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NCAA Tournament 2014, Wisconsin vs. American: Getting to know the Eagles

In the second round, Wisconsin and American will meet for the first time. What should we know about the Eagles?

Tony Wroblicky stuffed Aaron Craft? I like American already!
Tony Wroblicky stuffed Aaron Craft? I like American already!
Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

After winning the Patriot League tournament, the American Eagles earned an automatic bid to the 2014 NCAA tournament. As a No. 15 seed, they'll face our No. 2 Wisconsin Badgers Thursday at 11:40 a.m. CT on TruTV.

A quick browse through American's schedule reveals a few highlights. Back on Nov. 20, the Eagles challenged Ohio State in what ultimately became a 63-52 Buckeyes win. American shot nearly 46 percent from the field and put three players in double-figures, but a ridiculous 27 turnovers likely spoiled any chances of winning. In fact, American's one of the nation's worst teams in terms of turnover percentage, ranking seventh-worst at 22.8.

That loss to Ohio State spurred a three-game losing streak for American in late November, including a four-point loss at Maint Saint Mary's, who's at least playing in a NCAA tournament first-round game (Tuesday vs. Albany). Next came a span in which the Eagles dropped three of six, including three straight before Patriot League play started Jan. 2. American then won its first 10 conference games, including a 30-point thrashing of eventual Patriot League Champion Boston University on Jan. 22. The Eagles shot a ridiculous 30-of-42 (a school-record 71.4 percent) from the field in that game and made 11-of-14 (78.6 percent) three-pointers. BU eventually got revenge in a 71-62 win on Feb. 19, but not before falling to American in the conference tournament championship on March 12.

What made this all happen? Let's dive deeper into the Eagles.

Adj. Efficiency 103.2 (198) 97.3 (46) 104.4
Adj. Tempo 61.4 (342) 66.4
Avg. Poss. Length 20.4 (339) 19.2 (336) 18.0
Effective FG% 56.3 (6) 45.9 (43) 49.5
Turnover % 22.8 (342) 19.9 (65) 18.3
Off. Reb. % 27.0 (304) 29.9 (100) 31.5
FTA/FGA 34.9 (302) 41.2 (187) 40.6
3P % 38.2 (37) 31.3 (40) 34.4
2P % 55.7 (7) 45.4 (63) 48.5
FT % 71.0 (142) 67.3 (52) 69.8
Block % 8.1 (59) 10.1 (153) 9.7
Steal % 11.5 (345) 9.9 (92) 9

After going 10-20 in 2012-13 under Jeff Jones, former Georgetown assistant Mike Brennan was tabbed to rebuild the program. American was picked ninth out of 10 teams in the preseason Patriot League poll, but as we all know, those polls are nothing more than offseason methods of speeding up time.

Under Brennan, the Eagles run the Princeton offense known for its emphasis on persistent motion, spacing and back-door cuts. Brennan was a four-year starter under legendary Princeton coach Pete Carril, so his methods at American are only natural. Before his four-year tenure as an assistant at Georgetown, Brennan was an assistant at American in 2007-08 and 2008-09 for the program's first-ever NCAA tournament berths.

The Badgers have been prepping for the Princeton offense with some tips from senior forward Zach Bohannon, who played in a similar system at Air Force before transferring to Wisconsin in 2011.

"By the end of the season, at this time of the year, the true Princeton system has about 100 to 150 different sets intermingled into one complex system of continuous flow," Bohannon said. "It's one set and then each set after that has four different options, and from that piece it has another four different options.

"So it just exponentially gets more complicated, especially as the season gets going."

Discussion of American's offense should probably start with senior center Tony Wroblicky. The 6'10, 230-pound Harbor City, Calif., native is perhaps the most critical cog in the Eagles' Princeton offense. As Wisconsin associate head coach Greg Gard said Tuesday, "American is very unselfish, and to run that offense you have to have a good passing 5-man. They do with Wroblicky."

Utilized on a team-high 24.5 percent of American's possessions (per KenPom), Wroblicky is second on the Eagles in assist rate (22.0), and third in offense rating (107.2) and eFG% (58.8). His traditional stats are also solid: second on the team in points per game (12.2), first in rebounds (7.3) and second in assists (3.0). In the heart of Patriot League play, he scored in double figures in eight straight games, and against BU in the conference title game, he posted 15 points and eight rebounds.

Elsewhere, sophomore swingman Jesse Reed is American's leading scorer at 13.9 points per game. Reed ranks 33rd in the nation in eFG% at 61.4 percent and scored in double figures in 20 of American's 32 games, including 17 straight from early January to early March. Interestingly enough, Reed is used on just 19.9 of American's possessions, fifth-most on the team.

Other major contributors include junior guards Darius Gardner (11.5 points, 4.2 assists, 3.7 rebounds per game) and John Schoof (11.4 points, 2.2 assists, 3.0 rebounds per game), as well as junior forward Kyle Kager (5.9 points, 3.5 rebounds per game). Reed, Wroblicky, Gardner and Schoof each average 32 minutes or more per game; the rest of the minutes are split up between Kager and sophomore guard Marko Vasic.

In summation: the Eagles are indeed a true Princeton offense. They lead the nation with assists on 65.7 percent of their field goals and their team eFG% is 56.3, sixth in the nation. The bad is really bad, though: American's 22.8 turnover percentage ranks 342nd. Wisconsin, among the countless other advantages it brings into this game, has the second-best turnover percentage at 12.6.

Defensively, the Eagles aren't bad either. They limit opponents to an adjusted offense efficiency of 97.3, 46th in the country. Their opponents' turnover percentage is also 19.9, 65th in the nation.

We'll have more in-depth looks at American over the next two days, including an opponent Q&A with Mid-Major Madness, which certainly knows the Eagles as well as just about anybody.