Winthrop hosts Presbyterian Wednesday night at 7 p.m. looking for an eighth win in the last nine contests. Here’s five things to know ahead of the Blue Hose’s visit to Rock Hill:
Winthrop health update
Six-foot-10 Australian freshman Tom Pupavac and rookie guard Keondre Schumacher have been relatively absent from the program in the last week as they fought off the flu. It’s been an abnormally terrible and dangerous flu season in the Carolinas and nationally, and few teams in the Big South have been spared.
Winthrop can be thankful it’s not been hit by serious illness as badly as some college basketball programs. James Madison announced Tuesday that it was postponing its Thursday and Saturday games against Elon and UNC Wilmington because of a suspected mumps outbreak.
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Pupavac and Schumacher were back in practice Tuesday, but their fellow freshman, Australian guard Kyle Zunic, still isn’t back from an appendicitis operation he underwent over a week ago. It’s not clear when Zunic will return. He’ll need to rebuild his fitness levels, which may rule him out for Saturday’s game at High Point, even if he returns to practice later this week.
Inbounds play scoring
Here’s an odd stat to keep an eye on: Winthrop is ranked fourth in the country in points per possession on inbounds plays under the basket, according to Synergy Sports. The Eagles get 1.174 points on each inbounds play under the opponent’s basket, which ranks behind only Villanova, Wake Forest and Gonzaga.
Winthrop led the country’s 351 teams in that category for about a week. The stat suggests Winthrop players run their inbounds plays precisely, but that they’re also making the open shots the plays create.
Broman brothers stroking it from 3-point range
Bjorn Broman is shooting a league-best 53 percent from 3-point land in conference games, and has hit three or more triples in eight Big South games. The 6-foot guard has one of the best offensive efficiency ratings in the country, a product of his sweet shooting stroke but also his carefulness with the basketball. He’s stepped up from a solid player his first two years to an offensive threat that has to be accounted for as a junior.
Anders Broman had a slow shooting start to the conference season but he’s 15-of-30 from beyond the arc in the last six games.
When Winthrop gets consistent production from its outside shooters, driving lanes begin to yawn for Xavier Cooks and Adam Pickett. One of the reasons the Eagles have been so potent offensively this winter is floor spacing, made possible by lethal 3-point shooters.
Regular season title race update
UNC Asheville leads the pack at 9-3, but six teams are within three games of first place heading into the Feb. 7 round of games.
That group includes Winthrop, tied with Radford in second place. Here’s a quick look at what the top-four teams have left on their Big South schedule:
▪ UNC Asheville: The Bulldogs have three home games and three road games remaining. The home game on Feb. 22 against Winthrop will be nationally televised and could be a regular season title-deciding game.
▪ Winthrop: The Eagles’ final six games are split evenly between home and road games, and split evenly between teams near the bottom (Presbyterian, Longwood and Charleston Southern) and teams at or near the top (UNC Asheville, Gardner-Webb and High Point).
▪ Radford: The Highlanders also have an even split between road and home games. Their schedule feels a little tougher than Winthrop and UNC Asheville, though, with High Point, Asheville and Campbell the next three up. There is also a road game at Liberty on Feb. 22 to win.
▪ Gardner-Webb: Guess what? The Runnin’ Bulldogs have three road and three home games left. But just one of Gardner-Webb’s final six games is against a team in the bottom-three, and the Runnin’ Bulldogs finish with UNC Asheville at home.
Presbyterian, under first-year coach
Presbyterian had its first five-game winning streak in the school’s short Division I history earlier this season.
Dustin Kerns took over the program’s helm after longtime coach Gregg Nibert stepped aside after last season, but his team was hurt when two key players were ruled academically ineligible in early January.
The Blue Hose still have senior guards Davon Bell (13 points per game) and Reggie Dillard (16.3 points), who can hurt teams on any night.
Big South standings (as of Feb. 6, 2018)
Big South record
at Charleston Southern