Tag: Mike Brennan


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

Leave a comment

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 NBCSports.com 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 NBCSports.com 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.”

Getty Images

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 NBCSports.com. “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.”

2014 NCAA Tournament Primer: American Eagles

Leave a comment
Getty Images

Get to know all of the NCAA Tournament’s automatic bids here.

Conference: Patriot League

Coach: Mike Brennan

Record: 20-12 (13-5)

Rankings and Ratings:

– Kenpom: 115
– RPI: 135
– AP/USA Today: Not ranked

Seeding?: 16

Names you need to know: G Jesse Reed (14.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg), C Tony Wroblicky (12.1, 7.3, 3.0 apg), G Darius Gardner (11.3, 3.7, 4.2 apg)

Stats you need to know: American led the Patriot League in scoring (59.4 ppg allowed), field goal percentage (41.5%) and three-point percentage (32.3%) defense this season, and the Eagles’ work on that end of the floor was the biggest reason why they managed to win the automatic bid. A good man-to-man team, American also made very good use of the 2-3 zone in the second half of its 55-36 win over Boston University in the Patriot League title game. Offensively they aren’t a high-scoring team but American has four players averaging double figures, and they led the Patriot League in field goal percentage (49.3%) and ranked fourth in three-point percentage.

Tendencies: That offensive balance, with Reed and Wroblicky leading the way, is one of American’s best assets. And in their win over BU guard Darius Gardner stepped forward, scoring 18 points to go along with four assists and three rebounds. Tempo is key for Mike Brennan’s team, as they were ranked 342nd nationally in adjusted tempo per Ken Pomeroy’s numbers. Making teams play a full 35 seconds on both ends of the floor puts American in the best position to win.

Big wins, bad losses: American won two of its three games against the regular season champion BU, including an 86-56 home win in January. There were no major wins of note in non-conference play, and the Eagles dropped Patriot League road games at Lafayette and Loyola (MD).

How’d they get here?: Won the Patriot League tournament, beating Boston University 55-36 in the title game.

Outlook: It’s difficult to see the Eagles winning a game next week, but it was also difficult for many to see this group contending in the Patriot League back in October. Pace will be critical, and controlling it can be difficult against the caliber of opponent they’re likely to face.

How do I know you?: Despite being led by a first-year head coach in Brennan, American began Patriot League play with ten straight wins. And they’ll be making their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2009.

American off to fast start in the Patriot League under first-year coach Mike Brennan

American University Athletic Communications
1 Comment
American University Athletic Communications

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.