It’s about time we discussed the Coppin State Eagles.
After three consecutive winless non-conference slates, they became the joke of college basketball in the Baltimore area. People created Instagram meme pages centered around the team, along with a map covered in Coppin’s logo, showing it was the only team in college basketball last season without a win by New Year’s Eve.
That’s been a big problem for head coach Juan Dixon. Going into this year, the 2002 Final Four Most Outstanding Player had yet to pick up a non-conference win in his two seasons at Coppin State. Hell, Coppin hadn’t beaten a D-I team in non-conference play since 2013. They hadn’t beaten two in a row since 2000, and both those opponents came from the SWAC.
But after a solid 7-9 MEAC record last season, it looked like things were starting to turn around in northwest Baltimore. And boy have they. Coppin has won three non-conference games for the first time since 1996-97, the same year the Eagles upset 2 seed South Carolina in the NCAA Tournament.
Their wins haven’t exactly been relative cupcakes either. All three teams the Eagles have beaten still rank at least 25 spots higher than them in KenPom.
Their first victory was at Gentile Arena in Chicago. The Eagles upset the fightin’ Sister Jeans and Loyola University Chicago, two years removed from its Final Four run.
About a week and a half after that, the Eagles returned home for the first time since opening night when they faced off against Jim Boeheim’s son, Jimmy, and his Cornell Big Red. Coppin dominated the first half but let Boeheim score 10 unanswered to help the Big Red fight back and force overtime. Transfer Andrew Robinson hit the game-winning shot with 43 seconds left to seal the deal on Coppin’s first home D-I non-conference win since 2013.
Coppin completed the three-game feat three nights after the Cornell win when they beat DMV rival James Madison, 94-78.
With wins like those, there is no doubt they can go into Montana and beat the Grizz. Or go to Davidson and upset the Wildcats within the next month.
Well, maybe there’s some doubt. But we can be excited for a little bit, OK?
If you’ve never watched the Eagles play, keep an eye out for the team’s only major returnee from last year, Preseason All-MEAC First Team member, Dejuan Clayton.
Clayton came into 2019 only 92 points away from 1,000 for his career. During the sixth game of the season, he reached that goal and became the 23rd Eagle in history to do so. For Coppin to jump to the top of the MEAC and make it to the tournament for the first time since 2009, it’ll need Clayton to form into the team leader and mold these transfers together.
Dixon brought in many of those transfers and they’re making an impact early. Through the first eight games of the season, the four key transfers are averaging a combined 43.4 points per game or 61.6 percent of the team’s scoring. Those key transfers — Kamar McKnight (Tennessee State), Koby Thomas (Robert Morris), and brothers Andrew and Aaron Robinson from Quinnipiac — didn’t play much at their past schools, but are proving their worth in the MEAC.
Five teams not named Coppin State earned first-place votes in the MEAC Preseason Poll. The two main favorites in the league are NC Central and Bethune Cookman. NC Central has won the MEAC tournament three years in a row and were picked to win it a fourth time this year. Bethune Cookman was not that far behind, led by Preseason Player of the Year, Cletrell Pope.
Three wins by Thanksgiving might seem like nothing to a non-MEAC mid-major fan, but they’re partying like it’s 1997 out in West Baltimore. With a couple more big wins under their belt and a NCAA Tournament appearance, Coppin could be Baltimore’s team once again.