After longtime coach Jeff Jones left for Old Dominion and four players graduated from last year’s ten win team, expectations were low for Mike Brennan in his first year at American. The Eagles, who entered this season after having graduated four players, were picked to finish 9th in the ten team Patriot League. Brennan was an assistant for Jones from 2007-09 at AU, and had been working on Georgetown’s staff for the past four years — suffice to say, he knows the school and the Washington D.C. area well.
While coaching under Jones, he helped American advanced to consecutive NCAA Tournaments. When the job opened up, Brennan’s interested immediately peaked.”I knew it was a job I wanted,” Brennan told NBCSports.com by phone. “It was a great experience working with Jeff. I realized what a great school American is; it attracts people from all over the world. It’s a similar type of institution that I’ve been used to working at.”
For Brennan, the transition back across town was near seamless, but what about the players?
A 1994 graduate of Princeton who coached under John Thompson III for nearly a decade at both his alma mater and Georgetown, the Princeton-style offense has been ingrained in him. Brennan knows it as well as anyone, but inheriting a roster full of players who have never played in it thought to be a challenge.
“It’s been difficult, but they have done well. I think we have the right sort of players for it. I followed the team closely while at Georgetown, so I had an idea of what the personnel was like…In this kind of offense, players have to be individually sound because I am asking them to do multiple things on the court. Asking [Tony] Wroblicky to move around and pass on the perimeter isn’t easy for a big guy who’s never done it, but he’s been great.”
American began the season 3-7 with their only wins coming against lowly UMBC, St. Francis PA, and Howard. Their first two losses to George Mason and Ohio State, however, acted as a harbinger of things to come. The Eagles tough defense, and slow methodical offense — American plays at the fifth slowest pace in the country — kept them in these games.
“It’s been more of a progress. We kept harping on the fact that as a staff that we weren’t interested on wins and losses right away. Instead, we got better on a daily basis. I kept telling them, ‘Fellas, I see you getting better. Keep working.’ I think they saw the results, despite not the record being what we wanted.”
The results have come in a big way.
American won their final non-conference game against Maryland Eastern Shore with ease, and have begun Patriot League play by winning their first five games. Heads officially began to turn when they went on the road and defeated Bucknell and Holy Cross by double-digits.
“I would say I am a bit surprised just because the league is so tough top to bottom. I knew every game was going to be really tough, but I was very confident that we’d have a chance going into each game. I know it’s going to get more difficult. The film is out there so other teams will continue to make tweaks. ”
Perhaps most impressive is that American has had to do their winning on the road, where four of their first five games have come. Those around the Patriot League are no doubt surprised by the Eagles’ fast start and, truth be told, Brennan himself is surprised, too.
No. 25 Texas A&M made a statement on Turkey Day, as they knocked off No. 10 Gonzaga 62-61 in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis.
Danuel House led the way with 19 points for the Aggies while Tony Trocha-Morales finished with 14 points as Texas A&M picked up the win despite the fact that they did not score for the final eight minutes of the game.
Billy Kennedy’s club looked the part of an SEC contender, playing tough defense and keeping Gonzaga’s massive and talented front line in check. Perhaps most impressive was that they were able to hang on despite blowing a lead late in the second half, and that they did it with their defense. Gonzaga can score. They have big bodies inside and shooters to surround them, but Domantas Sabonis struggled with foul struggle throughout the game while Kyle Wiltjer did not score in the final 12 minutes.
Kentucky, at this point, is the clear-cut favorite in the SEC, and while Vanderbilt looked really good in Maui this week, A&M looks like they’re going to end up giving the Commodores a run for their money for second-best in the league.
On the other hand, this loss wasn’t a total disaster for the Zags. They had the final possession with a chance to be a good team on a day when Domantas Sabonis was rendered completely ineffective. And, more importantly, point guard Josh Perkins was terrific. He did have a late turnover, but he scored all 15 of his points in the second half as he helped keep the Zags within striking distance.
Texas A&M will play the winner of Syracuse and No. 18 UConn for the title.
GAME OF THE NIGHT: Syracuse vs. No. 18 UConn, 3:30 p.m.
For the first time since the Orange departed the Big East, the two former rivals will square off. Today’s battle will take place at the Battle 4 Atlantis, as the Orange knocked off Charlotte yesterday and the Huskies dispatched Michigan. To get ready for this battle, I’d suggest ready through the conversation @NoEscalators had with himself last night.
THIS ONE’S GOOD, TOO: No. 25 Texas A&M vs. No. 10 Gonzaga, 1:00 p.m.
The other semifinal in the Battle 4 Atlantis could end up being just as good, as the Aggies — who might be the second best team in the SEC — square off with a Gonzaga team that has one of the best front lines in the country. This will be a good test to figure out just how good both of these teams are.
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR
1. No. 20 Wichita State vs. USC, 2:00 p.m.: The Shockers will be without Fred VanVleet for this event. It will also be a chance for us to gauge just how good this 4-0 USC team is.
2. No. 23 Xavier vs. Alabama, 12:00 p.m: The Musketeers should have no problems dispatching Alabama.
3. No. 8 Villanova vs. Stanford, 4:30 p.m.: The Wildcats are, once again, as good as any team in the country. Josh Hart might be the nation’s most underrated star.
4. No. 14 Cal vs. San Diego State, 12:00 a.m.: Tyrone Wallace and company have been awesome this season. They get their first real test of the season tonight.
5. Providence vs. Evansville, 7:00 p.m.: Evansville is one of the nation’s best mid-majors, good enough to give the likes of Wichita State and Northern Iowa a fight in the Missouri Valley. And Providence? They got a kid named Kris Dunn. Heard of him?
THE REST OF THE TOP 25
- No. 3 Michigan State vs. Boston College, 6:30 p.m.
- No. 11 Arizona vs. Santa Clara, 11:30 p.m.
- No. 17 Notre Dame vs. Monmouth, 6:30 p.m.