Despite an 18-9 record and a five-game winning streak, American University's basketball players know there is little likelihood of receiving an NCAA bid if they don't win this week's East Coast Conference tournament.
"Our chances are very slim," said guard Ed Sloane.
"We have don't have a chance," said center Juan Jones.
"Zero chance," said guard Gordon Austin.
AU, which hosts Lehigh in a second-round ECC tournament game at 8 tonight at Fort Myer, got an automatic first-round bye as the tournament's top seed. Coach Ed Tapscott doesn't want his players thinking any farther ahead than this contest.
"We've tried to talk more this season in terms of short-term goals," said Tapscott. "We want to focus on winning this game and this tournament before we think about the NCAAs. If you look too far down the road, it's easy to trip over somebody like Lehigh."
If any team appears ripe for an upset, it is the Eagles, who have not played since defeating Hofstra Friday and have practiced only twice since then. And, they have won three straight from Lehigh, with a 64-48 decision at Fort Myer this season.
But Tapscott, who has four seniors--Austin, Jones, Sloane and Mark Nickens--playing their last home game, believes his team will be ready.
"I don't think we'll take them (Lehigh) lightly," he said. "Certainly we have the advantage with a win over them (this season), but we haven't gotten where we are by overlooking teams. To get where we want to be we have to take it one game at a time, and the players are intelligent enough to understand that.
"I would also hope the seniors would be incredibly psyched up. I know for my final game (at Tufts) I was misty-eyed, and I would hope this game will mean more to them than it would otherwise."
Nickens, whose 15.4 points a game leads his team, also has 80 steals, eighth-best in the country. Austin is averaging 8.5 points, and his 220 assists (8.1 per game) are fourth-most in the nation.
"We're coming into this tournament with good momentum," said Sloane. "Everybody just has to do their job. We don't have to play way over our heads, but just go out there, run and play our game."
Lehigh, which defeated Lafayette, 62-61, in Monday night's opening round of the tournament, is led by 6-foot-8 forward Brian Collins (14.5 points, six rebounds), who scored easily against American's zone defense earlier this season. Guards Fred Ketcho (14.1 points) and Tom Pauley (10.3) are very good.
"This year everything seems to be going our way," said Jones, alluding to the neutral site at Lafayette for the final and semifinal rounds of the tournament. "It's just a question of whether we can take advantage of it. We're playing very aggressively lately, taking the ball to the opponents and challenging them. That's the way we have to keep playing to win."