The Eagles have landed

The conditions for the upset were there, as we said yesterday might be the case. Coming off a near miss against Illinois and a big win over Gonzaga, with their Big 12 opener against Iowa State ahead, American caught Missouri in valley mode last night. Even the Tiger's fans were disinterested, with only about 6,000 using their tickets for the game in the sold-out, 15,000 seat Mizzou Arena.

The Eagles, though, were unable to capitalize, losing to Mizzou, 64-51. It was AU's third loss in four games, a factoid that might be a little misleading since Missouri and Maryland were two of those games.

Graham Watson in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch saw it clearly:
The intensity the Tigers had shown in their past two games, both against ranked teams, seemed to be lacking against their now 6-5 opponent.
Missouri forward Linas Kleiza confirmed it, telling Watson:
"I think we played to the level of American and took this team for granted. It was all on us today. We didn't have a good crowd, it was raining and there were all kinds of distractions going on. It was one of those games that we can't have any more of."
So what went wrong?

It would be tempting to look at the play analysis at the end of the box score and to focus immediately on the Tigers 26-6 edge in bench points. Tempting because we have been saying for a while now that American's lack of depth is its Achilles heel.

But that would be an oversimplification. For starters, AU just happened to play Mizzou on the night the Tigers started hitting three-pointers. Back to the Post-Dispatch story:
. . . the Tigers 3-point shooting, which has been spotty most of this season, boosted them out of their scoring rut and propelled them to a 33-21 halftime lead . . . the Tigers were 10 of 22 from the 3-point line, which was the Tigers' second best 3-point percentage this season.
Meanwhile, AU, which not so long ago was ranked No. 3 in the nation from outside the arc, couldn't have hit one of the 9,000 empty seats in Mizzou Arena from the upper deck if you painted a curving white line along the railing. The Eagles fired up 13 treys. They connected on 3. Faithful readers who majored in math will tell you that is 23.1 percent. Those who prefer non-numeric analysis will simply say "it sucked."

This was the same American team that came in shooting over 40 percent from the arc. The same team that four games ago was shooting over 45 percent out there. It is also the same team that shot 25 percent outside the arc in losing to a LaSalle team (now 3-7) that had one win when AU played it last week.

This suggests a few things. First, there is the distinct possibility that AU's guards are already leg-weary. Andre Ingram is playing a ton of minutes. Jason Thomas is not far behind Ingram. Remember, the first sign of tired legs is missed jump shots.

Second, it appears that Jason Thomas has fallen back to Earth after his incredible three-game run against Vermont, Towson and Ohio U. In those three games, Thomas shot 80 percent (12-of-15) from three-point range and averaged 30 points per game. In four games since, Thomas is 5-for-21 from the arc (24 percent) and averaging 9 ppg.

Here's what that suggests to me: Earlier in the season, teams focused on stopping Ingram, ignoring Thomas to their peril. Now they are paying more attention to him, and it shows in his lower numbers.

A confession here: If memory serves, we saw AU four times last season, five if you count watching the final on the tube. When Thomas went off in that three-game stretch we just talked about, we had to scurry for a media guide to figure out who the hell he was. In other words, he did not make an impression on us last year. We simply don't remember him.

But these recent stats suggest a driveway shooter who is deadly as long as there is not a hand in his face.

Bottom line, heading into conference play, the formula to beat American is starting to look obvious: pressure the shooters outside, make the Eagles beat you in the paint.

There are some teams in the league AU can beat inside. There are others that don't have the guards to stop Ingram or Thomas. But at least two, Bucknell and Holy Cross, would appear to match up awfully well against the Eagles. Anybody betting against those two being at home the first weekend in March is a bookies dream come true.

Back to the Missouri game for a moment. If you look at the play-by-play, you'll notice that despite the poor shooting, and despite Mizzou's hot night at the top of the curve, AU was in this game until the last two minutes of the first half. It was 22-21 Missouri with 2:11 to go. American, though, didn't score the rest of the half, while the Tigers went on an 11-0 run.

It wasn't poor shooting that doomed AU in that fateful stretch. It was poor ballhandling. Sure Sekou Lewis missing a dunk (down 6, lay it in!) didn't help. But the bigger problem was three turnovers in two minutes.

Missouri took a 33-21 lead to the locker room at intermission and American never got closer than 6 the rest of the night.

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

©2005 Hoop Time. All rights reserved.