Postseason Preview: American vs. Boston U., Patriot League final

Maurice Watson, Jr. (red shirt) and BU's bench celebrate during the second half of a Patriot League semifinal victory over Army. (Beanpot Hoops photo)

BU’s bench celebrates during the second half of its Patriot League semifinal victory over Army. (Beanpot Hoops photo)

The game: 2. American (19-12 overall, 13-5 Patriot) vs. 1. Boston University (24-9, 15-3); 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, CBSSN.

In-league efficiency: American: +.11 (1.08 pts/poss, .97 allowed); BU +.10 (1.08 pts/poss, .98 allowed)

One key chart: BU’s offense, catching fire at the right time:

Boston_University_basketball_offensive_efficiency_2013-14The Terriers’ two Patriot League tournament games have also been their two most efficient offensive performances to date. In the quarterfinals, they dropped 1.38 points per possession on Lafayette with 66 percent shooting; in the semis, they torched Army for 1.36 points per possession behind Maurice Watson, Jr.’s record-setting 17 assists. Lafayette’s defense was terrible this season, while the Black Knights’ was merely bad. Still, there’s no denying that BU’s offense is on a higher plane right now — and if they score 91 points again tomorrow, they’ll almost certainly reach the Big Dance.

Superior mascot: I’ve ridden Terriers throughout the tournament, but this is where I get off their bandwagon. This is a strong final from a mascot standpoint; Terriers would be a worthy champion, but the Eagles’ ability to fly is too strong for me to resist. The Eagles are probably the Patriot League’s most superior mascot, though I do credit Navy for naming itself the Midshipmen, which its players literally are.

Critical matchup: Darius Gardner and American’s other passers vs. Watson and BU’s ball hawks. The Eagles’ offense is built around ball movement and waiting for open shots; 66 percent of American’s field goals were assisted this season, second-best in the nation (behind Denver, which is, not coincidentally, also coached by a Princeton Offense alumnus). But all those extra passes come with a cost — the nation’s 11th-highest turnover rate (23 percent of possessions), and a tendency for those turnovers to be live-ball steals. And live-ball turnovers are trouble against the Terriers, who have one of the area’s most fearsome open-court players in Watson.

So far this postseason, BU has turned 20 steals into 33 points, a significant part of their offensive surge. “Our defense leads to our offense,” D.J. Irving said Saturday. “Our defense leads our transition, and when we’re in transition, no one can stop us.”

History: November 30, 1998: BU 58, American 56. Before the Terriers joined the Patriot League, it had been 15 years since American last played BU. During a forgettable season for both teams, the Terriers came out on top 58-56, thanks to a 9-1 closing run and two LeVar Folk free throws in the final minute. The previous season, in the two teams’ only other meeting of the modern era, BU won at American by the exact same score.

One thought on American: During the Eagles’ 10-0 run to start Patriot League play, a lot of attention was paid to their Princeton-based offense, which blistered BU for 86 points in Washington. But over their last 10 games, American’s offense has been downright pedestrian. Instead, it reached the Patriot League championship game on the strength of its defense, which held an explosive Colgate offense to 50 points on 59 possessions, then quieted Holy Cross for 46 on 53. American has been especially good at shutting down teams with primary scorers, like Holy Cross’ Dave Dudzinski or Army’s Kyle Wilson, but it’ll have its hands full with a more versatile BU offense.

One thought on BU: Entering the postseason, I already had this nagging question, which now seems appropriate to ask: Could BU pull off a major 14-over-3 or 15-over-2 upset at the NCAA tournament, if it gets there? The Terriers aren’t the sort of underrated-statistical-darlings like Lehigh was in 2012, but they do give me the same sort of latent-talent-that-finally-emerges potential that, say, Florida Gulf Coast showed last year. I’m not saying that BU will reach the Sweet 16 and star in multiple rap videos, but if the Terriers are in the national spotlight next week, I can easily see fans of a frustrated major-conference team wondering, “How did this team lose at home to Norfolk State?”

Per Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency, BU’s offense was only slightly above average for much of the season — and when looking at the Terriers’ pieces, I had a hard time figuring out why they didn’t rate better. At this point in the season, one bad game can ruin any story — but BU had the capacity to turn its performance up a notch, and that’s exactly what it’s done so far in March.

Winner gets: A chance to be featured in One Shining Moment. BU last made the tournament as the America East representative in 2011, losing to 1-seed Kansas, while the Eagles’ last appearance was a loss to 3-seed Villanova in 2009. The consensus forecast is that the Terriers, with 25 wins, would be a 14-seed, especially with the carnage befalling other top mid-majors in conference tournaments around the nation; I imagine American, with its weak non-conference performance, would be a 15. (As the regular-season Patriot League champion, BU would receive an automatic bid to the NIT with a loss Wednesday.)

Prediction: Intellectually, I know that American is a very good team with a solid chance of winning Wednesday night’s game. Pomeroy has BU as a four-point and 2-to-1 favorite, almost entirely due to home-court advantage, and I have no reason to argue with that. But after feeling the Terriers had a higher ceiling and then watching them blow out two solid teams last week, I will be emotionally shocked if BU loses. The Terriers are going dancing, 76-66.

D.J. Irving scores two of his team-high 20 points against Army at Agganis Arena on Saturday. (Beanpot Hoops photo)

D.J. Irving scores two of his team-high 20 points against Army at Agganis Arena on Saturday. (Beanpot Hoops photo)

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