Second Basketball Scouting Report: American
For teams such as Army, the NIT is not an option if the conference tournament championship goes by the boards. Boston University, having just defeated American University on Wednesday night, is the team in line for an NIT automatic bid if it fails to win the Patriot League Tournament. The Terriers are closing in on the regular season conference title, up by two games over the Eagles with only three games left to play. For Army, the ticket to the postseason goes through the Patriot League Tournament, and nowhere else. The main goal for this team in the coming weeks is to develop and sustain good habits entering the Patriot League's annual basketball festival, but the second point of focus is to get as good a seeding as possible, setting up better matchups in each round of the conference tournament.
Right now, Army would still rather have the third seed instead of the fourth, because Boston is a team no one wants to face if possible. The Terriers have taken over the league while American has faded. Army would rather be the third seed in American's half of the bracket, while Holy Cross could drop to fourth and be slotted with Boston.
All of this is still possible, mind you, but time is just as surely running out. Here's how Army can pull third place out of the hat: The Black Knights need to win out and have Holy Cross lose twice, realistically to Loyola-Maryland (on the road) and at home against Boston. Here's the nuance in that scenario: If Army beats Boston on Feb. 26, Boston would then be more motivated to beat Holy Cross on March 1. If Holy Cross loses to Loyola on Feb. 26, Army's scenario could become reality.
As you can see, though, Army has to play American tomorrow and Boston next Wednesday. The Black Knights' games – not any outside ones – represent the most difficult steps on the path to a third seed. This reality underscores the need to establish good habits more than getting a particular seed. (The seed would be nice, though, if Army can get it.)
The Eagles are reeling. Once 10-0 in the Patriot League, American has lost four of five to fall two games behind Boston, losing a hold on that aforementioned automatic NIT invite in the event it loses the conference tournament. The Eagles have lost their way on defense. You'll note that opponents have shot 45 percent or better in those four losses. Another common thread which runs through those four losses is that the Eagles have made fewer foul shots than their opponents. Other teams feel much more comfortable on offense against American at this point in time, and the Eagles aren't doing enough things (getting to the foul line) at the offensive end to compensate.
Center – Tony Wroblicky – Senior, 6-10, 230; 2013-14: 12.3 points per game, 7.2 rebounds per game, 2.7 assists per game, 2 blocked shots per game
Wroblicky's averages have remained steady since the last time these teams played on Jan. 25, but the one noticeable difference is that his rebounds-per-game average is up by almost a full rebound.
Forward – Kyle Kager – Junior, 6-8, 195; 2013-14: 6.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg
Kager has to be able to do more at the defensive end of the floor in order to not only justify his presence on the court, but to make American the strong defensive team it was earlier in the Patriot League season.
Guard – Darius Gardner – Junior, 5-9, 165; 2013-14: 11.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4.5 apg, 2.1 steals per game
This past Wednesday against Boston, Gardner produced a two-point field goal conversion rate of under 50 percent. This marked the first such occurrence for Gardner since Jan. 22. The opponent that day? Boston. For the season, Gardner is hitting 59.1 percent of his two-point shots, 36.8 percent from three-point range. Gardner takes good shots, but American might need him to be a little more proactive in the coming weeks, especially if the Eagles' defense doesn't improve. Gardner will need to score more to compensate for his team's declining defense.
Guard – Jesse Reed – Sophomore, 6-5, 185; 2013-14: 14 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1 steal per game
Reed hits 49.5 percent of his three-point shots. Your move, Army perimeter defense.
Guard – John Schoof – Junior, 6-5, 205; 2013-14: 12.3 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.2 apg
Schoof's scoring average has barely budged over the past month. You can see that since American's defense has declined in recent weeks, the lack of extra scoring punch on offense has prevented the Eagles from being able to stay afloat.
Keys to the Game
1) Electric sets in the first eight minutes. Before the under-12-minute media timeout, Army's offense needs to attack a wobbly American defense and force the Eagles to work as hard as possible on screens, cuts, dribble handoffs, and other actions. It's more common for the casual basketball fan to think of an offensive slump, but American is immersed in a defensive slump. Setting the tone on offense in the first eight minutes of this game can plant the right seeds for the Black Knights.
2) Defend without fouling. American's inability to win the free throw battle has been a running theme in the Eagles' string of recent losses. Army has to keep that point in mind on Saturday.
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