Both programs have a winning tradition and both have recently won championships. East Tennessee State won the Southern Conference title in 2016-17, the same year which Winthrop captured the Big South Conference title.
There is an obvious tie-in with Gregg Marshall serving as Winthrop’s coach before moving to Wichita State, where ETSU coach Steve Forbes was his top assistant.
"They've had historic success," Forbes said. "Gregg Marshall, who was a mentor of mine, won a game in the NCAAs when he was there. Coach (Pat) Kelsey has continued that tradition and has done a good job there."
The Eagles (2-1) are coming off a 134-99 win over Pfeiffer on Tuesday. Seven players scored in double figures, including Michael Anumba with 19 points and Adam Pickett with 18, as Winthrop broke the team scoring record — which had stood for 22 years.
That game against a Division III school was similar to the Bucs' 109-44 blowout of Hiwassee a week earlier. ETSU's last outing was a 75-69 loss at Big East Conference member Creighton on Sunday, when the Bucs blew a 12-point lead in the final minutes.
"We have to continue to improve," Forbes said. "We had a chance to win against Georgia State and we didn't execute offensively. We had a chance to win against Creighton and didn't execute defensively. They scored 10 of their last 11 possessions. We have to improve what we're doing, but we have to prepare for our opponent."
That opponent is averaging 102.3 points per game, including 79 in a loss to Vanderbilt. Pickett is leading the way at 18.3 points per game, followed by Nyah Smith (17.0), Josh Ferguson (13.3), Keodnre Schumacher (13.0) and Anumba (12.0).
"They're going to stretch our defense," Forbes said as the Bucs have held opponents to 64.3 points per game. "You try to get them in a half-court matchup, although we still like to run. Winthrop runs five guys on the perimeter. That causes other issues."
With his own team, Forbes pointed to the Bucs needing to do a better job getting the ball inside on offense and working through ball screens on defense than they did against Creighton.
Through the first three games, ETSU is averaging 82 points per game. Tray Boyd III is the leading scorer at 11.7 points per game, followed by Bo Hodges at 10.7 and Mladen Armus and Jeromy Rodriguez with 10-point averages. Patrick Good is averaging nine points, which includes going 8-for-21 from 3-point range.
Win or lose, the Bucs won't be able to dwell on it long. They have three games in four nights, hosting a two-day tournament in Johnson City on Monday and Tuesday.
"It's definitely a case where you're going to have a short memory," Forbes said. "Games are coming at you at rapid fire, but that's OK. You want to play games now."