A Preview of Kentucky's Opponent in TGBL

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- It's TGBL, otherwise known as "the game before Louisville." Louisville plays its Morgan State Monday night, and Kentucky plays its Coppin State Tuesday night before the two rivals butt heads on New Year's Eve. Without jumping ahead, here's a look at TGBL.

The Coppin State Eagles (TGBL opponent) hail from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, where they are 0-1 on their young conference season, and 4-5 overall. The game is the third in a four-game road trip in which the Eagles subject themselves to Connecticut, Wisconsin, Kentucky, and finally, Texas.

Coppin State began the road trip showing that they couldn't be regarded too lightly. Dropping a 12-point decision at U Conn, 76-64 was no embarrassment, as Kentucky fell to the Huskies by a larger margin themselves. Wisconsin flexed more muscle, perhaps awakened by the relatively strong performance at U Conn, and won convincingly.

Perhaps the best place to start with Coppin State is not with the players, but with their coach, and their history. Ron "Fang" Mitchell is in his 25th year as head coach of the Eagles, and has won more than 600 games in his 32 years as head coach overall. Coach Mitchell's squad managed to share 9 out of 10 conference regular season championships, a mark that was topped by no Division I school, in the 1990's. If there's an ability to get the players to play up to better competition, he can generally get it done.

Coppin State's leading scorer is their leading returning scorer, guard Michael Harper. Harper, who has reached double figures in each of the Eagles' games this season, averages 15.3 points per game and pulls down four rebounds. The Eagles are backcourt-heavy, as their other two double-figure scorers are Harper's backcourt mates, guards Tony Gallo (13.0 pts) and Akeem Ellis (10.4 pts). Ellis also leads the Eagles in rebounding at 5.6 per game.

The game should be one Kentucky wins easily. But it should also be noted that Coppin State is 2-4 against the SEC all-time, racking up wins against South Carolina in 1997 and against LSU in 1994. The win over the Gamecocks came in the first round of the NCAA tournament, sending the SEC foe packing as the Eagles advanced.

Tipoff is at 7 p.m. in Rupp Arena. With students out on break, Kentucky has special eRupption zone tickets (immediately behind the basket, normally occupied by students) available for purchase by the general public. Tickets can be obtained 90 minutes before tipoff for $5 cash, limit one per purchaser.

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