After the thrill, into lion's den

The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore rippled with the excitement of March Madness last night when the NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament bracket was unveiled. The shudder of reality will come later.

For Coppin State and Mount St. Mary's, two teams that beat the odds to reach the 65-team tournament, reality is a date in Dayton, Ohio, tomorrow night in a play-in game out of the East Regional.

For the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (24-8), reality is a No. 15 seed in the Midwest Regional and a Friday matchup against No. 2 seed Georgetown, which reached the Final Four a year ago and returned most of the team, at Raleigh, N.C.

Then there is this: Coppin (16-20) and Mount St. Mary's (18-14) are playing for the right to play North Carolina, the top-seeded team in the tournament, in a first-round game on Friday at Raleigh.

"It doesn't matter with this team," Coppin coach Fang Mitchell said of his seeding. "We just appreciate the opportunity to play in the tournament. Regardless of what happens, nothing takes away from their performance to get there."

What the Eagles did was sweep four games in five days against the top three seeds in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament, culminating with a 62-60 upset of Morgan State on Saturday night.

If they are able to advance tomorrow, they will return to the site of their glory - the RBC Center in Raleigh.

"That's good for us," said Tywain McKee, who delivered the Eagles to the NCAAs with a dramatic 33-point performance against Morgan that included the game-winning shot with three seconds left.

Coppin becomes the first team with 20 losses to make the tournament.

"We're striving to be the first 20-loss team to win a tournament game now," Mitchell said.

This is the first time since 1997 that Maryland will send three Division I teams to the NCAA tournament. Then, it was Navy, Coppin and Maryland. Navy and Coppin went in as No. 15 seeds, Maryland as No. 5.

That was Coppin's previous NCAA tournament and its best performance. In a first-round game, the Eagles upset South Carolina, a No. 2 seed with a 24-7 record. They nearly pulled off a second upset before falling to Texas, 82-81, two days later.

UMBC is making the first tournament appearance of its 22-year history in Division I. The school is better known for its academic standards and its chess team than for athletics.

UMBC athletic director Charles Brown said the school's fight song is just "3 or 4 years" old, but few alumni or fans know it exists.

"They're learning it," Brown said.

Brian Hodges, a senior guard, remembers seeing banks of empty seats when he arrived on campus in 2004-2005, when the team went 11-18. But he acknowledged there has been a gradual buildup of fans this season as the Retrievers' success grew.

UMBC won the America East Conference tournament title as the No. 1 seed, beating Hartford handily at home on Saturday. RAC Arena set an attendance record in that game, a day after spring break started.

At Coppin yesterday, the Eagles returned by bus from Raleigh to an empty campus. The school also went on spring break Friday.

That's not to say the Eagles haven't had a response to their improbable success.

Assistant coach Larry Tucker, a former Coppin player, said there were 23 text messages and 14 voice mails on his cell phone when the game against Morgan ended. Messages and phone calls have continued to pour in since then, he said.

ken.murray@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Jeff Barker contributed to this article.

THE TOURNAMENT

The local teams

UMBC

No. 15 seed in the Midwest Regional

Will play No. 2 Georgetown on Friday in Raleigh, N.C.

Coppin State and Mount St. Mary's

Will play each other in the play-in game at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow in Dayton, Ohio

Winner will enter the East Regional as the No. 16 seed and play No. 1 North Carolina on Friday in Raleigh

The top seeds

North Carolina (East)

Kansas (Midwest)

Memphis (South)

UCLA (West)

Coverage in Sports

Steele: Comeback Coppin State isn't rattled by play-in game

Capsules: Information about every team in the tournament that will help you fill out your bracket

Analysis: Selection committee's choices make little sense

Outside looking in: Maryland and Morgan State make NIT field

Women: Terps could still get a No. 1 seed when their bracket is announced tonight

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