Another 'banner' year leaves area teams in an unhealthy state

KEN ROSENTHAL

March 09, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Well, that about wraps up another season in the worst college basketball state in America. Barring a major upset by Maryland in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, only one of the state's nine Division I men's programs will qualify for the NCAA tournament.

The local populace should be delighted.

This qualifies as a banner year.

If not for Fang Mitchell and Coppin State, we'd be looking at a two-year drought. Five state schools -- Loyola, UMBC, UMES, Morgan State and Mount St. Mary's -- have never been to the Division I tournament. Two others -- Coppin and Towson State -- have never won a game in the NCAAs.

Some friendly advice for everyone:

Get a coach. Get a conference. Get a clue.

Coppin is the exception, but it plays in one of the nation's weakestconferences, the Mid-Eastern Athletic. The prize for its 19-0 MEAC record likely will be a No. 16 seed in an NCAA regional.

Do the Eagles match up better against Michigan or North Carolina, Kentucky or Indiana?

Morgan and UMES also play in the MEAC, and each lost in the first round of the conference tournament. We'll forgive UMES, which improved to 11-16 under first-year coach Rob Chavez. But Morgan, what a mess.

Morgan doesn't bother with sophisticated defenses, it fouls at first sight. Twice this season, it finished games with only four players on the court. In its final game, a 90-87 loss to Florida A&M in the MEAC tournament, it had five players foul out.

Five! What is this, junior high?

Incredibly, that fiasco didn't rank as the worst tournament performance by a state school. Nor did Loyola's 57-37 loss to Manhattanin the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament, in which the Greyhounds scored 12 -- count 'em, 12! -- first-half points.

No, this year's honor goes to Towson, regular-season champion of the Big South, a conference that arguably is worse than the MEAC. Towson entered the tournament with a nine-game winning streak. It celebrated its No. 1 seed by losing to No. 8 Winthrop, 83-79.

The Tigers were so ill-prepared, they fell behind by 19 points in the first half. Yes, Winthrop beat Towson in the regular season. Yes, it advanced to the tournament final. But would Fang Mitchell lose such a game?

It's not like Towson succumbed in the ACC, or even its old conference, the ECC. All you need to know about the Big South is that Coastal Carolina's Tony Dunkin just won his fourth straight Player of the Year award, a Division I first.

Either Dunkin is a stud, or the league stinks.

Take a guess.

UMBC didn't do much better in the conference tournament, but by getting past the first round it qualifies as the UNLV of Baltimore. Mount St. Mary's deserves similar praise for winning a game in theNortheast Conference tournament.

Loyola finished 2-25, then suffered its fourth straight first-round defeat in the MAAC. Navy went from 6-22 to 8-19 in its first season under Don DeVoe. And lest we forget Maryland, which got off to an 8-1 start, but is 3-14 since.

Good to see the flagship school leading the way.

To the north, Temple and St. Joseph's could join Philadelphia Big Five rival Penn in the NCAA tournament. To the south, three Virginia schools (Virginia, James Madison and Virginia Commonwealth) and one from Washington, D.C. (George Washington) are possible entries.

By contrast, Baltimore might as well be York, Pa., and Maryland might as well be Idaho. Actually, Idaho is a better basketball state, with Idaho and Boise State fighting it out for the Big Sky title.

In a way, it all makes sense,because so many Maryland schools were late-comers to Division I. It wasn't that they missed the boat when the Big East and Atlantic 10 formed in the early '80s. They weren't even at the dock.

Still, it's difficult to believe that so many bad Division I teams play in the same state -- and a small state at that. Take away Coppin (22-7) and Towson (18-9), and the other seven schools are a combined 66-123.

Once again, the best college team in the state is the Maryland women, ranked No. 12 in the country. Once again, the Dunbar High boys are more fun to watch than every local school but Maryland and Coppin.

The last state school to win an NCAA tournament game was Maryland in 1988. The last school other than Maryland to win one was Navy in 1986.

Hey, we've always got the NBA.

Those Bullets, now they can play.

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