They know better now.
After the Eagles cruised through the conference undefeated to capture their third league title in four years and earned their second trip to the NCAA tournament, the MEAC coaches made Coppin State a unanimous pick to win the conference title this time.
It's easy to understand why. Although they have only one senior in 6-foot-10 center Galen Howard, the Eagles return four starters from last year's 22-8 team, including what is probably the strongest backcourt in the league, led by juniors Sidney Goodman and Stephen Stewart.
The Eagles figure to play the same type of pressure defense that held opponents to 66.4 points a game last year. They expect to improve on their league-low, 40-percent shooting. And by the time they get through the most brutal non-conference schedule coach Fang Mitchell ever has devised, the Eagles should be ready for the best the MEAC can throw at them.
"We wanted to challenge them. We knew we had four starters back, and it wouldn't benefit us to play a weak non-conference schedule," said Mitchell, who begins his eighth season at Coppin State with a 121-83 record, including an 80-28 mark in the MEAC. "This is by far the toughest schedule we've ever had."
The first month of Coppin State's season resembles a minefield. After opening against Washington State in the San Juan Shootout -- a tournament that includes Marquette, Michigan State and East Tennessee State -- the Eagles will play December road games against Virginia, Missouri, Oklahoma and Pittsburgh.
"It's hard to say how good we'll be when you look at all of those tough road games," Mitchell said. "If we don't come to play hard every single night, we'll be going home with sad eyes."
Mitchell expects Goodman and Stewart, the team co-captains, to bring many smiles to his face.
"They were our co-MVPs last year as far as I'm concerned," Mitchell said. "They bring so much to the table. When you have leadership of their magnitude, it has to be good for you."
Besides shouldering a significant chunk of the scoring responsibility, Goodman and Stewart should give Mitchell the kind of flexibility he feels sets the Eagles apart from the rest of the MEAC.
Last year, the 6-5, 230-pound Stewart led the Eagles with a 13.3-point average. He was their top shooter (46.6 percent) and he made 37 percent of his three-point attempts while collecting most of his minutes at the shooting guard spot.
This year, Stewart will spend more time inside, where he can improve on his 5.4 per game rebounding average.
Goodman, 6-3, also will make an adjustment. As the MEAC Rookie of the Year, he averaged 11.6 points, 3.2 assists and two steals while playing mostly at the point. He will vacate that position for 5-10 sophomore walk-on Allen Watson, who has impressed Mitchell with his smarts and unselfishness.
"Sidney is a tremendous shooter [he led the Eagles in three-point accuracy], and he's probably our best defensive player," Mitchell said. "He'll be an important part of our three-guard alignment."
The Eagles are deep at guard, where Keith Carmichael (6.9 ppg, 35 percent from three-point range), Marcus Robinson (5.2 points) and Kyle Locke give Coppin State plenty of capable shooters. Locke is a 6-6 sophomore swingman who started 21 games last year and averaged 8.4 points and 3.1 rebounds. Look for more production from him.
Coppin State's soft spot is a largely untested frontcourt, where Coleman Scott and Tariq Saunders have departed, leaving Howard and 6-8, 245-pound Jerry Wysinger as the mainstays.
Wysinger, a tennis player who made the team as a walk-on last year, played sparingly in nine games. He gets the early nod at center.
Howard, who started just two of 26 games last year but shot 51 percent, could supplant Wysinger.
And Mitchell's frontcourt worries might be eased by the development of 6-9, 275-pound sophomore Mario McGriff. Mitchell thinks he can develop quickly into an impact player.
Mitchell sees the Eagles' backcourt carrying them early, with the whole picture coming together before long.
"Depth is one of our biggest strengths. We can really go to the bench, especially in our backcourt," he said. "It's going to take a pretty good coaching job to keep everybody happy."
COPPIN STATE AT A GLANCE
Coach: Fang Mitchell, eighth season, 121-83
Affiliation: Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference
1992-93 record: 22-8, 16-0 in the MEAC
Radio: WWIN (1400 AM)
Starters lost: Coleman Scott, Melvin Roberts
Outlook: Despite starting last season with nine first-year players, the Eagles charged to their third MEAC title in four seasons by going through the league unbeaten. This year, they have only one senior, but the Eagles are anything but young. Junior guards Sidney Goodman and Stephen Stewart lead a deep, potent-shooting backcourt. The season ultimately will hinge on how quickly the inexperienced frontcourt matures. Center Galen Howard figures to step up as a productive starter, and look out for first-year player Mario McGriff, a 6-9, 275-pound center.
Name ............. Yr. .. P .. Ht. .. Wt. .. Fast breaks
Sidney Goodman ... Jr. .. G .. 6-3 .. 175 .. The most versatile player
Keith Carmichael.. Jr. .. G .. 6-3 .. 175 .. Watch out from three-point range
Marcus Robinson.. Jr. .. G .. 6-3 .. 175 .. Look for more scoring
Kyle Locke ....... So. .. G-F. 6-6 .. 185 .. Will move inside for more rebounds
Michael Thomas ... Jr. .. F-C. 6-8 .. 205 .. A proven force inside
Stephen Stewart... Jr. .. F-G..6-5 .. 230 .. Top scorer averaged 13.3
Galen Howard ..... Sr. ... C.. 6-10.. 230 .. Will push Wysinger for
Jerry Wysinger.... Jr. ... C.. 6-8 .. 245 .. The early starter, but jury still out
Terry Martin ..... Fr. ... G.. 6-1 .. 170 .. Should add scoring off the bench
Allen Watson ..... So. ... G.. 5-10.. 160 .. Gets the nod at point guard
Jamahal Redmond... Fr. ... F.. 6-6 .. 230 .. From powerful Simon Gratz (Pa.)
Xavier Fuller .... Fr. ... G-F 6-3 .. 180 .. Adds backcourt depth
Mario McGriff .... So. ... C.. 6-9 .. 275 .. Could be a starter before long