The American Eagles have flown under the national radar screen for most of the year and Nova fans know little or nothing about the Cat’s opening round opponent. Let’s take a closer look at the Eagles.
The Eagles enter the NCAA Tournament riding the nation’s second longest winning streak at 13 games and are winners in 19 of their last 20. Their 24-7 record matches the program record for most wins in a season and the team’s 11 road wins are tops in the NCAA. American also claimed its second-consecutive Patriot League Regular Season Championship with a 13-1 record, marking the program’s best in-conference record since 1980-81.
American is led by a trio of all-league selections including the Patriot League Player of the Year, Derrick Mercer. Mercer has averaged 11.5 ppg this season as well as 4.4 apg and 4.3 rpg, and became the only player in PL history to record 1,200 points and 500 assists. He is AU’s all-time leader in games played and games started. Garrison Carr, a First Team All-PL selection, ranks second in the conference in scoring at 17.8 ppg and his 108 three-pointers rank 10th in the nation. Brian Gilmore was named to the All-PL Second Team and is averaging 12.4 ppg and 5.4 rpg. Gilmore and Mercer are all excellent shooters hitting 53% and 48% from the field and 42% and 41%, respectively, from beyond the arc. Gilmore leads the team in rebounds at 5.4 per game while Mercer leads in assists at 4.4 per game.
Record 24-7 26-7
PF 64.5 76.5
PA 58.4 67.0
FG% 47% 46%
FT% 65% 74%
3P% 37% 37%
Experience: both teams are stacked with veterans. Nova starts three seniors and two juniors; American has an all-senior starting five.
Tale of the Tape: Villanova enjoys a significant size advantage, particularly at the guard positions, that will create significant matchup problems for American. Here’s the height and weight advantage (+) or disadvantage (-) for Nova by position.
Nova Height / Weight Advantage
PG: Reynolds vs. Mercer +5 inches / +15 lbs
G: Redding vs. Carr +6 inches / +35 lbs
G/F: Anderson vs. Borden +2 inches / +35 lbs.
F: Cunningham vs. Nichols +3 inches / -5 lbs.
F: Clark vs. Gilmore -1 inch / -15 lbs.
Depth: Villanova also enjoys an edge on depth. All of Villanova’s starters are capable of big offensive games, led by Cunningham and Reynolds at about 16 PPG. Nova’s bench also offers a decided advantage with Corey Fisher (Big East Sixth Man Award winner), Corey Stokes and Antonio Pena all playing significant minutes. Fisher energizes the team, while Stokes can be a game-changer with his long-range shooting. American’s first man off the bench is Nick Hendra, a 6’3” sophomore guard who averages 6.5 PPG and 4.5 RPG in 22 MPG.
Record Against Common Opponents: Villanova beat Navy by a 10 point margin. American beat Navy twice, the first game by a one-point margin (at Navy), the second at home by a 5-point margin. Georgetown beat both Villanova (2-point margin) and American (24 point margin).
Home Court Advantage: Wachovia is Nova’s home away from home; the Cats will get a boost from a home crowd that will be both large and loud.
Pressure: No one expects American to win; the pressure is all on Villanova
Overconfidence: The Cats must be focused on the Eagles, not the Bruins (our likely round 2 opponent)
Bad Karma: Nova has a tendency to start slowly after layoffs.
Intangibles: My future son-in-law Frank, a Georgetown grad and Hoya fanatic, finds himself without a team to cheer for in the Big Dance. I am pleased to report that he has adopted Nova until April. While that decision undoubtedly will have no bearing on the outcome of the game, Frank’s conversion does earn him a seat at the adult table for Christmas dinner. Welcome to NovaNation Frank!
Ed ‘77 - Guest Contributor