The Opponent: Winthrop Eagles
Date: November 20, 2021
Last Year: 23-2 (17-1 Big South), 101st in KenPom
When you’re a Big South team and you go 23-2, your head coach tends to get hired away by another school, and that’s exactly what happened after Winthrop did that last season. Pat Kelsey (who was, ironically, supposedly the runner-up for the Vanderbilt job when Vanderbilt hired Bryce Drew in 2016) is out after nine years and a 186-95 record, hired by the College of Charleston.
In is former Kelsey assistant Mark Prosser, who left after the 2017-18 season to become Western Carolina’s head coach, where he went 37-53 over three years, going 11-16 last year. If the name sounds familiar, he’s the son of the late Wake Forest head coach Skip Prosser. This sounds like kind of a “eh, he’s our guy” hire, trying to keep the continuity with the successful coach who just left and maybe ignoring the record he posted at an admittedly difficult SoCon job.
Only four players who played significant minutes for Winthrop last season are gone; the problem is that three of them might have been Winthrop’s best players. 6’7” Chandler Vaudrin (12.0 ppg/7.3 rpg/6.9 apg) had a stat line that speaks for itself; 6’3” Charles Faiden (10.1 ppg/3.2 rpg) and 6’6” Adonis Arms (10.5 ppg/4.7 rpg) were also very good players for the Eagles. Faiden and Arms both took advantage of the NCAA’s extra year to transfer to, respectively, James Madison and Texas Tech. Vaudrin didn’t enter the transfer portal, instead electing to try a pro career. Another starter, Kyle Zunic, is also gone after averaging 5.0 ppg and 2.6 rpg.
6’9”, 275-pound junior D.J. Burns (10.1 ppg/3.4 rpg) only played 15.7 minutes a game, but those were 15 really good minutes a night. It’s not really clear why, because he wasn’t exceptionally foul-prone, I can just only assume that Winthrop did that because they were deep enough that they could. Another starter from last season returns as well in 6’4” senior Michael Anumba (6.4 ppg/4.0 rpg.)
The good news for Winthrop is that playing a lot of guys meant that some young players got plenty of experience last season. Out of that group, 6’3” Josh Corbin (6.6 ppg/1.4 rpg) and 6’7” Kelton Talford (5.7 ppg/3.8 rpg), both sophomores, showed a lot of promise. 5’8” junior Russell Jones (4.9 ppg/1.5 apg), 6’7” junior Chase Claxton (4.3 ppg/3.6 rpg), 6’5” junior Jamal King (3.6 ppg/2.0 rpg), and 6’5” sophomore Toneari Lane (2.2 ppg/0.8 rpg) round out the returnees.
Unsurprisingly, given that this is a mid-major program in the era of the transfer portal, Winthrop doesn’t have a single freshman on the roster. Instead, Mark Prosser added five transfers in the offseason. There’s one Power Five transfer in Drew Buggs, a super senior who averaged 1.8 ppg and 1.9 apg at Missouri last season. Two players, 6’7” junior Cory Hightower (13.8 ppg/6.2 rpg) and 6’1” sophomore Sin’Cere McMahon (6.0 ppg/1.8 rpg), followed Prosser from Western Carolina. 6’0” super senior Patrick Good sat out last year at ETSU, but averaged 7.5 ppg the season before. And, 6’5” junior Cameron Whiteside averaged 21.1 ppg last season at Division II UVA-Wise.
Not that I’m presenting myself as an expert on Winthrop, but teams like this are always hard to project. The team’s best players are gone, but there’s a lot of continuity with the role players from last year’s team, and maybe some of them can step up this year. And there’s also a new coach. Odds are they won’t go 23-2 again, and should at least be beatable for Vanderbilt, but odds are also good that the bottom won’t completely fall out. My first reaction to scheduling Winthrop was “bold move,” but after a look at the roster they have coming back, this looks more like a solid mid-major squad than a “oh God why would you schedule them?!” type of team.