St. Joseph's rides into town at 1-1 in the A10 and 9-5 overall for its 9pm tip against The Good Guys. CBSSports Network is your tube choice.
It's a very good 9-5 record as the Hawks have beaten Notre Dame, and the five losses are Florida State, Butler, Villanova, Creighton, and Fairfield. St. Joseph's held second-half leads in four of those five losses. The Hawks were predicted to win the A10 by the media and coaches and put four players on all conference teams.
Two interesting non-basketball facts: first, their mascot, a kid that dresses up in a hawk outfit, is on scholarship. He has to keep at least one hawk arm flapping at all times when being seen in costume in public. A violation and you lose your job and the scholarship. Second, their radio color guy is a known name: Joey Brackets himself, Joe Lunardi.
As for hoops, St. Joseph's has quite the collection of individual talent. CJ Aiken is a projected first round NBA draft pick, and he's third on the team in scoring.
The Hawks play some zone--worth watching considering VCUs arc struggles the past three games. What's more, this game pits strength-on-strength: VCU turns teams over better than anyone in the country--30.7% of opponent's possessions. St. Joseph's turns the ball over on just 17.7% of its possessions--38th-best nationally.
- Coach Phil Martelli, the longest tenured A10 coach (18 years), plays just six guys more than about eight minutes per game. Each of the six players averages more than 30 minutes per game. His already short bench is shorter, as sixth-man Halil Kanacevic attended the funeral of his uncle in Montenegro and will not be back in time for tip. (That's reportedly. I'm not buying it.)
- CJ Aiken made every shot he took in a win at Drexel, going 6‐6 from the field, 2‐2 from beyond the arc and 5‐5 from the foul line to notch a team‐high 19 points. Aiken also recorded eight rebounds and six blocked shots.
- KenPom has VCU winning this game 71-59, giving the Rams an 88% chance of winning the game by any score.
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five Things I'm Watching
1. Intrasquad Bickering. It's the second stage of fatigue. I have no doubt St. Joseph's is going to be gassed by the unrelenting pressure of havoc. Players will tug on shorts, tilt their heads back to gasp just a little more air, and be slow to get back to action on dead ball stoppages. However when something goes wrong fatigue has a way of assigning blame, and it's never your fault. The sooner the Hawks players begin grousing at one another, the better for the Rams.
2. Martelli's Migraine. This works in parallel to the first item. St. Joseph's has an alarmingly short bench without Kanacevic. The starters go 35 minutes, two players go 8 minutes, and the rest is spot duty. At some point Martelli is going to have to make a choice: play the tired starter, or play the 8 minutes per game guy about 20 minutes. I'm looking for Martelli to spend an extra amount of time rubbing his forehead with his thumb and index finger making that decision. Neither option is pleasing to him.
3. The Arc de Triomphe. I feel like a broken record, but the Rams have got to bust out of this three-pointers slump. Did you realize Briante Weber has not made a three-pointer since Atlantis? The past three games VCU has made exactly five three-pointers in each, but with declining attempts. That is not progress. I'm looking for VCU to top its season averages. Let's say 10 makes at 40% (10-25). On the other side, the Hawks are capable of three sprees. Chris Wilson started the Butler game by making four straight three‐pointers. Langston Galloway chipped in with one to give SJU a 15‐9 lead in the first four minutes. Be wary.
4. Not Stepping Up, But Stepping Forward. I hate that term, stepping up. What I want to see is Melvin Johnson, Jarred Guest, and/or DJ Haley take a step forward in this game. Shaka Smart's mantra is to get better every day. Consistency is a big part of getting better. Each of those three has played well in various spots--like Guest on Saturday. Depth is a great concept, but hollow minutes does not constitute depth. I want each of them to play better on Thursday than they played last Saturday. And keep stepping forward.
5. Offensive Glasswork. Not one Hawks player has more offensive rebounds than defensive rebounds and almost all aren't close. St. Joseph's is an athletic team, so VCU has to box out, grab the rebound, and get out in transition. On the offensive end, the Rams have to crash and get extra opportunities. Everyone expects St. Joseph's to get tired, and having to play two and three straight possessions on defense only adds to the fatigue factor. Plus, it impacts morale. Or, like Colonel Frank Slade says: "there is nothin like the sight of an amputated spirit. There is... no prosthetic for that."
We Don't Work For Free
CJ Aiken (11.8ppg, 6.1rpg) is being touted as first round NBA draft pick. The 6-9, 200-lb Aiken is a shot blocker deluxe and can shoot the three (13-42 on the year). Aiken plays face up and prefers no contact.
Langston Galloway (14.8 ppg, 3.6rpg) is their best shooter and scorer (32-90 from three). Galloway uses screens well but loses effectiveness on his shooting when his legs get tired.
Carl Jones (14.8 ppg, 2.8 apg) is a very quick and fast combo guard with range on his three (29-73 from three) but has an aggressive moving-forward game.
Ronald Roberts (10.8 ppg, 8.4 rpg) is big and relentless on the glass, a high-athletic, high-motor post who will run the floor hard. Roberts goes 6-8, 220, and is averaging a 12/11 double-double in two A10 games.
Chris Wilson (8.8 ppg, 3.8 apg) is a tough lefty point guard but has been shaky against pressure. Wilson has hit seven threes in his past two games.
Halil Kanacevic (7.1ppg, 7.2rpg). Let's assume he plays. Tough, physical, crafty 6-7 three/four man. Excellent passer.
Papa Ndao (7mpg; 3.0ppg, 2.0rpg). Athletic 6-8 and skilled post but not a good defender.
Daryus Quarles (8mpg); Long, athletic 3. Hit 3-3 from 3 in 16 mins last game. All 5 FGM are 3s.
Isaiah Miles (2mpg) Can hit threes at 6-7. Will be interesting to see if he gets extended minutes.
It's tough to look at that short bench and not smile: five players averaging 35 minutes, and the sixth man--they say--will not be there. However I watched St. Joseph's make a 14-3 Notre Dame team look silly--the Hawks are capable of making good teams look bad.
This game becomes about accentuating the finer points of havoc to maximize its effects. What does that mean?
It means executing flawlessly in halfcourt offense--making the Hawks work as much as possible. It means getting out in transition and forcing them to rush back in a harried transition defense. Both, when done in precision, are hell on the legs. And it's about crashing the offensive glass so VCU gets to do it all over again, crushing the spirit of a short-benched team.
On defense, it's forcing St. Joseph's to work even harder through continual harrasment--a ballhawking halfcourt style that denies passes and disrupts flow. The more St. Joseph's has to start over, the better it is for VCU.
All of that begets the finest of fine points: awareness. Tired teams break down. The secret is to recognize where the breakdown occurs and attack that weakness. Continually. That takes a high level of attention from the VCU players.