If there’s one thing that hasn’t been on SJU’s side these past 2 seasons, it’s luck. Injuries seemingly compounded on another from 2016-18, and the Hawks had a difficult time making noise in the conference. Last season featured Charlie Brown and Fresh Kimble missing the entirety of the season, and the year before saw injuries to Kimble and Newkirk among others. This was of course following an A-10 Championship in 2016 followed by a trip to the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament. Saint Joseph’s would go on to lose studs Isaiah Miles and De’Andre Bembry, but talent isn’t lacking in Hawk Hill — it just hasn’t been healthy.
Now, SJU has a chance to make noise in an Atlantic 10 conference unlike any we’ve seen before. The flagships — VCU and Dayton — aren’t popular picks to go dancing this year after they both missed the tourney for the first time in seemingly ages last season. Rhode Island is likely to take a step back after graduating a plethora of senior guards and losing its coach to UConn. Davidson and Saint Louis appear to be the frontrunners, but the Wildcats will have to replace A-10 POY Peyton Aldridge, and Travis Ford still has plenty to prove. GMU and UMass make interesting cases, but are they capable of pulling it off?
Saint Joseph’s may be one of the more underrated teams in the conference based on way-too-early pre-season projections. However, if the Hawks get healthy and see improvements from its studs (Kimble and Brown), there’s a real chance this team could make a run at the league title. Here’s 5 reasons you should consider the Hawks as contenders in this year’s A-10 race.
1. Freshman Jared Bynum is going to be a stud
If you didn’t catch it, A10 Talk’s Joel Revo caught up with incoming freshman Jared Bynum, and there’s reason to believe he’ll stand out under Phil Martelli. The 5’10” Georgetown Prep product may be small, but his game speaks volumes. Bynum had interest from Big Ten up-and-comers (Maryland & Northwestern) and ranks as a 3 star according to 247 Sports. The freshman prides himself on getting into the lane and finishing at the hoop, but he can also knock down the three ball with ease. SJU, a team that ranked 247th last season in 3P FG%, should be thrilled to add another perimeter shooter who can play on or off the ball. Add back Charlie Brown on the wing with sharpshooter Taylor Funk, and the Hawks could be deadly from range.
2. Charlie Brown has a chance to be an all-conference player
Did you miss him? Charlie Brown was hoping to return to action midway through last season, but a nagging injury kept him sidelined, ultimately leading to a redshirt year. As a freshman, Brown averaged 12.8 points and 5.0 rebounds per game, acting as an enormous catalyst in a year where nothing would go right for the Hawks. As I mentioned, the perimeter combo of Brown and Funk could be deadly, and Brown shot 38.4% from range as a freshman while having to carry more of a load than he expected to bear. Assuming Brown bounces back from his injury, we’ll see improvements from the star that made his A-10 debut back in the 2016-17 season.
3. Rising sophomores are an underrated force
I know many A-10 fans got to know Taylor Funk (he erupted right out of the gates at the start of last season), but the name Anthony Longpre’ didn’t circulate as quickly. While the freshman averaged just 4.3 PPG, he scored 31 points in his final 3 games of the season and hit 8 three pointers during the process. The big man’s ability to step out and hit the long ball could be huge, as we’ve seen the inside-out big man work wonders for teams like Davidson in the Atlantic 10. Should Longpre’ develop his post game some more, and Funk gets a bit more consistent as a shooter, the Hawks will have a very dynamic sophomore class.
4. The Hawks can compete with the best backcourts in the A-10
Who’s got the best core of guards in the conference? Mason, URI, and Davidson fans will all make a strong case. SJU though could compete with some serious talent if Kimble bounces back and becomes a star for this 2018-19 team. Kimble averaged 15.5 points and 4.5 assists per game as a sophomore, though his season was cut short. Injuries have prevented Kimble from becoming the best he can be at SJU, and I think this is the season we see him emerge as one of the best guards in the league. No Shavar Newkirk means it’s time for Fresh to step up, and with Jared Bynum as a talented sidekick, this backcourt could flourish among some tough competition.