After big home win over Rhode Island, Fordham gets stiff test Wednesday night when C.J. Aiken and Saint Joseph's come to Rose Hill. (Photo courtesy of Josh Verlin via City Of Basketball Love)
Fresh off their 66-63 win over Rhode Island that kept them in the middle of the Atlantic 10 standings, Fordham welcomes Saint Joseph's into the Rose Hill Gym Wednesday in a pivotal game for both sides, perhaps more so for the 6-14 Rams, whose next three games feature a home game against Saint Louis sandwiched between difficult road contests against top-tier A-10 programs in VCU and La Salle.
Life hasn't been easy for St. Joe's either. After being picked to win the Atlantic 10 at the start of the season, the Hawks' 2-3 conference record is identical to Fordham's ledger through their first five league games even though Saint Joseph's has gotten off to an 11-7 start. Head coach Phil Martelli has a group of six players that average more than 30 minutes per game, including four double-figure scorers, and only loses guard Carl Jones from this team going into next season. To shed further light on the Hawks, we have enlisted the help of Garrett Miley, who does an excellent job covering St. Joe's for both The Hawk newspaper and City Of Basketball Love, which has quickly become of the best sources for Philadelphia basketball coverage despite being less than a year old. Garrett was kind enough to answer our questions about the one-time No. 1 team in the country (even if that was nine years ago) as they make their way into New York for the front end of a home-and-home matchup with the Rams, who invade Hagan Arena on March 2nd. Without any further ado...
Jaden Daly: St. Joe's was picked to win the A-10. What is the biggest reason for their 11-7 (2-3 in the A-10) start?
Garrett Miley: The simplest way to sum up the Hawks’ 11-7 start is offensive inconsistency. They rely heavily on three-pointers to keep them in games and when they have a difficult night shooting the basketball, (See the St. Bonaventure game) things can look ugly offensively for the Hawks. Coach Phil Martelli has stressed the importance of offensive balance for his team, and also has stated that his team’s offense runs “sideline to sideline” too much and doesn’t penetrate the teeth of the defense enough. The recent return of forward Halil Kanacevic after missing three games due to the loss of his maternal uncle has helped the Hawks establish a better post presence, as well as open up passing lanes for the other forwards like C.J. Aiken and Ronald Roberts Jr.
JD: With six players seeing 30 or more minutes per game, will fatigue be an issue against a deeper Fordham bench?
GM: I’m not sure that fatigue will be the biggest factor in the game against Fordham, as the Hawks have been doing this most of the way this season, but the Hawks' lack of depth forces them to rely heavily on their top six players to carry the scoring load. The play of guys like Daryus Quarles, Papa Ndao, and Isaiah Miles has been sporadic this season. When Saint Joseph’s fails to get any offensive production or positive minutes from any of those guys, the pressure mounts on the top six guys and it shows. Often, non-shooters like Chris Wilson and Halil Kanacevic are forced to take contested jump shots deep into the shot clock because of the lack of offensive options on the court when guys like Ndao are on the court.
JD: St. Joe's enjoys a frontcourt advantage on paper with or without Chris Gaston in
the lineup. Which Hawk(s) should we watch out for most?
GM: Ronald Roberts Jr. is by far the most powerful and explosive player the Hawks have, and is the best rebounder on the team averaging 8.6 rpg. He can get in foul trouble, as was the case against Xavier, but is capable of recording a double-double every night. He is a powerful player that still needs to develop touch around the rim, but has the ability to dunk on almost anyone in the country.
JD: Just how good is C.J. Aiken? It seems like he's the guy who makes the motor run just by looking at the stat sheet.
GM: People often question whether C.J. Aiken likes basketball. He rarely shows emotion on the court, but I agree with Phil Martelli when he says that C.J. Aiken does, in fact, like basketball. He does a little bit of everything on the court. No, he isn’t a back to the basket player. But, at 6-foot-9, his ability to knock down a perimeter jump shot, rebound the basketball, and rise above the rim is a rare combination that makes him a tough matchup for almost anyone. His shot blocking makes any player think twice before attempting a shot in the paint. For as many shots as he blocks, he alters just as many more and is consistently in the heads of opposing players.
JD: Finally, what are the keys to victory for Fordham against this St. Joe's team, and what should we expect from both sides?
GM: Defensively, Fordham needs to force Saint Joseph’s to continue to work the ball around the perimeter. Aside from Langston Galloway and Carl Jones, few other Hawks feel comfortable shooting outside jump shots. Offensively, Branden Frazier is going to have to try to take advantage of Carl Jones’ poor defensive abilities. Talented and explosive guards have had success against the Hawks this season. The performance of Fairfield senior guard Derek Needham comes to mind when he scored 24 points and added five assists when the Stags defeated the Hawks 60-57. With or without Chris Gaston, establishing a post presence will be tough against the big bodies Saint Joseph’s has. While the Hawks are a good defensive team, they are susceptible to giving up open three point field goal attempts. Fordham will need to put together a similar effort and game plan that St. Bonaventure came into Hagan Arena with last Wednesday evening when the Bonnies beat the Hawks 73-64. If Fordham can prevent the Hawks from having a balanced offensive attack, as well as shoot a high percentage offensively, the Rams will find themselves with a chance to beat the Hawks.