Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thinking about … SAINT JOSEPH'S

"In my view, St. Joe’s is at least two or three years away
from competing for a league title again." - WH

The following preview from WH.. who is usually right on target.

Thinking about … SAINT JOSEPH'S

I’ve long thought of Phil Martelli as the best coach in the A-10. He hasn’t had a losing record in regular conference play or in an entire season in nine years and he has constantly done more with less compared to other top teams in the league. Sure, Martelli has had some great teams and some great players, but the Hawks roster usually has had many gaping holes. Martelli often has one or two and sometimes three players on scholarship who really don’t belong in the A-10.

It begs the question. Has Martelli done a subpar job recruiting because he’s a below-average recruiter, or has he been hamstrung by the school’s poor facilities?

Soon we are going to find out. With the big renovation to Hawk Hill complete, St. Joe’s and Martelli will be able to compete better with larger schools for good players. I don’t expect the Hawks to beat out Villanova or Rutgers or even Temple regularly, but it’s not unreasonable to expect a higher caliber of player and a deeper roster.

Lack of depth has been a recurring theme with Martelli’s teams, especially since the departure of guards Jameer Nelson and Delonte West on the great Elite 8 team six years ago. Martelli did put together two decent classes to take advantage of the school’s deep run, but several key recruits later transferred and others did not pan out. Recruiting then went into a funk.

As a result, last year’s team had four players who averaged more than 34 minutes a game, and a fifth, Idris Hilliard, would have joined them if he wasn’t in foul trouble so much. This is, to put it mildly, a ridiculous state of affairs. Guys who play that much cannot defend at a high level every game and the players showed the wear and tear by season’s end. From February on St. Joe’s went 5-8, and that was right after a 7-game winning streak that generated talk of an at-large bid.

Martelli has no choice but to develop new players this season with so many young guys on the roster. The good news is, he seems to have rounded up his best class of freshmen in a long time and added a solid transfer. Even better, the class he is compiling for next season could be the best of his Hawks career, at least based on recruiting ratings.

Is Martelli’s seeming improvement in recruiting due to the renovation of the arena? It would appear so. At the same time, though, the coach must feel the pressure to do a better job – not least because other A-10 teams are preparing to pass the Hawks by. As good as the Hawks class for next year appears, Xavier and Dayton might have outdone St. Joe’s. And almost every other school has picked up it’s recruiting, even former doormats such as LaSalle, Duquesne and Bonaventure. It’s no time to rest on one’s laurels.

Because of shoddy recruiting, Martelli faces the biggest threat of a losing record in a decade. Gone is Ahmad Nivins, the A-10’s POY, and swingman Tasheed Carr. The two of them scored almost half of the team’s points and grabbed more than 40% of the rebounds.

The cupboard is not empty, mind you. Senior guard Garrett Williamson is one of the league’s best defenders and has played point guard the past two years. He’s not a big scorer, but he helps the team in a variety of ways and can play three positions.

Shooting guard Darrin Govens, who hit 35% of his treys and averaged 12.5 points, will also start. Govens doesn’t usually create his own shot and he’s not a stalwart defender, but he can carry the Hawks for stretches when he gets hot.

The best of the returnees is 6-7 small forward Idris Hilliard, who has the talent to be an All-Conference player with a little more polish. Hilliard scores entirely from 18 feet in. He’s got a nice midrange jumper and a great nose for the ball in the paint. He shot 53% from the floor, grabbed almost 6 boards a game and averaged just under 10 points. He’s not a classic post up player; he simply knows how to score. His biggest problem was staying on the court. Guarding bigger players inside often put him in foul trouble.

Martelli hopes that 6-11, 250-pound Todd O’Brien, a Bucknell transfer, will ease the defensive load on Hilliard inside. O’Brien showed A-10 caliber talent at Bucknell but probably won’t be a stud. He’s big, fundamentally sound and not without decent interior skills.

(For the entire preview click the title.)

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