LAWRENCE, Kan. -- After watching his team fade against St. John's and super freshman guard Felipe Lopez last week, Coppin State coach Fang Mitchell talked about how the Eagles have no time to dwell on another near-miss, because the road gets no easier for them.
Indeed, Coppin State will spend much of the first seven weeks of its season -- 12 of its first 13 games -- playing on the road, mostly against top-flight competition.
Starting today, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Eagles will spend a grinding week touring the Big Eight Conference. And Coppin State's first stop, tonight at Allen Fieldhouse against No. 7 Kansas (2-0), promises to be the toughest.
It marks the first time Coppin State has played Kansas, which has won two NCAA championships and ranks third in NCAA history with 1,544 victories.
And the Jayhawks, behind seventh-year coach Roy Williams, are looking as strong as ever. They are fresh off Saturday's 81-75 victory over No. 1 Massachusetts, an accomplishment that gives Williams a 161-45 record at Kansas. He owns the best winning percentage (.782) among active coaches with at least five years.
For the Eagles, tonight's game affords them one more chance to win a big one. Since Mitchell began scheduling more national powers among his nonconference foes, Coppin State has yet to beat one, although it keeps coming close. Last season, the Eagles lost at Virginia, Missouri, Oklahoma and Pittsburgh by a combined 23 points. This season, they have dropped their first two games at Oklahoma and St. John's by a combined 16 points. Each time, they faded in crunch time.
"We're not in the best shape we could be in right now, but we've got to find that energy down the stretch," said Mitchell, whose Eagles also will face Missouri and Kansas State later this week. "Tonight will be a tremendous challenge for us."
Coppin State faces matchup problems all over the court, but none as vexing as the ones down low, where 7-foot-2 senior center Greg Ostertag is one of the country's premier shot-blockers and the Jayhawks' steadiest rebounder.
To offset the Jayhawks' strength up front, Coppin's matchup zone defense must be at peak efficiency.
Senior 6-5 forward Stephen Stewart, the Eagles' leader, figures to see his share of double-teaming, which puts more pressure on guards Sidney Goodman and Keith Carmichael and guard/forward Kyle Locke to make the open shots.
"You can only come close so many times before you get frustrated, and we're nearing that point," Mitchell said. "The reality is, I've got to get a 'W' in one of these gyms."