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Saint Joseph’s Non-Conference Recap: Improving for A10 Play

Saint Joseph’s closed out its 2022-23 non-conference with a win against Central Connecticut State this past Thursday, December 22nd. The 83-66 win helped the Hawks climb to a .500 record before they head into the A10 portion of the season. However, will SJU continue to play .500 basketball through the conference schedule?

In this post non-conference breakdown, we will take a high-level overview of the team’s metrics to find their strengths and weaknesses. In addition to numbers, we will discuss the performance of individual contributors, as well as what the team needs to do in order for this A10 season to be considered a success.

The Numbers and Stats

Currently, Saint Joe’s is 4th in the A10 in defensive net rating, but 13th overall in total NRtg. Compared to the entire NCAA they are 213 in Kenpom and 262 in Net, as of 12/30/2023. These stats never truly capture the full story of one team, but it is the best measurement we have when trying to take a 1,000 foot view of this team compared to the rest of both the NCAA and A10. With that said, it is no surprise where Saint Joe’s is located in these rankings since the Hawks have routinely struggled to stay around .500 this season. In non conference play they have lost to Houston, Georgia, USF, Temple, Villanova, and worst of all, Fairleigh Dickinson.

The wins this season include Lafayette, Albany, Penn, Saint Peter’s, Sacred Heart, and Central Connecticut State which have helped bolster their record. Sadly, these wins are against teams that do not carry as much weight for strength of schedule.

In addition to Kenpom and NET, there are a few game specific stats and rankings that are worth noting. Below are some outlines on a few key metrics, and how they compare from this year to last.

1. Improvement Worth Noting

First, we will start with improvements worth noting. The Hawks have steadily increased their steals this season, averaging 6.8 a game. This is almost two steals more than the 4.9 they averaged last season. The team’s improvement in steals is probably due in large part to the increased number of true point guards on the team.

Last year, Saint Joe’s was timid when guarding the passing lane. Jordan Hall comes to mind as he would back off and give space to the guards he defended in order to prevent them from running by him when they attacked the rim. It was clear, as a 6’7 point guard, he did not have the foot speed to keep opponents in front of him. It was not totally his fault either, last year’s non-traditional line up resulted in defensive miss matches that were constantly exploited by other teams.

This year, Erik Reynolds II, Lynn Greer, and Christian Winborne have done the opposite, playing up against defenders and placing more pressure on both ball handlers and the passing lanes. This increased pressure has resulted in all three guards averaging over 1.2 steals a game. These steals have lead to easy transition baskets which benefit a team that still struggles in the half court.

2. No Improvement, But The Team Needs It

Sadly, steals are the only statistical category which has improved for Saint Joe’s. Meanwhile, blocks, Free throws and shooting percentages have all stayed flat for the program. Last year, SJU shot .337 from three, and this year have completed .336 of their threes. Both this year, and last year, the team has led the A10 in attempts from beyond, with around 26 a game. The overall field goal percentage for the Hawks is 42%, which is the same as last year as well.

As mentioned above, blocks and free throws have not improved for the team. Saint Joe’s is currently 4th in free throw attempts in the A10, but only 10th in percentage (69.5%). They are doing the right thing by getting to the charity stripe, but then failing to capitalize on the opportunity. In terms of blocks, SJU was 14th in 2020-21, 13th in 2021-22, and 14th this year in the A10. In each of these years they were below 2.5 blocks per game. While the Hawks defense has improved, especially thanks to the steals, the blocks are still not there, a disappointment when one considers the additions of Obinna and Fleming, both capable of increasing Saint Joe’s blocking capabilities. However, the addition of those two has not been enough to increase the team’s overall blocks per game.

3. No Changes, but the A10 got worse

It is not a secret this year is a down year for A10 basketball, and there were some numbers that showed the overall down trend the conference is on. For example, turnovers were a stat where SJU has stayed the same, however, they have increased their ranking the A10 for this category. In plain terms, Saint Joe’s increased their standing in the A10 by staying the same and letting the rest of the league get worse.

Last year, Saint Joe’s had the worst ball security in the A10 turning the ball over 13.5 a game. This year, SJU has turned the ball over 13.7 times, and is only 8th in the conference. I am happy to see that SJU is no longer last in the A10 in this category, however, it’s not much of a comfort. Ranking 8th in the conference doesn’t take away the fact that 13 turnovers a game is a lot and has cost this team many games. For example, when SJU played FDU and turned the ball over countless times during the final 7 minutes of play.

One thing to note, I expect most of these stats to change as the teams in the conference play one another. These stats, and A10 rankings, are all non-conference based. It may be worth checking in three weeks from now to see if non-conference schedules proppred some team’s stats up more than others, I am sure it did for some!

Conference Play

Last year, Saint Joseph’s finished with a 5-13 in conference play. This year, the team will look to improve on that record and finish at .500 by the end of this season, a benchmark fans expected this team to hit two years ago. Now, I won’t make any predictions of a record on this team. Instead, I will point out some key stretches in the season that will make or break their .500 record.

When I took a quick glance of the schedule, the first thing that jumped out was the stretch of games from 1/7/23 to 1/16/26. This includes games against Fordham, Duquesne, Loyola Chicago and La Salle. While Fordham and Duquesne are improved programs, Saint Joe’s is still capable of beating them. In addition, the Hawks kick off their season against two of the best teams in the conference in SLU and Dayton, but luckily, only have to face them once this year. After the tough two game start, the four games from 1/7-1/16 will be critical in order to build some type of momentum. Historically, A10 play goes by quickly, if you drop 5 of your first 6, its hard for a team to wake up and climb out of that hole.

The stretch of games from Jan 25th to February 11th will also be critical as those are more winnable games for the team.

I believe this is a more favorable A10 schedule for Saint Joe’s. They get to face Loyola, La Salle, GW and Duquesne twice is better than having to play VCU, Dayton or SLU that many times. However, favorable matchups and schedules do not mean guaranteed wins, far from it…

Overall Outlook of the Program

Saint Joe’s 21-22 season could be summarized by the terrible losing streak they closed the season with. The streak included three embarrassing losses against La Salle. The Hawks also lost eight of their last nine games to end the season. Their final game, which was in the A10 tournament, was especially depressing. The starters looked awful. They had slouched shoulders and no confidence in their own ability as they lost to La Salle for a third time. That is when I started to turn on Coach Lange. It was at this moment, when the team looked like they didn’t care, where we saw all of Saint Joe’s issues on full display.

Now, this year, Coach Lange is fighting for his job. AD Jill Bodenstiner has not made any comment on Coach Lange’s standing, and has continued to stick by him. In addition, Saint Joe’s does not have a President, so I see there being minimal internal pressure on the school to make changes. However, from the position of most fans, including myself, I believe Coach Lange is fighting for his job this season, even if there is no indication that it is under threat. The school may not make a change, but in my eyes, this A10 schedule is his last gasp at winning back some support from the fan base.

Defense is the Key

The good news for Coach Lange is that while there were some bad losses to start this season off, the Hawks have had a small bounce back. Losing to Villanova was not fun, but the energy and defense the team brought was exactly what I have been waiting for. In addition, that wasn’t a one and done effort, the team came out against Sacred Heart and Central Connecticut and played with the same lock-down defense. The defensive aggression resulted in them properly defeating both schools in a way that Hawk Hill fans have been waiting for. No more close games like FDU and Lafayette; they were finally able to secure a few run away games to boost their confidence

It is clear that if Saint Joe’s wants to be a .500 team they need to keep up the defensive effort. The shooting numbers have stayed flat, and the team’s half court scheme is not something to be envious of. However, good defense will keep the Hawks in games. It helps stop their opponents from scoring, and it also leads to easy transition points. In addition, their improvement in getting to the free throw line is also promising. They have increased their attempts thanks in part to the guards willingness to attack the paint. The A10 is a guard oriented league, and Saint Joe’s has three of them who know how to get to the free throw line, even with the ridiculous amount of three point attempts.

Also, let’s not forget the front court, where Kacper Klaczek and Rasheer Fleming have been monumental to the team’s success, with the former recently coming out of his shell and showcasing his improvement from last year. In addition, Senior Cameron Brown is also having the best year of his career. He is shooting 45% from three this season and averaging the most points per game of his Saint Joe’s career. His improvement in rebounding is also worth noting. Finally, all the team needs now is Obinna to return to his form last year and they may have something to work with, if they continue the level of intensity and focus from the last three games.

What to Look For: Predictions and Expectation

I am not saying this is going to be the Hawk’s year, or that they are going to win the A10. Far from it. What I do believe is that there is room for improvement, and this is a point Matt Gifford from 247 sports made the other day. This team is young, with freshman and sophomores running the offense. If the three guards can mold and mature together, this team will learn and improve over the year.

What we can’t have is a repeat of 2021-22, if that happens, then the program will be open to every and all criticism. This is a Philly school, the fans want players who show they care, and who play hard even down to the final minute of a blowout loss.

Play with incredible effort, and Hawk Hill will tolerate a .500 record where the team improves and ties winning steaks together. That is what we have been waiting for 4 years, and it’s time Coach Lange delivers it. Turn up the defense, attack the rim, make smart decisions with the ball, and most importantly play with intensity and heart. Do that, and this team can quickly find itself in the 7-10 range of the A10 standings.

Saint Joe’s will begin its A10 play with a matchup against Saint Louis. The game is scheduled for 12/31/2022 at 1:00pm est, and will be aired on ESPN+.

Like the coverage and want more? Follow me on twitter (@Jelly_Morelli) and check out my Saint Joe’s podcast, Hawk Talk! (@HawkTalkSJU)

A former D1 Athlete at Saint Joe's, Tony has earned both Undergrad and Graduate degrees from SJU. As an athlete, he was apart of a A10 team title. As ...