Previewing men’s basketball’s non-conference schedule

The Eagles will look to carry success into 2019-2020 season

Previewing men’s basketball’s non-conference schedule

Junior guard Sa'eed Nelson goes in for a layup during a Feb. 2 game against Holy Cross.

AU men’s basketball concluded its 2018-2019 campaign with a 15-15 record, marking the first time the program achieved a .500 record since 2014-2015. Now, the Eagles enter a critical year for the program, as AU legend and starting point guard Sa’eed Nelson will graduate this spring. This preview of the Eagles’ non-conference schedule is the first of two, with the Patriot League preview coming in December.

At Siena on Nov. 5

After a 17-16 finish last season, the Siena Saints roster will have a completely new look this season. The Saints graduated three key seniors last season and lost head coach Jamion Christian to George Washington. In this year’s matchup, AU will have to contend with Jalen Pickett, a versatile shooting guard who averaged 15.8 points and 6.7 assists per game last season as a freshman. Additionally, Eagles fans can expect Siena to play suffocating defense, as the Saints finished 42nd in the country last season in scoring defense.

Vs. William & Mary on Nov. 8

For the first time since leaving the Colonial Athletic Association in 2001, AU will take on William & Mary. The Tribe is coming off a disappointing 14-17 campaign, but the team has a duo of talented big men who should challenge Mark Gasperini, Josh Alexander and the AU bigs. W&M returns Nathan Knight, a 6-foot-10 inch power forward who averaged 21 points, 8.6 assists and 3.5 assists per game last season. In addition to Knight, the Tribe added Andy Van Vliete in the offseason. Van Vliete, a 7-footer from Belgium, transferred in from Wisconsin, where he averaged 3.4 points per game two seasons ago.

At George Washington on Nov. 12

After a heartbreaking overtime loss in Foggy Bottom last season, AU will go into the Smith Center as favorites this season against George Washington. The Colonials program will have a new look this season, with new head coach Jamion Christion at the helm. Christion will inherit a nine-win team that won’t be returning Terry Nolan and DJ Williams, the team’s two leading scorers a year ago. A key matchup to watch out for is AU’s Mark Gasperini against GW’s Chase Paar. Paar, a 3-star prospect who chose GW over offers from Nebraska, Kansas State, Xavier and Temple, is the first key recruit to come to GW in the Christion era.

At St. Francis on Nov. 16

Last season at Bender Arena, the AU offense had a coming out party against the fast paced play of the St. Francis Red Flash. The Eagles put up a surprising 95 points and cruised to a 13 point victory over a Red Flash team that made it all the way to the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) last season. This season, AU will travel to St. Francis, but will face a slightly different challenge. The Red Flash will continue to play an uptempo style of basketball, but they will not return two of its four leading scorers. Eagles fans should expect Keith Braxton and Isaiah Blackmon to carry the scoring load for St. Francis in this year’s matchup.

Vs. Howard on Nov. 26

In a road game against crosstown rival Howard last December, AU suffered a heartbreaking 85-83 loss. This year’s game against the Bison will have a different feel than last year’s. Howard will not return RJ Cole and Chad Lott, who combined to make up 45 percent of total scoring for the Bison last season. Even more importantly, the Bison have a new head coach, Duke alumnus Kenneth Blankeney. Under Blankeney, the Eagles should expect 6-foot-6 guard Charles Williams to run the show.

At Albany on Nov. 30

To end the month of November, AU will travel up to Albany for the second time to face the Albany Great Danes, a perennial America East power. Although the Great Danes are coming off a 12-20 season, Coach Will Brown’s teams are always a threat to make some noise in March. This season, Albany will return its two leading scorers (guards Cameron Healy and Ahmad Clark), and will add three freshmen.

Vs. UMBC on Dec. 3

Early last season, UMBC was coming off its magical NCAA Tournament run with all the confidence in the world. That confidence was temporarily halted however, as AU went into the UMBC Event Center and defeated the Retrievers on a game winning shot by Sam Iorio. This season, UMBC returns all its scholarship players to campus – except for Joe Sherburne, who led the team in scoring last season.

At George Mason on Dec. 7

In November of 2018, men's basketball was in a bad place. The Eagles were coming off of a six-win season. This was until the Eagles strolled into EagleBank Arena in Fairfax and knocked off Atlantic 10 foe George Mason 78-75 with some help from Sa’eed Nelson, who tallied 24 points to go along with four rebounds, steals and assists. 

The Eagles are in a much different position this time around, as is George Mason. Despite returning four of its five starters from last year, the Patriots graduated point guard Otis Livingston III, leaving AU with an important advantage at this position. AU will still have to contend with Jarred Reuter in the paint and Mason’s impressive duo of shooting guards, Javon Greene and Justin Kier.

At Mount St. Mary’s on Dec. 17

While AU students were on winter break last season, the Eagles hosted the Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers at a quiet Bender Arena. The Mountaineers came to Tenleytown with a 0-9 record against Division I opponents, but the young group played 40 minutes of inspired basketball and secured a one point victory over an AU Eagles team that was playing without Mark Gasperini. This season, the Eagles will venture to “The Mount,” and they should face a similar challenge as the Mountaineers will return all of its scholarship players from last season.

Vs. Stony Brook on Dec. 21

In AU’s third and final game against America East Conference competition, the Stony Brook Seawolves will come to the District looking to win for the third straight time against the Eagles. A 24-9 team last season, the Seawolves finished second in the America East and lost to South Florida in overtime in the CBI Tournament. The Seawolves will be a guard heavy team this season, led by Miles Latimer and Elijah Olaniyi.

At Georgetown on Dec. 28

To close the non-conference slate, AU will travel to Capital One Arena to take on its only power conference opponent of the season: the mighty Georgetown Hoyas. AU has a successful history against its crosstown rival; the Eagles’ 1982-83 squad knocked off Patrick Ewing, David Wingate and the fifth-ranked Georgetown team, a defeat that prompted Hoyas head coach John Thompson Jr. to keep AU off its schedule for 24 years. In this year’s matchup, Georgetown will again come in as the heavy favorite. 

Despite graduating Jessie Govan, Greg Malinowski and Trey Mourning, the Hoyas have an abundance of talent. Georgetown’s dynamic guard duo of James Akinjo and Mac McClung caused problems for Big East defenders all last season, and both players will be returning to the District for their sophomore seasons. Additionally, 7-foot center Omer Yurtseven will become eligible for the Hoyas after transferring from NC State, where the former Fenerbahçe star averaged 13.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. Eagles fans should keep an eye on AU guards Sa’eed Nelson and Jamir Harris as they go up against Akinjo and McClung.

Be sure to check our Sports homepage for upcoming games.

jkolodny@theeagleonline.com

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