To the Wildcat faithful-
In Part 3, Breaking Down the American Eagles, I'll analyze coach Jeff Jones's rotation and discuss what the Villanova Wildcats might (or might not) encounter on Thursday night at the Wachovia Center... You can also read Part 1 and Part 2 and get the view from an American University blog...
The team is about as experienced, as one can get in 21st-century college basketball - they start five seniors. Moreover, this is their second consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament. As a #15 seed, they gave #2 Tennessee a challenging game in the first round in 2008 (in spite of the 15-point final margin, it was closer than that). Of particular interest, is the fact that all half-dozen seniors on the roster saw significant playing time all of last season, as well. Three of the five starters are still in DC.
Unsurprisingly, since they returned all but two starters from last season, they were the consensus preseason choice to repeat as Patriot League champions, which they did... Jeff Jones was named Patriot League Coach of the Year.
American relies primarily on scoring from three seniors: Garrison Carr, Brian Gilmore, and Derrick Mercer. There are three other seniors in the rotation: Jordan Nichols (an opponent of Scottie Reynolds, Dante Cunningham, and Dwayne Anderson, while attending DeMatha High School in Maryland), Frank Borden, and Bryce Simon. There are a couple of underclassmen in the rotation; the most notable being Nick Hendra, a sophomore guard who comes off the bench.
In facing the Eagles, the Wildcats - senior-laden as they are - are meeting a rare team, whose rotation is (albeit marginally) more experienced than themselves. Of the Wildcats' eight-man rotation, both Coreys are freshmen, and Antonio Pena had a redshirt year. Reynolds and Reggie Redding are juniors. (Of course, this is the NCAA tournament, and every player on the team has been to the NCAA tournament every year he has been a Wildcat.)
It will likely be a matchup of speed and quickness over size. American mirrors Villanova in this respect, also. None of the six Eagles who play the bulk of the minutes are over 6-8 - and Mercer and Carr, two of the three best players, are both under six feet.
The Wildcats, with their tall wing players (Redding, Stokes, and Anderson), will have a defensive advantage in this regard. Of course, American likes to play a zone defense anyhow, and will have to figure out an answer for Dante Cunningham in the middle. Collapsing upon him and forcing the Wildcats' perimeter shooters to beat them may be an effective strategy.
Mercer, the point guard, is the reigning Patriot League Player of the Year, and Carr, the shooting guard, was first-team All-Patriot. They would likely be defended by Reynolds and Redding, respectively. Gilmore, the forward, ranked eighth in the Patriot League in scoring and was ninth in rebounding, and was named to the second-team All-Patriot squad.
Those are the Big Three, the only Eagles to average 32 or more minutes a game and the ones upon whom Jay Wright and his staff will likely focus. The rest of the rotation plays significantly less. Nichols is fourth in minutes at 27; Hendra, the sophomore who comes off the bench, averages 21.6; Borden, the fifth starter, averages less than 20 minutes. There are a couple of other Eagles who are role players, whose playing time vacillates sharply depending on the game, but they would be unlikely to have a significant impact. Unlike the Wildcats, who have a clearly defined eight-man rotation, American's will vary by the game. There are six players who play the most, and so that's whom we'll discuss...
One of the players whom we won't likely see is hometown product Joe Hill, a freshman from Plymouth Meeting, Pa., who played at Fort Washington's Germantown Academy, the alma mater of Villanova great Alvin Williams; he's played in seven games this year. Unless the game is uncompetitive down the stretch, Hill won't likely get into the action.
From the perimeter, Carr will look to shoot the most often, and to a lesser extent, Gilmore. Mercer, Hendra, and Simon will also take a shot from there, but nowhere near as often. The team tends to rely on defense, as they held their Patriot League opponents to the fewest points and lowest shooting percentage of any team in the league, according to CBS Sports's American Eagles report: Strategy and Personnel....
Nichols is the important defender underneath, leading the Eagles with 34 blocks and second on the team in rebounding. One weakness is the foul line, as Nichols and Hendra in particular average just 51% and 58%, respectively; Mercer, the star point guard, shoots only 61%. Nichols makes up for it, though, with a remarkable 65.2% percentage from the floor.
Check back for further posts previewing the #3 Villanova/#14 American game on Thursday.