- The Washington Times - Monday, March 16, 2009

With nearly three quarters of the NCAA tournament field revealed, American coach Jeff Jones remained patient but finally turned toward senior forward Bryce Simon to ease some of the tension created by seeing 47 teams learn their seeds and opponents.

“We are in this thing, right?” Jones said. “They didn’t make a mistake?”

Moments later, AU’s name popped onto the big screen set up inside Mary Graydon Center, where the Eagles and nearly 300 supporters had gathered for the selection show.

American is the No. 14 seed in the East Region and will play No. 3 seed Villanova on Thursday in Philadelphia.

Upon seeing the Eagles’ opponent, the crowd erupted, glad AU is playing less than three hours up the road and satisfied with the seed, up from a No. 15 last year.

“It helped heighten the anticipation,” Jones said of the 23-minute wait to see where the Eagles were heading.

In its first NCAA appearance last year, American hung with Tennessee for most of the game before falling by 15 points.

The Eagles (24-7) will be significant underdogs against the 26-7 Wildcats. Since 1990, the only Patriot League team to win a tournament game was Bucknell, which reached the second round in 2005 and 2006.

“We know it’s going to take a great effort,” Jones said. “They’re going to be favored for a reason. Hopefully we can find some things to take advantage of.”

Villanova’s roster has five players from the D.C. area, including leading scorers Dante Cunningham and Scottie Reynolds.

Cunningham is from Silver Spring and leads Villanova in scoring (16.0 points a game), and Reynolds is from Herndon and averages 15.5 points.

“He’s as good as a guard as we’re going to see,” AU senior forward Brian Gilmore said of Reynolds. “He’s a great passer, can really shoot the ball and does all of the little things that make him such a dangerous player. They have a bunch of those guys on that team.”

The Eagles know what they’re up against.

Reynolds and Gilmore played together on the Boo Williams AAU team when both were in high school and at the prep level, and Jones said Cunningham played against AU senior and DeMatha alum Jordan Nichols.

The guard-oriented Eagles like the matchup, given that five of Villanova’s top six scorers are guards. AU is led by perimeter players Garrison Carr and Derrick Mercer.

“They’re a Big East team, and even though they’re physical, they’re not big compared to other teams in the nation, and that’s a good matchup for us because we’re not the biggest team,” Carr said.

Said Jones: “They’re a team that’s very versatile and have a lot of skilled players. Scottie Reynolds is a very strong and powerful guard that scores a lot of points, and they’ve got a couple of other guards they can play and go small.”

Before the selection show, the Eagles voted as a team to practice instead of taking a second straight day off, a good sign according to Jones.

“Their mindset is very focused, and I found that out because we gave them Saturday off and the option of today off prior to coming here,” he said. “But they got together. … We didn’t do anything strenuous, but that shows they’re pretty focused and anxious to get back on the court.”

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