With that 1-10 record, November and December were wicked months for Winthrop basketball, but with his Eagles returning to Big South Conference play tonight at home against Liberty, coach Randy Peele wants his players to understand one thing.
Nothing's going to be easy.
"We can't think that just because we're back in league play it's going to be some kind of remedy," Peele said. "While we've gotten younger, the league's gotten better."
While that 1-10 mark is ugly, the most serious wart on the record is that 0-2 start in the league. The Eagles lost early December road games at VMI and Radford, and while they are just two games back of VMI and Presbyterian, both 2-0, it's a hole they can't let get much deeper.
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They'll try and find it against a Liberty team that may be playing the best of any team in the league. Coach Ritchie McKay's team has won three straight to move to 10-4 overall. The Flames are 1-1 in the Big South, having lost at UNC Asheville 84-56 on Nov. 18 and beating Gardner-Webb 68-59 at home Dec. 6.
The Flames are 1-4 on the road, have lost five straight to Winthrop and haven't won in the Winthrop Coliseum since the 1997-98 season.
"They're really good," Peele said. And, he said, "they are unorthodox."
With 6-11 freshman Carter McMasters out for the season with a stress fracture, 6-9 Tyler Baker slowed by a foot injury and 6-9 freshman Austin Smith a work in progress, McKay has gone to small ball. He plays basically a five-guard lineup -- 6-3 Seth Curry, 6-6 Brolin Floyd, 6-4 Kyle Ohman, 6-3 Jesse Sanders and 6-5 Anthony Smith. Curry, Floyd and Sanders are freshmen, Ohman a junior and Smith, the preseason player of the year, is the league's top senior.
The goal is to open the middle of the floor and create driving angles, If they don't beat people off the dribble, they shoot it, 26 times a game from behind the arc.
Curry, the brother of Davidson's Stephen Curry, is the leading freshman scorer in the nation (20.4). He's getting up 16 shots a game. Smith averages 18.1 and Ohman 11.9. Seven players average at least four points and five average at least four rebounds in McKay's rebound-by-committee approach.
Curry, Smith, Ohman and Sanders average more than 30 minutes per game.
Defensively, they work with an effective matchup zone.
"It's good for us," McKay told the Lynchburg News-Advance. "Not many people are playing the way we're playing."
While not as unorthodox as VMI's run-and-gun game, the Flames have forced opponents to make adjustments. Teams have been forced to sit their big men because coaches don't want 6-10 centers guarding 6-3 guards.
"It gets into matchups," Peele said, "and you've got to keep them out of the lane. The closest thing to them is VMI, but Liberty doesn't play as fast."
Guarding the ball has not been a Winthrop strong suit in the first 11 games. While he was still tinkering with matchups, Peele said 6-2 freshman Andre Jones could draw Curry, 6-5 Mantoris Robinson may get Smith and 6-1 freshman Reggie Middleton would guard Sanders. That leaves 6-7 Cameron Stanley likely to shadow Ohman and 6-7 Charles Corbin on Floyd.
More of a concern for Peele may be how well his team puts the ball in the basket against the zone. The Eagles are shooting a frigid 39 percent overall and a stone cold 26 percent from behind the arc. Corbin is shooting 50 percent, Stanley 44. Stanley has dipped to 36 percent on 3-pointers, while Jones (.292), Middleton (.176), Robinson (.158) and Byron Faison (.286) off the bench have yet to warm up from behind the arc.
"We've got to attack the zone inside out," Peele said, but his guards have to make good decisions with the ball. The Eagles have 162 turnovers compared with 105 assists.
Winthrop's best performances of the season have come at home in a 63-60 loss to East Carolina and a 77-76 setback against College of Charleston. They play their next two and four of their next five league games at home.
But Peele is concerned what kind of effect last Sunday's blowout loss at Florida might have on his young team.
"It's a delicate thing right now," Peele said of his team's confidence. "I think they're resilient. They're not way down but they're certainly not over confident either. Confidence is an issue, and maybe a couple of guys have lost a little confidence.
"We need a win more than anything right now. We've got to find a way."