Who: Saint Joseph’s (2-1) vs. LSU (3-1)
When: 8:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Old Spice Classic – Orlando, Florida
TV/Radio: ESPN2 / CBS Sports Radio 610 (WIP – AM)
By JAMES HILL
After letting a great opportunity slip through their fingers against Creighton followed by 12 days to lick their wounds, the Hawks will take the floor Thursday with another chance to add a quality win to their resume.
Saint Joseph’s spent the preseason talking about achieving the team’s dream of making the NCAA Tournament – something no one on the team has accomplished. In a tournament that features teams like Oklahoma State, Memphis, and LSU, among others, the Hawks can make a statement to the selection committee with a strong performance this Thanksgiving weekend.
“We have a chance to play nationally ranked teams from BCS conferences on a neutral court,” explained Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli. “That’s what you want. That’s what everybody wants – not just the players and coaches. We want the same thing in March, so this is good practice for that.”
The Hawks dropped a tight game to now-20th-ranked Creighton in the final minute on November 16. Fortunately for the Hawks, that was just the first game in a seven-game stretch against top quality opponents. Next up: the Old Spice Classic in Orlando.
“You’re playing big-name teams with good players,” said Halil Kanacevic. “You want to win. It’s a great tournament and would be great to win – Oklahoma State, Memphis, LSU, Butler, I could go on and on. Obviously we want to win, and we know who’s in the tournament. Coach is trying to downplay it a little bit, but we know who we’re playing and what it would mean at the end of the year.”
The Hawks start the tournament with the LSU Tigers on Thanksgiving. The Tigers enter the game with a 3-1 mark, having dropped their season opener to UMass by two points. LSU, projected to be the last team in the NCAA Tournament field in Joe Lunardi’s preseason projection, is led by Andre Stringer’s 18.3 points per game. Johnny O’Bryant averages a double-double for the Tigers, tallying 17.8 points per game and 11.5 rebounds per game.
The Hawks will then play either Memphis or Siena in the second round on Friday. Oklahoma State, Purdue, Butler, and Washington State make up the other half of the bracket. The Hawks will face one of those four teams on Sunday.
“I think that having back-to-back games is a plus because you have to do that in the Atlantic 10 Tournament,” explained Martelli, listing some of the benefits of the holiday tournament. “I also like the fact that when we go to a tournament, there’s a tangible goal; there’s a championship trophy.”
Winning this championship would go a long way toward proving the Hawks belong in the NCAA Tournament discussion, as they would likely have to go through two top-15 teams – Memphis and Oklahoma State – to do so. With a goal of making the dance, this weekend provides too good of an opportunity to pass up for the Hawks.
“We try to prove a point every game,” said DeAndre Bembry. “Especially for the seniors in their last year who have never been to the NCAA Tournament. That’s not something I’d want to miss in my four years too. The seniors are trying really hard, so we’re just trying to push the team.”
-Scouting Saint Joseph’s: These two programs have met once before in their history: a 61-59 Saint Joseph’s win in December 1949…. Saint Joseph’s Halil Kanacevic is leading the Atlantic 10 with 7 assists per game, a rarity for a forward. He is third in rebounding with 9.3 boards per game…. Langston Galloway is fifth in the league in scoring, with 18.3 points per game. Ron Roberts is fourth in the league shooting 61.3 percent from the floor…. This is the third straight season in which the Hawks started 2-1 through their first three games.
Galloway’s rivalry: If you missed it, check out this story on Baton Rouge-native Langston Galloway playing his hometown team.
Scouting LSU: LSU’s freshman class was ranked ninth in the country by ESPN Recruiting Nation. The class is led by five-star power forward Jarrell Martin. Martin is joined by fellow ESPN Top-100 recruits Jordan Mickey, another power forward, and point guard Tim Quarterman. Those three started in the opener for the Tigers, but haven’t been on the floor together for the opening tap since…. LSU leads the country with 52 rebounds per game…. Last season, the Tigers finished 19-12 and failed to qualify for any postseason tournament…. Like the Hawks, LSU has not made the NCAA Tournament since 2008-09. As an eight seed that season, the Tigers lost to eventual national champion North Carolina in the Round of 32.