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What’s been wrong with the Eagles this season?

What The Eagles must do to gain some positive momentum this season

What’s been wrong with the Eagles this season?

The AU men’s basketball team had decent but respectable expectations this year. Picked by the coaches to finish fifth in the Patriot League, the Eagles retained most of their core players from last season’s squad that won 10 of its final 14 games and reached the Patriot League semifinals.

This season started similar to last in that the Eagles struggled out of the gate and early in conference play. Last season, they started out 5-15 (3-7 PL). Right now, they are 5-15 (2-7 PL).

By this point last season, the Eagles had started their five game winning-streak to get them back into the thick of the league competition. Right now, the team is showing no signs of maintaining any positive momentum, losing six of its past seven games. Wednesday night’s 71-53 loss at home against Navy was their worst loss in league play and worst overall since losing by 42 at Villanova. So why has the team declined from last season? Here are a few reasons.

Perimeter Shooting

It’s been mentioned that the Eagles have struggled from the foul line. In addition, three-point shooting has been a major issue for AU. As of Jan. 25, the Eagles are currently ranked 332 out of 347 Division I teams in the country in three point percentage at just 29.2 percent.

The way the Eagles struggle from behind the three-point arc allows teams to do two major things. The first is pack the paint. If nobody on the Eagles is a threat to shoot, teams won’t respect them and as a result will bring defenders closer to the basket. This will make it harder for AU to make layups and easier baskets.

Secondly, it gives teams more opportunity to play zone. AU has struggled against the zone all season. Take the game against Holy Cross on Jan. 23, when the team had 23 turnovers compared to just 22 made baskets.

The good news is that sophomore Lonnie Rivera appears to be healthy enough to play significant minutes again. Against Navy, he went 3-4 from three-point range. Rivera’s shooting could play a major factor in the way teams defend AU as the second half of league play approaches.

Rebounding

AU is one of the worst rebounding teams in the country, ranking 334 out of 347 Division I teams with just over 30 a game. The blowout loss against Navy highlighted the team’s inability to crash the boards. The Eagles were outrebounded 36-19, giving up 16 offensive boards for 16 second chance points.

With a season-ending injury to forward Leon Tolksdorf, this looks like it will be a challenge the rest of the season. With Tolksdorf gone, Brennan is only comfortable playing one big man at a time. This means the Eagles will usually be outsized and thus struggle to get rebounds against bigger teams.

Senior Charlie Jones, who is 6’4”, is the team’s best rebounder averaging 5.3 a game. After Jones, the next best on the boards is 5’11” point guard Sa’eed Nelson at 4.8. Having perimeter players as the best rebounders is never a good formula for success. But assuming the Eagles will be forced to play with just one true big man the rest of the season, it looks like it will have to be a group effort where everyone pitches in.

Turnovers

Even with struggles from three-point range, the Eagles are a middle of the pack shooting team overall at 44.1 percent. The problem is that this group has a tendency to give up possessions by being careless with the ball.

Especially when teams pressure, the Eagles have thrown the ball all over the court. The Eagles turn the ball over 13.3 times a game, which is concerning given their slow pace of play. On Wednesday, the team coughed the ball up 13 times, resulting in 16 points for Navy. Turnovers are inevitable, but limiting them as much as possible will be a major key going forward.

The good news for AU is that there is still a whole half of league play. Now that this young team knows the type of competition it is going up against, the Eagles will be much more prepared and know what they have to do in order to win. That being said, if AU continues to miss outside shots, get dominated on the boards and turn the ball over, fans could be in for a long season.

asternlicht@theeagleonline.com


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