Saint Joseph’s University finished their non-conference schedule last Monday with a loss to #8 Tennessee, ending their non-conference schedule with a disappointing 0-5 record. With Coach Billy Lange and Athletic Director Jill Bodensteiner’s ambitious schedule, the Hawks faced off against three top ten teams in the country, with four of their five opponents also within the top 70 Kenpom rankings.
For those with a short memory, the Hawks original schedule was already ambitious. However, after the Covid pause, and addition of Tennessee, the Hawks schedule became even harder. Instead of creating a mix of great and average opponents, Saint Joe’s found itself with a schedule that had only one reasonable game on it.
“We will play anyone, anywhere, anytime”
While Couch Lange’s mantra, “We will play anyone, anywhere, anytime,” sounds great, it may not have resulted in the desired outcome this team needs.
Saint Joe’s is still a program that is working to find an identity on both offense and defense. Although everyone needs a good soul searching, finding yourself on a journey that includes top 10 opponents should not be the strategy. How can a team figure out what works when every opponent is bigger, faster, and stronger?
Look. It was exciting to see Saint Joe’s create a competitive schedule. The school finally got rid of the Martelli/DiJulia non-conference schedule of teams such as Toledo, Marist, and Denver. No offense to those schools. But, if you want the Atlantic 10 to have three bids you need to schedule against reputable opponents. However, the real solution for Saint Joe’s may be in the middle.
The Two Extremes of Scheduling
Saint Joe’s has now seen the two extremes of non-conference scheduling. Previously, they had a lollipop schedule of average schools which usually resulted in an embarrassing loss or two. Now, SJU has one of the hardest schedules in the country, where every game is a blowout against the best college basketball has to offer.
The solution has to be in the middle. Compile a schedule with two ranked opponents, sprinkle in some Kenpom 50 through 100 opponents like Auburn, then take a page from La Salle and throw in a Delaware or Saint Peter’s. A balanced schedule offers so much more for a program like Saint Joe’s. They need easy opponents to solidify the identity and cohesion as a team, and top tier opponents to get recruitment exposure.
Kicking Off Conference Play
Around this time last year, I wrote a piece in which I foolishly said La Salle was “legit” after winning an impressive amount of non-conference games. The Explorers went on to have a poor A10 record due to the reality of their soft non-conference schedule. As for the Hawks, I expect them to do the opposite this year. I am hoping a grueling non-conference schedule against top teams will force them to apply their lessons learned in order to improve.
I think this non-conference schedule will have some role in ensuring that my prediction of Saint Joe’s going 8-10 in the conference still stands. For example, playing against Villanova, Tennessee, and Kansas taught Saint Joe’s the benefit of being disciplined and careful with the ball. It taught them that great teams are not just one trick ponies, but can do multiple things well.
If Saint Joe’s wants to have a good conference schedule, Coach Lange has to teach his team how to have energy and cohesion on defense. He needs to show them how to score from all over the court, not just from behind the three point line. That’s what the great teams do, and what the Hawks need to learn.
Saint Joe’s will kick off their conference schedule against VCU this Wednesday at 12:00 PM on ESPN+.