To start with, at least they weren't 16th seeds.
On the women's side, Maryland had to wait until the last regional was revealed before learning it was in the tournament. But the Terps made it. Maryland, a ninth seed in the Mideast, faces No. 8 Purdue on Friday in Norfolk, Va.
A 16th seed was what Coppin coach Fang Mitchell expected. And it was what might go with that No. 16 seed -- a game against Kentucky -- that had Navy coach Don DeVoe worried.
DeVoe didn't get Kentucky, but his Mids were sent to Tucson, Ariz., to take on the West's second seed, Utah, on Friday. Coppin will be making a shorter trip, to Pittsburgh, where it will play the East's No. 2 seed, South Carolina, on Friday.
Coppin State isn't exactly looking forward to playing in Pittsburgh.
"It doesn't do much for me, but I'm not going to worry about it," Mitchell said.
"I'd rather be out west, be in the desert," said center Kareem Lewis.
"I was hoping to go west, too, but right now it doesn't matter," added senior forward Reggie Welch. "But it really doesn't matter. We're just happy to still be playing. I know the people in Pittsburgh love basketball."
Said guard Danny Singletary: "One good thing is that we're close to home. It doesn't matter where we go, we have to play hard."
After winning the Mid-Eastern Eastern Athletic Conference tournament, Mitchell said he believed his team would be seeded 16th, but changed his mind yesterday after the results of all the conference tournaments arrived.
"After looking at the RPI [power rating], I thought we might get a 15. We were sixth from the bottom, and there are only four No. 1 seeds, so it looked pretty good," he said.
Coppin knows about South Carolina's guard trio of B. J. McKie, Larry Davis and Melvin Watson, but little else about a team that went 15-1 in the Southeastern Conference.
"We could be playing Kentucky or North Carolina," said Mitchell. "If we have to play, why not South Carolina?"
"We have a trio to stop," said Singletary of the guards.
"You have to be good to beat Kentucky twice," said Welch. "So we have to go out there and play the game of our lives if we want to compete. If we hang around, who knows?"
The Eagles have stayed in the East all three times they made the tournament, losing to Syracuse, 70-48, at Richmond in 1990 and to Cincinnati, 93-66, at Syracuse in 1993. It was a moment made for television, with ESPN's cameras trained on the Maryland women's basketball team, a squad presumed to be hanging by a thread for one of 64 bids to the NCAA tournament.
The network milked the drama for all it was worth, keeping the Terps in limbo until the very end, but when the Mideast Regional bracket was revealed, placing Maryland in the tournament for the first time in four years, it was worth the wait.
"We're excited our conference was able to get six [teams] in, and we're glad we're one of them," said Maryland coach Chris Weller.
The Terps (18-9), who finished in a third-place tie with Duke and North Carolina State at 9-7 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, drew a first-round game against Purdue (16-10), the Big Ten regular-season champion. Their game will be televised on ESPN2.
The winner of the Maryland-Purdue game will almost certainly draw No. 2 Old Dominion (29-2), the top seed in the region, which will face 16th-seeded Liberty (22-7) in the first round Friday night.
The ACC, whose coaches have long complained that their conference has been shortchanged, received a record six bids, just one behind the Southeastern Conference, recognized as the leading women's basketball conference.
"I'm especially happy for Chris," said Clemson coach Jim Davis. "I was worried about her. It says something about the strength of our league."
When Navy learned it will be playing Utah in the opening round of the West Regional in Tucson, Ariz., the loudest whoop came from sophomore forward Seth Schuknecht, a native of Paradise Valley in Phoenix.
"It's still Arizona," said Schuknecht, who was already figuring out ways to pry extra tickets from his teammates to accommodate his family and friends.
The Navy coaching staff seemed more elated over not having to face Kentucky, the No. 1 seed in the West.
"Kentucky is the only team I didn't want to play," said coach Don DeVoe. "They're just awesome at putting constant defensive pressure on the ball."
By drawing the 15th seed, the Midshipmen (20-8), who finished the season with nine straight wins, including a dramatic, 76-75 victory over Bucknell in the Patriot League final, avoided a meeting with the Wildcats. But the Utes (24-3), champions of the Western Athletic Conference, are still a daunting foe.
"I thought Utah had a chance to be a No. 1 seed," said assistant coach Doug Wojcik, who played with David Robinson on the 1985-86 team that went to the NCAA Sweet 16 before losing to Duke.
"Size-wise, we'd have matched up better against South Carolina or UCLA. Utah is a lot bigger than us with Michael Doleac [6 feet 11] and Keith Van Horn [6-10] up front."
The unenviable job of controlling Van Horn, the All-America forward who won WAC tournament games against Southern Methodist and New Mexico with last-second shots, will likely fall to Hassan Booker, Navy's overachieving, 6-3 power forward.
"I'm a big admirer of Van Horn," said Booker, who led the Mids in rebounding (8.5 average) and sparked the title-winning victory over Bucknell with 25 points and 13 rebounds. "Van Horn is their top scorer, but he's also a great team player and has a knack of coming through in the clutch. We'll just have to take our game to a higher level."
Matching up against Doleac can be just as big a problem for the undersized Mids, whose biggest starter is Mike Palumbo, a 6-7 junior who earned a starting job in midseason.
"Doleac is big and strong," said Navy scoring leader Michael Heary (18.2). "I played against him in the Olympic Festival in Denver in 1995. "He's got good post-up moves, but he can also shoot the 14-footer."
DeVoe would rather talk about his own team. This is his second trip to the NCAA tournament in five seasons at Annapolis. His Mids were eliminated by top-seeded Missouri in the opening round of the 1994 West Regional.
"I believe this team is more athletic and diverse in what it can do," said DeVoe. "We play at a much faster tempo and take care of the ball better.
"I expect us to play great and really be focused. You can't measure this team by inches. You have to measure it by heart and desire. We're on a roll now and looking forward to the challenge."
State of hoops
This is the sixth time that the state of Maryland has placed two or more teams in the NCAA men's Division I tournament:
1985: Maryland, Navy
1986: Maryland, Navy
1990: Coppin State, Towson State
1994: Maryland, Navy, Loyola
1995: Maryland, Mount St. Mary's
1997: Maryland, Navy, Coppin State
Pub Date: 3/10/97