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March 18, 2008
Prospectus Preview
NCAA Tournament Play-In Game

by Caleb Peiffer

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NCAA Tournament Play-In Game

University of Dayton Arena (Dayton, OH)

Matchup: Coppin St. (16-20, 8-9 Mid-Eastern) vs. Mount St. Mary's (18-14, 11-7 Northeast), 7:30
Rankings: Coppin St., #309 in Pomeroy Ratings (6th of 12 in MEAC); Mount St. Mary's, #169 (2nd of 11 in NEC)
Pomeroy Prediction: Mount St. Mary's, 67-56 in 65 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 11%
Prospectus: This will be the eighth edition of the NCAA tournament play-in game, which began in 2001 and which has been played every year at the University of Dayton. This year the game is the most unbalanced it has ever been, as measured by the difference between the two teams in the Pomeroy Ratings, thanks to Coppin St.'s unexpected run through the MEAC tournament. (The numbers say the committee should have paired Coppin and SWAC champion Mississippi Valley St.--the worst team in the field by the Pomeroy Ratings at #318--which also was a surprise winner of its conference tournament. That game would have been projected as a 68-67 win for Coppin.) In the span of five days last week in Raleigh, the Eagles won four straight games to capture their fourth MEAC title and head to the NCAA tournament for the fourth time, and first since 1997. Strong play mixed with fortuitous bounces resulted in the Eagles' crown--their wins over Howard and Hampton in the first two rounds were by one point each, and the game against Norfolk St. in the semifinals and the championship versus Morgan St. resulted in two-point victories. Coppin St.'s 62-60 win over regular-season MEAC champion Morgan St. came on a last-second layup by guard Tywain McKee, which finished out the upset that ended Basketball Prospectus' grand NCAA tournament vision for the Bears and their coach, Todd Bozeman, the pairing that produced one of the better stories in college basketball this season. Coppin St. was the seven seed in the MEAC tourney after going 8-9 in the conference regular season, and the team's 20 losses overall are the most of any NCAA tournament team ever. That doesn't matter to the Eagles, however, who have a chance tonight to extend their run and get a crack at the No. 1 overall seed, North Carolina, on Friday.

Standing in their way is Mount St. Mary's, which, like Coppin, made an unlikely run through its conference tournament. A four seed in the NEC tourney after a 15-14 regular season, the Mount beat Quinnipiac, No. 1 seed Robert Morris on the road, and No. 3 Sacred Heart, also on the road, to win its third Northeast championship, and head to the NCAA tournament for the third time overall and first since 1999.

Mount St. Mary's has a much better defense than offense, and the team's strength is making opponents miss, particularly from three-point range, having held opponents to a 46.4 eFG% this season. Coppin St. is the seventh worst shooting team in Division I, with an eFG% of 43.3, so the Eagles will also be relying on their defense to try and win this one. Coppin St. possesses a defense that ranks in the top 20 in forcing turnovers, as opponents have coughed it up against the Eagles on nearly one quarter of possessions. The team's lone threat on offense is McKee, a 6'2 senior, who is 51-of-122 from three-point range (42 percent). McKee also gets into the lane and to the line frequently, and has hit 87 percent of his 139 free throws. The Mount will counter with a player who also hits over 40 percent of his three-pointers in 6'0 senior Chris Vann, owner of a 54.7 eFG%, the highest of any qualifying player on either squad, on 85-of-212 three-point shooting. Mount St. Mary's 5'9 point guard, Jeremy Goode, ranks in the top 30 in assist percentage (helping on 35.5 percent of teammates' baskets while on the floor). Goode is also one of the best in the country at getting to the line, with 219 free throws attempted against 282 shots, a 77.7 rate that ranks him 31st in Division I.

Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Basketball Prospectus. He can be reached here.

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