Watched all three of St. Joe's games in Hawaii on television and, other than the second half against Indiana, did not like much of what I saw. Too often, the basketball looked a medicine ball. Passes were an adventure. Nothing looked remotely cohesive.
Certainly, the Texas loss was understandable, but I just did not like how the Hawks were playing. I don't think much of Alabama and SJU was never really a factor in that game either.
The Lehigh win and Creighton loss did not inspire much confidence. This looked like a team playing without much joy.
Then, I went to Towson last week to a gym about a mile from where I grew up. And I saw a different St. Joe's team. Ball movement, shooting, spacing, running, everything. Given that it was Towson, I wasn't quite sure what to make of it.
I do know I went to Villanova last Thursday thinking much differently than I had before the Towson game. I wasn't sure the Hawks could score 40 against the Wildcats prior to their performance against Towson. After talking to several players following the Towson game, I got the sense the group was getting it together for the oldest of reasons. They did not like losing and were willing to do what it took to win.
I remember sitting next to Dustin Dow of the ``Cincinnati Enquirer'' during Xavier's rout of the 27-0 Hawks in the quarterfinals of the 2004 Atlantic 10 Tournament and asking him how the same team that lost to Duquesne twice during the regular season, could play a perfect game against a team that had been perfect. He told me how the players weren't getting along, but decided they liked losing even less than they liked each other.
I don't have any reason to think there are any internal problems with this St. Joe's team, but it was clear that they were very tired of the losing.
Obviously, SJU played a winning game at Villanova. Only the Wildcats toughness and a few loose plays prevented SJU from winning.
What the performance should have done is give the team some much needed confidence as they come back from final exams and then play Cornell, Siena and Drexel (all at the Palestra) and at Ball State before the A-10 begins in the second week of 2009.
Don't know where the Hawks will finish in the A-10, but I do think they are now a factor. Not the favorites by any means, but a factor.
Ahmad Nivins has raised his game several levels. His presence alone makes SJU an intriguing team.
Good news for Temple when Tennessee beat fellow ranked opponent, Marquette, 80-68, on Tuesday in Nashville. Owls fans should become big Vols fans. If Tennessee can compile a terrific record, that will only help Temple when the NCAA Selection Committee begins to assess teams next year. Meanwhile, the Owls just need to win as many games as possible, starting with a game against Kansas Saturday in Allen Field House, my favorite on-campus venue other than the Palestra.