Winthrop Eagles

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Introducing Cinderella: Winthrop wins the Big South

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Hampton, which finished 8-10 in the Big South and is ranked outside the top-300 on KenPom, looked like it might pull a monster upset in the Big South final to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2016. The Pirates led Winthrop, the conference tournament’s two seed, for the league’s automatic bid by 15 before the midway point of the first half.

It didn’t hold up, though.

The Eagles dominated the second half to put Hampton away and claim a 76-68 victory and their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2017 with the Big South’s automatic bid. Winthrop shot 66 percent from the field in the second half to pull away. Freshman DJ Burns scored 16 points in 18 minutes for Winthrop.

LEAGUE: Big South

COACH: Pat Kelsey

RECORD: 24-10, 15-3 Big South

RELATED: Bubble Watch | Bracketology | Conference Tournaments


  • NET: 146
  • KENPOM: 138
  • TORVIK: 160

PROJECTED SEED: Winthrop won 14-straight from December into February, but lost three games – Radford, Gardner Webb and Hampton – over the last month of the season, and the Eagles are likely destined for a 16 seed.

WHO DID THEY BEAT?: There’s no question that Winthrop’s best win of the season came in November when they went on the road to defeat St. Mary’s 61-59 in Moraga. They played East Tennessee State, Duke, TCU and Furman tough, but to defeats as well.


Certainly the competition in the Big South isn’t going to intimidate any of the teams Winthrop is likely to be matched up against in the NCAA tournament, but the Eagles did rip through 14-straight games this winter. If nothing else, that’s a sign of being able to consistently play at a high level. The Eagles play at a fast pace, and if they get the right matchup, they might be able to dictate tempo enough to create some problems for a high-major with their ability to score near the basket.


It’s been a long time since Winthrop played a fellow NCAA tournament team, and the competition they’re likely to face – probably a top-two seed – is going to be a major upgrade from the programs they’ve been going up against for the better part of three months. The Eagles also aren’t elite any any area, which makes pulling an upset against a more talented team all the more difficult. The biggest issue, though, is their defense, which ranks 250th nationally in effective field goal percentage.


Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey first came into your life as Skip Prosser’s point guard at Xavier for three seasons in the late 1990s that resulted in two NCAA tournaments for the Musketeers. After assistant stops at Xavier and Wake Forest, he took over Winthrop in 2013 and has turned in four 20-win seasons with this being the second NCAA tournament appearance for his Eagles. The 44-year-old could be a name that gets mentioned for mid-major gigs during this go-round of the coaching carousel after getting Winthrop another automatic bid. He reportedly was close to replacing John Brannen at Northern Kentucky last spring.


Like any team facing a No. 1 or No. 2, Winthrop is going to have a heck of a time trying to get into the second round. With just one senior in the rotation, though, this could be a great dress rehearsal for 2020-21 when the Eagles theoretically could be even better with added experience. If it’s going to happen for Winthrop this season, though, the Eagles probably will want a contrasting style matchup, forcing walk-it-up teams like Kansas, Baylor, San Diego State or Dayton to push the pace, even if that might expose the talent gap.

No. 9 Florida State holds off Winthrop 87-76

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Terrance Mann and Phil Cofer helped No. 9 Florida State keep its impressive start to the season going and finish its nonconference schedule nearly perfect.

Mann scored a season-high 22 points, Cofer added 14 and the Seminoles beat Winthrop 87-76 Tuesday for their seventh straight victory. Florida State improved to 12-1 for the fourth time in school history.

“I’m glad that we got the non-conference part of the schedule out of the way,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. “The most positive thing I can say is that we can feel good about the fact that we’re 12-1 and I really believe we have still a lot of upside with this team.”

Mann shot 10 of 11 from the floor, scoring 14 second-half points and grabbing seven rebounds. Cofer made four of his five shots in the first half but missed all three in the second.

The Seminoles’ only blemish so far while matching its best start was a six-point loss to Villanova on Nov. 25. Florida State even did it while playing 10 games without Cofer, the leading scorer from last season’s Elite Eight team, after the senior forward missed nearly seven weeks with a foot injury.

Florida State has long been known as an athletic and deep team. The Seminoles had 39 points from its reserves against Winthrop, and regularly receive significant contributions from their sixth through 11th players. And now with Cofer back from injury, they are arguably one of the deepest teams in college basketball.

“Just to see shots falling for him after what he’s been through has been key for us,” Mann said. “His energy is back on the defensive end, the vocal energy, and that’s just what we needed.”

Florida State was 8 for 16 on 3-pointers in the first half en route to taking a 52-36 lead. Winthrop came into the game as the No. 2 team in the nation in 3-point shots made per game but was just 1 of 10 from beyond the arc in the first half and finished 26.1 percent (6 of 23).

The Seminoles held a 56-38 lead early in the second half but Winthrop pulled to 63-61 with 11:50 left. Florida State, however, never lost the lead and stayed in control.

“They’re Noah’s Ark,” Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey said. “They got two of everything. They got NBA prospects. They’re long, athletic, physical. They play very team-oriented basketball.”

The Seminoles shot 46.9 percent (30 of 64) from the floor.

Adam Pickett scored 19 points and Charles Falden added a season-high 15 points for Winthrop (8-5), whose four-game winning streak ended. The Eagles made 49.2 percent (29 of 59) shots from the floor.

Winthrop played without its top player, Nych Smith, and Bjorn Broman was limited to 14 minutes because of injury. Smith, a senior guard, is averaging a team-high 16 points this season was out with an ankle injury.

“We just didn’t want to risk it,” Kelsey said.


Florida State limited Winthrop to just six 3-pointers, less than half of the Eagles’ per-game average. Anthony Polite scored eight points but had three critical steals, contributing to the Seminoles’ season-high 13 steals.

“He gave us a lot of energy on the defensive end,” Mann said. “And mean and aggressive offensively, not thinking too much and playing his game.”

Florida State also had a season-high eight blocks, including four by Mfiondu Kabengele.


Florida State returned after a nine-day layoff and impressed with a 52-point first half. But the Seminoles’ best chance to move up will come in the ACC opener on Saturday against No. 4 Virginia.


Winthrop: The Eagles got 40 points on layups, at times driving to the basket with ease. Winthrop, however, was hurt by 21 turnovers

Florida State: The Seminoles were dominant for stretches but nearly squandered an 18-point lead. But they still secured their 32nd straight non-conference victory at the Donald L. Tucker Center.


Winthrop: Begins its Big South schedule at UNC Asheville on Saturday.

Florida State: Opens Atlantic Coast Conference play at Virginia on Saturday.

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Kelsey named coach at UMass

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After five seasons at Winthrop, Pat Kelsey is headed to UMass.

The 41-year-old was announced as the Minutemen’s newest coach Tuesday.

“UMass is a national college basketball brand with a proud, powerful tradition,” Kelsey said in a statement released by the school. “As a player in the A-10 (at Xavier), I saw first hand what the potential is there. I look forward to the challenge of making UMass a major factor on the national level once again.”

UMass went 15-18 last season under Derek Kellogg, who took the Minutemen to the NCAA tournament as a six-seed in 2014, but saw the program languish around .500 the last three seasons.

Kelsey went 102-59 at Winthrop, going 26-7 this past season and taking the Eagles to their first NCAA tournament since 2010. Prior to his five-year stint with Winthrop, Kelsey was the associate head coach to Chris Mack at Xavier. He also previously worked at Wake Forest under Skip Prosser and Dino Gaudio. He played in three NCAA tournaments while a player at Xavier.

“Pat has been an important piece of some highly-successful programs throughout his career,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said in a statement, “including the last five years leading the basketball program at Winthrop University.

“Coach Kelsey has a detailed plan for every phase of our program and a passionate work ethic providing fuel to reach our goals of building a championship-caliber program.”

Butler has no problem with Winthrop

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As a former Cinderella itself, Butler didn’t treat a potential one too kindly Thursday.

The Bulldogs, of course, are underdogs no more.

Fourth-seeded Butler dominated No. 13 Winthrop from nearly start to finish to win 76-64 in a first-round matchup at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee.

The Bulldogs showed no ill effects from the two-game losing skid they entered the tournament on after dropping games to Seton Hall and Xavier. They struggled some on both ends of the floor in those two games.

That was no issue against the Eagles.

Butler shot 49 percent from the floor and made 8 of 19 from beyond the arc while holding Winthrop to 40 percent shooting overall.

Every shot Avery Woodson put up was from the 3-point line, and he made 6 of 10 to finish with 18 points. Andrew Chrabascz had 12 and Keelan Martin added 10.

Winthrop’s dynamo point guard Keon Johnson scored 17 points, five below his season average, but was clearly bothered by the length and athleticism he rarely saw from Big South opponents. He was 7 of 19 from the field. Xavier Cooks tried to help pick up the offensive slack, scoring 23 points, but he too was inefficient, going 10 of 22 from the field as the Eagles just couldn’t find consistent footing against their Big East foe.

Up next for the Bulldogs is a Round 2 matchup with the winner of Minnesota-Middle Tennessee State on Saturday.

Introducing Cinderella: Winthrop Eagles headed to NCAA tournament

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Conference: Big South

Coach: Pat Kelsey

Record: 26-6, 15-3 (T-1)

Ratings and Rankings:

Kenpom: 114
RPI: 70
AP/USA Today: Not ranked

Seeding: The Eagles are likely headed to a seed in the 14 range. They have just one win of serious significance – at Illinois in November – and home losses to Radford and High Point depress their seeding ceiling.

Names you need to know: The offense is centered around Keon Johnson and Xavier Cooks in a big way. The 5-foot-7 Johnson, the Big South player of the year, is averaging 22.4 points per game and shoots better than 40 percent from 3-point range. Cooks is at 16.2 points per game and also pulls down nine boards per night.

Stats you need to know: 43.4. That’s the percentage of its shots Winthrop take from 3-point range. The Eagles convert at a 38 percent clip and have four players shooting 33 percent or better, with two Johnson (40.0) and Anders Broman (45.9) at 40 or better. That amount of shooting makes them dangerous to higher seeds.

Big wins, bad losses: The Eagles knocked off Illinois in Champaign in November, 84-80 in overtime, for their only top-100 KenPom win, though they do own victories over Furman (109) and UNC-Asheville (104). Losses to Radford (295) and High Point (269), both coming at home, are pretty serious blemishes.

How’d they get here?: They blasted Charleston Southern in their first game of the Big South tournament before surviving overtime against Gardner Webb in the semifinals. The Eagles avoided a rubber-match with Big South co-champs UNC Asheville when the Bulldogs lost in the semifinals to seventh-seeded Campbell, which was throttled by the Eagles, 76-59, on the Winthrop campus Saturday to capture the Big South title.

Outlook: Johnson, Cooks and the team’s 3-point shooting could give the Eagles a fighting chance, but the high-major opponent they’ll undoubtedly be matched up against will likely have plenty of length and defensive versatility to try to bottle up the 5-foot-7 Johnson. It’s a tough ask for any 14 seed to make it through the first round, but Winthrop’s 3-point shooting makes than an intriguing team. Also, the Eagles have been on the NCAA doorstep for the last three years, losing in the conference title game, so there’s a serious foundation there under Kelsey, who could be a coach bigger programs target once the coaching carousel gets spinning.

How do I know you?: Winthrop got the Big South’s first-ever NCAA tournament victory when as an 11-seed the Eagles defeated six-seed Notre Dame, 74-64, in 2007.

Big South Preview: Can John Brown take down Coastal Carolina?

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Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Big South Conference.

A month before the Big South Tournament started, seven teams were tied for first place in the conference standings. Once the tournament began, the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds were bounced in the quarterfinals. Despite all the parity and chaos in the league, the tournament champion remained the same.

Coastal Carolina is eyeing a third consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament in its final season in the Big South before moving to the Sun Belt Conference.

The Chanticleers bring back Elijah Wilson, the Big South Tournament MVP, point guard Shivaughn Wiggins and power forward Badou Diagne. That trio could make a three-peat possible. Coastal Carolina boasted one of the conference’s most efficient offenses and defenses, and tops in both offensive and defensive rebounding 2014-15. The production of graduating guards Warren Gillis and Josh Cameron won’t be easily replaced, but if they defend and crash the boards like they’ve done in the past, the Chanticleers will be in a good position when they host the Big South Tournament again in March.

Like the Chanticleers, many of the teams across the Big South have lost start players. Of the 15 players named to the all-conference teams last March, only two of them return this season.

One of them is High Point senior John Brown, the ultra-athletic and physically imposing forward. Through his first three years he’s averaged 18.5 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. He’s helped the Panthers win at least a share of the last three regular season titles, but has no NCAA tournament appearances to show for it. Click here and check out some of the dunks he’s thrown down over the years. Now imagine him playing on the first Thursday or Friday of the NCAA tournament. Fun, right? Surrounded by a cast of upperclassmen, Brown could finally get that shot this spring.

Winthrop graduated two double-digit scorers, including first-team selection Keon Moore. Keon Johnson will be the key holder over in a new-look perimeter that could feature not one, but two Division II transfers. Jimmy Gavin’s amazing journey was chronicled back in May. Roderick Perkins, a 6-foot-5 wing, was the second-leading scorer in all of D2 in 2013-14. Winthrop’s defense, rated as the most efficient in the Big South, returns a pair of shot-blockers — Xavier Cooks and Duby Okeke — the frontline. Zach Price, the former Louisville and Missouri big man, is eligible this season, as well.

Longwood could be a dangerous team, especially if the Lancers can get quality play from the back court. The Lancers have one conference’s best front courts. Shaquille Johnson is one of the league’s top athletes. Lotanna Nwogbo, the 6-foot-8 forward, is back after missing the last 17 games of conference play with a thumb ligament tear. In three full Big South contest, he was averaging 19.3 points and 12.0 boards per game. Gardner-Webb is dealing with the loss of Jerome Hill and Tyler Strange, but returns six of its top nine scorers, including Tyrell Nelson. Radford should be another potential sleeper. YaYa Anderson is joined by senior Rashun Davis and Cameron Jones, the potential breakout star of the league.

MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule


  • Favorite: “In my mind, it would probably be High Point. There will be several teams that have really good players back, but High Point has several really good players back and John Brown has been one of the top players in the league for the last three years. Probably the team with the most experience, top to bottom, coming back is Coastal. I think they have four starters back, but I think they lose two really good players. On paper, as you look at it, Coastal makes sense to pick first.”
  • Sleeper: “I think a lot of people would say Longwood. I think they have a talented roster and they have a player on their team (Lotanna Nwogbo) I think a lot of people would talk about having a chance to be one of the better players in the league. He got hurt the second or third game in the conference season.”
  • Star to watch: “I’d say John Brown should be the favorite for preseason player of the year. There are a lot of good ones, but he’s definitely been really good for a long period of time. I think it starts with his motor and how hard he competes and how physical he is. He just stays after it every possession. He really plays so hard on both ends. He’s great at working at working on catching the ball at the rim and using his size and athleticism to score in the paint. Then he’ll get stuff in transition and on the offensive glass. He’s a monster.”


Brown, maybe the best dunker in all of college basketball, returns for his senior season after averaging 19.3 points and 6.0 rebounds per game in 2014-15. The 6-foot-8 nightmare matchup plays with a consistent motor. He understands angles and where to position himself on the floor in order to get easy buckets. Brown also creates opportunities for himself in the open floor and offensive glass.


  • Tyrell Nelson, Gardner-Webb: The 6-foot-7 center was top-10 in the Big South in both scoring and rebounding at 13.9 points and 6.5 rebounds a night.
  • Elijah Wilson, Coastal Carolina: Had a strong finish to last season, earning Big South Tournament MVP honors. The 6-foot-4 guard is the top returning scorer at 11.3 points per game.
  • Shaquille Johnson, Longwood: The best athlete in the conference not named John Brown, Johnson averaged 13.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.5 steals per game last season.
  • DeSean Murray, Presbyterian: The Blue Hose will rely heavily on the 6-foot-5 sophomore, who recorded five double-doubles during conference play last season.



1. Coastal Carolina
2. High Point
3. Winthrop
4. Longwood
5. Gardner-Webb
6. Radford
7. Charleston Southern
8. UNC Asheville
9. Campbell
10. Presbyterian
11. Liberty