2008-09 American Basketball Preview: #86
Overall Rank: #86
Conference Rank: #1 Patriot League
2007-08: 21-12, 10-4, 1st
2007-08 postseason: NCAA
In Coach Jeff Jones’ eighth year at American University, he took the team to its first ever NCAA Tournament. In his ninth year he will look to turn that one trip into an AU tradition. With the top four scorers returning and the most dynamic perimeter duo in the conference, the Eagles certainly have the weapons to be more than just a one year wonder. However, this is an extremely senior heavy team, so this might be the last opportunity for at least a year or two.
Travis Lay and Cornelio Guibunda might not have been great scorers, but they were both starters during last year’s magical run and played a pivotal role. Lay was a solid rebounder and tallied 4.0 boards per contest and could occasionally score around the basket. Guibunda was the defensive presence under the basket and averaged over one blocked shot per game. Throw Constantin Motnii on the list and American has to find some new roleplayers under the basket. Romone Penny will also not be suiting up for the Eagles this year after seeing limited action during the 2007-2008 campaign.
Depth is a concern just about everywhere on the court and the group of newcomers will fight for quality minutes off the bench. The most important battles will be in the paint where Mike Technow, Riley Grafft and Stephen Lumpkins hope to find some minutes as freshmen. Technow is a great shot blocker and could immediately replace Guibunda’s production in that category. At 6-9 and 230 pounds, Technow will not only block shots, but he can clog the lane effectively on both ends of the floor. Grafft might be just as tall as Technow, but he will not clog the lane. Grafft is a superb athlete who has amazing hops. He might need a little time to develop an effective offensive game, but Grafft’s ability to block shots and rebound could find him a spot in the regular rotation. Despite Technow and Grafft’s potential, it is Lumpkins who is the most highly touted newcomer. The 6-9 lefty can score from anywhere on the floor and is tenacious on the glass. If he can get strong enough to fight off the Patriot League competition, Lumpkins will be a superb player in the years to come. Joe Hill, Simon McCormack and Matthew Wilson will add some depth on the perimeter and look to make a bigger impact next year.
Who to Watch:
But there is room for the newcomers to play a role this year. Derrick Mercer averaged 37.9 minutes per game last year and Garrison Carr totaled 36.0 per contest. It is certainly hard to keep those two off the floor, but having a player like Hill or McCormack earn some valuable experience while giving the starters a rest would be beneficial this year and for the future of the program. Either way, Mercer and Carr are going to be on the floor a lot and will have to lead this team back to the NCAA Tournament. Mercer, a 5-9 point guard, is a great leader and will use his diminutive stature to his advantage. He does not take a lot of three-point shots, but when he does they usually fall. Carr was the team’s leading scorer last season and will almost certainly be again this year. He knocked down over four shots per game from long range and hit them at a 45.2 percent mark. If he keeps shooting like that, Carr could average 20 points per game as a senior. Frank Borden is pretty much the only returning perimeter player coming off the bench, but at least he is an experienced senior.
Brian Gilmore ranked third on the team in scoring last year, but never started a game. Bryce Simon returns to his starting position and the forward is a solid rebounder and a very dangerous outside shooter. Those two seniors should fill up a couple of the frontcourt spots without a problem. The bigger question is regarding Jordan Nichols. Now a senior, Nichols only averaged 17.7 minutes per game off the bench last season. He is a solid rebounder and a decent shot blocker, but if he does not learn to stay out of foul trouble, he will be spending just as much time on the bench this year and one of the newcomers could move into a starting role.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Derrick Mercer, Senior, Guard, 12.4 points per game
Garrison Carr, Senior, Guard, 18.4 points per game
Bryce Simon, Senior, Forward, 7.0 points per game
Jordan Nichols, Senior, Forward, 4.1 points per game
Brian Gilmore, Senior, Forward, 8.9 points per game