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A10 Tournament Preview: A Streaking Saint Joe’s to Face off Against UMass

The Saint Joseph’s Hawks and the UMass Minutemen will play each other in the second round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament today at 1:00pm EST. The game will be shown on NBCSN. This will be the first matchup between these two programs for this season.

Saint Joe’s is HOT HOT HOT!

The Saint Joseph’s Hawks beat the La Salle Explorers, 72-66, in the first round the Atlantic 10 Tournament. This was Saint Joseph’s fourth win in a row. This is also their longest win streak in over three years. The last time Saint Joe’s won four games in a row was in the 2017-2018 season. In that year Saint Joe’s finished the regular season with three wins and advanced one round in the A10 tournament. 

Yesterday, the Hawks were led by guard Ryan Daly who finished the game with 23 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists. Daly was effective inside the paint, shooting 7-15 from within the three point line. 

Jordan Hall also played a critical role, specially at the free throw line. The rising freshman star finished the game with 17 points, 7 rebounds, and two assists. Hall also went 10-11 from the free throw line. Seven of Hall’s free throws came in the final five minutes of regulation to help close out the win for Saint Joe’s. Overall, Saint Joe’s was able to take care of La Salle in the final minutes of regulation and advance to the second round of A10 tournament. 

UMass’s Strengths and Strategy

There is no doubt that UMass’s number one strength is found in Tre Mitchell. The 6-9 Center is UMass’s top scorer, averaging 18.1 points a game this season. Tre Mitchell will be top of mind for the Saint Joe’s Hawks in tomorrow’s game. Saint Joseph’s has almost no interior defensive presence, and will have to throw multiple doubles at Mitchell in order to protect the paint.

Before writing this piece I was invited to join UMass fans on the social media site Clubhouse. During the meeting we discussed the upcoming game and shared information on the two programs. One thing that the UMass fans kept mentioning was if UMass Coach Matt McCall would utilize a press defense. This was interesting considering that Saint Joe’s Jordan Hall, the Hawk’s primary ball handler, is subject to committing turnovers when a team initiates a full court press. If UMass goes to its  full court press it could cause some early issues for the Hawks.

Speed it Up, or Slow it Down?

Another strategy that UMass needs to consider is the tempo of which the team will play. Should UMass play fast and try to out score Saint Joe’s? Or should they play slow and look to grind down a short rested SJU team? Remember, Saint Joe’s plays a shallow rotation. Not to mention that this will be SJU’s 5th game in 13 days. UMass may look to play slow in the hopes that they will tire out an already short rested Saint Joe’s team.

In my opinion, if UMass wants to win they should play slow. Utilize Tre Mitchell and pound the paint to force Saint Joe’s into foul trouble. Remember, Saint Joe’s plays with a shallow rotation. Only one bench player scored for SJU in the La Salle game. Getting SJU into foul trouble early would be detrimental to Lange’s rotations and would be a major advantage for the Minutemen.

In addition, if your best player is a post operator the only way he will be effective is if you slow down the game and allow him to find space in the paint. Finally, playing fast is exactly the style Saint Joe’s is most comfortable at. UMass needs to slow down and utilize their size if they want to win.

Defense Will Win the Day

At the start of the 2020-2021 season it was evident that Saint Joseph’s defense was going to be an issue. While Taylor Funk has been phenomenal, he has the build of a power forward and not a true center. That means every time Saint Joe’s had to face a team like La Salle, who has size in Clifton Moore and Jared Kimbrough, the Hawks were unable to protect the paint. 

However, Saint Joe’s did prove yesterday that in the final minutes of a game they can lock down on defense, regardless of size mismatch. Against La Salle, Saint Joe’s only allowed two field goals in the final seven minutes of play. In total only giving up eight points in those final seven minutes.  When push came to shove Saint Joe’s was able to lock down and prevent La Salle from scoring.

While La Salle isn’t the most potent offense, something I state often, they still were shooting a decent percentage for the majority of the game. The Explorer’s shot 51% from the field, and 50% from beyond three, for the first half of play. By the end of the game they finished with 41% from the field and 32% from beyond three.  This drop in percentage shows how well Saint Joe’s played on defense in the second half. 

Defending La Salle vs. Defending UMass

The question going forward is how will SJU handle UMass’s Tre Mitchell? Mitchell is by far the most talented “Big Man” Saint Joe’s will face this season. Another issue is that Saint Joe’s did not play UMass once this year. It is not ideal that your second round matchup is the one A10 team you haven’t faced yet. Especially since the aforementioned team you are about to play has a player who can expose your ultimate weakness.

I am sure Coach Lange wished he saw UMass at least once in order to game plan for the best center in the A10. Containing Mitchell will be a challenge. However, look for Coach Lange to scheme his way out of this mismatch and stop Tre Mitchell.

Predictions

Yes, Saint Joe’s has had a resurgence thanks to Ryan Daly and Taylor Funk. The lineup of Funk, Daly, Moore, Brown, and Hall has been excellent on offense. However, the balance between offensive and defensive ability in Lange’s go to line up has made the biggest difference. Brown and Moore have brought the defensive aggression while Hall, Daly and Funk have generated tons of offense. This Saint Joe’s team is poised and have refused to let their season die.

However, on the other side, UMass is a team that has not won a single game since their Covid pause. In addition, Tre Mitchell has scored only 10 and 9 points in his last two games. If Tre Mitchell comes out and score 20+ points UMass should be fine. However, if he doesn’t, we may see a Wednesday team make it to Friday.

Personally, while I want Saint Joe’s to win, Tre Mitchell really worries me. For this reason I am going to lean towards UMass for this matchup. However, I hope that I am proven wrong.

Like the coverage and want more? Make sure to follow me on twitter @Jelly_Morelli and check out my podcast “Tony’s Takes” on Apple iTunes and YouTube.