele is his players will think just that.
"This is a dangerous game," Peele said.
Since losing 76-71 at Ole Miss last week, Peele has turned up the practice heat, demanding more concentration and improvement. With tonight's game, the ODU matchup and a post-Christmas road game against Miami, Peele wants a strong finish for 2007 but wants nothing taken for granted.
That's why he was up until 3:45 a.m. Sunday watching tape.
"They're a good team and play hard," he said. "We've got to go up there and defend."
The Eagles (5-4) have more talent, are more athletic and have a deeper bench than Mount St. Mary's, but the Mountaineers, because their teamwork is good, are capable of handing the Eagles a loss they don't need.
Coach Milan Brown's team is a lot like Winthrop. It runs a lot of offensive sets, plays solid defense and tries to play a tempo that will keep the game in the low 60s. After an 0-4 start, the Mountaineers won five straight by not allowing more than 59 points.
But they've beaten just one team -- Long Island -- with a winning record and played only four teams with records of .500 or better. Their schedule has been nothing like Winthrop's.
The Mountaineers have three starters back from last year's 11-20 team, including guards Jeremy Goode, who played at Charlotte's Providence Day School, and Chris Vann. Those two and 6-foot-4 sophomore Will Holland, Peele said, "can beat you."
The Eagles faced the Mountaineers at home one year ago today, bolted to a 17-2 lead in the first six minutes and were up 23-6 with 8:52 left in the half and looked ready to coast home. But the Mountaineers trimmed the lead to six, and Winthrop managed to lead by nine at the half, when Chris Gaynor made a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from just past midcourt.
It was an eight-point game with four minutes to play before the Eagles stretched the margin in the final three minutes to win 74-59.
And that was with Torrell Martin, Craig Bradshaw and Phillip Williams, the Eagles shooting 57 percent, every starter hitting double figures and winning the boards 34-17.
The Eagles did a good job of containing the 5-9 Goode, holding him to eight points. He also committed five turnovers. Vann had 15 points.
"They're a lot like us in that everything they do centers around their point guard (Goode) like we do with Chris," Peele said. "We've got to figure out what we can do to take the ball out of his hands. He's the key to it. He has speed and quickness and he gets to the free throw line more than anyone they've got."
Mount St. Mary's is guard-oriented. Goode, Vann and Holland have combined for 296 of the team's 503 field goal attempts. Vann and Holland have combined for 108 of their 125 3-pointers and 40 of their 44 makes, while Goode has shot 66 free throws, 43 more than anyone else.
Their big men -- 6-7, 240-pound Sam Atupem and 6-7, 245 Markus Mitchell -- don't score much and have fouled out three times each. The Mountaineers are being out-rebounded by almost four a game.
"We want to go inside and we want them to foul us," Peele said.
It might help if the Eagles rebound, something they haven't done well the past three games. They've been beaten on the glass in three straight games, including by 11 at Ole Miss, and they've allowed 49 offensive rebounds.
A good shooting night from Michael Jenkins would help, too. As one of the focal points of the defense, he has struggled the past three games, hitting just 14-of-31 shots overall (31 percent) and 4-of-18 3-pointers (22 percent).
All of that makes tonight's game one that has caused Peele some sleepless nights.
"I'm concerned about a letdown," he said. "I thought about this the other night. How do I present this game to our team?
"They've won five straight, and we lost our last one. That's got to be our motivation."