There are still games against Georgetown, Notre Dame, Richmond and Navy ahead. The team is still young, too young. But today, with a 5-0 start, American Coach Ed Tapscott was feeling encouraged about his program's progress.
"It's only a start, but it's a good start," he said. "I tried to put together a schedule this year that would give us a chance at a good start. Last year we played 11 of our first 13 on the road and with a young team, there's just no way.
"This year, we were able to play a couple of early games that would give us some confidence. And beating George Washington was great for us."
The Eagles shocked GW, 67-66, on Wednesday only three days after the Colonials upset Jacksonville. That kind of victory should stand them in good stead Wednesday when they face Georgetown at Capital Centre.
"Now we're moving to a different plateau," Tapscott said. "But, heck, there's no sense fretting about it. We'll just go out and see what lessons we've learned. This game is still supposed to be fun. I've already got enough gray hairs."
The last two seasons have been enough to give him lots of gray hair, even at the age of 31. After winning 20 games (and beating Georgetown) in Tapscott's first season, the Eagles won only six games in 1983-84 and were 9-19 last season. That's why a 5-0 start is so encouraging.
"We've come along pretty well," Tapscott said. "Frank Ross (junior guard and leading scorer) was going to be asked to do a lot, and he's done even more. The other kids have done well for the most part. I'm especially pleased with (walk-on senior guard) Billy Stone. He works hard, and he's come into games and been a factor."
Whether the Eagles can be a factor in the Colonial Athletic Association against such teams as Navy, Richmond, George Mason and James Madison is yet to be seen. But the start is the best since Kermit Washington played at Fort Myer. That's progress.
On the subject of American-GW, wouldn't it be nice if all the local teams continued to play one another and produce games like that one?
In Philadelphia, where Villanova is king and trying to dictate to the other locals, they are at least trying.
In two weeks, Temple, Pennsylvania and La Salle will launch the Philadelphia Classic at the Palestra. St. Joseph's, which was committed to another tournament this year, will take part next year. Organizers hope to have at least three Big Five teams and a good outside team play each Christmas.
But whether the tournament will survive without Villanova is a question mark.
Georgetown is not the only team in the country playing a weak early-season schedule. Consider Clemson, which is 7-0 after victories over South Florida, East Tennessee State, Baptist, Georgia State, Rider, Morgan State and Maryland Eastern-Shore. In a recent computer study of nonconference schedules to date, Clemson was ranked No. 280 among 283 Division 1 schools. And this is an Atlantic Coast Conference team.
Some other teams that play awful schedules: Michigan State, Iowa and Minnesota in the Big Ten, SMU in the Southwest Conference and Pittsburgh in the Big East. Pitt was burned though, losing to Lafayette recently.
One team with an interesting schedule is Iowa State, coached by former Michigan Coach Johnny Orr. The Cyclones play four Big Ten teams: Iowa, Michigan State, Indiana and Illinois. The Cyclones, one of the more underrated teams in the country, have already beaten Iowa and Michigan State, and Illinois transfer Tom Schafer will become eligible Saturday.
One more schedule note: North Carolina Coach Dean Smith, who plays a very good December schedule, was asked after the Tar Heels had destroyed Rutgers, 114-71, why he scheduled the game. He answered: "They do give scholarships, don't they?"
They do, as do the other three teams Carolina has played at home this season, beating them by an average of 41.3 points per game. Okay, cynics, try to shoot down Tennessee's upset of Illinois last week. That was an Upset and The Upset Pick is 2-2 and tickets on the bandwagon are available, but going fast. This week: Lamar, the unknown, underrated team from Texas, will shock LSU.