Wide-Open Approach

By Ian Guerin - October 09, 2007


CONCORD, N.C. -- Randy Peele gets to have his cake and eat it too.

Only in this case, Peele knows he was one of the people spreading the icing.

Peele, the first-year Winthrop head coach, took over after long-time head man Gregg Marshall left for the Missouri Valley Conference (and a seven-figure payday) at Wichita State. But as Peele's hectic first offseason comes to a close with the start of basketball season, he said Tuesday he did not vote his team No. 1 in the preseason Big South poll.

Here's the kicker: He's then going to turn around and use it as motivation for his players.

"They're upset about it," said Peele, whose team would have been named the favorite if he selected the Eagles first since High Point received one more first-place vote than Winthrop. "To the guys who are seniors, they are very pround. They've been to three NCAA tournaments."

But?

"They know [opponents] smell blood."

The turnover at Winthrop was more than just Marshall -- the Eagles also lost all-Big South honorees Craig Bradshaw and Torrell Martin and key forward Philip Williams.

The league's turnover isn't restricted to Rock Hill, S.C., though. Peele is one of four new coaches, Ritchie McKay at Liberty, Cliff Ellis at Coastal Carolina and Brad Greenberg at Radford being the others. The overall changes have affected the look of the league.

And they just might add to an upstart bumping Winthrop from the top of the totem pole, although McKay said the look of transition might be gone by the time conference games begin in January.

"I've been the new guy before," McKay said. "It really doesn't mean anything after media day. The newness wears off."

Ellis has said previously the coaching carousel's biggest damages might be in that any past knowledge of teams and schemes might need to be thrown out the window. That could be especially true since two of the new head coaches were hired after their predecessor severely underperformed to expectation.

The unknowns likely contributed to VMI's boost up the rankings. Despite finishing last year's regular season 12-18 overall and 5-9 in league play.

All it took, coach Duggar Baucom said, was a run to the finals of the Big South tournament.

"Two years ago, I sat at this thing by myself," said Baucom, referring to being picked to finish at the bottom of the pack two years in a row prior to this season. "When you're picked eighth, that happens. It's flattering that your peers think you're getting better."

VMI obviously improved -- and turned heads by averaging more than 100 points per game. But to leap frog so much speaks volumes to what the league's preseason voters aren't sure about.

The questions of who is back and who isn't, and rather how it will all play out, begin to garner answers in exactly one month when six of the eight teams open play.

Until then, the seven teams not named Winthrop can speculate about their abilities and whether the Eagles are ready to give up their crown.

"I know it's out there," Peele said. "I think what Coach Marshall did ... is fuel the fire for the league to continue to grow."

At what time someone will grow enough to knock off Winthrop remains to be seen.

Posted by Ian Guerin at 04:33 PM on October 09, 2007
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