Bulls get Coppin on Monday in WNIT
Having learned Thursday afternoon that they'll be hosting a second-round WNIT game Monday, USF's women's basketball players now know their opponent: Coppin State, which beat St. Joseph's 67-52 on the road Thursday in the WNIT's opening round.
Coppin's no slouch, with a 25-7 record that included a perfect 18-0 regular-season in the MEAC, a run that ended with a 67-65 overtime loss to Morgan State in the MEAC title game. Thursday's win is the first postseason win not only in Coppin history but for any MEAC team, which says more about the diluted 48-team WNIT field than anything else. It took USF overtime to beat the same St. Joseph's team in Philadelphia this season, so a 15-point win says something for Coppin.
Coppin played two Big East teams comparable to USF -- West Virginia and Seton Hall -- and lost by one and five points, both on the road. The Eagles are a sloppy team, one that committed 156 more turnovers than they forced, so their weakness lines up with one of USF's strengths. The key to beating Coppin? Containing 5-foot-8 junior guard Rashida Suber, the MEAC player of the year, averaging 18.8 points per game. Suber has hit 101 of Coppin's 107 3-pointers, so one solid defensive stopper, such as Bulls senior guard Rachael Sheats, could go a long way. Coppin only has one other player scoring in double figures.
USF, by the way, has the highest RPI (32nd) of the 48 teams in the WNIT field, which has 10 teams with an RPI of 60 or better. The next five? Western Kentucky (34), Ball State (41), Auburn (44), Hartford (47) and Virginia (48) -- the Bulls would face Virginia in the third round next week if both teams advance.
The big question is whether USF can scrap together some motivation after the frustration of missing the NCAA cut. As Coppin has shown, there are teams with less postseason success than the Bulls. If I'm Jose Fernandez, I'm selling his four seniors on a chance to play a few more games than they could have expected in the NCAA tournament. The school record for wins (21) could easily go down, and a string of WNIT wins would take away some of the sting of missing the real postseason tournament.
What kind of crowd will Monday bring? USF won't be able to use the spring break excuse, as students will be back to class that day, and they won't have to go up against NCAA men's tournament games, as most WNIT second-round games have to do on Saturday and Sunday. Think of it as an encore home performance for Jessica Dickson, though the promise of her Senior Night farewell didn't exactly pack even the bottom level of the Sun Dome. We'll have to see ...