Underdogs: St. Joe's Takes Positive Attitude into NCAA Tourney
St. Joseph's headed to Brooklyn on the bubble. They came back to Philadelphia Atlantic-10 champions and a sure thing for the big dance. The Hawks blitzed through their league tournament, capping things off with an impressive win over nationally ranked VCU. Now they prepare for the NCAA tournament with a mindset that's nothing less than perfect.
After capturing the A-10 crown for the first time since 1997, St. Joe's stayed in New York to watch Selection Sunday. Hours later the team finally returned to campus and their loyal fans were waiting for them on Hawk Hill. The noticeably tired bunch of cagers were met with cheers, chants, drum beats, and overall good wishes from their most loyal of supporters.
Phil Martelli, the longtime St. Joe's head coach and some of the Hawks players addressed the students and others that came out late to greet the squad. "This championship is yours," Martelli told the gathering. These words carry weight at St. Joseph's. This isn't Duke or North Carolina where the crowds are overflowing and distant. It's much more personal. The St. Joe's faithful are just small enough to actually get close to their beloved coach, yet just big enough to have an effect of each and every Hawks home game. It is appreciated.
Back in early December, St. Joe's was stomped by Villanova. Martelli credited the student section for not losing faith following the 30-point drubbing. "You didn't have a lot to stick your chest out about after that night," Martelli said. "Now you can stick your chest out for the rest of the year." After that pasting from Nova St. Joseph's fell to 4-4. Since that game they are a lusty 20-5.
After sharing the A-10 trophy with their most ardent supporters Sunday night, the Hawks now turn their attention to their first game in the NCAA tournament. A 10-seed in the East Region, St. Joseph's will face 7th seeded Connecticut Thursday in Buffalo. A win there could set up a match-up against Villanova. Talk about sports theater.
First though, it is UConn. No slouch themselves, the 26-8 Huskies made the tournament with an at-large bid. Martelli admits he doesn't know UConn too well yet, but he is very familiar with their tough defense. "Their numbers are very, very startling for a coach thinking they're going to go up there and score the ball," said Martelli. "I'd probably label their defensive numbers as strong as any team we've played all year."
The balanced Hawks feature four players that average in double figures. Chris Wilson, who credits God for all his success, adds just over nine points per game, giving this group a lot of options. The leading scorer, Langston Galloway is looking forward to the challenge of the tournament. "I'm so proud of my teammates," Galloway told Breitbart Sports. "I'm so excited for the school and the tradition."
But, while the team is definitely pumped up, when it's time to lace 'em up it should be business as usual. "It really is just another game," Galloway said. "We only have one opportunity which is Thursday against UConn."
The other Hawks that average double figures in the scoring column are Ronald Roberts, DeAndre Bembry, and vocal leader Halil Kanacevic. "We're just a well balanced team," Kanacevic said. "We've been that way all year. That's what has made us such a good team." That said, the Hawks are still looking to get better in the postseason. "Guys have missed some shots we normally make," Kanacevic said with a strained voice that got a workout during the A-10 tournament. "Offensively we can still get better."
A scary thought for anyone standing in the Hawks way.
Most prognosticators don't have St. Joseph's going much farther than the third round. After all, if they beat Connecticut, that same Wildcat team that beat St. Joe's back in December will be waiting in the wings. But here's what some aren't realizing--St. Joseph's is not the same team. In some ways that big loss may have propelled this team to where they are now. They had a choice back in December to hang their heads or to stick together and improve. They chose the latter in resounding fashion. Now, they are red hot.
St. Joseph's may not have the talent or depth of some of the higher seeded teams vying for the NCAA title. When it comes to heart, grit, and determination, though, the Hawks are right at the top of the field. Let the madness begin.