Basketball Scouting Report: American

Navy needs offense, but where will it come from? The Midshipmen know they're shorthanded. All they can do is defend like there's no tomorrow and shoot above their averages. That's not a high-percentage way to live in college basketball… but it only needs to work for one night.


Navy is… well… sinking. There's no point in trying to deny it. A team without its best scorer, Tilman Dunbar, is now paying the price for a lack of depth and primary scoring options. The course of the season is taking its toll on the Midshipmen, who have no choice but to carry on. Tonight, coach Ed DeChellis leads his charges against the American Eagles, who are flying above the rest of the Patriot League at 8-0. Navy can look at this game as a burden… or it can view this short hop to Washington, D.C., as a chance to make a special memory in an otherwise difficult season.

AMERICAN AT-A-GLANCE

The Eagles just won in West Point on Saturday, cementing their place as the Patriot League's best team and the favorite for the league tournament in a month and a half. American has a game lead on Boston University and a two-game lead on Army in the conference, but the Eagles also have head-to-head wins over the Terriers and Black Knights. They're calling the shots in this part of the college basketball world.

American is a tough defensive team. The Eagles had not allowed more than 63 points in any Patriot League games until this past Saturday's 84-74 win over Army. 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. The Eagles have allowed more than 63 points only four 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.

Starting Lineup

Center – Tony Wroblicky –
Senior, 6-10, 230; 2013-14: 12.2 points per game, 6.4 rebounds per game, 2.8 assists per game, 2.1 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. Navy will have to contend with Wroblicky on several levels in this game, which is part of what makes this a tough matchup for the Midshipmen.

Forward – Kyle Kager – Junior, 6-8, 195; 2013-14: 7.2 ppg, 4.5 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: 11.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 4.5 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. Navy has to be able to limit Gardner's effectiveness.

Guard – Jesse Reed – Sophomore, 6-5, 185; 2013-14: 13.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.1 steals per game

Reed hits 47.1 percent of his three-point shots. There's your simple, one-sentence scouting report on a player Navy must defend closely.

Guard – John Schoof – Junior, 6-5, 205; 2013-14: 13.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2 apg

Schoof is one of three players (Reed and Gardner being the others) who hits at least 36.8 percent of his threes for American. Anything north of 35 percent merits a defense's full attention. 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) Contain Wroblicky.
If Navy can't make a stand in the paint, it won't be able to do much else. The Midshipmen have to hope American has an off night from the perimeter. Big men generally don't have off nights in terms of shooting two-footers. Navy has to push Wroblicky away from the rim and force him to make tough shots.

2) Master the mid-range game. Wroblicky is going to be a tough customer in the paint, especially on defense. How can Navy minimize his impact? The Mids will need a lot of threes just to have a chance in this game, but the ability to shoot the three will improve in tandem with solid shooting from the 12- to 14-foot range in the first half. If Navy can hit mid-range jumpers in the first 20 minutes, it can open up more kinds of scoring opportunities – threes, drives, foul shots – in the second 20.

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