Saint Joseph’s caught the injury bug early last season, and things never got better. Countless players went down, and Phil Martelli was left struggling to put a roster together. Luckily, he found a diamond in the rough in Charlie Brown, and other guys like James Demery and Markell Lodge really emerged as well. Though the Hawks would finish near the bottom of the league and fail to grab any big wins all season long, they’ve got a great outlook for this season. Some think this Saint Joseph’s team is a sleeper pick to make the 2018 NCAA Tournament. With the reemergence of injured stars, those predictions really can’t be that far off.
Injury plagued Shavar Newkirk early last season; it seemed he was off to a big year before tearing an ACL against George Washington on December 30th. Prior to missing the rest of the season, Newkirk was averaging an incredible 20.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.3 steals per contest. Had Newkirk kept those numbers up, there’s no doubt he would have been in the running for A-10 Player of the Year.
Before his injury, Newkirk was getting to the line at an incredible rate, shooting 85 free throw attempts in just 12 contests last season; he was also knocking down freebees at an 84.7% clip. Newkirk showed tremendous progression in his outside shooting as well, firing at 39.6% from deep where he shot just 30.3% sophomore year.
Bottom line: Shavar Newkirk looked like he was on the fast track to a career season before going down with an injury. Keep in mind, this was non-conference play, so some of his early number may have been inflated because of weaker opponents, but he still showed out against some of the nation’s better programs. 21, 23, and 22 point nights against Mississippi, North Carolina St., and Temple have to count for something. Newkirk’s abilities will come down to him being healthy, and when he is, expect him to be a sleeper pick for A-10 Player of the Year.
James Demery took on a much bigger role than initially expected last year. Subsequently, he had a chance to blossom into a much-improved player after getting healthy. Averaging 16.9 points and 6.7 rebounds per game in the Hawks’ last 7 games of the season, Demery found his stride on a bruised Saint Joseph’s team. Now, it’ll be interesting to see if he takes more of a backseat or remains a focal point with a healthy Newkirk and Kimble. My impression is that the rising senior remains one of the better players in the league on the defensive glass; he also drew 6.5 fouls per 40 minutes in league play last year and had the 5th best free throw rate in the conference. Demery needs to continue cleaning the glass and improve from last year’s 59.1% clip at the charity stripe.
The rising senior has yet to log serious minutes under Phil Martelli, but his production did spike late last season in lieu of Saint Joseph’s injury bug. Williams offered two contests with 8 rebounds, despite seeing less than 25 minutes of court time in both. Should the Hawks decided to go bigger and play for boards next year (they were 4th in the league on the defensive glass), Williams may earn a more consistent place in Martelli’s rotation. Otherwise, I expect Markell Lodge to be more of the go-to-guy in the post next season.
Kimble offers plenty of firepower as a rising junior and a chance to be A-10 Player of the Year in 2 seasons. Again, transitioning out of a season-ending injury is never easy, so like E.C. Matthews had to do last season, Lamarr Kimble is going to have to be patient. A close road loss to Dayton before Kimble’s injury featured 25 points and 10 assists from the dominant sophomore. Without Shavar Newkirk at the helm, Kimble had some time to take over this Hawks team, and though he didn’t get a ton of help, he helped Martelli’s guys battle through some close losses towards the middle of last season. I think Kimble will come back with a bang this year, and Saint Joseph’s could sneakily have the best duo of guards in the Atlantic 10. Don’t tell St. Bonaventure I said that!
Here’s my sleeper on Saint Joseph’s 2017-18 team. Sophomore Chris Clover blossomed late last season due to the availability of court time. Maybe all it took was some minutes for Clover to show he can hang in the A-10. Clover came out of nowhere and averaged 12 points per contest in the Hawks’ final 8 games of the season. We’re talking about a guy who scored 0.5 points per contest his freshman year. His 21 points and 5 assists were the reason why Saint Joseph’s outlasted La Salle at home; he also dropped 21 on VCU at the Siegel Center. The best part about the rising junior is that he can take care of the basketball. With the 2nd best turnover rate in the Atlantic 10 last year, Clover plays with poise. Expect big things from the junior this season.
Markell Lodge was quietly the most efficient player in the Atlantic 10 Conference last year. His 131.1 offensive rating according to Kenpom ranked 9th in the nation; he also led the A-10 in the same metric. Why was Lodge so efficient? He really didn’t miss any of his shot attempts. Shooting 74.1% from the floor all season and 81.2% in A-10 play, it was hard for Lodge to miss such easy shots inside. He was effective in other areas as well, with the 6th best block percentage, the 8th best turnover rate, and top 20 offensive and defensive rebounding percentages in the conference. Basically, Lodge did everything right when he was on the floor. The one area he needs to improve on is fouling; he committed 4.6 per 40 minutes last year. I’d love to see what Lodge is capable with more playing time this season, but he’s going to have to stay out of foul trouble if he wants to make a big impact.
Robinson proved to be one of Saint Joseph’s better defenders and rebounders last season; he was one of just 4 Hawks to play in all 31 contests last year. Though he never erupted, Robinson could always be relied upon for a couple of boards and a few good plays on defense. He had the 21st best block percentage in the conference as a freshman. Don’t expect his minutes to skyrocket this season, but he’ll remain an integral player off the bench.
In the midst of Saint Joseph’s unlucky injury bug, Charlie Brown was a bright spot. Though the Hawks’ season was somewhat of a disappointment, they’ve got one of the best up-and-coming players in the A-10. Charlie Brown played with the poise of a senior as a freshman. From January 10th until the end of the season, Brown would score in double digits every single night. When a team is short on players and relies heavily on a few studs, those studs tend to lose efficiency from the floor: not Charlie Brown. The freshman shot 38.4% from deep and cashed in on 81.9% of his free throw attempts. Brown did all of this while playing a lion’s share of minutes: 84.8% of them to be exact. With Newkirk and Kimble returning, Brown could be even more lethal as a scorer and threat from all over the basketball court. The Hawks will have to find a way to balance these 3 scorers.
Blount saw just 1.9 minutes per contest in 9 games during a season where the Hawks were short on depth. I wouldn’t expect his playing time to increase much with experienced players returning from injuries.
Oliva was the first victim of Saint Joseph’s injury train last season, but he got a redshirt year out of it. Now a sophomore, the 6-8 forward Oliva has a chance to be a valuable contributor off the bench. Particularly, I see Oliva as an emerging three point threat under Phil Martelli. Though he shot just 30.2% from deep his freshman season, Oliva hit some timely threes in the NCAA Tournament and proved that he could come in clutch. It’s worth noting that he could also be of help on the defensive boards, so he’s definitely a sophomore to keep an eye on.
Missing a majority of the season due to injury, Edwards didn’t get a chance to showcase his abilities as a freshman. Though this frontcourt will be a little crowded this season, there’s a chance Edwards gets to see some court time as he gets healthy once again.
At 6-9, Funk is a 3 star freshman that adds depth both inside and out. He averaged 24.3 points per game as a senior and knocked down 64 three pointers. He’s a shooter that should immediately help the Hawks on the perimeter but also give them a body to work with on the interior. I love the dual ability Funk offers.
Longpré’s another true freshman with a chance at being a role player in his first season. At 6-10 and 225 pounds, he becomes the tallest player on this roster and immediately could be a threat on the boards and in the post. He averaged 15.9 points and 8.9 rebounds a game at the high school level; if his ability to crash the boards carries over well to the collegiate level, the Hawks will have a very capable rebounder in Anthony Longpré.
Home– Princeton, Bucknell, Villanova, Maine
Away– Toledo, Illinois-Chicago, Temple, Penn (Palestra)
Neutral– St. John’s, Washington St., Harvard/Saint Mary’s, Georgia/Cal St. Fullerton/Sacramento St./SDSU
Though the Hawks have just 12 non-conference games scheduled, and 1 is during the middle of A-10 play, they certainly didn’t go easy on themselves. A marquee home matchup against Villanova will be the one to tune in for, as the Hawks hope this is the year they dethrone Jay Wright’s Wildcats. Saint Joseph’s has 4 true road games before league play; that said, Martelli’s 2015-16 Hawks were 9-1 on the road, so I don’t think he’s worried. I wouldn’t sleep on the Hawks in the Wooden Legacy either; a second round dual with Saint Mary’s could be more exciting than the championship game. The other side of that bracket honestly has little to offer.
Home – Dayton, Duquesne, Saint Louis, VCU, Fordham, George Mason, La Salle, Massachusetts, St. Bonaventure
Away – Davidson, George Washington, Rhode Island, Richmond, Fordham, George Mason, La Salle, Massachusetts, St. Bonaventure
The Hawks’ schedule actually sets up pretty nicely to accumulate a lot of conference wins. Dual matchups against Fordham, George Mason, La Salle, and Massachusetts could honestly lead to 6 or 7 wins right there. The Hawks also get Dayton, Saint Louis, and VCU at home, which could all be big wins with the team Phil Martelli is returning. I think the Hawks got one of the best conference slates, and this could lead to a Top 5 finish.
Non-Conference Record: 9-3
Conference Finish: 3rd in the A-10
Starting Lineup: Lamarr Kimble, Shavar Newkirk, Charlie Brown, James Demery, Markell Lodge
X-Factor: Lamarr Kimble
Biggest Sleeper: Chris Clover
Most Improved: Markell Lodge
MVP: Shavar Newkirk
I really like what the Hawks have to offer this year; I think they’ll rebound nicely from a down season and capitalize on a star backcourt in Shavar Newkirk and Lamarr Kimble. Also, added depth in the frontcourt leads me to believe this team will finish close to 3rd and even have an outside shot at winning the league. A formidable and experienced core of starters will keep Phil Martelli’s Hawks very competitive in this year’s Atlantic 10 conference, and looking forward, there’s a good chance they’re back in the Big Dance come March. A lot will come down to how quickly Newkirk, Kimble, and company are able to shake off the rust. Luckily, Saint Joseph’s also has an up-and-coming star in Charlie Brown, so things should run smoothly in Hawk Hill this season. All in all, this should very well be the A-10’s most-improved team from last season.