The Washington Times - August 10, 2009, 11:57PM

Yes, Maryland opened football camp today. But there was a little basketball news locally, courtesy of American releasing its schedule.

Of note for the Eagles – no date with Maryland, which has become a nearly annual game for the school that gave Gary Williams’ his first head coaching job.

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No matter. There are other interesting scheduling twists for a team coming off its second straight NCAA tournament appearance.

The condensed plot: American is coming off two of the finest seasons in school history – years that culminated with the Eagles’ first two NCAA berths. As is often the case, it was spurred on by a pair of standout guards (Garrison Carr and Derrick Mercer) as well as some vital complementary pieces (like Bryan Gilmore). Trouble is, all of those guys are gone. In fact, American loses five of its top six scorers, meaning it would take an impressive run to again successfully defend the Patriot League crown.

Home/road/neutral schedule split: 14/15/0

Home highlight: It never hurts to go with the annual Phil Bender game (a favorite of the crosstown D.C. Sports Bog), this time on Jan. 23 against Holy Cross. The Crusaders figure to be the favorite in the Patriot League even after losing coach Ralph Willard, so this will give the Eagles a good sense of their standing in the conference (if it doesn’t already have one heading in).

Best road venue: O’Connell Center. The choices aren’t great here. Even with a crosstown rivalry, Georgetown tends not to get too raucous unless a big name is in town. DePaul, if you hadn’t noticed, was horrid last year. And the Eagles will swing through Penn State and Florida while students are on break. Of the four programs, the Gators have the best reputation for packed houses, though that might not necessarily be saying much.

Best opponent: Florida. Guess it depends on how well you think Georgetown will rebound from its disappointing 2008-09. Not that the Gators, who are coming off consecutive NITs, were terribly spectacular last season. But Billy Donovan has some more talent in place, and AU’s Dec. 28 trip to Gainesville might be the most challenging visit of the season.

Glad to see you come: New to the schedule from last season are Albany, DePaul, Florida, Florida Atlantic, Maryland-Eastern Shore and Penn State.

Pivotal stretch: The Eagles play four of five at home squarely in the middle of the PL schedule. Holy Cross, Navy, Lehigh and Bucknell all pay a visit to Bender Arena between Jan. 23 and Feb. 10, and playing well in that stretch could be the key to securing a top-four seed in the conference tournament.

Delmarva/D.C. head-to-head: Mount St. Mary’s (Nov. 18), @Maryland-Eastern Shore (Nov. 28), Howard (Dec. 1), @Georgetown (Dec. 5), UMBC (Dec. 19), Navy (Jan. 27), @Navy (Feb. 24).

Previously: Radford, Navy

Patrick Stevens