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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

How About Them Eagles?

Now, when you hear the nickname Eagles, you probably first think of the Philadelphia Eagles. You know that team, the team that went to the Super Bowl last year, had Terrell Owens on the roster, had an awful, public falling out with him, has four Pro Bowlers on the injured list, countless numbers of other players injured, is currently 5-7 and could finish say, 6-10 and perhaps have enough to trade up to get Reggie Bush in the NFL draft.

Wrong sport for this post, though. Suppose I directed the conversation to college basketball. When I mention "Eagles," which school would come to mind first? Of course it would be Boston College, one of the Atlantic Coast Conference's powers and recently ranked #6 in the country. But that's not who I'm talking about, either.

I've been reviewing a few pre-season guides to determine a continuum of pre-conference schedules. At one end of the spectrum are the schools that play the toughest schedules, and, in recent memory, schools like Temple have come to mind (this year is no exception). At the other end of the spectrum are the schools that play the easiest schedules. In the past 25 years, when John Thompson, Jr. coached Georgetown, they were known for playing a rather easy pre-conference schedule. Think Temple, think fiber. Think Georgetown, think cupcakes.

Historically, when we've looked at pre-conference schedules, we've looked at the schedules of the schools from whom we expect a lot on the court. We scrutinized Temple's schedule and developed an admiration for Coach John Chaney because he would play anyone anywhere -- and did. Temple teams were respected and then feared in the NCAA Tournament, because their regular season prepared them for the Big Dance. About some of the other schools, however, we weren't so sure. (Hard to knock John Thompson, Jr.'s success at Georgetown, though, as he did win a national title and went to several Final Fours).

When I write a more definitive post on the topic, I'll examine the schedules of schools from the most highly rated conferences and give my view as to which schools have hard schedules and which have easy ones. Most, you will find, play a balanced pre-season schedule. They schedule some tough games, some games against tough mid-majors, and then a few layups. That's only fair, because you don't want to destroy a team's pre-conference confidence by playing a steady diet of Top 40 teams.

But what about the schools that make up part of the cupcake diet? Not every school can be a high- or mid-major. Sheer mathematics require that there be some low majors too. And, when you think Eagles, think Coppin State, a hearty state school from Baltimore with a Philly guy, Ron "Fang" Mitchell, as their head coach, who seemingly will schedule anyone anywhere. Click here to see what I mean.

At Xavier.

At Oklahoma.


At Illinois.

At Pitt.

At Michigan.

At Michigan State.


Who is the Athletic Director at the Baltimore school? The Marquis de Sade? The Marquis of Queensbury at least would have given the team a fighting chance and scheduled a few of these games at home if he could. Remember, under Fang Mitchell, this school was about four minutes away from making the Sweet Sixteen several years ago. And, yes, it's Coach Mitchell himself who is the A.D.

Most doctors recommend a diet high in fiber for their patients. That said, I would surmise that a diet too rich in anything could be hazardous for your team's health. The appearance fees must be rich enough to help fund the Coppin State athletic budget, but is this schedule conducive to building a championship hoops team?

We always read about the Dukes, the Boston Colleges, the Kansases and the like, but remember part of the ecosystem that makes Division I college basketball what is has teams like Coppin State going out of their way to play a very tough pre-season schedule. My guess is that they do so for the survival of their athletic program in general (as schools need to field a minimum number of teams to qualify for Division I status in men's hoops) as opposed to the survival and thriving of their men's hoops team.

Funny, then, how the men's hoops' ecosystem works. Those at the bottom need to have the top feed on them to survive, while the bottom feeders sometimes, but not always, are part of the elite. There isn't that much of a penalty, really, for feasting on cupcakes.

There is, then, a place in DI hoops for Coppin State, which, some day, somewhere, will get a reward for playing the schedule it does.

And when it gets that chance, all of us will be pulling for these Eagles, as much the underdogs as anyone else.


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