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
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
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
Concerns: 1. How would the Hawks score enough
points to compete?
2. Who would emerge as the wing
3. Would this season be a
4. Could Saz finally step up? Is
Jones a viable option?
5. How bad will some of the losses
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
Jameer Nelson was a star. He had a 19 ppg
average, fueled by 20+ points in 5 of the 7 games.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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