In Mike Brennan’s first season as an assistant at Princeton, the Tigers reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three years.
In Brennan’s two seasons as an assistant at American, the Eagles went dancing for the only times in school history.
In Brennan’s first season as an assistant at Georgetown, the Hoyas made the tournament after missing out the previous March.
Tonight, Brennan will try to get there as a rookie head coach when AU, 19-12 after a 10-20 campaign in 2012-13, visits Boston U. in the Patriot League championship game. The Eagles hadn’t advanced this far since Brennan last worked for predecessor Jeff Jones in 2009.
“I give our guys a ton of credit,” said Brennan, the Patriot’s Coach of the Year. “We came in and they listened to everything we said. I didn’t have to worry about winning them over. Not to have to worry about that was huge. We’ve had great leadership. It started with [junior off-guard John] Schoof, [junior point guard] Pee Wee [Gardner] and [senior center Tony] Wroblicky. Everything we asked of them, they did right away. We wouldn’t have been able to progress the way we have without that leadership. Our first game, we lost, a 3-point loss to George Mason. [But] the way we played showed me that they were confident. They looked good at the things we had practiced.”
The 6-foot-10 Wroblicky has raised his scoring average from 7.8 points to 12.1, his shooting percentage from .543 to .590, his rebounding average from 6.1 to 7.2 and his assists from 0.7 to 3.0 in becoming an All-League selection and the focal point of the motion offense that Brennan learned while playing for Princeton Hall of Famer Pete Carril.
“It was tough at first, but once you kind of get the system down … there’s always something else to go to,” said freshman sharp-shooter Jesse Reed, AU’s top scorer at 14.1 points per game. “So as long as we keep moving and don’t get stagnant, we’ll be all right.”
The Eagles were more than all right when they first faced the Terriers at home on Jan. 22. In the midst of a 10-0 start in league play, AU shot an amazing 71 percent from the field, 84 percent in the second half, and out-rebounded BU 31-21 en route to an 86-56 romp.
“We had a really, really good day and they had a bad day,” Brennan said. “I knew that wasn’t the real BU team. Up there, they showed the real BU team and I know that’s who we’re going to see on Wednesday.”
The Terriers were more like their usual 24-9 selves on Feb. 19 in Boston, out-rebounding the Eagles 40-24 – 16-5 on the offensive glass – and shooting 13 more free throws than AU in a 71-62 victory.
“They kicked our butts on the boards,” Brennan said. “We’ve got to keep Tony out of foul trouble [which he got into during the last matchup]. BU’s the best team in the league. They’ve proven that. They have the homecourt advantage. It’s not going to be easy, but we feel like we can compete with anybody in the league. We feel good about who we are as a team.”
The 5-9 Gardner, who sat out last season as a transfer from Stephen F. Austin, said that, as usual, he won’t able to sleep tonight because he’ll be thinking about what he and his teammates have to do to win.
Reed, who was in middle school the last time AU got this close, said the Eagles can’t get overly excited even though it’s such a huge game.
“Just knowing that we were able to beat every team in the league at least once gives you the confidence [to say], ‘We did it once, why can’t we do it again?’ “ Reed said. “We’ve just got to go out there and handle business. Once we [do that], we can worry about what it means.”
Don’t tell that to Wroblicky. For the Eagles’ only senior, this is his last shot for the right to play in the national spotlight.
“I thought we could have a good year, but I didn’t know what to expect [with a new coach],” he said. “I knew we had a lot of talent, but I didn’t really know how far it would take us until we started playing well in early January. [This is] pretty close [to a dream senior season]. The only that’s missing is the storybook ending with us winning on Wednesday.”
That would certainly be an ending that wasn’t expected in October.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011.