VALUE CITY ARENA
I feel comfortable stating that I know more about American University than just about anybody on the regular Buckeye press corps. I actually originally went to school there, joining the other few thousand bright-eyed would be Political Science majors. I eventually wizened up once I realized that I was paying $40,000 to attend a school that nobody back home had ever heard of.
And why had nobody heard of American University (had you, before you saw the Buckeye's schedule? It's okay, you don't have to lie to me). Outside of degenerate political or international relations nerds like me, the school had little cachet outside of the east coast. One big reason for that is AU's tiny athletics department, despite being a D1 school, does not have a football, baseball, or lacrosse team.
American wanted to be known by a different identity. Picture the single most annoying person you know from college who was in the College Democrats or College Republicans. Striped shirt, khakis, relentless name-dropping, inflated sense of importance, name badge brandisher. Now picture 4,000 of them. THAT'S American. American loves POLITICO. That's their identity. Buckeyes burn couches or Michigan paraphernalia, American students burn bootleg copies of old West Wing episodes.
Now, not sponsoring football is somewhat understandable, given the challenges of securing real estate for a stadium in NW Washington DC, their student body makeup, and with the school trying to cast themselves as too elite of an academic institution to concern themselves with such petty diversions, but no baseball?
How AMERICAN can a school be without baseball?
Their only major revenue sport is basketball, and until fairly recently, was without renown to all except the biggest basketball die-hards. The program actually has some history (it's the alma mater of Kermit Washington, and was a tough mid-major program in the late 70s and early 80s), but had floundered in the CAA. A move to the more academically (and private school) oriented Patriot League helped, as did bringing along former Virgina coach Jeff Jones. The Eagles came tantalizing close to the NCAAs, only to lose in the Patriot League Finals multiple years, until finally, in the 2007-2008 season, they broke though. The Eagles gave Tennessee a run for their money, and followed it up the next year by giving Villanova a scare in the first round. Suddenly, people in Ohio realized that American was a real college.
Given that my Ohio State years included the Mark Titus era, I still think my decision to transfer has been validated.
Those glory days of American basketball are gone though. After winning at least 20 games in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, including a CIT berth, the Eagles fell back to earth, going 10-20 last season. To make matters worse, Jeff Jones decided to take his talents to Old Dominion, leaving American with former Georgetown assistant Mike Brennan to take them to the promised land.
He'll have a tough road of it. No returning Eagle averaged double figures last season, and most analysts predicted American to finish at the bottom of a suddenly stronger Patriot League, thanks to the additions of Boston University and Loyola-Maryland, to go with what should be the best Army team in decades, and usual suspects Bucknell and Lafayette.
The good news for American is that they've been in both of the games they've played this year, a 63-60 loss at George Mason, and a 63-31 overtime winner against UMBC. The bad news is that American struggles to score against even mediocre teams (currently 325th in the nation in points per game), and they're about to face off against a Buckeye team that held a top-25 caliber Marquette squad to 35 points on the road. Do the Eagles have a shot at making this one interesting, or will this be another tune-up game for the Buckeyes, and a chance to get LaQuinton Ross, Amir Williams and others rolling?
Numbers to Know
That's the number of Buckeyes who are averaging double figures in scoring right now, with none of them named LaQuinton Ross. Sam Thompson leads the pack at 13 ppg, with Shannon Scott close behind at 12.3. A balanced attack might prove impossible for American to guard.
That's American's free throw percentage as a team (26-52), a recipe for disaster for a team that struggles to score efficiently from the floor. As new teams are navigating around new officiating changes, both teams could find themselves with multiple free throw chances, and will need to convert. Ohio State, for comparison, is shooting 67% from the stripe.
That's the number of three point attempts American swingman John Schoof is averaging per game. Sure, it's only two games, and Schoof is only connecting on 30% of them, but he's certainly not afraid to bomb away from deep. A 9.6 ppg, Schoof is the leading returning scorer from last year's team, and he'll need get hot in a hurry if the Eagles are going to have a chance.
Cast of Characters
The diminutive Eagle point guard (5'9, 165 pounds, goes by the nickname "PeeWee" for obvious reasons) has taken the offensive reigns for America, after transferring from Stephan F Austin. Gardner has posted an impressive statline so far, putting up an average of 18 points, 6 rebounds and a team-leading 5 assists per game over the two game season. Gardner is less likely to bomb away from three (2.5 attempts per game, which matches up to his historical trends), but he's solid at getting to the free throw line. Unfortunately for Gardner, he isn't efficient at converting those chances, as he's only shooting 62.5% from the stripe (and 68% in his last season).
After only averaging 7.5 minutes and 1.8 rebounds a game, the 6'8 junior forward is making the most of his increased playing time this season, leading the team with 9.5 rebounds per game, while adding 10 points. It will be critical for the Eagles to keep Kager out of foul trouble, since there are few other players on the team who have the ability to rebound well, and with American unlikely to be shooting a high percentage against Ohio State, rebounding is going to be critical.
Before the season, Ross was tabled as the go-to scorer for this year's Buckeye squad, the replacement for Deshaun Thomas, and a potential mid 1st round pick. So far, Ross has labored on the court (and Matta says he's a little banged up right now) shooting only 26.7% from the field, and averaging only 8 points a game, including a goose egg against Marquette. Ross is contributing in other ways, grabbing 5.7 boards a game and keeping his turnovers down from last year, but eventually, he'll need to find his shot for Ohio State to be successful. Ross should be able to use his size and athleticism advantages to create mismatches and get his confidence back against the Eagles.
There may not be a bigger question mark on the roster this year than with Amir Williams, who has the potential to be a lineup-anchoring defensive presence, but whose Buckeye tenure has been marred by inconsistency. Against a smaller Ohio lineup, Williams played one of his best games as a Buckeye, throwing down 14-10 in 27 minutes, without a turnover. He had more of a mixed bag game against Marquette, but did block 5 shots. If Amir can keep Kager and fellow Eagle big man Tony Wroblicky off the glass or in foul trouble, he could potentially have a very nice day for himself. These early season games are critical in helping get Williams ready to body up in the Big Ten.