Opening Round Preview: Coppin St vs Mount St Mary's

    
March 18th, 2008
I’ll go ahead and cave in to the NCAA’s wishes that people refer to Tuesday’s game between Coppin State and Mount St. Mary’s as the “Opening Round Game” instead of calling it what it really is: a play-in game. Do they really think that the losing team will feel like they actually took part in the NCAA Tournament when they’re at a site with only one other team present? No but credit the people of Dayton, Ohio for doing a good job with this game, because things could be a whole lot worse.

 

As for the concept of this game, I’ve been on the stump for years to change this into a day with four games matching up bubble teams to figure out who the last four teams in should be. And has there been a more compelling argument for such a change than this year? That would be much more feasible than doubling the size of the tournament to add teams that are currently hovering around .500 with the sole goal being to hand out more bids to BCS conferences. But enough about that, let’s take a look at the two teams playing in this opening round game.

 

You’ll probably laugh (or curse me as a blankety-blank fool), but the Coppin State Eagles are one of the hotter teams entering the tournament. Usually when a team reaches the record of 4-19, 0-8 in conference play, it’s time to fold up the tent and look forward to next season. But not Fang Mitchell’s bunch, who won twelve of their last thirteen and four games in four days (by a grand total of six points) to take the MEAC’s automatic bid. Their 16-20 record makes them the first team in tournament history with twenty losses, but given the number of guarantee games schools from the MEAC and SWAC are forced to play to keep their athletic departments afloat this isn’t as bad as it looks.

 

Mount St. Mary’s didn’t experience that kind of futility to start the year, but they didn’t truly hit their stride until head coach Milan Brown went from a traditional half-court offense to a form of the Dribble Drive Motion system that’s been best employed by the Memphis Tigers. Guards Jeremy Goode and Chris Vann experienced more freedom, but they had to put in a full effort on the defensive end in order for Coach Brown to buy in. They’ve done it, and as a result the Mountaineers find themselves in the NCAA Tournament.

 

Tournament History

           

Coppin State: 1990 (Fifteen seed in the South; lost to Syracuse 70-48 in the first round); 1993 (Fifteen seed in the East; lost to Cincinnati 93-66 in the first round); 1997 (Fifteen seed in the East; beat South Carolina 78-65, lost to Texas 82-81 in the second round).

 

Mount St. Mary’s: 1995 (Sixteen seed in the Southeast; lost to Kentucky 113-67 in the first round); 1999 (Sixteen seed in the Midwest; lost to Michigan State 76-53 in the first round).

 

Note: The Northeast Conference currently has the worst winning percentage of any conference in NCAA Tournament play. The conference has an overall record of 2-26 all-time.

 

Team Statistics (conference leader in bold)

 

Category

Coppin State (conf. rank)

Mount St. Mary’s (conf. rank)

PPG

59.8 (7th in MEAC)

69.1 (8th in NEC)

PPG allowed

65.9 (5th)

66.5 (1st)

FT %

71.9 (1st)

69.6 (7th)

FG %

39.8 (10th)

44.6 (4th)

FG % defense

44.1 (7th)

41.5 (2nd)

3 PT %

31.8 (7th)

36.7 (3rd)

3 PT % defense

34.7 (8th)

32.1 (3rd)

Rebound margin

- 4.6 (9th)

- 1.4 (8th)

Turnover margin

+ 2.08 (1st)

+ 0.72 (4th)

Assist/Turnover ratio

0.64 (9th)

0.89 (6th)

 

 

Team Leaders (conference leader in bold)

 

Category

Coppin State

Mount St. Mary’s

PPG

Tywain McKee (16.6)

Chris Vann (14.4)

RPG

Robert Pressey (5.5)

Markus Mitchell (5.9)

APG

McKee (3.09)

Jeremy Goode (5.55)

FG %

Antwan Harrison (45.7)

Sam Atupem (51.2)

3 PT %

McKee (44.6)

Vann (39.2)

Assist/Turnover ratio

McKee (1.20)

Goode (1.62)

 

Players to Watch

 

Coppin State- Senior guard Tywain McKee

 

The primary offensive option for Fang Mitchell’s Eagles, McKee has the capability to put this team on his back and carry them to a win, as he did in the semifinals and final of the MEAC Tournament. Against Norfolk State in the semis, McKee went for twenty-six points as CSU pulled out a 67-65 win. For an encore, McKee lit up Morgan State for thirty-three points in the final, including the Eagles’ last nine points and a game-winner with five seconds remaining. Simply put, McKee will be the man taking the majority of the shots for Coppin State. It’s up to the Mountaineers to make him work for those shots.

 

Coppin State- Senior swingman Antwan Harrison

 

When your primary scoring option is bound to be the first line in the opponent’s scouting report, there has to be someone else with the ability to put some points on the board. Harrison, the team’s second-leading scorer and leader in field goal percentage, is the best candidate to do so. He only averaged a little more than eleven points per game in the MEAC Tournament, but a little more may be required of him if CSU is to advance.

 

Mount St. Mary’s- Senior guard Chris Vann

 

Vann, who leads the team in scoring and three-point percentage, was one of the chief beneficiaries of Coach Brown’s change in offensive philosophy. He possesses the ability to beat opponents off the dribble and can also knock down the outside shot and get his teammates involved. However, he’s been in a bit of a slump of late, and the foul trouble that has put him on the bench for long stretches of time hasn’t helped either. The Mount would best be served to have him stay away from silly fouls.

 

Mount St. Mary’s- Freshman guard Jean Cajou

 

Cajou may only average 6.9 points and just over twenty minutes per game, but without his efforts in the NEC Tournament the Mountaineers wouldn’t be in the NCAA Tournament. Named MVP of the conference tournament, Cajou posted games of 20, 13 and 15 points in their three games. Scoring twenty-seven in their regular season finale against Monmouth did wonders for his confidence, which was on full display in the NEC Tournament. If he can keep up his solid play along with Vann staying on the floor, the Mount could be in good shape.

 

What should happen in this game?

 

I like the Mountaineers to win this one, due primarily to their scoring balance. In addition to the aforementioned Vann, Goode and Cajou, Coach Brown can also rely on players such as Sam Atupem and Kelly Beidler, who also scored fifteen points in the conference final at Sacred Heart. Personally I have more confidence in one of them stepping up if needed as opposed to the Coppin State supporting cast. But with this selection comes a word of warning: do not let this one be close late, because Tywain McKee has shown himself to be more than capable of taking over a game.