Five reasons why American University might upset No. 3 Iowa in the NCAA Tournament

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The Eagles women's basketball team made history on March 14 when they defeated Lehigh University in the Patriot League conference championships and earned their first bid to the NCAA tournament in program history. AU landed a No. 14 seed in the NCAA for its conference win, and the team will face the University of Iowa Hawkeyes on Friday, March 20 at 2:30 p.m. Despite entering the game as the clear underdogs, several factors lean in AU's favor as they prepare for the first round of the Big Dance.

1.) The pressure is off (for the players)

The twelve members of the 2014-2015 Eagles basketball team have already secured their names in the record books by winning a conference title, and they look to add to their team resume with a tournament game win. Sophomore forward Lauren Crisler anticipates the game with excitement and holds pride in her team's success thus far.

"Obviously, we want to win that first game, but it's been a great accomplishment even to get to this point," Crisler said. "It's the first time in school history, so it's a great feeling to even be here."

Head coach Megan Gebbia, on the other hand, feels added pressure heading into the game because she is representing the Patriot League as the 2015 Coach of the Year. This season marks Gebbia's tenth tournament appearance.

"As a coach, I still feel the pressure because I never want to go into this situation and get beat badly," Gebbia said. "For me, it's representing American University, representing the Patriot League, which you always want to make the league look good, and so there is still a little bit of pressure there for me."

The Eagles recorded a 24-8 overall record this year and won 16 of their 18 conference match-ups, but they enter the upcoming match-up with an 11-game winning streak.

2.) Strong leadership and consistency

Senior point guard Jen Dumiak not only leads the team in points scored on the court, but she also holds the highest GPA of any female graduating senior student-athlete at AU and was recently recognized as the Patriot League Scholar-Athlete of the year. Her basketball intelligence and ability to manage the clock on the floor make her a threat to the Iowa Hawkeyes.

"When Jen is in the game, our offense and everything just runs smoother," Gebbia said in a press conference earlier this season.

Dumiak scored 24 points against Lehigh in the Patriot League finals, and she also earned tournament MVP for her performance. In addition, Dumiak notched 197 assists this year, topping the AU record books for single-season assists.

Senior guard Shaquilla Curtis and junior forward Michelle Holmes also earned positions on the all-tournament team as well.

Holmes' athletic accolades also make her a star on the court, but she ultimately believes that being a senior leader means playing consistently in every practice and game.

"I try to be consistent everyday on the court off the court, just [making] sure I'm always reliable," Holmes said. "I don't want to come in there one day and [have] someone...say 'which Michelle is going to show up today?' I want to everyone to know that I'm the same person who was here yesterday and the day before, consistently."

3.) Team chemistry

Since stepping on to the campus of AU in September 2014, Gebbia has built a culture of unity within the women's basketball team. Her players and staff quickly embraced her new style of leadership, and altered their play to meet their coach's demands.

"We got in so late last year that we were all coming together, even as a coaching staff, and learning new people new personalities and teaching twelve people how to do the offense," assistant coach Nikki Flores said in a press conference in December.

The coaching staff spent the first months of the season instilling the value of 'team basketball' to their players, a lesson Gebbia hopes her team will carry into the NCAA tournament.

"The assist is important, and points are important yes, but we have to play together and use the clock, team basketball," Gebbia said.

Dumiak's record-setting assists highlight Gebbia's theme of playing as one group, rather than individuals, and senior Ari Booth echoed the importance of her team's cohesiveness in their success.

"Our locker room isn't toxic at all, and that's important for a winning team, I think," Booth said. "We have great camaraderie on and off the court, which is important too, and it's just a natural unforced unit."

4.) They are used to tough competition

Last season, AU fell to Seton Hall University 63-60 in the first round of the Women's National Invitational Tournament (WNIT), and Gebbia partially credits the loss to a lack of experience against strong non-conference opponents. She created a schedule for the 2014-2015 season that gave her players exposure to top level teams in an effort to prepare them for the NCAA tournament.

"I think part of the problem with our team last year was that they didn't know how to finish," Gebbia said in press conference earlier this season. "They didn't know how to compete when the pressure was on. I scheduled this schedule because I wanted them to learn how to compete and play with good teams."

Her team responded to the challenge and finished within ten points of Princeton University, a ninth seed in the NCAA tournament, during their game on Nov. 23. The Eagles also competed against No. 1 seed University of Maryland, and their experience against top-ranked opponents has prepared them for Iowa.

AU played in the Las Vegas South Point Shootout Tournament over the Thanksgiving Holiday watched the Hawkeyes compete during the same weekend.

Gebbia believes that the previous exposure to Iowa's game will allow the Eagles to approach the game with insight and confidence.

"Our team did get a chance to see them play live, and they know that they're good, and they've put up some good numbers across some good teams across the country," Gebbia said. "They're ranked 18th[nationally], so for me it's just trying to figure out what they do best and take some things away."

5.) Momentum

The Eagles are coming off their biggest win in school history, and they boast a winning streak that extends back to early January. The Hawkeyes, on the other hand, suffered an overtime loss to Ohio State University on March 7.

Dumiak looks forward to building off her team's recent success as they take on the nationally ranked Hawkeyes.

"We want to keep playing the way we have been playing," Dumiak said. "Obviously, Iowa is a very good team and they have multiple people that average around 15 points a game, but we just kinda want to carry in what we have been doing and try and give them a game."

If the Eagles defeat the University of Iowa, they will play the winner of the University of Washington and University of Miami Florida on Sunday, March 22.

Shannon Scovel is a sophomore journalism student at American University where she serves as the sports editor of her student newspaper, The Eagle. Originally from Cary, North Carolina, Shannon has a passion for sports and previously worked as a correspondent for the Raleigh News and Observer covering high school athletics.
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