Basketball Scouting Report: American
Army's poised performance against Colgate on Wednesday enabled coach Zach Spiker's team to stay in the lead pack of the Patriot League at 6-1. Had Army lost, it would have fallen to 5-2, in between the big dogs and two mid-level pursuers, Holy Cross and Bucknell (both 4-3 at this time). Now, though, Army can consider itself a contender for the league title, just in time for two season-shaping games against the top two teams in the conference. American University has been calling the shots in this part of the college basketball world, while Boston University, at 6-1, is in the thick of the hunt. How Army handles these next two games will have a lot to say about its seeding in the Patriot League Tournament, and by extension, its path to a possible NCAA tournament appearance in 2014.
The Eagles are going to be a beast and a bother for Army. Not only is American the only unbeaten Patriot League team; the Eagles just thumped second-place Boston University by 30 points on Wednesday night, an emphatic statement that reverberated throughout the league. Army will likely need a letdown from American to win this game, but the Black Knights do get this game on their home court, which is precisely what might enable them to shift the energy of this game toward their preferences.
At any rate, American is a tough defensive team. The Eagles have not allowed more than 63 points in any of their seven Patriot League games this season. This is a team that played Ohio State tough on the road back in November, allowing only (imagine this…) 63 points to the Buckeyes. The number 63 just keeps cropping up in discussions about American's defense, apparently. The Eagles have allowed more than 63 points only three times all season. That's quite a statistic, one that few other college basketball teams can match, regardless of conference. First-year coach Mike Brennan is doing terrific work in replacing former coach Jeff Jones, who led the program to its only two NCAA tournament appearances in 2008 and 2009.
Center – Tony Wroblicky – Senior, 6-10, 230; 2013-14: 11.8 points per game, 6.3 rebounds per game, 2.8 assists per game, 1.9 blocked shots per game
American gets plenty of production from its big man, a key reason the Eagles are so successful. Wroblicky does what a competent center should: He makes an impact as a rebounder, rim-protector and passer, and he carries his fair share of the scoring workload as well. Army will have to contend with Wroblicky on several levels in this game, which is part of what makes this a tough matchup for the Black Knights.
Forward – Kyle Kager – Junior, 6-8, 195; 2013-14: 7.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg
Kager is a blue-collar grunt guy, a player who doesn't blind you with his statistics but puts in a substantial effort and helps this team's defense to be the best it can be. He's not going to win games with his offense; he's content to defend and rebound and allow others to gain the glory.
Guard – Darius Gardner – Junior, 5-9, 165; 2013-14: 11.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 4.4 apg, 1.9 steals per game
Here's another window into American's success: While its big man blocks shots and rebounds, its diminutive point guard hands out dimes and steals the ball from opponents. What's quite amazing is that Gardner averages almost four boards per game at 5-9. That's frankly preposterous… and a sign of how much effort Gardner devotes to the sport, which is always refreshing to see in any athlete. Army has to be able to limit Gardner's effectiveness.
Guard – Jesse Reed – Sophomore, 6-5, 185; 2013-14: 12.7 ppg, 4 rpg, 1.1 steals per game
Reed hits 45.2 percent of his three-point shots. There's your simple, one-sentence scouting report on a player Army must defend closely.
Guard – John Schoof – Junior, 6-5, 205; 2013-14: 12.9 ppg, 3 rpg, 2 apg
Schoof is one of three players (Reed and Gardner being the others) who hits at least 37.4 percent of his threes for American. That means at least three players on this team hit at least 3 of every 8 triples they attempt. That's quite good. Perimeter shooting combined with strong defense and a quality big man offer American so many different ways of winning games. You can see how resourceful this team is (and has been) just by looking at the raw numbers.
Keys to the Game
1) Work harder against Gardner. American places four players in double figures in terms of per-game scoring. Gardner is the central source of American's production, given his ability to distribute the ball and perform with an energy level that ripples through his teammates. Preventing Gardner from setting the right tone for the Eagles will give Army a competitive foothold in this contest.
2) Master the mid-range game. Wroblicky is going to be a tough customer in the paint, especially on defense. How can Army minimize his impact? Some three-point shooting would obviously be great, and the Black Knights will need to toss in some threes in order to win. However, the Black Knights have to find the elbow areas of the court and hit 10- to 15-foot shots in order to win this game. If Army can establish the mid-range attack, American's defense might have to overplay in ways that will open up both the kickout to a three-point shooter or a dribble drive to the basket in the second half.
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