March Madness is about to get underway with the "Play-In" game tomorrow between the two lowest seeds in the tournament, Mount Saint Mary's and Coppin State, who will vie for the right to be eviscerated by #1 ranked North Carolina on March 21. The Mountaineers, champions of the Northeast Conference, bring a soporific 18-14 record into the tourney, while the Eagles, winners of the Mid-East Conference tournament, are the first team to qualify for The Big Show with 20 losses. What do you mean you're not sure which one is the Mountaineers and which one is the Eagles? Sheesh, I thought you were fans.
Now, before you jump to conclusions, keep in mind that Walter Johnson, The Big Train, lost 20 games-- twice no less-- and still made it into the baseball Hall of Fame. On second thought, jump.
Is there any better example of the inanity of these post-season, pre-Madness conference tournaments than Coppin State's appearance? No disrespect intended to the hard working guys on the team, but it's a little like Mitt Romney showing up all of a sudden for the Pennsylvania primary and getting placed on the general election ballot in November for having a good showing.
If you're not an alumnus, a relative or friend of one of the players, or a scout and you tune in for this game, you're either a certified bracket junkie, a member of Gamblers Anonymous, or someone with a little too much beer on board at the bar. Perhaps you're all three. Regardless of your designation, it's likely you know next to nil about these two schools. Here then are the factoids you'll need to impress your peers, win a few bets at the pub, or give you some reason to care about this affair.
No, please, you don't have to thank me. Really.
Both schools are from Maryland.
Both are small-- 1,600 undergrads at Mount Saint Mary's, 4,000 at Coppin State.
The abridged version of the white man's founding of Maryland goes like this: George Calvert, First Lord of Baltimore (pictured above) messed up in Newfoundland, so he applied for and got a royal charter to create a colony in the New World that would be a haven for Catholics. And what a haven it was, until the Puritans took over and banned both Catholicism and Anglicanism. The Puritans then got stomped in the Battle of the Severn and Catholicism was back in. Then it was out again, following the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688, and only returned as a legal faith after the Revolutionary War.
Mount Saint Mary's is the oldest independent Catholic college in the U.S. It is celebrating its bicentennial this year. Having dispatched the Puritans, they won't be intimidated by the Tar Heels, should they advance.
Coppin State was founded in 1900. At the time, it was called Colored High School. Yes, you read that right. It has subsequently been known as Fanny Jackson Coppin Normal School, Coppin Teacher's College, and Coppin State College.
Coppin State has sent one of its hoopsters to the NBA. Can you name him? Larry Stewart, who played for the Washington Bullets-- before the mascot fell out of favor-- and the Seattle SuperSonics.
Stephanie Ready, the first female to coach a men's professional basketball team, is also a Coppin State alum. What do you mean, which team? Why, the Greenville Groove of the National Basketball Development League (2001-03).
Not to be outdone, Mount Saint Mary's sent Fred Carter to the NBA, where he played for three teams, including the 1973 Philadelphia 76ers, who finished 9-73. Carter subsequently became famous as "the best player on the worst team in history."
Long time Mount Saint Mary's basketball coach Jim Phelan retired in 2003 with 830 victories, the fourth most in history. He is the winningest coach not to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. I have it on good authority that the Hall is run by Puritans.
So there you have it. Amaze your inebriated friends with arcane knowledge as the game unfolds. Induce them to part with their money by suckering them into trivia contests they cannot possibly win. But most of all remember that those guys on the court gave their all to get where they'll be tomorrow, and for that they deserve our utmost respect.