Saint Joseph’s may have been hit the hardest by offseason departures, more than any other team in the Atlantic 10. When the A-10 Player of the Year moves on to the NBA, and your stud senior who led the team in points and rebounds graduates, it’s never easy to bounce back. The Hawks’ talent led them to an A-10 Tournament title and a first round win in the NCAA Tournament over Cincinnati. The Hawks were road warriors last year, going 9-1 in true road games and showing that they were capable of playing at a high level all season long. Though the Hawks will not be the preseason favorites to win the conference tournament this year, Phil Martelli’s squad will return some valuable talent that’s capable of making a huge splash this season.
DeAndre’ Bembry is an obvious name in this category. As a junior, Bembry won A-10 POY honors and had an impressive showing in the stat line. The junior’s 17.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game showed that he was a threat all over the court, doing anything and everything for his team. One of the smoothest and most versatile players the Atlantic 10 has seen in quite some time, DeAndre’ Bembry was drafted 21st overall to the Atlanta Hawks after choosing to forgo his senior season with, well, the other Hawks.
Isaiah Miles may have been the most under-appreciated player in the league last year. Despite averaging 18.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game last season, the senior didn’t even make first-team A-10. Though he was often considered to be Robin to Bembry’s Batman, he shot the ball more effectively from all over the floor and actually had a better offensive rating according to Kenpom. He’ll be one of the toughest players for Martelli to replace, as his impact rivaled Bembry’s as the most crucial to the Hawks’ 2015-16 team.
Aaron Brown and Papa Ndao were very important pieces that have since graduated. Brown was a solid shooter who could be called upon to score double digits on any given night. Ndao was a great glue-guy for this Hawks team, making hustle plays and scoring timely buckets all season long. Though Brown and Ndao did not fill up the stat sheet quite like Bembry and Miles, they were vital pieces to this team, and with their departures, the Hawks are going to have to find immediate replacements who can step up and fill greater roles.
The Hawks bring in 4 freshmen that could all be impact players right off the bat for this team. 3 star small forward Charlie Brown Jr. is the highest ranked player in Saint Joseph’s 2016 recruiting class. The Philly native chose the Hawks over A-10 rivals La Salle and VCU; Brown Jr. is a knock down jump shooter, so expect him to help make up for the loss of downtown threat Isaiah Miles. Chicago native Nick Robinson also comes in as a highly-touted recruit for these Hawks. Robinson loves to use his size and versatility to his advantage, attacking off the dribble and finishing at the hoop. He’s got the frame of a power forward and the quickness of a point guard. The Hawks also add two frontcourt pieces in Lorenzo Edwards and Gerald Blount. With Pierfrancesco Oliva having to miss the entire season due to a knee injury, these two should get loads of playing time down low. The success of this Saint Joseph’s team is going to depend a lot upon how well these freshmen are able to perform.
The Hawks, though they may lack some depth in the frontcourt, we’ll return a duo of talented guards that could give this team a serious boost in the 2016-17 season. Junior Shavar Newkirk will likely play starting point guard this season, but he and Lamarr Kimble often shared minutes at the 1 last year. Though neither of them spent much time playing the 2 last season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see both spend a lot more time in both positions in 2016-17. The two guards were the 5th and 6th best scorers on last year’s team and also the 2nd and 3rd best passers in terms of assists. Both have a chance to make major strides this year as long as they’re both on the court frequently and don’t share minutes like they tended to do last season.
Pierfrancesco Oliva was expected to be a pivotal returning piece to this year’s Hawks team, but his season-ending injury puts Phil Martelli’s team in an even deeper hole. The only other significant returning player is James Demery who averaged 8.1 points and 3.6 rebounds per game last season. Demery has game and can be relied upon for productive nights, but he is not a threat from long range and it’s questionable whether or not he can emerge into a dominant scorer; his highest scoring performance last season was 17 points on two separate occasions. After that, you start getting down to guys that averaged fewer than 1.0 point per game last season. Guys like Javon Baumann and Markell Lodge could see a lot more court time this season after averaging less than 5 minutes per game last year.
Saint Joseph’s has a lot of chances to prove its worth in the non-conference portion of the season. The Hawks will have a tough home test against Temple before turning around and playing at Villanova, a team that’s going to be in the conversation to win back-to-back national titles. Saint Joseph’s will also play in the U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam where it will have a first round matchup against Loyola (Chicago). If it’s able to make it to the Championship, this team will likely face off against Creighton or NC State, two teams that are very similar in terms of talent this season. Also, don’t sleep on away games at Princeton and Illinois State, as those are two teams that Kenpom projects to beat the Hawks in the non-conference portion of the season.
Conference play poses similar challenges. Saint Joseph’s will have to face tough teams in Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure, and La Salle twice. Not to mention that the Hawks will have to play road games against Dayton and VCU. That said, there will be parts of the schedule where the Hawks can really gain momentum. Starting with a home game against George Mason and ending with a home game against Fordham, the Hawks have an 8 game stretch where Kenpom projects them to go 7-1. Though they’ll have some tough road games following this stretch, the Hawks may be able to score some key wins and build some momentum heading into the final stretch of the season. Overall, Kenpom predictions have Saint Joseph’s finishing 15-13 (9-9 A-10).
This is, no doubt, a rebuilding year for Phil Martelli, and no matter how you look at it, there’s really no way of Saint Joseph’s being as good as it was last year. That being said, Hawks fans should still have hope. This is the year to get things moving in the right direction. Shavar Newkirk, James Demery, and Lamarr Kimble all have more than one season remaining with the Hawks. They’ve also already got 2 commits from the Class of 2017. This year is really about seeing what everyone is capable of and growing as a team. These freshmen really have a chance to fill major roles in their first years, which is something you don’t see every day in college hoops. If this team utilizes its young talent and makes the most of a rebuilding year, it’s going to be back to the Big Dance in no time. I’d say that this team’s ceiling is a trip to the NIT, which would be a huge accomplishment given the lack of experience in this 2016-17 roster.