Improved American team ready to defend Patriot League title in 2014-2015

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Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

Moments after losing to Wisconsin, 75-35, in the NCAA tournament, first-year American head coach Mike Brennan gathered his team inside the Bradley Center locker room. His message was similar to the one he gave the team when he took over the program 11 months earlier.

“The biggest thing he told us after the game was we still had a lot to improve on,” starting point guard Darius “Pee Wee” Gardner told last month. “We had a big year, but we had to take away from this season was that we still had more to improve on.”

That focus has carried over into the offseason workouts and into practice, as the Eagles shift from a surprise team that defied preseason polls in 2013-2014 to the reigning champion with a target on its back this season.

At this time last season, American was slotted ninth in the Patriot League’s preseason coaches poll.

“Last year we had a lot of doubts,” leading scorer Jesse Reed said. “We had a new coach and a bunch of new players who hadn’t had much play time. There was a lot unknown, but we had confidence that we could have a good season. It was an internal thing.”

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American kicked off Patriot League play with 10 consecutive wins, including a 30-point home win over Boston University. But as the law of averages evened out over the course of the next five games, the Eagles dropped four of five, relinquishing first place to BU in the process.

“I think we snuck up on some teams,” Brennan told “Second time around through the league was a little more difficult. Teams had a better sense to what we were doing.

The Eagles regrouped to reverse that trend, winning four of the last five to put them into the championship game. On the road in the Patriot League title game, American held BU, which shot threes at a 39 percent clip, to just 36 points, and forced the Terriers into a 1-for-17 shooting night from beyond the arc.

The key piece to that team defense — ranked 51st in that nation in adjusted defensive efficiency — was Tony Wroblicky, the Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year and first team all-league selection. The 6-foot-10 center is the only starter Brennan lost, but he’ll need a committee to replace him.

“Tony was special for us,” Brennan said. “He did a lot of things for us. We have some other guys who are pretty good basketball players. They won’t fill Tony’s shoes, but they’ll be able to contribute in their own way.”

Jonathan Davis and Kevin Panzer join the program after sitting out last season following their transfers from George Washington and Nevada, respectively. Zach Elcano, the 6-foot-11 sophomore, saw time in 16 games as a freshman while Gabe Brown, a 7-foot freshman, adds depth to the frontline. Like last season, as the offense adjusted to the Princeton offense, incorporating four new bigs into its defense will take time.

“[Tony] was a big part of our defense,” Reed added. “I’m hoping those guys will have a similar impact, protecting the rim and being in help-side defense. It’s going to take a lot of work getting our defense back in the swing of things.”

Those newcomers in the middle surround the four returning starters, which include Reed, the team’s leading scorer at 13.4 points per game, Gardner, a second-team all-Patriot League selection and John Schoof, the third returning Eagle to average double figures last season.

The words Brennan said seven months ago in Milwaukee, Wisconsin — on the heels of a 40-point blowout — resonated with his perimeter attack of upperclassmen. Yes, it was an accomplishment to reach the NCAA tournament (the third time for American in six years), but the Badgers bludgeoned the Eagles en route to a Final Four appearance. The consolation for American was it provided the perfect blend: the thrill of postseason play and the bitter taste of a nationally-televised beatdown. That mixed feeling has been integrated into the offseason workouts because like they know first-hand, the Patriot League is always up for grabs.

“Look at us last year, “Reed said. “We weren’t suppose to challenge anyone.”

CBT Podcast: 2018 NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Preview, Picks and Predictions

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Sam Vecenie of the Athletic and the Game Theory podcast stopped by to chat with Rob Dauster about the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament. The two went through each of the eight Sweet 16 matchups, detailing how each one of those eight games projects to play out and going over which lines — spread and over-unders — they like.

Dan Hurley will accept UConn head coaching position

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Rhode Island head coach Dan Hurley will be the next head coach at UConn, replacing the 2014 national title winner, Kevin Ollie.

Hurley will be signing a six-year deal, according to multiple reports, that could be valued as much as $18 million. Hurley picked UConn over Pitt, who had also offered him a similar amount of money.

Hurley turned the Rhode Island program around during his six-year tenure, capped off with a pair of seasons where the Rams won a game in the NCAA tournament. UConn, which is one of the best jobs but has not been one of the best teams in the AAC in recent years, should be a place where he can continue to recruit talent. Under Ollie, the Huskies have been able to get players. The issue has been the performance and development of those players once they get to campus.

The Huskies finished 14-18 this past season.

Dan Hurley is the son of New Jersey high school coaching legend Bob Hurley and the brother of former Duke guard and current Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley.

VIDEOS: Villanova team bus stuck on icy roads trying to leave campus

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Villanova’s road to the Sweet 16 hit its roughest patch yet on Wednesday as the team attempted to leave campus for the team’s flight to Boston.

Since the Philadelphia area has been slammed with a snowstorm, the Wildcat team bus had issues leaving to get to the team’s chartered flight.

A struggle between team bus and ice ensued. The bus was delayed by 30 minutes before finally being able to leave.

Villanova continues its NCAA tournament journey on Friday when the No. 1 seed Wildcats play No. 5 seed West Virginia in Boston.

Wake Forest guard Keyshawn Woods to transfer or go pro after graduation

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Wake Forest will be down a key player next season as the school announced that guard Keyshawn Woods will either transfer or go pro after graduation.

The 6-foot-3 Woods was the team’s second-leading scorer this season as he put up 11.9 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. Woods shot 43 percent from the floor and 37 percent from three-point range for the 2017-18 campaign.

Also a key member of last season’s NCAA tournament team for the Demon Deacons, Woods transferred to Wake Forest after spending his first season at Charlotte.

“I appreciate the opportunity that Coach Manning gave me to be a part of this program and to graduate from this great university,” said Woods in the release. “I am proud that I was able to help the coaches change the culture of the program and build a foundation for the future.”

The loss of Woods won’t be easy for Wake Forest, but the team is scheduled to return some talented guards like Bryant Crawford and Brandon Childress next season. Incoming freshmen like Jaime Lewis and Sharone Wright Jr. are also signed to add to the perimeter depth.

David Padgett not retained as Louisville coach

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Louisville announced on Wednesday afternoon that interim head coach David Padgett would not be retained.

Padgett, who is 32 years old, stepped in and took the program over in the wake of a scandal that cost Hall of Fame head coach Rick Pitino his job.

“We all owe a great debt of gratitude to David for his leadership and poise this season,” said U of L Interim Director of Athletics Vince Tyra. “He took over during incredible circumstances, has handled himself respectfully throughout the season and I believe he has a bright future in coaching. We expect to determine a new head coach in a short period to build upon the great basketball tradition of this university.”

Pitino was fired because an FBI complaint contained an allegation that he and his staff had arranged for a $100,000 payment to be funneled to Brian Bowen from Adidas.

In his one season with the Cardinals, Padgett went 22-14 and reached the quarterfinals of the NIT.

Louisville will now conduct a search for their next head coach, and current Xavier coach Chris Mack has long been considered the favorite to take that job.