Looking to cover? Look to Coppin

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Coppin State coach Juan Dixon — yes, the sharp-shooting guard who led Maryland to its lone national hoops title in 2002 — said before the season he was “super-excited” about 2019-20. Those who have been diligently playing the Eagles know the feeling.

After their first 10 games, the Eagles were just 4-6. However, Coppin backers have reaped tremendous dividends because it has covered the number nine times.

The Eagles get center stage this week with their game against Maryland-Baltimore County in the Battle for Baltimore, but more, later, on the Charm City Classic (Our titles by the way; the Rat will gladly accept royalties on any T-shirts that are produced).

Only Virginia Tech, which as a 23-point favorite trounced the Eagles by 32, has had its way with Coppin, which is resembling Texas Southern from a year ago.

Southern went on a barnstorming junket, on which many minnows must embark to sustain themselves, that entailed playing 14 of 16 games away from home. They typically earn a six-figure check in exchange for a probable defeat.

Except that, Texas Southern left games at Baylor, Oregon and Texas A&M with big victories in addition to big paydays. Coppin, of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, is in the middle of playing 13 of 15 games away from its tidy Physical Education Complex. The Eagles have covered both of their home games, as 13.5-point underdogs in a 7-point loss to Rider and, as 3.5-point ‘dogs, an outright winner over Cornell. Against East Carolina, 8-point underdog Coppin won by 10. Against James Madison, the 9-point ‘dogs won by 16. Against Loyola-Chicago, the 22.5-point ‘dogs won by four.

Dixon gets so excited he often speaks in the third person. “Just trying to become the best version of Juan Dixon,” he told one reporter. “… I had to look in the mirror at times and say, ‘Coach Juan …’” he told the Baltimore Sun. And, “people … loved Juan Dixon and wanted him to develop as a man.”

The Rat doesn’t mind the idiosyncrasy because the 41-year-old Dixon, a Baltimore native who starred at Calvert Hall, is a cover machine. He took over at Coppin in 2017, and the Eagles won only 13 of 65 games those first two seasons. They were 8-25 last season but showed moxie going 19-13-1 against the number.

Coppin continues to impress against the line with a guard-heavy lineup that includes team leader Dejuan Clayton, a junior averaging 12.7 points. Seniors Kamar McKnight (15 ppg) and Andrew Robinson (12.9) have been welcome additions, and Philly native Koby Thomas (9.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg) rounds out Dixon’s first five.

Dixon lets his Eagles take flight, as they are fourth in the country in KenPom’s adjusted-tempo rating with nearly 78 possessions per game. But they are mediocre in scoring, and in the bottom 10th percentile in shooting. All of that effort has not been rewarded in points, or victories. In spread covers, though, Coppin has a special place among punters.

That’s why we’ll be keeping tabs Saturday on the UMBC Event Center. Just 21 months ago, the Retrievers captivated the nation when they became the first 16 seed to upend a top seed, Virginia, in the NCAA Tournament. That vaulted Baltimore County to a 21-13 campaign last season. It split its first 10 this season, going 2-5 ATS in chalked games.

Dixon has been in the Coppin driver’s seat for losses to UMBC by 11 and 7 points, respectively, the past two seasons. Before that, Coppin had won four in a row over its city rival by an average of 13 points.

We can try to distill this one several ways, but an expert recommended that the Rat keep it simple. Veteran Vegas oddsmaker Kenny White, who provides us with projected numbers in three other games below, puts UMBC as a 4.5-point favorite, with a total of 144. But there is only one way to venture into this one with a few chunks of Swiss on the line. COPPIN STATE


Drake at Dayton -16.5: Obi Toppin is the Dayton Dynamo, but Drake is among the best 25 defenses in limiting opponents’ effective possessions. The first four Bulldogs average 42+ ppg, the next six nearly 31. Too many points. DRAKE

Gonzaga at Arizona, Total 154: Expect fireworks at McKale Center. They tallied 165 points when they met in Maui a year ago. The Wildcats have tallied at least 83 in seven of 10 games, while the Zags have scored at least 77 in eight of 11. OVER


Texas A&M-Corpus Christi at Texas A&M -10.5: With such a low projected total of 115 points, scoring will be a premium inside Reed Arena in College Station. A&M does not deserve giving double digits to anybody. CORPUS CHRISTI

Last week: 0-4

Season: 9-12

About the Author

Rob Miech

Veteran sportswriter Rob Miech covers soccer and does features for Gaming Today. He has written about college hoops for the Las Vegas Sun, CBS SportsLine and the Pasadena Star-News. He is the author of four books, including Sports Betting for Winners.

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