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State of the Hawks Address

A10 Homepage

Saint Joseph's University Basketball

St. Joseph's Hawks
15-3 (6-2 Atlantic Ten)

by Patrick Wandalowski

February 1st, 2003

With nearly 2/3 of the college basketball regular season completed now is the time for some evaluations of the Saint Joseph’s Hawks.  The focus will be on four areas: preseason information, season accolades, future predictions, and reality check.

 

Preseason.  Due to the loss of 4 senior starters, a logical prediction would have been a near .500 season.  With only one starter back, the Hawks were picked to finish either 3rd or 4th in the A-10 East division.  Overall, they were slotted to be only the A-10’s 6th, 7th, or 8th best team. 

 

However, there were some signs of optimism for their chances in the A-10 East.  Perennial champ Temple would be starting 3 new players and did not possess a true point guard.  UMass had digressed from its position as a conference favorite the day John Calipari left and the plight has continued.  And although Saint Bonaventure is very talented, they are vastly undersized and play a style that is suspect.  Moreover, the Hawks had defeated the Bonnies the last 4 times the teams had played.

 

The strength of the team would be the backcourt.  Jameer Nelson was a clear choice for the preseason All A-10 1st team.  However, there were some lingering questions.  For the first time, the junior would be clearly the best player on the team and would be held responsible for its success or failure.  There would be no knocks on Marvin O’Connor, Bill Phillips, Na’im Crenshaw, or Damian Reid.  They had all graduated.  Nelson would be the leader who was to receive the credit and/or shoulder the blame.  Could Nelson produce with all the pressure on his shoulders?  Would assists rack up for Nelson like they did in the past with unproven players now in the lineup?  Would he be able to handle a higher scoring load with defenses centered around him?  Is he really an NBA prospect?  

 

Would Delonte West be ready?  The freshman showed plenty of talent and potential in limited minutes behind O’Connor and Crenshaw.  He was an exciting player.  He could rise high and slam it home.  Not too often have the Hawks had a guard who could sky and block an opposing player’s shot.  West was a solid defender and rebounder.  And he could score, but only on a mid-range jumper and by taking the rock to the basket.  He exhibited a deficiency in shooting range.  He was not capable of hitting the three-pointer.  And sometimes he dribbled too much.  Could the playground be taken out of him without diminishing his skills?

 

Who would fill the wing spot?  Pat Carroll was a 2nd team All-State selection from Hatboro-Horsham, but as a freshman Carroll played infrequently.  His scrawny frame was a concern.  Would he simply be in the shadow of his more accomplished and more highly touted brother Pat Carroll, who spurned the Hawks’ recruiting advances and attended Notre Dame?  What little was seen of Carroll made him an unknown in determining his role on the team.  Would Tyrone Barley take the spot?  Barley is as aggressive a defender as you will find in college basketball.  He works his butt off.  He is not opposed to covering his man for all 94 feet of hardwood.  He has quick hands and will block a shot or two.  But his shot is suspect.  Despite his stellar defense, could the Hawks afford to have a player who would score little in the starting lineup?  After all, Saint Joseph’s was losing over 5000 points to graduation.  It needed a scorer.  That’s where Chet Stachitas might have been able to fit in.  Stachitas was a Florida standout who had roots in Philadelphia.  He led his squad to a state championship.  A proven scorer, Stachitas showed a penchant for scoring over the summer in a league filled with area college players.  But would his frame and game be able to adapt to the stronger, faster college level?

 

The frontline was the biggest question.  By now, people knew that the dream of Alex Sazonov being a productive center was over.  Too many injuries, a lack of superstar talent, and an undisciplined approach to the game led to the revelation.  But he was apparently healthy and his backup was a redshirt freshman, so the starting job was his to lose.  The backup was Dwayne Jones.  He was described as an excellent defender and great shot blocker.  The translation—he will be a project on the offensive end.

 

And the 4-spot seemed to be locked up by recruit Dave Mallon.  Mallon was highly touted.  The coaching staff advertised him as a Bill Phillips clone.  Moreover, he was supposed to have even better skills than the departing senior.  It was widely assumed that the guarantee of starting was a big reason why Mallon chose the Hawks.   

 

Concerns: 1. How would the Hawks score enough points to compete?

                 2. Who would emerge as the wing guard?

                 3. Would this season be a rebuilding year?

                 4. Could Saz finally step up?  Is Jones a viable option?

                 5. How bad will some of the losses be?

 

Season.  It is very easy to become a believer.  As a big underdog on the road to open the season at Boston College, the Hawks shocked one of the Big East favorites.  The Hawks blew out the Eagles.  Nelson outplayed Troy Bell during the rout and garnered praise from sporting outlets throughout the country.  His position as an elite point guard was cemented.  The wing guard position was secured for good after Pat Carroll knocked down all 5 of his three-pointers on the way to 19 points.  Barley was the clear backup but excelled in limited minutes.  He posted an impressive stat line: 8 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals.  He locked down Troy Bell.  Though dominated in the low post by BC’s big men, backups Dwayne Jones and John Bryant combined for 19 points and 13 rebounds.

 

Saint Joseph’s ran off an impressive 7 game winning streak.  They followed the BC win with victories over Canisius, Old Dominion, Boston U, Drexel, Delaware, and DePaul.  Some common themes were emerging. 

 

  1. Jameer Nelson was a star.  He had a 19 ppg average, fueled by 20+ points in 5 of the 7 games. 

 

  1. West was holding his own.  He reached double digits in points in all but one game.  Also, West was making the three-ball and was effective passing the ball to open teammates. 

 

       3.Carroll solidified his spot in the lineup.  His shooting was like radar when he was on.  A few bad shooting nights showed that he was still wet behind the ears, but he is a decent third scoring option.   

 

  1. The frontcourt play was interesting.  Mallon and Sazonov were extremely ineffective and were logging minor minutes.  Mallon had looked hurried and lacking in confidence.  John Bryant and Dwayne Jones thankfully were combining to make up for those inefficiencies.  Jones was coming on strong.

 

  1. And with apologies to Arkansas, the Hawks were playing their own version of 40 minutes of hell.  An offensive-minded coach, Phil Martelli bucked that trend.  He studied up on full-court defensive strategies.  He found a way to incorporate all 6 perimeter players into the game with relentless on-ball and perimeter defense.

 

  1. The Hawks were blowing teams out.  This just does not occur at Saint Joseph’s.  They relish the underdog role.  Games were over early in the second half.

 

  1. Dave Mallon is no Bill Phillips.  It is early, but those expectations have been    squashed.  Phillips could deliver 16 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and a couple three-pointers.  His development will be key to the team’s success down the road.  Right now, he is just a deer in the headlights.

 

   

The first bump in the road was against Pacific.  Maybe the team was looking ahead to the match up vs. Gonzaga.  Maybe they were reading their press clippings.  The way the team loss foreshadowed the other future losses.  The Hawks experienced a scoring drought down the stretch.  Nursing a 48-46 lead with nearly 5 minutes left, Saint Joseph’s was outscored 16-2 down the stretch.  The team also missed 6 straight crucial free throws.  For the game, the team was 6-of-18.  Connecting on 4-for-20 three-pointers certainly didn’t help either.

 

The next 5 games erased the Pacific nightmare from the minds of the players and the fans.  The Hawks won a barnburner at the Kennel.  Nelson single-handedly won the game.  Nelson dominated with 34 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and the game-winning shot in overtime.  That performance capped off an incredible non-conference run by Nelson and the Hawks.  Nelson became a contender for All-American status as a result.

Saint Joseph’s rolled through the opening A-10 schedule.  They won easily against Duquesne, at Saint Bonaventure, and against UMass.  At Temple, West and Nelson combined for 51 points to pull away near the end.  It seemed evident that there was a new A-10 East sheriff in town.

 

Then the stunning loss to Rhode Island.  The great defenders were out defended.  Nelson was harried into mistakes.  He was frustrated into making offensive fouls.  The loss followed the pattern.  Over the final 7:30 minutes, the Hawks scored only 4 points.  Nelson missed a critical free throw.  The team shot just 11-for-17 for the game.  And the three-pointer wasn’t falling.  They were merely 4-of-13 from beyond the arc.  And even then they had the game in their hands, well Dwayne Jones’ hands.  But with 2.5 seconds to go, Jones had the ball stripped from him.  Woodward of URI made the winning basket.

The ship was righted for the next 2 games, an A-10 tilt vs. Fordham and a Big 5 match-up against Penn.  The defense held its 6th and 7th teams to under 50 points.  Nelson, West, and Carroll all had big games. 

 

And now the GW game.  They were outdefended again.  Dwayne Jones led the team in poor free throw shooting.  Jones was 1-for-7 and the Hawks ended up 13-for-25.  Nelson missed a late free throw. 

 

Most of the questions have been answered. 

 

1. The Hawks really only need to score 70 points to compete.  The defense is good enough to keep them in every game.

2. Carroll is the wing guard.  He leads the A-10 in three-point percentage.  He needs to be more consistent and develop a slashing game.  He also needs to hit the boards a little more.  Backup Chet Stachitas is delivering good minutes.  He can flat out score 6-10 points a game if he gets the minutes.

3. This is not a rebuilding year.  It has been more of a retooling year.  Nelson is every bit as good as advertised.  He is doing what he did as a freshman and with far less talent.

4. Sazonov hasn’t stepped up his game but he has stepped up his attitude.  Jones is a defensive force in the A-10.  It would be wise for the Hawks to invest in a big man coach now to develop his post game.  But at 6’11, Jones is capable of dunking all those great looks from West and Nelson, something Damian Reid couldn’t always do.  Chris Cologer is a nice backup.  He is a great shot blocker who can allow the perimeter players to gamble on defense.  He has good hands. 

5. There might not be any blowout losses suffered.  Losses to Pacific, Rhode Island, and George Washington were not expected.  But the Hawks are off to a fantastic start (14-3).  Any fan should value the wins over BC, Gonzaga, DePaul, and Penn over the losses.  They are bigger wins. 

 

Future.  The Hawks have positioned themselves for the home stretch.  For a NCAA bid, the team needs to reach the 22 win plateau most likely.  That would take 8 more wins.  They are guaranteed 11 more games (10 regular season + 1 in the A-10) to try to hit the mark.  The problem is that the back end of their A-10 schedule is brutal.  There aren’t many easy wins. 

 

The easiest games appear to be URI at home, at Fordham, at UMass, and against LaSalle at the Palestra.  They need to win all 4 of these games.  Fordham and UMass should be handled by the Hawks if they figure to be a top team in the league.  URI and LaSalle are dangerous games.  Saint Joseph’s figures to rebound from the GW loss with a good performance at home against URI.  However that LaSalle game has Big 5 implications.  Billy Hahn is having a wonderful season.  Hahn, Baron of URI, and Martelli seem like the frontrunners for coach of the year in the A-10.

 

Then the Hawks have to win 3 out of 6 against the best of the best in the A-10.  Villanova would be a huge scalp for the Hawks.  Martelli has never beaten the Hawks’ nemesis.  A win would cap off a 10-1 non-conference schedule.  Saint Joseph’s already owns a #3 rpi rating for the non-conference portion of their schedule.  A win would fortify that position.  Temple, Saint Bonaventure, and Richmond are the easy games of the bunch.  That is tough to say.  All 3 are capable of knocking off the Hawks.  It is advantageous that the Hawks face Richmond and Saint Bonaventure at the Fieldhouse.

 

The hardest games appear to be at Dayton and home vs. Xavier.  They are the top 2 teams in the A-10.  Dayton is one of the hardest venues to win at.  Xavier has had their way with the Hawks since they joined the A-10.  Both teams have more horses than the Hawks.  Winning either of these games would be a steal.

 

And then they must win a game in the A-10 tournament.  If the Hawks garner a bye, the team might be GW. 

 

Reality Check.  The biggest areas of concern should be the health of the team’s star players.  West has been hampered by a couple of ankle injuries and a sore wrist.  Nelson has been affected by a jammed finger.  Another concern is fatigue.  Will the effort spent on defense wear the team down?  With their tough schedule, they can not afford to be tired or worn out.   

 

This has truly been a wonderful season for the Hawks.  The good play has raised the bar dramatically in regards to expectations.  Now it seems like not getting to the NCAAs would be a failure.  But even winning 18, 19, 20, or 21 games is a huge achievement for the Hawks.  They really only have 2 ˝ scorers.  The frontcourt is awful offensively.  Free throws are a major problem.  But look on the brightside.  The only player they will lose to graduation is Sazonov.  The core of the team will be back.  Shooting coach Matt Brady will correct the flaws in Jones’ stroke as well as Bryant’s.  Look what he did for West, Nelson, and Carroll.  Mallon, Stachitas, and Lee will all improve.  This is a team on the rise regardless if they crack the top 25 polls or make the NCAAs this year.        


 

E-Mail the Author: Patrick Wandalowski

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