American University will look to fulfill its unexpected destiny Wednesday and capture the Patriot League tournament championship.
After defying the odds throughout the regular season — which included a 10-0 start in conference and a No. 2 seed entering the tournament — the Eagles (19-12) play at top-seeded Boston University (24-9) with a berth in the NCAA tournament on the line.
Picked to finish ninth in the 10-team Patriot League, American has done everything in its power to gain respect across the conference. The success, however, has not deterred coach Mike Brennan or his players from focusing on the task at hand.
“I think we are keeping the same mind-set,” guard Jesse Reed said. “It’s our next game up, so we’re focused on who we are playing against and treating it like any other game.”
American has not made the NCAA tournament since the 2008-2009 season.
“I thought we could have a good year this year, but obviously I didn’t know what to expect,” senior center Tony Wroblicky said. “I knew we had a lot of talent coming into this year, and knew we would be a tough team in league play, but I didn’t know how far it would take us until we really started playing well in early January.”
American won 11 staraight games at one point and sat atop the conference standings before eventually being overtaken by BU.
In his first season with the Eagles, Brennan is enjoying the success while it lasts. Inheriting a team that won only 10 games a season ago, the 2014 Patriot League Coach of the Year has his team in a position that even he didn’t see coming.
“You don’t look that far ahead as a coach,” Brennan said. “You just try and get your team better each day. You’re focused on what we need to do and get better, making sure we come out and we compete. Our guys have believed in what we are doing from the get-go.”
Brennan points to the leadership of Wroblicky, along with juniors Darius “Pee-Wee” Gardner and John Schoff as key factors in getting the Eagles off to a fast start. Brennan credits his players for understanding their roles — be it as leaders or followers — and admits the team wouldn’t have progressed in such a rapid fashion without their understanding.
American didn’t enter the conference tournament playing its best basketball, closing the season by losing five of its final eight games. But wins over Colgate and Holy Cross, the Eagles’ renewed momentum has carried them to the brink of a conference title.
“I think we always had the confidence in ourselves that we could make it,” Gardner said. “You never know with a new coach and a lot of key guys that are new to the rotation when the chemistry would kick in. But when it kicked in, we knew that we could be playing here.”
American split the season series with BU, with each team winning at home. American won at home 85-56 and lost 71-62 at BU.
“Beating every team in the conference at least once gave us the confidence,” Reed said. “Since we did it once, why can’t we do it again?”
A season full of success has prepared the Eagles for this opportunity.