1.18.16 Notebook — Breaking down the Eagles' struggles, best chance for win No. 1

The American University Eagles fell 65-45 to Army Sunday, their 10th consecutive loss and sixth straight to open Patriot League play. The Eagles are 346th out of 351 teams in KenPom's statistical rankings. Only five other teams have worse records. The Eagles are one of just nine D-1 teams with two or fewer victories.

In summation, there is more than enough evidence now — both from simply watching every game and numbers — to conclude that this team is very bad and likely won't drastically improve in its final 12 games.

Instead of a one-hour podcast this week to dissect the team's ills, here is a shorter blog that might be easier to stomach and at least take up less of your time.

First off, which upcoming game offers the Eagles the best chance, according to KenPom, to pick up that first elusive Patriot League victory?

American's upcoming opponents
At Lafayette Wed. (KenPom: 15%)
vs. Holy Cross Sunday (37%)
at Navy (5%)
at Colgate (7%)
Bucknell (17%)
at Lehigh (9%)
at Boston U (9%)
Army (15%)
Lafayette (37%)

Lafayette is the second-worst team in the league, and Holy Cross has lost three in a row.

Why AU can beat Lafayette (on the road)
Sure it's a road game and sure Lafayette still has that Nick Lindner guy, but the Leopards don't have much after that. In particular, they're awful on defense — giving up 1.06 points per possession vs. Patriot League opponents, 8th in the league. Additionally, Lafayette is the worst team in the league at turning opponents over  with a turnover rate of just 15.9, which could aid the league's worst in that category (even in the Patriot League, AU's 21.2% rate is dead last). Finally, the only thing Lafayette has done relatively well in league play is shoot the 3 (36%); that's also the one area of the floor the Eagles have defended OK (33.4%).

Why AU can beat Holy Cross (at home)
First off, it's Phil Bender Day and it's Mike Brennan Bobblehead Day. If you don't get up for that then stick a fork in these Eagles! In all seriousness, the Crusaders are in all-out struggle mode after starting league play 2-1. In three consecutive defeats, they have lost by an average of 20 points — sound familiar? — and are now dead last in the league defensively, giving up 1.09 points per possession, and allowing opponents an E-FG% of 55.5 and 43% from 3.

Also, Holy Cross is at least close to the Eagles in the lack of experience category with average experience of 1.66, according to KenPom, compared to AU's 1.49. Freshman Karl Charles has been one of the Crusaders' go-to guys for most of the season, but the youngster seems to have hit a wall during the losing streak — scoring just two and nine points the last two times out.

I'm not saying AU will win either of these — predicting an Eagles victory at this point isn't a smart exercise — and if they drop them both, expect AU to be looking at 0-14 in the league when it faces Lafayette in a rematch at Bender Feb. 17.

Now let's jump into a few reasons why American sits in this predicament, winless in the league and losing their PL games by an average of 15 points a game.


Second half shooting woes
American has actually been in most of their Patriot League games at halftime, and was even tied 22-22 with Army Sunday. The Eagles' deficits after 20 minutes in its five other games:

Loyola 33, AU 28 (-5)
Colgate 23, AU 20 (-3)
Bucknell 35, AU 31 (-4)
Lehigh 35, AU 26 (-9)
Boston U 32, AU 27 (-5)

Total first half scoring difference: 26, 4.3ppg

So while being ahead at the break would be nice, the Eagles have absolutely been in every game. But for whatever reason, they've forgotten how to shoot in the second halves of games; their deficits have increased; and then when the Eagles get sped up facing double-digit holes, the shooting percentage gets worse.

American's second-half FG totals its last four games:

Bucknell: 8-32, 1-7 from 3
Lehigh: 9-30, 3-13 from 3
BU: 7-28, 3-17 from 3
Army: 7-21, 1-4 from 3

When you are facing a deficit, getting outrebounded, and turning the ball over, this is a recipe for getting blown out of games. And that's exactly what's happening.

I'll get into senior Jesse Reed's struggles in a minute, but first here are the shooting splits in league play for AU's second- and third-leading scorers Paris Maragkos (9.5 ppg) and Delante Jones (8.9 ppg).

First halves
Maragkos: 15-30 FGs
Jones: 12-22

Second halves
Maragkos: 11-24
Jones: 7-26

The numbers aren't glaring, but they give a glimpse of the Eagles' offensive slippage in second halves and how they're not getting the ball to two of their most productive offensive players in positions to score.

Jesse Reed's offensive struggles
By now it's clear that Jesse Reed is not a No. 1 player on a team. That's not a knock against the senior, who is leading the Eagles in scoring at 11.5 ppg, but simply a truth. Reed thrived as a No. 3 or No. 4 guy the past two seasons playing on the wings of a spaced offense, hitting spot-up 3s and slicing and dicing his way to the basket.

Reed was expected to come in and be a leader on this team as its best player and one of just two seniors with Marko Vasic. That simply hasn't happened. It's not his style or demeanor. And while Vasic is more of a natural leader, he doesn't do enough on the floor and hasn't simply played enough to effectively assume that role on a squad with four freshmen in the rotation.

To his credit, nobody has played harder than Reed and no one has taken more hits and bruises throughout the season (in the opening minutes against Boston U, he took an elbow to the head that seemed to affect him the rest of the game), but my biggest knock against Jesse is that he hasn't looked for his offense in most games until it is too late. Here are the numbers:

Last 5 games:
Colgate: 36 min, 3-7 FGs, 8 pts (2 pts first 30 min)
Bucknell: 39 min, 5-12, 13 pts
Lehigh: 38 min, 4-12, 13 pts (4 pts in garbage time)
BU: 39 min, 1-5, 4 pts (4 pts in garbage time)
Army: 38 min, 4-8, 11 pts (7 pts in garbage time)

Too often, Reed is deferring during the first 30-plus minutes of games. Most blistering, he doesn't force the issue when American is going through the early second-half droughts that have been its demise. Those are the situations in which Reed needs to pull the trigger on 23-foot 3s from the wing (he's shooting a solid 36.8 percent from 3), or come off a down screen and curl into the lane for a pull-up or to create contact.

Unless American gets the ball to Maragkos early in the shot clock — his 56.5 e-FG% is a team-best — Reed has to be the late shot-clock guy or the guy who demands the ball when things are breaking down, and that hasn't happened nearly enough.

Thus American's brutal scoreless stretches as opponents take over games.

Where's Charlie?
Something's clearly ailing Charlie Jones, and his minutes are dwindling — quickly. There's no doubting that Jones is American's best pound-for-pound defender as evidenced by Brennan subbing him in for the first time vs. Army Sunday in the final seconds before halftime solely to guard Kyle Wilson. Jones has the best steal and block rates on the team and the third-best defensive rebounding percentage.

Yet Jones' offense hasn't been there all year. Really, he hasn't looked for it. His stroke is still there, as we saw when he swished a turnaround 3 right before the halftime buzzer vs. Boston U, but he's not looking to shoot when he receives the ball on the perimeter and it's clear, too, that with the season not en route to a Patriot League championship, coach Mike Brennan favors getting as much experience for the freshmen Delante Jones, James Washington, Lonnie Rivera and Andrija Matic as possible as opposed to playing Charlie Jones or Vasic, whose minutes have fluctuated greatly but not slipped as much as Jones'.