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Saint Joseph’s Season Preview: Predicting Records, Lineups, and the Future of Hawk Hill

It is official, the start of the 2021-2022 season for Saint Joseph’s Basketball is only a few weeks away. With both the conference and non-conference schedules announced it is time to not only give the official preview of Saint Joe’s season, as well give the official prediction on what games the Hawks will win and lose this season. Compared to last year, this schedule will be very manageable for Saint Joe’s. This is especially true in regards to the non-conference schedule,  which compared to the non conference gauntlet from last year last year, appears to be well balanced with both challenging and undemanding games. 

Predicting Saint Joe’s Record

As a disclaimer, I am sure many will disagree with my prediction, and maybe even my preview. The comment will come through, “You really think Saint Joe’s is going to beat Rhode Island and George Mason this year!?!”. Well, yes, I do. But this is a non-scientific, non-data driven, prediction. It is a fun and optimistic prediction on how I believe a well improved SJU roster will fair this season, so enjoy. 

*Games highlighted are A10 Conference Games

Record: 16-14 (9-9 conference)

As I wrote in the massive A10 talk season preview piece, for many fans of Saint Joe’s basketball the Billy Lange experiment has been extremely painful. Last year the Hawks finished the season with a 5-15 record, which was the second losing season in a row under Coach Lange. This was due in large part to SJU also scheduling one of the most difficult non-conference schedules in the country as they battled with Covid related team pauses. 

However, looking forward to this season, Saint Joe’s is returning almost all of the pieces from last year, with the only major exception being the departure of star Ryan Daly. In addition to retaining players, Saint Joe’s also added talent with transfers Charles Coleman and Ejike Obinna, and Freshman Erik Reynolds and Kacper Klaczek. 

Season Preview

New Faces

Saint Joseph’s University was busy this offseason as they added two news faces at the center position. Ejike Obinna (Vanderbilt) and Charles Coleman (ECU) both joined the team this year as transfers. In addition to transfers, Saint Joe’s also has two notable freshmen join the team in Guard Erik Reynolds II and Kacper Klaczek. 

Transfers

Ejike Obinna and Charles Coleman were both pieces that Saint Joe’s needed to add over the offseason as the team desperately needed centers. However, they both arrive at Saint Joe’s after struggling in 2020-21 to replicate their play from years prior. While at Vanderbilt, Obinna had seasons that ran hot and cold. Some years, like 2019-2020 where Obinna averaged 4 points on 56% shooting and 4.3 rebounds, he showed decent production that would benefit Saint Joe’s if replicated successfully. However, as the Anchor of Gold SB Nation website pointed out, there has been some uncertainty around Obinna’s development. With some pointing to the fact his improvement during his redshirt year was underwhelming. Charles Coleman, 7 foot, 240 pound sophomore Center, had a freshman year where he played 30 games and averaged 3 points, 3 rebounds and 0.6 blocks. However as a sophomore Coleman saw the court in nine games for ECU, starting in none of them. 

Yet, even with both centers having slumps last year, they should still be a positive addition to the team. The first reason is eye test alone. Yes, the dreaded eye test. Every fan of Saint Joe’s should be able to see that having both Coleman and Obinna make Saint Joe’s better from pure size alone. Having a 6’8 Funk stand in at center last year was untenable for Saint Joe’s. While it’s fair to question both Coleman and Obinna’s ability to block based on prior stats, blocking stats alone can not explain the value of having a center who is 6’10 and 7’00 over one that is 6’8. Obinna and Coleman are taller and have wider wingspans, they will be able to disrupt shooters better than a 6’8 Funk who was meant to truly be a power forward. On top of this, Coleman and Obinna should be able to help block out and grab rebounds in addition to their ability to contest and disrupt shots. Yes, blocking is important for centers, but there are other attributes that matter at the center position which both Coleman and Obinna should be able to provide.  

Freshman

Next are the freshman. Jon Rothstein predicted that Erik Reynolds would make it into the starting lineup for Saint Josephs, which makes sense. Reynolds, one of the highest ranked recruits in Saint Joe’s history over the last few years, is a shifty 6’2 guard with incredible athleticism. With Jordan Hall clearly looking toward a future in the NBA, it will be critical to bring Reynolds up to speed on running the offense. In addition, having both Hall and Reynolds on the court together could open a ton of pick and roll opportunities. With a few centers on the roster, and two competent ball handlers together, the pick and roll opportunities could be Saint Joe’s go to play in the half court.

Another freshman who I am looking at is Kascper Klazcek. During the recent A10 talk podcast, Matt Gifford of 247 sports explained that the 6’8 Power Forward is a gritty and intense player. Kascper will look to bring a spark off the bench and integrate some Philly attitude that fans of Saint Joe’s will love, and teams of the A10 will hate. In reality, both freshmen could at some point find each other in the starting lineup at some point this season. However, as it is with all freshmen, there isn’t much to judge until we see them play. Reynolds is clearly one to keep an eye on, but don’t be surprised if the A10 is talking about both of these freshmen come February. 

Predicting The Starting Lineup

Billy Lange’s first roadblock for the 2021-22 season will be the selection of the starting rotation. With a plethora of roster options to choose from, Coach Lange will first have to determine the scheme he wants to run and plug in the pieces that can translate it into success. Over the past few years I have been critical of Lange’s desire to pace and shoot threes. I believe it has hurt Saint Joe’s more than it has helped, just look at the 3pt percentage numbers. 

Coach Lange went with this strategy for the past few seasons because Saint Joe’s had absolutely no size. The Hawks needed to spread the court and play fast, hoping the game would turn into a shoot out rather than a wrestling match in the paint. However, with the addition of new centers, Coach Lange will must find a balance between inside and outside scoring going forward. Shooting threes can be an asset for Saint Joe’s, but they must prioritize quality over quantity this year in order to find success. 

This brings us to the next question, what will the starting lineup be in order to find this balance? Jon Rothstein reported a few weeks ago, from a Saint Joe’s practice, and predicted that the starting lineup would be: Erik Reynolds, Jordan Hall, Taylor Funk, Ejike Obinna, and Charles Coleman. This lineup only includes two returners from last year in Funk and Hall, and three new faces; which may have an impact on immediate synergy for the rotation. In addition, this lineup seems to favor using size and strength over quickness and speed. A very different strategy compared to what SJU had done in previous years under Coach Lange. 

 

Another question around using this lineup is how much offensive pressure will be placed on freshman Reynolds, sophomore Jordan Hall to run the offense and create scoring opportunities? Redshirt Taylor Funk, SJU’s best three point shooter last year, will be the main scoring source for the Hawks. However even with a leader like Funk on the court, asking Reynolds and Hall to create assists with two big men in Obinna and Coleman, who lack experience in scoring, may be a challenge. Yet, while this can be a risky endeavor for Saint Joe’s, it also comes with great benefit. The opportunity to initiate the pick and roll with every player on the court could be devastating against teams. For example Funk, Obinna, and Coleman could all set picks, and Hall, Reynolds and even Funk could handle the ball. Not to mention four of the five starters would be above 6’7, giving each of those four the size and ability to set hard screens. Opponents can switch all they want, but if every player for Saint Joe’s can initiate their own pick and roll the teams they face will be hard pressed to match up with. It is easy to talk yourself into it, Saint Joe’s having great size and a deadly pick and roll could catch teams off guard. Especially when you consider that Hall, Funk and Reynolds can shoot from outside the arch as well. However, history has shown that theory is different from practice. 

Returners in the Starting Lineup

Even with all the potential issues, the starting five for this season is an improvement. First, as mentioned above, Saint Joe’s could be adding three new pieces to the starting lineup in the form of Erik Reynolds, Charles Coleman, and Ejike Obinna.  However, we still need to cover the other two Saint Joe’s players who are returning starters from last year.

Let’s start with Taylor Funk, who will be the unspoken focal point of this offense. Funk’s improvement under Lange has been criminally ignored over the past few years. Funk went from averaging 9.4 points a game, and struggling with health issues, to averaging 17.4 points and playing every game last season. The potential shift of Taylor Funk from center to small forward, if we go with Rothstein’s prediction, will give Funk more open opportunities to shoot from three. In addition, a major improvement in Funk’s game last year was his ability to drive to the rim on his own, yet it is still undetermined if he can do it against smaller and fastest small forwards rather than opposing centers. However, playing from the small forward position will allow him to help stretch the floor and get open looks from beyond, without being draped by the opposing center. Sure, playing power forward would probably be best for Funk. However, placing him at small forward will give him a size advantage at the position, ultimately making life easy when he posts up or goes to the rim on a backdoor cut. 

Taylor Funk/Photo courtesy of Sideline Photos

Jordan Hall

Next, this brings us to the guy who will be in charge of running that offense, Jordan Hall. Standing at 6’7 215lbs the sophomore combo forward averaged 10.6 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 5.7 assist during his freshman year. Hall was also voted to be a member of the Atlantic 10’s all rookie team for 2020-2021. During his rookie campaign, Hall went from a member of the second rotation all the way to the primary ball handler in a matter of weeks. Hall also finished second among A10 freshman in assist with 113 assists on the season.  However, he played six games less than the VCU freshman. Adrian Baldwin. who finished the season with 114. In 2020-21, Hall also had the most amount of rebounds on the season compared to all other A10 freshmen.

Hall’s impressive rookie campaign provided him the opportunity to try the transfer portal out in the spring of 2021, originally selecting to transfer to Texas A&M. After that, Hall then decided to test out the NBA draft. However, after checking out both the NBA draft, and transfer portal, Hall finally picked to return to Saint Joe’s and play under Coach Lange for another season. 

The breakout of Jordan Hall, and his eventual return, has been one of Coach Lange’s bigger highlights at SJU. Hall is an impressive player who has the size and athleticism of a legitimate NBA prospect. His court vision is elite, and regularly allows him to find open teammates in both transition and half court sets. While Hall’s height probably allows him to see the court better than shorter guards, his size also helps him to be a functional rebounder. In fact, Hall could lead the team in rebounds this season. This could happen because as schools work to box out SJU’s larger players, like Obinna, Coleman and Funk, Jordan Hall will be left free to hunt down balls against opposing team’s smaller guards. 

Another skill of Hall is his three point shot. Last year he averaged 35% from three. However, if you looked at the game log you would notice that his average was down due to poor performance at the start of the season. Starting his freshman year, as one would expect, he had a hard time adjusting to the college three. However, when one looks at the game log it can not be ignored that he improved his three point shooting as the season went on. If Hall can shoot two for five every night, which is a reasonable goal, it would leave him at 40% shooting on the field and would help stretch the floor for him. All of this to say Jordan Hall has the complete package to lead this team. Yes, he has not played with traditional centers yet, so adjusting to Obinna and Coleman should be top of mind for the coaching staff. Hall also struggled with turnovers last year. However, if he is as good as advertised he should begin to improve as a player by reducing those turnovers while simultaneously increasing the assists. Finally, Hall has the size to defend, rebound and block out opposing teams. He also has the skill to find open players, jump start a transition offense, drive the lane, and pull up from three. I doubt Hall will lead the team in scoring, that will probably be left to Funk. However, Hall has all the intangibles to make this team succeed under Lange. Jordan Hall’s contribution in literally every facet of the game is the key to Saint Joe’s climbing the A10 standings this year. 

Other Notable Returning Players

While determining the starting line up will be important for Coach Lange, the success for Saint Joe’s in 2021-2022 also resides in the play of the bench and rotation players. The improvement of Dahmir Bishop, Cameron Brown, Jack Forrest, Rahmir Moore, and Jadrian Tracey will determine Saint Joe’s success. This group of five will be interchangeable between the starting lineup and the bench. Billy Lange will have many looks to present for the team. So many looks that each one of these guys could find their way into the starting lineup depending on the competition Saint Joe’s faces. 

That is what these five players so important. Look no further than Cameron Brown and Rahmir Moore. These two have now been at Saint Joe’s for three years, all under Coach Lange. They are also two players who bring extreme intensity, probably the most on the team. Rahmir Moore plays hard defense and is always looking to charge the lane and dunk on an unsuspecting victim. Cameron Brown also plays hard defense and has the skill set to score from three and run the offense in a half court set. However, both of these players are inconsistent, and even had setbacks last year from a production standpoint, especially when compared to their freshman years. 

Now, both did move from the starting lineup to the bench last season, however, Saint Joe’s fans should expect these two to be efficient from the floor. Yes, they may not score as much. But moving to the bench doesn’t justify a decrease in shooting percentage and increase in turnovers, as was the case for Rahmir Moore

Dahmir Bishop is another individual who will need to improve this year. Averaging only 7.7 points on 32% shooting, Bishop struggled to find his offensive rhythm within the team. He averaged over five three point attempts per game and only shot 28%, an improvement from his 11% at Xavier. Bishop, like Brown and Moore, is a player who has the physical size and skill to be a good finisher at the rim. He will need to improve his shot selection this year, but if done right, could be an amazing wingman for a second unit co-run by Cameron Brown.

Finally, this brings us to the two players who showed great improvement and potential last year. That would be Jack Forrest, who I believe should be in the starting lineup, and Jadrian Tracey. Forrest, who transferred from Columbia last year, and who was injured half way through the season, averaged 10 points, on 44% shooting from the field. Forrest had no issues transitioning from the Ivy to the A10, in the process increasing his scoring and adjusting fairly well defensively against bigger and faster opponents. The 6-5 guard has the size and athleticism to be a good shooting guard or small forward for Saint Joe’s, and as Matt Gifford from 247 sports said the last A10 talk podcast episode, the coaching staff for Saint Joe’s believes Forrest has adjusted to A10 play well enough to be a reliable defender on the wing. Jadrian Tracey is another player who showed promise with his best game being an 18 point outing against George Mason. Tracey has a decent corner three which could help bring bench scoring for the Hawks. The question for him will be if he can hit it consistently enough to justify minutes in Lange’s rotation. 

To some degree or another each of these rotation players have a lot to prove this season. Moore, Forrest, Bishop, and Brown are now upperclassmen. As such, they need to show their maturity and carry the bench when needed. They will also need to step into the starting lineup when called upon. We know how good Hall and Funk are. What we don’t know is how good these four players will become, and that is an important question to answer to determine Saint Joe’s success this year. 

My Final Thoughts

In my humble opinion, Coach Lange should go with a starting lineup of Hall, Reynolds, Forrest, Funk and Obinna. Forest is probably the next best three point shooter on the team after Funk and Hall. In addition, Forrest’s defensive ratings were within the top half of the team, not to mention Forrest’s games against Kansas, Auburn and Davidson show that he can have big games against good opponents. 

Coach Lange is going to have an endless amount of combinations to select from for a starting lineup this year. SJU has the personnel to go big and protect the rim, or go small and space the floor with threes. They can prioritize rebounding or focus on shooting threes. The diversity in size and skillset makes for endless possibilities. However, I have a feeling that the lineup Jon Rothstein tweeted out will be the one that Lange rolls with. While I did recommend a lineup of my own, getting to it was not easy. I can still talk myself out of putting Forrest in and selecting Cameron Brown or Dahmir Bishop instead. Even putting Coleman in the lineup is justifiable if size becomes such an issue. With a bench this deep, Coach Lange will need to identify on a night to night basis who has the hot hand and allocate minutes accordingly, whether it be Bishop, Brown, Moore, Forrest, Tracey, or Klazcek. 

Any one of those guys could be pivotal to helping the second unit keep SJU in games, or helping the starting rotation compete on a nightly basis. All of this to say Coach Lange has a buffet of options to select from and we may have a multitude of starting rotation throughout the season. The test for Saint Joe’s will be finding the one that works best against each opponent.

From imposing size, to small ball ‘pace and space’, Saint Joe’s will have incredible flexibility in how they play. Saint Joe’s also has the leaders required in redshirt senior Taylor Funk and sophomore Jordan Hall to command the Hawks. In addition, both Hall and Funk should be looking to make one of the three A10 all conference teams at the end of the season. Another factor in favor of the Hawks is that Saint Joe’s has softer non-conference schedule, and improved roster thanks to transfers. As I mentioned at the start of the piece, Billy Lange is entering his third year and has to win at least half of these games in order to keep fans on his side. Luckily I believe this season should result in a 16-14 (9-9 conference) record. However, the pressure is on for Coach Lange to perform this year, and to bring the Hawks an above .500 record for the first time in over six years.