No state of complacency

Teams are pressing forward after successful 2007-08 seasons

College Basketball Preview State Men

November 11, 2008|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

Don't look back. That's the mantra in state college basketball circles beyond the University of Maryland one year after three schools advanced to the NCAA tournament and one made it to the National Invitation Tournament.

In a historic run for Maryland teams, UMBC, Mount St. Mary's and Coppin State reached the NCAAs and Morgan State the NIT. Only Mount St. Mary's won a game, but each team gave its school a healthy shot of self-esteem.

Their task now, coaches say, is to drill one thought into players' heads: Don't bask in the buzz.

"There's a new challenge before us," Mount St. Mary's coach Milan Brown said. "We preach, 'Stay humble and stay hungry.' "

Can the Mountaineers repeat? They return 11 of the 13 players who won the Northeast Conference with a late-season surge that sent the tiny Emmitsburg school to the NCAAs for the first time since 1999. There, the Mount defeated Coppin in a play-in game before being routed by North Carolina.

Also back this season: the juiced-up offense Mount St. Mary's implemented midseason that rallied the 19-15 team down the stretch.

"I got tired of holding teams to 60 points and losing because we only scored 58," Brown said. "This year we may run even faster."

The up-tempo game suits the Mountaineers, who have no player taller than 6 feet 7. Point guard Jeremy Goode (14.5 points per game), Jean Cajou and Will Holland lead the three-guard attack.

Despite its youthful look last year, Mount St. Mary's still has only two senior starters: forwards Markus "The Rock" Mitchell and Sam Atupem.

A sidelight: Georgetown is back on the schedule for the first time since 1962 - the year the Mount won the NCAA College Division championship.

Hopes are also high at Morgan State, 22-11 last season. Only one Morgan team won more games, in 1974, when Marvin "The Eraser" Webster led the school to the NCAA College Division crown.

"Yes, we had success, but last year is last year," said the Bears' Todd Bozeman, 2008 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Coach of the Year. "And while I appreciate [the award], it's not going to carry any weight this season."

Morgan lost three key players but will bank on returning forward Marquise Kately (13.1 points per game) and guards Reggie Holmes (12.9) and Jermaine "Itchy" Bolden.

The 6-5 Kately is "the consummate team player," Bozeman said. "He rebounds, scores and covers for others on defense. Last year, he was even pressed to play point guard for two games."

Morgan also corralled a handful of transfers who should help to put more distance between the Bears and their abysmal 2005-06 record of 4-26.

Though Morgan won the MEAC regular-season crown, it lost the tournament title game to Coppin State on a late basket by the Eagles' Tywain McKee. The Coppin star returns with an iffy supporting cast, but how can the Eagles top last year's wacky season in which they went 16-21 and still reached the play-in game of the NCAA tournament?

Coppin isn't expected to be there come March. Neither is UMBC, which went 24-9 in winning the America East. But that's OK with Retrievers' coach Randy Monroe, whose team lost 60 percent of its scoring.

"We're picked for the middle of the pack, but that's someone else's opinion of us. It doesn't have to be our reality, and I'm confident it won't be," Monroe said.

Back for UMBC are 6-4 forward Darryl Proctor, lord of the fadeway jumper, and 5-8 waterbug Jay Greene, both first-team all-league last season. But they can't go it alone.

Monroe scoffs at skeptics who call UMBC a hardworking bunch of overachievers who have already had their day at the dance.

"Was last year a fluke? A fluke is when you get lucky and knock in a last-second shot," the coach said. "This club won 24 games with a phenomenal chemistry, and that's something you cherish.

"There's a great sense of pride on our campus, but now it's time for other players to step in and create their own identity. They believe in themselves because we have turned the corner."

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