To the Wildcat faithful-
In Part 1 of the #3 Villanova/#14 American NCAA First Round Preview, I'll look at American's schedule and results, and see what we can learn about the Eagles, and what it might tell us about Thursday...
Part 1 - American's Nonconference Schedule and Results
American finished with a 24-7 record overall, 13-1 in regular season Patriot League play, and won three games in the conference tournament. According to Jerry Palm's CollegeRPI.com, American finished - as of March 9 - with a RPI of 77, which is outstanding for a Patriot League team. As a member of the Patriot League, AU finished with a SOS of 239, which gives an indication of the weakness of the conference - especially because the Eagles had an extremely rigorous nonconference schedule for a low-major conference team.
What does this information tell us?
They played a Beltway version of the Philadelphia Big Five, playing Howard, Georgetown, George Washington, and Maryland. They also faced UMBC, not far away in Maryland.
Most minor-conference teams need to spend nearly all of their nonconference schedule on the road for economic reasons (the visitors get a guaranteed cut of the gate in exchange for not requiring a return game), and AU was no exception. They had only four home games out of conference. And their nonconference schedule was very rugged, playing @ Oklahoma, @ Georgetown, and @ Maryland. So let's continue game-by-game...
AU opened the season at Oklahoma, and was easily steamrolled, losing 83-54 on November 14. But the Eagles recovered from the thrashing, winning their next four games. They returned home to crush St. Francis (PA), then travelled across DC to defeat Howard, flew to Jacksonville and won there, and finally headed north to Stony Brook and won narrowly.
The 4-1 Eagles then started a tailspin, and the losses started to mount - they lost five of their next six. After falling @ Fairfield, they returned home to host Mt. St. Mary's and lost - their first home loss. Travelling across town to Georgetown, the Hoyas crushed them 73-49. Eleven days later, they headed to Foggy Bottom to face an unimposing George Washington, and the Colonials managed to beat them by 13 points.
Travelling to nearby Baltimore to face UMBC, American beat the Retrievers (a great nickname) to snap the skid, but were then defeated @ Maryland by 16 points. They were now 5-5, and wound up the nonconference schedule by hosting two Ivy League teams, Brown and Columbia. By winning both, the Eagles finished 7-5 in nonconference play.
So what does this tell us? (RPIs are in parentheses)
AU played a tough schedule; in addition to @ Oklahoma (5), they lost@ crosstown rivals Maryland (67), Georgetown (49) and George Washington (201), all of whom are members of conferences far more highly rated than the Patriot League. Granted, GW finished 4-12 in the Atlantic 10 and 10-18 overall. They also lost @ Fairfield (96) and won @ Manhattan (163); both were middle-of-the-pack MAAC teams. Other road wins were at Howard (329), Jacksonville (146), Stony Brook (197) and UMBC (165).
Some of the other victories, granted, are not that impressive; Brown (304) was the worst team in the Ivy, Columbia (288) was average, and St. Francis (PA) (326) went 6-23. Those wins were all at home. They also lost at home to Mt. St. Mary's (115).
Patriot League Schedule
American won the Patriot League regular-season and tournament championships, which clearly established them as the premier team in the conference. American went 13-1 in the regular season before winning three games in the tournament, leaving them at 16-1. I'll look at that in Part 2...