Watching a team during a rebuild is not for the faint of heart. It takes patience and understanding to watch a team that is an underdog almost every night. Saint Joe’s made it easy tonight after losing to Villanova 78-66. The Hawks proved to their fans that they care about winning. This team does not just roll over when facing superior opponents. This can be illustrated by the fact that the games SJU has won are games in which they were not the favorite. This past game against Villanova was closer than the games against Lafayette and Saint Francis (PA)! Saint Joe’s shows up for big games, it’s as simple as that.
However, that doesn’t mean you can not be critical of the team during the rebuild. In fact, being critical is probably best for a team that can afford to hear some. Criticism leads to learning, and that is what SJU is doing right now. To not criticize would mean holding back information and opinion that would improve the team. This is especially true since it’s hard to change someone who is already set in their ways. While I have had a positive outlook on this squad all season, this recent loss to Villanova requires some tough love.
Coach Billy Lange needs to implement an offensive scheme. Multiple times during the game against Villanova you could see five guys standing behind the 3-point line with no ball movement. Without a solid ball handler on the roster the strategy of having one man try to dribble penetrate the paint while everyone watches just doesn’t work. For SJU to upset teams there has to be ball cutting, screen setting, and base running for players to get open. This is especially true when SJU has to face a team that is bigger, faster and stronger. If half the roster isn’t capable of creating separation with the ball they need to do it off the ball.
I was harsh on Coach Martelli for never implementing some type of offense, and so it would be unfair or me to not point this out when Lange fails to implement a scheme. Standing and watching Ryan Daly dribble penetrate isn’t a strategy. A lot of the turnovers against Villanova were because guys were standing still and not moving. When you stand still your movements can become very predictable. When the defense can predict your moves it makes intercepting passing lanes a lot easier for them. It is a simple fact, smart ball movement creates efficient scoring and good ball protection.
Saint Joseph’s was still able to play well even with this lack of offensive system. The Hawks were down 45-21 at half time and were still able to tie the game with four minutes left. Saint Joe’s was losing by so much at the half that the announcers began to run out of topics to discuss. Yet, Lange was able to rally the troops and field a comeback led by Ryan Daly. At the start of the game Daly was slow from the floor. In fact, he had not made a single 3-point shot all game. However, Daly leveraged great free throw shooting to help kickstart his shot. Once in his shooting rhythm, Daly started to really click from the floor finishing with 32 points!
The Holy War, and the Big 5, have a special place in my heart. As a fan of SJU basketball I have never seen Saint Joe’s win a Big 5 title or beat Villanova. These are two things that are more important to me than winning an A1o championship. I think all the fans who have teams in the Big 5 would agree with that statement. The Big 5, and Holy War, are some of the best traditions in all of college basketball. This year, Saint Joe’s played with a lot of heart and showed that they take the rivalry against Villanova seriously. And while Coach Lange and the Hawks might have come up short, I have confidence that our eight year drought will end soon.