In second trip, is Coppin State taking a better team to NCAAs? '89-90 team had stars but no depth

March 18, 1993|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Staff Writer

From the time Coppin State earned a spot in the NCAA tournament by winning the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament, the comparisons have been inevitable: Is the current team as good as the 1989-90 squad that also earned an automatic bid to the NCAAs?

That's the question on the lips of many on the West Baltimore campus with the approach of tomorrow's first-round game against No. 7 Cincinnati. But the man who knows best, Coppin coach Fang Mitchell, is refraining from providing any answers.

"You should never compare," Mitchell said yesterday. "It doesn't do any good for me to get into that. I will say that this is a deeper team, and that team obviously had more individual stars."

There are some similarities. This year's team has a 22-7 record; the 1989-90 team entered the tournament 26-6.

And both teams stormed through the MEAC: a 19-0 record this year and 18-1 in 1989-90.

But there were probably more expectations for that 1989-90 team going into the tournament based on its 8-5 non-conference record that included impressive road wins over Maryland and Creighton. This year's team was 3-7 in non-conference play and failed to get a win against a "name" school (the three wins were against Towson State, the College of Charleston and Buffalo).

"I think the [1989-90] team was more talented than this team, with guys like Larry Stewart and Reggie Isaac leading them," said North Carolina A&T coach Don Corbett. "But this year's team is a deep team. If the top two players got in trouble before, Fang was up the creek. But that's not the case this season because they have so many players."

Here's a position-by-position look at how the two teams compare:

Point guard

Coppin has gone 21-1 since freshman Melvin Roberts took over as the starting point guard the first of the year. Not exactly offensive-minded (2.5 points per game), Roberts is capable of hitting the three-point shot (33.3 percent).

Larry Yarbray, the starter for the 1989-90 team, was a better scorer (9.1 ppg) and setup man (7.4 assists -- 12th in the nation). A second-team All-MEAC performer, Yarbray's unselfish play was the key to the team's success.

Shooting guard

Sidney Goodman (11.4 ppg) has been the only player to start every game this season, and averages a team-high 30.2 minutes. A sophomore spot-up shooter, Goodman doesn't possess the greatest shooting percentage (.387). But his three-point shooting (.368) at clutch times has helped turn around several games.

A junior during the 1989-90 season, Isaac was the leading scorer in the MEAC (21.7 ppg). While Goodman is more apt to spot up behind the three-point arc, Isaac could beat you off the dribble as well as take you deep (35.3 percent three-point shooter).

But Isaac had tendency to launch shots when teammates were open, and averaged just 1.5 assists.

Center

Sophomore Michael Thomas (6-8) has outstanding leaping ability and a sweet turnaround jumper. But at just over 200 pounds he is capable of being pushed around.

At 6-8 and 270 pounds, junior Larry McCollum had no worries of being pushed around. He averaged just 4.9 points and 4.6 rebounds, but did an excellent job of taking up space and did a lot of the intangibles necessary for the 1989-90 team to win.

Small forward

Freshman Kyle Locke provides Coppin with a three-guard attack to start games, and hit 37.1 percent of his three-point shots while averaging 8.7 points.

The lone senior on the 1989-90 team, Phil Booth sacrificed his scoring for the good of the team and was Coppin's second best rebounder and assist man.

Power forward

Sophomore Stephen Stewart has excellent low-post moves, with his 233-pound frame making up for his lack of height (6-5). Take away the inside and Stewart, who at times played point guard, will pop outside, where he hit 37.8 percent of his three-point shots.

Surely, he learned a lot from older brother Larry who ranked 12th in the nation in rebounding (11.2) and fifth in field-goal percentage (63.5) while averaging 18.7 points. The older Stewart was quick filling the lanes on the break, was always around the ball and was an almost unstoppable low-post player.

Intangibles

While the 1989-90 team had a superior starting lineup, four starters averaged over 35 minutes and opponents stayed close at times by wearing down the Eagles.

It's just the opposite with this year's team, which has nine players who average more than 15 minutes a game. Tariq Saunders, the team's leading scorer (13.2) and a second-team All-MEAC pick for the second straight season, comes off the bench.

"Their depth was a factor," Delaware State coach Jeff Jones said after his team lost to Coppin in the championship of the MEAC tournament. "They had too many bodies."

And Mitchell also has given his current team a little more freedom shooting deep. The current team connected on 204 of 591 three-pointers (34.5 percent), with five players attempting 50 or more three-point shots. The 1989-90 team hit 114 of 336 (33.6 percent), with Isaac and reserve Derrick Orr accounting for 109 of the made three-pointers.

So you have one team with great talent, against a more unselfish team that has depth and better outside shooters. Who gets the edge?

"I'll just say that both would be extremely difficult to play," Corbett said. "The other team had more talent, but this is a great team. They don't have the best talent, but they don't worry about who's getting the credit as long as the job gets done."

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