KU Bound To Rebound?

Three days after losing its first game of the season to Syracuse — and a day after Thanksgiving — Kansas looks to get back on track and feast on Coppin State.

The No. 24 Jayhawks (3-1) and Eagles (1-1) tipoff tonight at 7 p.m. in Allen Fieldhouse.

On paper, this is a huge mismatch. Kansas is one of the most tradition-rich schools in the country. The defending national champions have won 25 straight home games and earned 19-straight NCAA appearances.

Coppin State, meanwhile, is a small school (Baltimore, MD) in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference which boasts just four NCAA Tournament appearances in school history and lost 29 consecutive games to ranked opponents. The Eagles also lost four starters and eight letterwinners off last year’s 16-21 team.

But Coppin State has a bit of history overcoming the odds. In 1997, the Eagles beat South Carolina in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, becoming just the third No. 15 seed to defeat a No. 2 seed. And then last season, despite finishing seventh in the MEAC with a 7-9 record, the Eagles got hot and won the postseason conference tournament, becoming the first team in NCAA history to reach the Big Dance with 20 losses.

The Eagles then fell to Mount St. Marys, 69-60, in the NCAA opening-round play-in game.

Like Kansas, Coppin State is coming off a loss after falling at then-No. 10 Purdue, 66-46, last Saturday. The Eagles shot just 30 percent from the field and 3 of 18 from three-point range. Coppin State, which beat Wilmington, 94-73, in its season opener on Nov. 15, is in its third game of a long stretch away from home. The Eagles will play the next 12 games either on the road or on neutral courts before their first game game on Jan. 6

While the Jayhawks have a big edge, Coppin State features a player who could start for most teams in the country. Senior Tywain McKee leads the Eagles averaging 18.5 points, 5.0 assists, and 3.0 steals per per game, while shooting a blistering 56.7 percent from the field.

The 6-2 McKee is a nominee for the Bob Cousy Award as the top point guard in the nation.

"It truly is an honor to be included among the best point guards in the country," McKee said. "But I'm going to continue to work hard to make myself and my team better. My focus is on helping Coppin State win games and whatever individual honors come with that will just be a bonus."

Sophomore guard Vince Goldsberry ranks second on the team in scoring at 15 points per game, while shooting 84 percent from the free-throw line. Freshman guard Jordan Lee averages 13 points and ranks second with 5.5 rebounds per game. Senior guard Chuka Iloegbu (8.5 ppg and team-best four three-pointers) and senior forward Brian Chestnut (4.0 ppg and team-high 7.5 rebounds per game) also add to the attack.

The Eagles, who have 11 players averaging at least 12 minutes per game, score 70 points per contest (43.9 field-goal percentage) while allowing 69.5 in their first two games. Coppin State is strong on the boards, boasting a +8.5 rebound margin.

With KU a huge favorite, Self’s Jayhawks will use this game to get better and improve on their performance against Syracuse, where Kansas shot just 41.9 percent from the field and 55 percent from the line. With KU up 51-38 in the second half,  the Jayhawks lost their poise, got sped up, and allowed the Orange back in the game.

One area KU needs to improve on is finishing in the lane.

“I think we can do that in time,” Self said. “That’s a bunch of young kids out there playing, but certainly there’s some things we got to do better. We got to get a little tougher and harder.”

With its 16-game winning streak (dating back to last year) now history and first loss since Feb. 23, 2008 (61-60 to Oklahoma State), look for Kansas to come out tougher and harder against Coppin State for a home-cooked post Turkey Day feast.

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