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.
Kentucky freshman guard Malik Monk is going to be one of the newcomers to keep an eye on this season as the 6-foot-3 Arkansas native is an explosive scorer who packs vicious athleticism.
Monk showed Big Blue Nation some of what they can expect to see during Friday night’s Blue/White Scrimmage as he unleashed a ferocious dunk in some traffic and also had another good dunk in transition. While Monk has great lift off the floor, he also isn’t afraid to cock the ball back and put some authority on his dunks. He’s going to be a ton of fun to watch this season.
Xavier announced on Friday that Kaiser Gates underwent a surgical procedure on his left knee and will be out for about a month.
“Kaiser had a scope procedure to remove small particles of cartilage in his left knee,” said Xavier Associate Head Athletic Trainer David Fluker. “We are optimistic that he can be back on the court in four weeks.”
Gates is a 6-foot-8 sophomore that played just 10 minutes per game last season. But with the Musketeers losing a handful of key front court pieces in the offseason, Gates was one of the guys expected to play a bigger role this year. We are currently less than four weeks removed from the start of the season, which means it’s likely that Gates will miss some time.
North Carolina wing Theo Pinson fractured the fifth metatarsal in his right foot and will be out indefinitely.
The injury occurred in a practice this week. There is no timetable for his return.
“I’m so disappointed for Theo,” head coach Roy Williams said. “Number one, he’s ben playing well and he does so many positive things for our team. Theo’s our energy guy, he defends, he’s our best passer, a threat on the offensive boards, he can play four different positions, and he gives our team personality.”
“Hopefully we can get him back before the end of the season.”
The 20 candidates for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award watch list were announced on Friday morning.
The award is given to the best center in college basketball. In 2016, Jakob Poeltl won it.
Here are the 20 players on the watch list:
Moses Kingsley, Arkansas
Eric Mika, BYU
Justin Patton, Creighton
Marques Bolden, Duke
Zena Edosomwan, Harvard
Thomas Bryant, Indiana
Bam Adebayo, Kentucky
Tim Kempton, Lehigh
Omer Yurtseven, NC State
Chris Boucher, Oregon
Isaac Haas, Purdue
Pascal Chukwu, Syracuse
Jarrett Allen, Texas
Tyler Davis, Texas A&M
Thomas Welsh, UCLA
Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina
Luke Kornet, Vanderbilt
Mo Alie-Cox, VCU
Josh Hawkinson, Washington State
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
Beginning in September and running up through November 11th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.
Today, we are previewing the Southland Conference.
Things are going to look different in the Southland this season now that Stephen F. Austin has lost so many familiar faces. The three-time defending champion Lumberjacks lost head coach Brad Underwood to Oklahoma State and two-time Southland Player of the Year Thomas Walkup exhausted his eligibility as Stephen F. Austin tries to stay atop the conference with some new faces.
New head coach Kyle Keller is now in charge at Stephen F. Austin after a successful stint as an assistant coach with Texas A&M. Keller likely won’t match Underwood’s insane 53-1 Southland record with the Lumberjacks but he has plenty of talent and winning culture in place. The Lumberjacks have won a NCAA tournament game in two of the last three seasons as they return junior Ty Charles and sophomore T.J. Holyfield. Newcomers could be the key to the season or Stephen F. Austin as Keller brought in some talented transfers and junior college prospects.
Sam Houston State is once again knocking on the door as they return the top five scorers from last season. Senior forward Aurimas Majauskas and senior guard Dakarai Henderson both averaged 14.2 points per game last season as both players were All-Southland second-team selections. The return of talented point guard Paul Baxter, who missed last season with injury, could give the Bearkats six capable starters.
Coming off of a CBI appearance, Houston Baptist returns a lot of upperclass talent as they’re led by senior forward Colter Lasher. If center Josh Ibarra can return from injury and graduate transfer Atif Russell makes an impact from Pepperdine then the Huskies could be one of the Southland’s deeper teams. Texas A&M Corpus-Christi returns Player of the Year candidate Rashawn Thomas as forward as the senior will need help from a lot of new pieces. Seven seniors are gone from last season, but the Islanders are hoping guards Joe Kilgore and Ehab Amin can step up.
McNeese State has to improve its defense and rebounding but the Cowboys return a potent offense. Five of the top six scorers are back including senior guard Jamaya Burr and sophomores Jarren Greenwood and James Harvey and McNeese State should be one of the better perimeter shooting teams in the Southland. A young team who could be one to watch, Abilene Christian returns super sophomore guard Jaylen Franklin to lead the charge. The Wildcats only have one senior and need sophomores like Hayden Howell and Jaren Lewis to step up.
Things should be intriguing at Northwestern State as high-scoring guard Zeek Woodley is back but star senior point guard Jalan West is out once again with a torn ACL. Woodley is good for over 20 points a game but he’ll need more help this season. Senior guard Sabri Thompson was strong during a preseason trip to Canada. Head coach Jay Ladner returns seven of the top nine scorers for Southeastern Louisiana as the Lions should have plenty of scoring. Guard Joshua Filmore logged plenty of minutes last season while Southern Miss transfer Davon Hayes could provide another rotation piece.
Incarnate Word got hit hard by transfers this offseason as Jontell Walker and Derail Green left for other programs. Junior guard Shawn Johnson showed some promise late in the season and should be asked to lead. New Orleans returns three double-figure scorers in guard Christavious Gill, forward Erik Thomas and guard Nate Frye. The Privateers can make a jump if they improve their perimeter shooting and get five new players involved.
After being banned from the postseason for a low APR, Central Arkansas is hoping for a better season. Junior Jordan Howard can pour in points and Derreck Brooks is a quality second piece. The Bears have to improve defensively after an abysmal 2015-16. Lamar is hoping that head coach Tic Price can get them back on track as leading scorer Nick Garth is back. The Cardinals will rely a lot on new pieces this season as they hit the junior college ranks hard for college-ready players. New coach Richie Riley takes over at Nicholls State as he signed five players this spring. Senior guard Ja’Dante Fry is back along with senior center Liam Thomas, the Southland’s leader in blocks last season.
PRESEASON SOUTHLAND PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Rashawn Thomas, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
The reigning Southland Defensive Player of the Year was also top five in the league in scoring and rebounding a year ago as the 6-foot-8 senior averaged 16.6 points and a conference-leading 8.1 rebounds per game. Thomas also shot 55 percent from the floor and averaged 2.3 blocks per game as he’s one of the best all-around mid-major players in the country. On a team replacing a lot of experienced players, Thomas could put up huge numbers for the Islanders.
THE REST OF THE PRESEASON SOUTHLAND TEAM:
- Zeek Woodley, Northwestern State: Putting up 22.2 points per game the last two seasons, the 6-foot-2 senior has a serious chance at 2,000 career points.
- Jaylen Franklin, Abilene Christian: The 6-foot-2 guard is reigning Southland Freshman of the Year after averaging 16.2 points, 3.8 rebounds in his first season.
- Jordan Howard, Central Arkansas: A bright spot for Central Arkansas, the 5-foot-11 junior put up 20.2 points per game while shooting 42 percent from three-point range.
- Aurimas Majauskas, Sam Houston State: The 6-foot-7 senior shot 54 percent from the floor while averaging 14.2 points and 5.6 rebounds per game last season.
ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @SouthlandSports
- Stephen F. Austin
- Sam Houston State
- Houston Baptist
- Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
- McNeese State
- Abilene Christian
- Northwestern State
- Southeastern Louisiana
- Incarnate Word
- New Orleans
- Central Arkansas
- Nicholls State