None of the outward indicators gives American University much chance tonight against top-ranked Georgetown. The Eagles have already lost three of five games, including one to George Washington by 24 points and another to Navy by 16.
American's best rebounder, freshman Eric White, is 6 feet 5 and will spend most of the game (8 p.m. at Capital Centre) trying to grab balls away from 7-foot Patrick Ewing, 6-11 Ralph Dalton, 6-8 Ronnie Highsmith, 6-7 Billy Martin, et al.
And the Eagles, shooting only 45 percent this season, have to deal with a Georgetown defense that didn't even allow Nevada-Las Vegas to shoot 30 percent.
AU has been in a similar position. Two years ago the Eagles upset Georgetown, then ranked third. But AU was a senior-dominated team then; the Eagles have 11 freshmen and sophomores now.
It would be nice if AU Coach Ed Tapscott at least had the film from that upset to use as a teaching device. "But we don't," Tapscott said yesterday. "Someone took that film from us. It's been gone from the middle of the summer.
"I'm not sure, though, how much actual film of the game would have helped us. It's the approach that I've talked about with the team this week. Two years ago we played with a lot of heart in the second half when Georgetown was going full throttle. The discipline of that night is something that I can recall. It didn't stop when we were looking bleak early in the game."
Tapscott didn't feel he was giving away any secrets yesterday when he said, "It's critically obvious that you must be disciplined against Georgetown. We have to pay special attention to execution, or they'll frustrate and stymie you completely. And I also know we don't want to get into a running match with them.
"Plus, we might surprise some people and play some man to man, and we'll mix up our defenses a lot . . . . We certainly won't play anybody all season tougher than Georgetown. The only way we could play anybody better would be to join the Atlantic Division of the NBA. Our first goal is to win. But we can draw from the experience, just like we did two years ago."
American did win its most recent game, 70-56, over Columbia in the Fightin' Illini Classic. That night, as in the previous four games, guard Frank Ross was the leading scorer (or at least tied). He is averaging 20 points and his 51 percent shooting percentage is amazing considering that he has been providing nearly 30 percent of AU's offense.
So many things will be important for AU, in pursuit of an upset. Just one of them will be trying to keep Ewing from being his usual dominant self. Georgetown Coach John Thompson said last week it surprised him that so many opposing coaches of less talented teams insist upon trying to use two and three men to contain Ewing, while the other Hoyas run freely.
"I understand what Coach Thompson was saying," Tapscott said. "And I also understand why people do it. The one guy who can absolutely dominate the game is Patrick. There are stretches when Billy Martin or Michael Jackson or David Wingate can take over a game, but perhaps the other guys can have an off night. Patrick, even on an off night, can crush you with his work ethic."
The Eagles see several encouraging signs going into tonight's game. One is that their players are excited, not apprehensive, about playing the top-ranked team in the nation. "They're probably too young to understand the importance of the game," Tapscott said, laughing.
"A lot of the things we're hoping to accomplish against Georgetown are things we'll be looking to accomplish all year. We're not on a crusade. We're out to play and win a basketball game."