Cliff Ellis likes big guards and he cannot lie.
Forgive the Sir Mix-A-Lot reference, but Coastal Carolina has a backcourt that poses problems for Big South opponents with its size. Winthrop, with starting guards Andre Smith and Keon Johnson both shorter than 6-foot, is no exception.
Coastal Carolina (15-5, 6-2), which beat Winthrop (10-9, 5-3) in the Big South tournament championship game last season, gets nearly 30 percent of its total scoring from the shooting guard position, according to KenPom.com. That’s fourth-most in the country, and even if KenPom’s number crunchers don’t always know which Chanticleer is playing the two, it’s still obvious that the team’s scoring comes from its backcourt.
When the two teams meet Wednesday night in Conway, two of the best guard groups in the league will be on display, but it will be the home team trying to take advantage of one distinct difference: perimeter size.
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“That’s what they did in the tournament,” said Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey. “Why wouldn’t you? There is no question they’re going to try and exploit that. It’s up to us to try and counteract that.”
In Warren Gillis – 6-foot-3 – and Elijah Wilson – 6-foot-4 – the Chanticleers have two double-digit scorers that were difficult to stop in Coastal’s 76-61 win over Winthrop on March 9, 2014 in the Big South championship game. Gillis led all scorers with 22, while Wilson added 12. Both can shoot, but are at their best when they’re full throttling to the rim, or backing down smaller defenders.
“They’re an attacking offensive team,” said Kelsey. “I call a team like Coastal, ‘an assault on the paint team.’ They’re really trying to create long gaps and then attack you off the bounce. They put you in a lot of ball screen situations that really test your defense as well.”
Winthrop can take heart from two winning defensive performances against Liberty and Campbell, two other Big South teams with taller guards. Against Coastal, the Eagles will need big defensive efforts from Derrick Henry and Keon Moore, two of Winthrop’s taller perimeter players. Henry, 6-foot-2 and one of Winthrop’s top defenders, has seen plenty of Gillis over the years.
“They do a lot of spin moves, especially Gillis,” he said after Monday’s practice. “Spin, up-and-under, pump fakes, fade-aways, so just making sure I stay down on pump-fakes, being ready to guard the second move and just being locked in the entire possession.”
There isn’t any relief when Ellis turns to his bench. First off the pine is guard Josh Cameron, who leads Coastal in scoring at 13.7 points per game and also leads the team in percentage of shots taken at 35.2. That’s 11th highest in NCAA, and indicative of Cameron’s importance to the team regardless of when he gets on the floor. In the Big South championship, Cameron was part of an avalanche of offense that buried the Eagles, hitting 3-of-6 threes en route to 17 points.
“The shots they made in the tournament, it was like ‘jeez o’ Petes,’” said Kelsey. “It was kind of a perfect storm.”
In halfcourt offense, transition or in rebounding, Coastal attacks the paint, and adding Mount St. Mary’s transfer Shivaughn Wiggins, a 5-foot-11 penetrating point guard, to the mix has better balanced the Chanticleers. Indicative of its aggression and efficiency on offense, Coastal has made 321 free throws; their opponents have only attempted 322.
Coastal Carolina has used the same starting lineup in 14 straight games and it’s built with a clear game plan in mind: three scorers and two rebounders/dirty workers. The Chanticleers have 80 more offensive rebounds than their opponents this season thanks in large part to the trio of Badou Diagne, Michel Enanga and Tristian Curtis. If Gillis and the guards have an off night, expect the Chanticleers’ clean-up men to be hungry.
“Their ability to get to the free throw line and get second opportunities is problematic, to say the least,” said Kelsey.