Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Fordham/Saint Joseph's Preview

Phil Martelli and Saint Joseph's welcome Fordham to Hagan Arena Wednesday evening, when both teams will look to atone for slow starts this season. (Photo courtesy of Saint Joseph's University)

Fordham's first two-game road trip of the Atlantic 10 season takes them to Philadelphia this week, where the Rams will travel to Saint Joseph's and La Salle before returning home to welcome George Washington to Rose Hill Gym next week.

Their next opponent, however, is one in a similar situation as that which Tom Pecora is currently experiencing. At 6-8 on the year, with losses to Fairleigh Dickinson, Western Kentucky and Duquesne that their fans will find inexcusable; not to mention the 52-point throttling on national television at the hands of Gonzaga, Saint Joseph's is a far cry from the team that muscled its way to an A-10 championship just ten months ago. Jack-of-all trades Halil Kanacevic and sharpshooter Langston Galloway have proven difficult to replace for Phil Martelli, but the Hawks have gotten the Player of the Year-caliber production they expected out of sophomore forward DeAndre Bembry, so all is not totally lost on Hawk Hill. In addition, Isaiah Miles and Chris Wilson have provided solid complementary pieces in the starting five, with Aaron Brown serving as a potent sixth man for a Saint Joseph's team that is bringing freshman wing James Demery along gradually before he unleashes his own explosive potential in the weeks and years to come.

With the background information out of the way, we welcome our friend James Hill of PhilaHoops.com back to the site to review the reasons behind the Hawks' winless start to league play, what to expect down the stretch, and why Jim's on South Street is truly the undisputed king of steaks in the city that loves you back. Here's what James had to say as Saint Joseph's welcomes the Rams into Hagan Arena:

Jaden Daly: What has been, in your opinion, the most maddening aspect of how Saint Joseph's has started the season?

James Hill: They can’t shoot. That’s all there is to it. This team cannot make a jump shot. The Hawks are very athletic – it seems everybody can run the floor. But when they are unable to turn teams over and get out into transition, the offense grinds to a halt. The halfcourt set is not the Hawks’ friend.

Just to give an idea: the Hawks are scoring only 62 points per game, which is good (bad?) for 293rd in the country, and are shooting 41 percent from the floor, which is 278th in the country. The team shoots only 27 percent from beyond the arc – a full 11 percentage points below last year’s figure. With the team missing jumpers from the outside, defenses are clogging the paint and any driving lanes, making shots that much tougher in the lane. In short, nothing comes easy for St. Joe’s.

JD: Phil Martelli continues to employ a seven-man rotation. Has that helped the Hawks more than it has hurt them so far this season, or is it the other way around?

JH: For the style of play that suits them best, it definitely hurts. St. Joe’s has been its most effective this year when it turns up the pressure, speeds up the pace, and converts turnovers into easy, uncontested baskets. Martelli has tried to introduce full-court pressure after made baskets in most games, but you can’t do that with seven players. 

They started the year with an eight-and-a-half man rotation, but, as you said, they’ve settled in with mostly a seven-man team. Even at eight-and-a-half, Phil Martelli admitted early in the year that he was probably one man short from being able to effectively employ pressure for a full 40 minutes. At seven, there is no chance to pull it off. But the problem is the Hawks don’t have the guys to fill out that rotation. The eighth guy, guard Evan Maschmeyer, has proved to be an offensive liability on an already offensively-challenged team. And the ninth guy, Brendan Casper, is a walk on – although his hustle has made him a fan favorite.

JD: For those who haven't seen DeAndre Bembry yet, but know he's the real deal, what else can they expect from a legitimate Atlantic 10 Player of the Year contender?

JH: DeAndre Bembry can do it all. He’s an athletic freak, he’s a lock-down defender on the perimeter, he’s the biggest offensive threat the Hawks have, and he’s always a threat for a Sportscenter Top 10 highlight. But the biggest plus to DeAndre Bembry’s game is his maturity. Even as a freshman last year he was so mature, fitting in seamlessly on a team of upperclassmen. As a result, he is the first sophomore captain at St. Joe’s since 1936-37. After excelling as the fourth option on last year’s team, he’s transitioned very well into being “the guy” this year.

Oh, and with Jordair Jett’s graduation from Saint Louis, DeAndre Bembry’s claim to best hair in the Atlantic 10 is unchallenged.

JD: Between Langston Galloway and Halil Kanacevic, who would you say this team misses more, and why?

JH: Halil Kanacevic was arguably the team’s MVP last year – he ran the offense through the high post, was a constant defensive presence, and was the consummate team captain. But this year’s team would benefit more from Langston Galloway’s presence for the same reason I mentioned before: they can’t shoot. Having a consistent shooting threat would open the lane for slashers like DeAndre Bembry and James Demery to get to the rim more consistently. Without a shooter, opposing defenses are cheating into the lane to cut off the drives.

A guy who could have filled that role, at least to an extent, was Papa Ndao. The senior was declared out for the season due to an undisclosed medical condition in October, just weeks before the season began. Sure, he can’t shoot like Galloway – not many can – but at 40.5% he was the best returning three-point shooter for the Hawks. In losing him, the Hawks lost their only real threat to spread the floor.

JD: From a distant perch, where do you see Tom Pecora's job security? What else, in your opinion, would Fordham need to do to justify bringing him back for another year?

JH: To be honest, I don’t get to see much of Fordham. Believe it or not, they’re not on television here very much. But I have to imagine the seat is getting very hot under him. In four previous years, he’s never won more than 10 games and has yet to finish above last place – not exactly numbers that scream security. By your fifth year, you have to make some sort of progress, right?

JD: Ultimately, where does Saint Joseph's finish in the A-10? Is it reasonable to suggest that the Hawks can rebound from their winless start to league play and fight their way back into postseason contention?

JH: This team has so much athleticism, but ultimately its inability to shoot will be the defining point of the season. I think this year will end up being a valuable year for the team in terms of getting young guys plenty of experience – four of the seven players in the rotation are freshmen or sophomores and only one is a senior. But I realize this is not what St. Joe’s fans want to hear. 

If the team puts together a great game, it has the talent to knock off anyone in the conference. But its struggles with consistency will prevent it from making a run at a realistic postseason appearance.

I think the team will eventually finish in the 9-11 range in the Atlantic 10. They’ll win a game or two they shouldn’t win, but they’ll also drop a couple they shouldn’t lose (with a loss to Duquesne, they already have). Whoever they play in Brooklyn could have their hands full, but I don’t think the Hawks, with seven guys and an inconsistent offense, can get it done night after night to challenge for the automatic bid.

JD: Finally, without channeling Jon Rothstein too much, we both seem to agree that Jim's on South Street is the first, and only, place to go for a steak in Philadelphia. How far "off the charts" is Jim's for our New York audience who still don't know what they're missing?

JH: It is an absolute MUST GO for anyone visiting Philly. Plus it’s on South Street, which is already a cool place to go. Forget Pat’s, forget Geno’s, forget even the Liberty Bell – make sure to hit up Jim’s.

1 comment:

  1. This had to be one of the worst basketball games I have ever seen. Pecora is a terrible coach, just terrible.