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Sunday, April 14, 2024
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Senior Jesse Reed takes a shot over a Bucknell defender during a game last season. Photo credit: Bryan Park/ THE EAGLE 

The top five question marks for the men’s basketball team

The American University men’s basketball team starts its game schedule in less than a month. With key pieces from last year’s team gone and many new components to work with, here are five major questions head coach Mike Brennan and his staff must address this season if they hope to repeat previous success.

5. Will there be any “small ball” this year?

With his entire frontcourt injured for last year’s Patriot League tournament, Brennan was left with little choice but to go small, which meant putting 6’5 Marko Vasic at the center position. While significantly undersized, the Eagles made up for their height mismatches with five players who all put the ball on the floor blowing by slower big men and creating easy baskets. Had it not been for this move, the Eagles may not have made it past the first round of the Patriot League tournament and come within four points of repeating as league champions. Barring any significant injuries, AU looks to have a healthy big man rotation. Juniors Paris Maragkos (6’9) and Leon Tolksdorf (6’8) are both eligible to play this season after sitting out last year due to transfer rules. With Maragkos, Tolksdorf and sophomore center Gabe Brown, the team should have three big men ready to contribute. So with a complete roster, will Brennan abandon the secret weapon that helped propel the Eagles to the championship game, or will he continue to use “small ball” to create mismatches on the offensive end?

4. Who will start at point guard?

AU’s starting point guard last year, Darius “Pee Wee” Gardner, graduated in May, meaning the Eagles must figure out who will be their primary ball handler. With Gardner playing a majority of the minutes and last year’s backup Justice Montgomery transferring, AU’s potential guard options have little to no college-level playing experience. Option one is sophomore Alex Paquin, who played a combined 48 minutes last year scoring just seven total points. The other option is freshman James Washington who, while being a good prospect, must show he is ready for the college stage. Although these options may not be ideal, the good news is that Brennan’s Princeton offense doesn’t require the point guard to have a significant role the way other pro-style offenses do. That being said, AU needs a ball handler to break full court presses and call plays. Choosing a point guard and allocating playing time will be just one of the challenges Brennan will face this year.

3. What can we expect from the freshman class?

In his two years as head coach, Brennan has shown he is not eager to play his freshman. Last year’s freshman class of Paquin and Brown played a combined 103 total minutes. This year, however, could be different for two main reasons. First of all, the Eagles lost two of their main players from last year in Gardner and John Schoof. Secondly, this AU freshmen class comes loaded with talent. The headliner is swingman Delante Jones, who is listed by ESPN as a three-star recruit and ranked as the eighth-best player from Virginia. Washington also comes to AU with a national ranking and holds a ranking a of two-star recruit. He joins the likes of Tony Wroblicky and Kevin Panzer as an Eagle who comes from California. Forwards Lonnie Rivera, Andres Matic and point guard Kevin Brown round out the incoming class and give the Eagles added versatility. If these freshmen can learn from the likes of the Princeton offense and adapt to the size and speed of Division I college basketball, they should be able to earn minutes on this team in their rookie season.

2. How will the shorter shot clock impact the offense?

This summer, the NCAA made a few rule changes to college basketball, most significantly lowering the shot clock from 35 to 30 seconds. While this new adjustment will increase the pace of play, a shorter shot clock could spell bad news for Brennan and the Eagles. Brennan’s Princeton offense is famous for taking away as much time as possible on the clock in order to find the perfect shot, significantly slowing the pace of the game. While five seconds may not seem like much a difference, it can add up over time increasing the amount of possessions per game. How much this rule change will impact the offense remains to be seen. But should the new shot clock alter Brennan’s offense, fans should be on the lookout for changes to the playing style that took the Eagles to the NCAA tournament two years ago.

1. How deep is Brennan willing to go?

Last season’s long list of player injuries forced Brennan to keep a very tight rotation. But even when the Eagles were relatively healthy, Brennan still kept his rotation at six to seven guys. Players like Gardner, Schoof and Jesse Reed could play the entire game without showing signs of fatigue, giving Brennan the option to play his trifecta often. However, with Gardner and Schoof gone and spots that need to be filled, the biggest question will be how many guys does Brennan play? The Eagles return three starters (Reed, Jones, Vasic) from last year’s Patriot League tournament team. Junior Jalen Rhea, who proved he can hit shots from deep last year, will look to take further strides, and, with the additions of Paquin, Brown, Maragkos and Tolksdorf, the Eagles have eight quality players, not including the freshmen.

Bottom Line: While the Eagles may not have the experience of last year’s team, they have a variety of compelling options, leaving Brennan with the difficult task of mixing and matching his pieces to find the perfect group of guys fit to lead AU to another NCAA tournament appearance.

Section 202 host Gabrielle and friends go over some sports that aren’t in the sports media spotlight often, and review some sports based on their difficulty to play. 

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