- The Washington Times - Friday, March 13, 2009

So, it has come down to this: Go, AU. No one envisioned this college basketball season.

Not Georgetown anyway.

The Hoyas opened the season in the Top 25 and closed with a thud against St. John’s this week.

This was the same St. John’s team that looked out of its element in a 29-point loss to Marquette the next day in the Big East tournament.

You could call the St. John’s-Georgetown outcome an upset, except the Johnnies defeated the Hoyas the previous week.

At least the Hoyas qualified for their conference tournament, which is more than you can say for George Washington.

George Mason is courting an NIT bid after falling to Virginia Commonwealth in the Colonial Athletic Association final.

Howard is done.

Maryland is still reeling from Morgan State.

That leaves the D.C. region embracing the hoops powerhouse known as American University.

The Eagles meet the Holy Cross Crusaders in the Patriot League final Friday. ESPN’s cameras will be at Bender Arena to show the mad postgame celebration, if it comes to that for the Eagles.

AU used to be a coach’s training ground, from Tom Young to Gary Williams to Ed Tapscott.

Now it is seemingly the place to be.

Jeff Jones, in his ninth season at the Ward Circle campus, has coached the Eagles to their fifth Patriot League final in eight seasons. A victory Friday would send the Eagles back to the NCAA tournament after they made their first appearance last March.

It has been easy to overlook the basketball ascent of the Eagles, given the tournament success of local teams in this decade.

The Terps advanced to the Final Four in 2001 and won the national championship the next year. John Thompson III restored the luster to Georgetown’s basketball program with a Sweet 16 appearance in 2006 and a Final Four appearance the next year. George Mason captured a nation’s interest with its Final Four run in 2006.

The Eagles have been the other team until Friday, the footnote team that played in a one-bid conference and in front of crowds that sometimes could fit into a telephone booth.

Now the Eagles have our attention, if only because of attrition.

The school is becoming pretty good at this festive stuff. A pregame pep rally, with free food and music, is planned in the lobby of the arena. Face paint also will be provided to those fans in the mood to wear the red and blue colors of the school. Clawed Z. Eagle, the team mascot, will be on hand to whip the crowd into a frenzy. No word on whether AU’s students plan to start fires and loot stores on Route 1 in College Park after the game.

The AU-Holy Cross game is in part what stokes the drama of March, when the little programs dare to dream and their students ape for the cameras, just as they do at Duke and North Carolina. There is no talk of being on the “bubble” in the Patriot League. It is win or go home.

Except for AU, the D.C. region is a basketball lunarscape, devoid of cheerleaders, meaningful X’s and O’s and signs that read: “Hi, mom. Send Bailout.”

It is a region of no-chance teams, the almost teams and the what-happened-to-them teams, plus the NBA basket case in Tony Cheng’s neighborhood.

Tapscott, who cut his basketball teeth on Williams’ bench at AU, is desperately trying to pull the Wizards back from their history-making march. The Wizards need four wins in their last 17 games to eclipse the 18-win haul of the 1961-62 Chicago Packers, the franchise’s standard of ineptitude. A 4-13 finish would exceed the team’s .231 winning percentage, crazy as that is.

So AU it is Friday, with Selection Sunday in two days.

We are all AU alums Friday.

The good news is the region has been absolved of sweating the seeds.

Now about those Caps…

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide