Beltway Basketball Beat: Eagles fly after crashing in Patriot League play

Late in the movie “The Shawshank Redemption,” Andy tells Red, “You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific? They say it has no memory.”

You could say the same for the Patriot League this winter.

American University (15-8, 7-5 Patriot League) began conference play 4-0 only to lose its next four. The Eagles then swept the Service Academies before losing at home to last-place Bucknell.

Not exactly the mindset you need to be in when first-place Colgate drops by the District on Saturday — and this just wasn’t any old first-place team, as the Raiders were one of five schools in Division I still unbeaten in conference play. By the way, AU hadn’t beaten Colgate since Jan. 5, 2017.

The Eagles began auspiciously by turning the ball over eight times in the first seven minutes. Things went from bad to worse when the Raiders expanded their four-point halftime lead to 14.

“They’re a team that makes you pay if you make one slight mistake,” American head coach Mike Brennan said. “If you go under a screen they’re banging a three, if you don’t help enough they’re getting something at the rim.”

But just as AU rallied from 11 down in the first half, they were still down but not fully out.

“The group has been great to coach all year long. I don’t have to worry about nonsense, egos, or anything like that. It’s just coaching basketball. They stick together. It doesn’t matter who plays. We’ve had multiple starting lineups,” Brennan said. “It’s been a wonderful group to coach, they’re all into it and they’re all ready when their number’s called.”

The Eagles had another run in them — and then some: an 18-0 surge that gave the Eagles the lead for good in their 61-60 triumph, holding Colgate to 2-15 shooting with four turnovers over the final 11:28.

Instead of being a team that had lost six of eight, the Eagles handed the Raiders their first Patriot League loss in over a calendar year (Jan. 28, 2022).

“Hats off to (Colgate head coach) Matt (Langel) and his staff and his group and what they’ve done. That’s a heck of an accomplishment,” Brennan said. “They missed some shots and helped us out a little bit. We got em on the right night, or the right afternoon.”

The victory keeps the Eagles from sliding back to .500 in a conference where the higher seed has home court advantage in the Patriot League Tournament. And even though this week’s foes (Boston University and Holy Cross) are both under .500 in conference play, one week after losing to a 1-9 team before beating an 11-0 club, the Eagles remember that the Patriot League has no memory.

“Every team in our league is good, you know there’s no gimmee games,” Brennan said. “There’s no guarantees.”

This Week’s Starting Five

Up Top: Purdue’s loss at Indiana doesn’t drop the Boilermakers out of the No. 1 spot in this week’s poll, although they’re no longer atop by ballot. I’ve moved Arizona to the top spot this week by virtue of their 2-0 week and six straight wins (four by double figures). Houston, Alabama, Purdue, and UCLA round out my top five. The Big 12 occupies six of eight spots in the middle of my ballot and I actually broke out the grid for “subgroup record” determination before slotting the teams that began the week chasing No. 9 (on my ballot-they were 5th overall) Texas for the conference lead. Fittingly enough, the Longhorns turned around and lost to Kansas (No. 9 in the poll and No. 11 on my ballot) Monday night. Sigh. Small school shout-outs: San Diego State, FAU and Oral Roberts. Toughest Omissions: Maryland, Indiana, NC State, Creighton and VCU.

Going Inside: Georgetown (6-18, 1-12 Big East) threatened both Creighton and UConn last week, but lost by 10 to the Bluejays after being tied at the half and failed to score a basket in the final 4:42 of regulation in a 68-62 loss to the Huskies. Head coach Patrick Ewing has also seen his leading scorer hit a snag as Primo Spears went from leading the conference in scoring Wednesday morning to going scoreless (and taking just one shot) Saturday afternoon. It gets a little tougher this week with a trip to No. 20 Providence (Friars are smarting form an overtime loss at Xavier) before hosting No. 10 Marquette (Golden Eagles are angry after falling at No. 21 UConn Tuesday).

On the Perimeter: Virginia Tech (14-9, 4-8 ACC) got a statement win Saturday when the Hokies beat then-No. 7 Virginia 74-68 behind 22 points from Sean Pedulla. The Hokies made 51% of their shots against the best defense in the ACC and have now won three of four. They next get to feast on the conference’s bottom-feeders (Boston College, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech began the week a combined 8-30 in league play) and have multiple chances at resume-building wins (No. 19 Miami, Duke, Pitt) to keep their NCAA hopes alive.

Who’s Open: George Washington (11-12, 5-5 Atlantic 10) has dropped three straight, including a 93-67 defeat to Duquesne that saw the Dukes deliver a 28-0 knockout punch in the first half (GW is no stranger to these runs, as last month Saint Louis ripped off 25 straight points in Foggy Bottom). GW now stands in seventh place, one-half game ahead of Richmond (12-12, 5-6) along with George Mason and Saint Joe’s. The slide down the standings can be slippery, especially with 10th place and lower banished to the Dreaded First Round of the A-10 Tournament. The reigning tournament champs Richmond know how slippery A-10 play can be after snapping a four-game losing streak Sunday by beating surprising Fordham (the 18-5 Rams are on track for their first winning season since 2007) behind standby Tyler Burton (18 points and 8 rebounds) plus Matt Grace (a season-high 21 points). Burton scored 26 in a January fourth win over GW, but the Colonials were also held to 5-26 from 3-point range in that game. For as good offensively as coach Chris Caputo’s team has been this winter (2nd in the A-10 in scoring and 3rd in shooting), the perimeter has been their Achilles heel (13th).

Last Shot: Maryland (16-8, 7-6 Big Ten) began the week tied for third in the Big Ten, with a caveat that it was a SIX-WAY TIE. So much for a “shrinking middle class” in 2023, and have a blast with that tiebreaking grid. This week they face two teams that they weren’t tied with initially: after losing at Michigan State Tuesday, the Terps take on a Penn State team that might be under .500 in league play but has wins over Indiana, Iowa, and Michigan. The Nittany Lions also lead the Big Ten in 3-point shooting percentage as well as three’s made per game while the Terps have not acquitted themselves well from the outside, ranking 13th in the league from three before Tuesday’s 3 of 22 performance. They’ll also have their hands full with PSU guard Jalen Pickett who is the only player in the conference’s top 10 in scoring, rebounding, and assists (averaging 17 points with 8 boards and 7 assists per game). Tipoff at noon.

Dave Preston

Dave has been in the D.C. area for 10 years and in addition to working at WTOP since 2002 has also been on the air at Westwood One/CBS Radio as well as Red Zebra Broadcasting (Redskins Network).

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