Saint Joseph’s had its worst year as a member of the Atlantic-10 last season, but there’s a sense of more optimism in the building.
This year’s team is bigger, more athletic and features more playmakers. That should help the rebounding issues and result in better shooting percentages and easier shots this season.
St. Joe’s was picked to finish 12th of 14 teams in the A-10, which would be better than last season’s finish (tied for last).
“We have guys that can get up and down the floor, we have guys that can shoot the ball,” sophomore Cameron Brown said. “We all just want to win this year.”
Only one healthy eligible player from last season’s lineup – Ryan Daly – will be in the Hawk’s starting lineup on Thursday. Greg Foster Jr., Jordan Hall, Dahmir Bishop and Taylor Funk will also start against Auburn at the Fort Myers (Fla.) Tip-Off. Daly, Foster Jr., and Hall are the team’s best passers, and Funk and Bishop should be efficient inside the arc.
“[Dahmir Bishop and Greg Foster Jr.] are two of the better athletes that I’ve ever played with,” Daly said. “They get in the paint at will.”
Each player in the Hawks’ starting group is 6-foot-5 and above. This will allow them to be versatile and creative defensively. The guards will be bigger than their opponents on most nights, but the interior guys could be undersized.
“We’ve been trying to use our size, length and speed [on the perimeter] to try and get in transition, so I think we’re going to see a more aggressive defensive team,” Daly said.
“Even though we’re not always the biggest team, I feel like we can guard anybody on the floor because of our speed and the way we can fly around,” Brown said.
A deep bench may be more important this year than ever, given the circumstances. Rahmir Moore, Anthony Longpre, Myles Douglas and Brown will consume many of those minutes. Each of those players started 13 or more games last season.
“Really, Cam could start,” St. Joe’s coach Billy Lange said. “We’re trying to balance it. We think Cam can provide us a sixth starter in his role.”
St. Joe’s will play a lot of four-around-one and five-out lineups, which means Longpre and Funk will get most of the minutes at center.
And don’t forget the other freshmen. Point guard Jadrian Tracey’s defense will get him playing time, and even though center Anton Jansson is still developing, his size (6-11) and strength combo is unique.
“There’s a lot of players in those positions, but I think [Jadrian Tracey] warrants consideration for minutes as well,” Lange said.
The Hawks may have the most difficult start to a season of any team in the country. They open with Auburn, then play No. 6 Kansas and No. 3 Villanova. The rest of the nonconference slate is highlighted by a Big Five matchup against Temple and a road game against a much-improved Drexel team.
Conference play is where the Hawks will need to show their most improvement, and the schedule is balanced. The Hawks don’t have a stretch of more than two home or away games at any point, but it’s not like that matters this season.
“The advantage of home-court advantage is not going to be as much as it usually is,” Daly said. “The atmosphere could help a lot of teams, it could hurt a lot of teams.”
The A-10 will be tough this season, and there aren’t any easy stretches in the schedule for St. Joe’s. The Hawks played some of the league’s best teams tough last season, and with a deeper roster — albeit inexperienced roster — some of those games should turn into wins.