Would it be proper for the Battle of Baltimore Classic champion to have a distinctive New York-New Jersey flavor?
That's a strong possibility when UMBC defends its title starting tonight as the local collegiate basketball season tips off in earnest at Loyola College.
Coppin State and Towson open the tournament at 7 p.m.,with the UMBC-Loyola semifinal to follow at Reitz Arena. The winners will meet Monday at 7 p.m. for the title after a consolation game.
Despite losing Terence Ward and Kennedy Okafor, the Retrievers have to be considered the pre-tournament favorite because of a talented roster that includes six New York players and four from New Jersey.
"We go to where the players are," said UMBC coach Tom Sullivan, whose team has developed into a perennial Northeast Conference contender after luring such gems as New York City Player of the Year Peter Mulligan to Catonsville.
"When it comes time to recruit local kids, we'll be there."
The influx this season includes Allegany Community College transfer Malik Wallace (Camden, N.J.), who is expected to pick up where Ward left off, and 6-foot-9 forward Andrew Feeley (Scotch Plains, N.J.)
The tournament offers local teams a chance to fine-tune their arsenals for the season and allows for some local competition that fits into a heavy schedule of conference commitments.
"It's a chance for all our teams to get together and have a go at it," said Sullivan. "The problem for everybody is that there is only so much room on the schedule. We had 20 conference games and had to allow for the conference championship, so there wasn't much leeway."
The results will not necessarily a barometer of things to come. UMBC lost two Battle games three years ago, then went on to win 17 league games.
"I think everybody likes it because you start off local and then do some tinkering," said Sullivan. "It's good because the kids are anxious to play against another team and try so hard to win it."
The host Greyhounds will confront UMBC with a fuzzy-cheeked lineup that includes five freshmen and five sophomores who are talented, but inexperienced. Point guard Damien Jenifer is the lone senior, and he and backcourt running mate B.J. Davis have compiled nearly all of the game time.
Loyola lost to Team Champion during the exhibition season, an opponent Towson routed, 83-57.
Under first-year coach Michael Hunt, the Tigers will try to feature an up-tempo game and defensive pressure.
Coppin has been beset by some early injuries and brief suspensions that have set back some players, and will depend on returning fixtures Rasheem Sims and Larry Tucker. Newcomer Jimmy Boykin has also looked good.
Coach Fang Mitchell may start 7-foot freshman Henry Colter because holdover DeMond Huff is behind in practice and Terek Wright has been hurt.
Battle of Baltimore
Site: Reitz Arena, Loyola College
When: Tonight and Monday
Schedule: Tonight - Coppin State vs. Towson, 7; Loyola vs. UMBC, 9:15; Monday - consolation game at 4:30 p.m.; championship at 7 p.m.
TV: Ch. 2, both semifinals and championship game.
Tickets: $10 reserved, $8 general admission, $3 all students.
Defending champion: UMBC