2008 started off as a year to forget for the city of Baltimore. Well, at least for the part of town that housed little old Coppin State University. In their first game of the new year, the Coppin State Eagles got their usual solid performances from guard Tywain McKee and forward Antwan Harrison, but it just wasn't enough, as the Eagles fell to Norfolk State by a final of 65-60.
The game continued a terrible slide for the team, marking their tenth loss in a row and their 14th in 15 games. Perhaps the only consolation (if you want to call it that) was the fact that it was the third time in that span that the team lost by less than 25 points.
Fast forward to five weeks ago, the night of Saturday, February 2. This time the Eagles were at home, and McKee had an off night, just off enough to leave the Eagles with a 56-48 loss to Delaware State on their home court.
At this point, most fans of the team were probably numb to the losing, because it was no longer fresh. That loss was their sixth in a row, and their 19th loss in a span of 21 games. The team at that point was fairly well buried at the bottom of the MEAC (Mid-Eastern) and players could already have been looking forward to next season.
They can't do that yet, though, because they're now in the NCAA Tournament.
"How on earth did that happen?" you ask. I wondered the same thing when I saw their victory in the conference tournament. Between their sudden rise to the tournament and their having a coach named Fang, it was too good to not write about.
Well, winning eight games in a row didn't take miracle after miracle, which isn't surprising. A lot of times you'll see a bit of regression towards the average over a season. Their streak consisted of four wins over the three teams down at the bottom of the conference with them, three wins over three teams that had beaten them by a total of seven points the first time around, and one solid win on the road against Florida A&M.
By the time the streak ended with a near-miss against eventual conference champs Morgan State, the Eagles had pulled themselves up to a much more respectable record (7-9, 13-20) and the middle of the Mid-Eastern conference.
That was all well and good, but they were still a team that, much like Illinois in the Big Ten or Georgia in the SEC, may have made noise down the stretch, but were still a sub-.500 team for a reason and would have to pull off the unlikely feat of winning the conference tournament to make the Big Dance.
Well, four more consecutive wins by a total of six points, including a 33 point night from stud guard McKee, and the improbable has become a reality. The Coppin State Eagles have become the first team ever to enter the NCAA tournament after losing 20 games in the regular season.
Granted, the deck is stacked, because all Coppin State gets for their efforts is the chance to be in the play-in game tomorrow against Mount Saint Mary's, and if they manage to win that one, they get to travel all the way to Raleigh to face the almighty UNC Tar Heels.
It may not end on the prettiest of notes, but the Eagles have got to be very proud of their impressive turnaround this season, which they will hopefully use as a springboard to better things next year.
Sidenote: I'd like to give an honorable mention to Jackson State, who came one stupid foul and two last second free-throws away from making it into the tournament with an equally miserable 15-19 record.