Throughout the offseason many fans questioned the direction that Saint Joe’s was headed in. In all honesty, much of the skepticism was warranted. Saint Joe’s had just lost Ryan Daly to the NBA draft process, a player who was the heart of scoring for the Hawks. Jordan Hall, after a breakout freshman season, had also initially transferred out after just one year. Saint Joe’s was about to enter Lange’s third year with few assets to account for, but with what only could be deemed divine providence, Hall returned to Hawk Hill after an unsuccessful NBA draft bid.
On top of all of this uncertainty from the offseason, were the ugly struggles from Lange’s first and second year at Saint Joe’s. The team finished with a 5-15 record in 2020-21, with the first win not arriving until January of that year. This terrible record only added to Saint Joe’s awful 6-26 record from the year before. With a roster decimated from a coaching change, a transfer portal that was much stricter than it is today, and the challenge of Covid and Ryan Daly’s injury in 2021, Coach Lange hadn’t had much luck or success. Sadly, many exploit Lange’s horrific record without considering these other outside factors, instead using them to condemn him.
Questions from October
Let us think back to October, when many A10 writers and commentators were all out on Saint Joe’s. Many said that Saint Joe’s should scrap the Lange project only two years in, ignoring much of the potential that was there. One example is the the player development of Taylor Funk, Ryan Daly, and Jordan Hall. All individuals who drastically improved under Coach Lange.
Another bright spot was Saint Joe’s recruiting. Lange was able to recruit Erik Reynolds II, Jordan Hall, Cameron Brown, Christian Winborne, and Kacper Klaczek. They all bought into Coach Lange’s vision, even with a losing record in front of their faces. Finally, Lange had worked the transfer portal to bring in the one thing A10 coaches struggle the most at recruiting, big men. Charles Coleman and Ejike Obinna were major pickups. Both adding Lange’s earlier transfer portal success when one considers additions of Forrest, and Bishop from the year before.
Yet, these potential hints toward success were not good enough to persuade detractors. Many questioned whether Jordan Hall would even be able to play with a center like Obinna. Many even questioned Obinna’s offensive and defensive skills, regardless of the fact he was coming from a tougher conference in the SEC. Websites, like A10 Talk, went so far to make predictions saying Saint Joe’s would finish with a 1-17 record. The fact is, people were ready to dismiss Saint Joe’s and label the Lange experiment a failure.
Luckily, there were those who still had faith and hope with the Lange tenure. In October, I had predicted that this team would finish 7-5 for a non conference record. With a Holy Cross cancellation, that brought us to 6-5; which is where I predicted Saint Joe’s to be. It was a modest improvement, but one where fans could reflect and think “we are moving in the right direction”.
To put it plainly, Billy Lange showed at the end of 2021 that when he had the right healthy pieces he could manufacture wins. Those wins at the end of the season proved to me that when Saint Joe’s was healthy the team could win and that Lange’s system would work better than it had over the last two years.
Luckily, Saint Joe’s has manufactured good wins this season with victories against Georgetown and Temple. Both teams were around the low 100’s in Kenpom when Saint Joe’s beat them. This doesn’t ignore the fact that there were also set backs. Saint Joe’s dropped two hard losses to Drexel and Monmouth. They also got blown out by Villanova and had a less than stellar performance against UMES.
Saint Joe’s Got Better, Its Okay to Admit It
However, in the end the team finished their non conference schedule strong and vastly improved when one compares this season to last, which is how one should view this team. Yes, 6-5 is not an overwhelming result. Yes, the on-court scheme needs to improve. However, when one considers that Saint Joe’s was 0-5 at this point in the season last year, there clearly has been improvement. In an ideal world, our scheme would be better. I would love nothing more than to see Lange insert a modified Princeton offense. However, that will never happen and I have reconciled with that.
But there are things to be happy with. According to Basketball Reference, Saint Joe’s had the fifth hardest schedule in the conference. With that schedule the Hawks were 5th in assists, 3rd in rebounds, and 4th in points when compared to A10 teams. That is pretty good for a team that was 5-15 last year. However, there are some improvements that still need to be made, the team was tied for last in steals, 5th in turnovers committed, and in the bottom half of the A10 for field goal percentage so far this season.
As mentioned before, the scheme is also in question. There are moments when it works, like the final play against Bradley where Saint Joe’s had three open looks on the road. And at other times it fails, like the inability to defend against Drexel. But, you can not deny there has been improvement. Yes, Saint Joe’s shoots a good amount of threes, but the style of play has changed from last year. The team does not chuck up wishful threes in the same manner they did two years ago.
The inside scoring has also improved thanks to the acquisition of Obinna, and will only get better as Erik Reynolds continues to improve. Coach Lange has also improved in his play calling. This year alone there has been a drastic improvement in defensive scheme, the team has reduced points allowed by over 12. Finally, on offense, the team has struggled, but one bright spot has been inbound plays, where Coach Lange has continued to find ways to get Funk the ball in critical moments where the Hawks need to establish momentum.
Saint Joe’s also has two players who are serious candidates for both first and second team all A10. Jordan Hall has impressed this year, the sophomore NBA prospect has averaged 16.6 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists this year. Hall has been voted A10 performer of the week, thanks to an incredible game against Penn where he scored 33 points on 63% shooting and accumulated 7 assists and 4 total rebounds.
In addition, Taylor Funk has averaged 14.2 points and 7 rebounds on the season. His best game was against Georgetown at the Wooden Legacy where he scored 29 points on 80% shooting, while also grabbing 7 rebounds. To put it plainly, Coach Lange has two players in which every team in college basketball would find a spot for on their roster, whether it be a starting role or bench rotation.
Let us also not neglect the improvement of other members on the roster. Anton Janson was a 7’00 freshman last year with no width or size. He would foul out against any opponent on any given night. Now, he is a reliable backup center for the team, putting in real minutes, and identifiable improvement with positioning on the court.
Dahmir Bishop has gone from a guard, too willing to shoot threes, to a serious on ball defender who features impressive explosiveness when near the rim. Lange has found a way to make every single person on the roster better, if they buy in. Forrest and Kacper are also players who come to mind. While they are struggling this year, I am willing to stake my reputation on the fact Lange will find a way to squeeze every ounce of talent out of them by the end of the season. I was right about the team being 6-5 and Hall being good, why not stop now?
Lange is Safe if He Stays at .500 This Season
In the end, the point of this piece is not to say all has been a success. It is also not to say that it was a complete failure. I don’t want to champion the fact that I predicted a 6-5 record. 6-5 is not something to cheer on, I will be the first to admit. Instead this was written to show that we have finally had the progress I always knew was possible. Saint Joe’s was in a bad spot when they fired Phil Martelli, the team was building from the lowest point possible. We had broken the coaching line that went all the way back to Dr. Jack Ramsay!
The wins were never going to come until the school had three years of recruiting pipeline fixed, regardless of who was coach. Yet, through trial and tribulation we look to be back on the path to success. This piece puts all of what has happened into perspective, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
However, this brings to me to the final point. When someone says, “Fire Lange, it can’t get much worse than this”, your response needs to be “oh yes, it can”. Or, kindly ask who would be the person to replace Lange? It’s easy to critique from afar than actually work to build a vision for “what can be”.
In the end, the truth is Saint Joe’s is clearly building toward success, regardless of what the casual naysayers proclaim. When anyone casually throws out that Lange is the worst coach in the A10, kindly point them to the recent transfer of Lynn Greer III. Point to the excellent recruiting of Reynolds and Winborne. Highlight the transfers like Obinna, who came in and found success under Lange. Guide them to the player improvement of Taylor Funk and Jordan Hall who have grown under Billy’s guidance. Finally, do not be afraid to point to our record. 6-5 is an improvement, especially considering the strength of schedule and where the team was a year ago. No matter how much they say Lange is a failure, do not concede. Instead, respond, with charity, and explain how the signs are there. Saint Joe’s is moving in the correct direction.