College Basketball Nation: St. Joseph's Hawks

Video: St. Joseph's wins Atlantic 10 title

March, 16, 2014
Mar 16
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St. Joseph's joins the Big Dance after beating VCU for the Atlantic 10 championship.
Editor's Note: Over two days, we're releasing the brackets/matchups for 11 of the top early-season events. Starting Wednesday at 10 a.m. ET, we'll unveil the final six: Charleston, 2K Sports, Diamond Head, CBE, Wooden and Maui. A thread of previews and info for all 11 tourneys can be found here.

Tournament bracket for the Old Spice Classic

When and where: Nov. 28-Dec. 1 at the HP Field House at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Orlando, Fla.

Initial thoughts: The Old Spice Classic field has rarely, if ever, approached the density or strength of the Maui Invitational (historically) or the Battle 4 Atlantis (more recently). It typically, though, has plenty by which to recommend it, and in 2013 more than most. Oklahoma State star Marcus Smart will lead a Cowboys team determined to unseat Kansas at the top of the Big 12 into the Wide World of Sports Complex as the undeniable favorite, but Memphis won't be that far away.

Meanwhile, we'll get a very early look at whether new Butler coach Brandon Miller will be able to field a tournament-ready team just a few months after Brad Stevens' departure to the NBA's Boston Celtics. We'll see if Purdue can bounce back from an ugly (but in many ways promising) 2012-13 season. Will Saint Joseph's' band of returning seniors be ready to make the leap everyone anticipated and gave up on a season ago? LSU has an intriguing rebuilding group that might push the top half of the SEC. We'll also see if Washington State, after losing seniors Brock Motum and Mike Ladd, is going to be so bad as to put coach Ken Bone on the proverbial hot seat. There are a variety of things worth watching in this bracket, and that includes the hoop.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Smart
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelMarcus Smart returns for his sophomore season after Oklahoma State made an early exit from the NCAA tournament last season.
Matchup I can’t wait to see: St. Joe's versus LSU. This isn't the best game of the first round. That honor goes to Oklahoma State-Purdue, and, really, it isn't close. But St. Joe's and LSU are intriguing for slightly similar reasons.

The Hawks were everyone's vogue pick to win the Atlantic 10 last season, based primarily on the assumption that 2011-12's cadre of sophomores -- the Hawks returned all five starters -- would improve and coalesce as juniors. Instead, the Hawks became merely the latest example of why the muddy mix of "returning players" and "experience" and "chemistry" doesn't always translate into improvement. But Phil Martelli still has a good chunk of those players back for another go at this, and if he can coax better defense from everyone, then Saint Joseph's might transform its narrative yet again.

Meanwhile, LSU probably wasn't as bad as you think in 2012-13. The Tigers weren't great, of course, but they finished in the top 100, and they bring in a surprisingly talented recruiting class. Johnny Jones got "yes" answers from three ESPN 100 players, including No. 3-ranked power forward Jarrell Martin -- the program's best recruit since Glen Davis.

Potential matchup I’d like to see: Oklahoma State versus Memphis. When it comes to early-season tournaments, there is very little reason to root for anything but the best basketball. Every now and then there's a backstory baked into the proceedings, like an old rivalry given a random renewal in November. But, for the most part, our desires can be expressed in the simplest of terms: good basketball. That's the case here. This early before the start of the season, Memphis appears to be the second-best team in this bracket, and its backcourt (Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford, both excellent offensive players) should be a fascinating matchup for Smart and running mate Markel Brown. Recently, Memphis has often stumbled out of the gate before otherwise-solid seasons, which has cost the Tigers valuable lines on their NCAA tournament seed in March. Reversing that trend isn't as important in their first season in the American Athletic Conference, but quality nonconference wins are still utterly crucial, and it's going to be hard to find better chances than this.

Five players to watch:

Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: NBA scouts really like Smart's game, but they're in love with the intangibles -- his work ethic, his drive and his desire to succeed. Those qualities have earned raves from coaches as long as Smart has played basketball, and they helped transformed Oklahoma State from the defensively soft 2011-12 group into one of the nation's best defenses last season. Smart turned down a shot at being a top-five pick to return to Stillwater. If he has developed the skills to go from "really good" to "frighteningly dominant" -- slightly better ballhandling and much better shooting -- they'll be on display at the Old Spice Classic.

Shaq Goodwin, Memphis: Goodwin's freshman season wasn't quite as good as his recruiting hype foretold, but there were tantalizing bits littered throughout. Now with Memorial Never-Got-There Club member Tarik Black having transferred and Adonis Thomas having left for the NBA draft, the keys to the Memphis frontcourt are decidedly in Goodwin's hands.

A.J. Hammons, Purdue: The Boilermakers weren't the easiest team in the country to watch last season. When they were good, it was usually because they were guarding, not because they were setting the scoreboard alight. But Matt Painter has one thing most coaches don't: a legitimate 7-foot NBA prospect. Hammons is that guy, and it's not just because he's big. He's also athletic for his size, with good ball skills and footwork. If he returns from the summer with a bit less big-man baby fat and a bit more low-post polish, well, look out.

Jarrell Martin, LSU: As mentioned above, Martin is the No. 3-ranked power forward prospect in the class of 2013. What wasn't mentioned is he is also the No. 11 overall talent. In many incoming classes, this would be worth noting, but little more. With the 2013 class regarded as the deepest and most talented in a decade, if not longer, it is something more. In fact, Martin is the highest-ranked 2013 prospect to not choose Kentucky, Duke, Arizona or Kansas. His situation at LSU will be different and arguably more interesting for it. Can the long-dormant Tigers rise again?

Kellen Dunham, Butler: Former coach Brad Stevens earned the reputation for not needing talent -- that he almost had to find unsung players and mold them for his system to work. That's probably true in general, but there were already signs before his departure to the Celtics that Butler's recruiting had gone up a notch or two since the back-to-back title-game runs in 2010 and 2011. For one, Indiana forward Cody Zeller listed the Bulldogs as among his final three recruiting options (North Carolina being the third). For another, he landed Dunham. Sure, Dunham wasn't Zeller, but he was an ESPN Top 100 player, and he was solid and efficient in big minutes as a freshman. Dunham will have to be even more efficient in even bigger minutes as a sophomore, particularly from 3-point range from which he ended up shooting just 34.5 percent, but he's capable.

Title-game prediction: Oklahoma State over Memphis.

As I wrote above, you just root for good basketball in these things, and Memphis' backcourt (especially if Michael Dixon is able to play) by far looks like the most interesting challenge to Smart and Co. in the Old Spice. But I don't think it would be much of a challenge. Jackson can really put the ball on the floor, and Crawford is a lights-out shooter (even off the dribble), but Smart and Brown look like they're going to lock down pretty much everyone in the sport this season. The Tigers included. Cowboys win.

Who others are picking:

Andy Katz: Oklahoma State over Memphis
Jeff Goodman: Memphis over Purdue
Seth Greenberg: Oklahoma State over LSU
Jason King: Oklahoma State over Memphis
Myron Medcalf: Oklahoma State over Memphis
Dana O'Neil: Oklahoma State over Memphis
NEW YORK -- Paging Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams: Leonard Hamilton’s bunch will be a pain in the neck again this year.

Florida State has recovered from a stunning season-opening loss with three straight victories, capped off by a 73-66 win over St. Joseph’s in the championship game of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at the Barclays Center.

A night after blowing out a BYU squad expected to contend in the WCC, the Seminoles got a stiffer challenge from the Hawks, picked to win the Atlantic 10. Florida State led by just four at halftime, trailed by four early in the second half, and the game was still tied at 52 at the under-12 media timeout.

But Florida State took control from there. Star guard Michael Snaer, who was named the tournament MVP, had another solid game, with 14 points. But the real difference-makers were junior forwards Okaro White (16 points) and Terrance Shannon (15 points, 11 rebounds). Shannon came off the bench, and scored 11 of his 15 in the second half.

Hamilton said Shannon requested to come off the bench this season -- he likes to watch the game unfold for a few minutes, and then provide a spark.

He certainly did that Saturday, and could be a key player for the Seminoles this year, after missing almost all of last season with a shoulder injury.

“He’s very capable,” Hamilton said. “I’m not surprised by what he’s done at all.”

Nine different Florida State players scored Saturday, with four players making it into double figures. No one took more than 13 shots, and the team had 21 assists on 30 made field goals.

“We have capable passers, but we need willing passers,” said Snaer, who took just 12 shots. “We need guys who are willing to make that next pass and make that next play, and get the other man off. If we all do that, then everybody is feeding off each other and we’re all eating at the end of the day.”

“I was especially pleased with the unselfish spirit our guys played with,” Hamilton said.

St. Joseph’s still accomplished something on this trip up the turnpike to Brooklyn, taking home an impressive 79-70 win over No. 20 Notre Dame in the semifinals Friday night.

That game went to overtime, and ended well after midnight. But St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli wasn’t interested in making excuses after the game.

“You could write that if you want,” Martelli said. “I don’t believe that. I don’t accept it. … You have to empty your tank, and we didn’t do that tonight.”

Ronald Roberts Jr. followed up a 21-point, 16-rebound performance against the Fighting Irish with a 15 points and 11 boards against the Seminoles. But the Hawks shot just 16-for-26 from the foul line, and 4-for-21 from beyond the arc.

As for Florida State, after losing its opener at home to South Alabama eight days ago, people wondered if the Seminoles -- coming off their first ACC tournament win ever last March -- were going to take a dip this year.

They were picked to finish fifth by the conference’s coaches, and fourth in the media poll. But Hamilton did lose four starters from last year -- perhaps that would be too much to overcome?

Instead, the Seminoles head home to Tallahassee with their heads held high, and high expectations re-established.

“I think we have a bunch of talented youngsters (and) that we’re still trying to find our way,” Hamilton said. “We’re not really in sync offensively, and as a coach I’m still trying to find the right rotations, trying to define roles with these guys.

“We’re still kind of a work in progress,” the coach added. “What I’m hopeful of is that we can continue to keep winning while we’re trying to find ourselves. I think we have pretty good potential.”

Duke, North Carolina and company -- consider yourselves warned.

W2W4: Florida State vs. Saint Joseph's

November, 17, 2012
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Here are three things to watch for when Florida State (2-1) faces Saint Joseph’s (2-0) on Saturday at the Barclays Center, in the championship game of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.

Tip-off will be at approximately 9:30 p.m., and you can watch the game on truTV.

FRESH LEGS? Both teams are on a high, after wins in the semifinals Thursday night. Florida State blew out BYU, 88-70, while St. Joseph’s rallied late to force overtime and eventually upset No. 20 Notre Dame, 79-70.

It’s a quick turnaround -- especially for St. Joe’s, who played the late game, and played an extra five minutes. We’ll see if fatigue is a factor.

THE SEMINOLES: Florida State got upset in its opening game of the season, losing to South Alabama at home, 76-71. The Seminoles then beat Buffalo by 27, before the win against BYU. They were picked to finish fifth in the ACC in the conference’s preseason coaches poll, and fourth in the media poll.

FSU lost four starters from last year’s squad, which defeated Duke and North Carolina back-to-back to win the ACC tournament for the very first time. But they still have Michael Snaer, a 6-foot-5 senior guard who leads the team at 15 points per game. Okaro White, a 6-8 junior forward, adds 13 points per game. Coach Leonard Hamilton is playing a lot of guys -- 10 different players are averaging at least 13 minutes per game.

THE HAWKS: St. Joseph’s pasted Yale, 61-35, in its regular-season opener, before the victory over Notre Dame. The Hawks were picked to win the Atlantic 10 in the conference’s preseason poll.

St. Joe’s has four players averaging in double figures, led by 6-2 junior guard Langston Galloway (16.5 ppg) and 6-8 junior forward Ronald Roberts Jr. (15.5 ppg, 14 rpg). Galloway lost a tooth while diving for a ball late in regulation against Notre Dame, but quickly returned to the game.

Senior guard Carl Jones, the team’s leading scorer last season (17 ppg), will make his season debut Saturday night. He missed the Hawks’ first two games after being suspended “due to a violation of the university’s community standards.”
You can’t learn how to dunk. You either jump, or you don’t. You can, however, learn how to shoot: feet shoulder-width apart, right foot an inch ahead of left, elbow over the knee, wrist parallel to the floor, ball gently placed in fingertips, elbow straight, up and out, follow through with the wrist. Rinse, repeat.

That’s the great thing about the art of long-range shooting. It requires nothing but a few quick mechanics and tons and tons and tons of practice. The best players in the world are rarely the best shooters, because they don’t have to be. But if you can master your shot, you can level the playing field at all levels, from your local pickup game to the NBA. And aesthetically, there are few things more satisfying than watching a beautifully shot ball drop perfectly through the net. I love good shooting.

As you can imagine, it was rather fun to put together the following list -- the nation’s 10 most dangerous 3-point shooters. (Freshmen, as always, were excluded.)

1. Doug McDermott, Creighton: Let’s get one thing clear: There are 3-point specialists on this list that have made more 3-pointers than McDermott in his career. They are arguably better “pure” shooters. But none of them, not a single one, manages to blend the sheer overall offensive efficiency that McDermott brings to the game; none of them maintains utterly deadly 3-point shooting in their reportoire as an afterthought. But that’s exactly what McDermott did in 2011–12, when he was one of the most efficient offensive players in the country. McDermott attempted 400 2-point field goals and made 63.2 percent of them. He attempted 111 3-pointers and cashed 48.6 percent. His true shooting percentage (67.8) and effective field goal percentage (65.4) were third- and sixth-best in the country, respectively.

[+] EnlargeCreighton's Doug McDermott
Jeff Curry/US PRESSWIREThe versatile game of Doug McDermott includes 48.6 percent shooting from 3-point range.
So, why put him atop this list, when others have made more 3s, who serve as lethal catch-and-shoot specialists for their teams? Because you can’t guard McDermott the way you can guard most of the country’s best shooters. At 6-foot–7, he’s too tall, his post game too sharp, to be put in any particular box. He’ll work you to death with pivots and drop-steps on the low block, just before stepping outside, or catching in transition, and hitting one out of every two 3s he takes.

I mean, seriously: How on Earth do you stop that?

2. Jordan Hulls, Indiana: Hulls may have flaws in his game -- he’s undersized (and definitely shorter than his gentleman’s listing of 6-foot) and an occasional defensive liability at the point of attack -- but he has plenty of strengths, too. He can handle, he can dish, he’s whip-smart and, oh by the way, the boy can really shoot. In 2011-12, he went 72-of-146 from beyond the arc, good for 49.3 percent, the second highest rate in the country. (He also shot 89.9 percent from the free throw line.) And while you’d expect someone with Hulls’ size to struggle to get his shot off, he really doesn’t -- he can get looks from off-ball screens and high picks, he can step under a defender and bury the 20-footer, and he can catch and release as quickly as any player in the country. And if you leave him open? Well, just start running the other way.

3. Brady Heslip, Baylor: In 2011-12, Heslip shot the ball inside the arc exactly 57 times. But don’t worry, he got still got his looks -- fully 220 of them from outside the arc. He made 100 of them, or 45.5 percent. Considering the volume involved, that is very efficient work, and a big part of the reason why Heslip ended the season with an eye-popping 138.6 offensive rating, best in the country among players with similar usage rates. If I was Baylor, I would focus on getting Heslip as many looks as possible this season.

4. Isaiah Canaan, Murray State: Canaan is a lot like McDermott, and a couple of other names on this list, in that he is so much more than a pure shooter … who also happens to be a pure shooter. Canaan is also his team’s primary ballhandler; he posted a 24.1 percent assist rate last season, easily the highest among any frequent Racers' contributor. He also drew 5.3 fouls per 40 minutes, shot 83.7 percent from the stripe and 48.1 percent from the arc. And, oh yeah, he made 45.6 percent of his 215 3-point field goal attempts last season. Defenses, Ohio Valley and otherwise, can’t contain Canaan, because he can get his own shot, or get into the lane, or hit a 25-footer in your face.

5. Rotnei Clarke, Butler: Clarke sat out last season after transferring to Butler, where he will take on a new role that may require him to do much more distributing and far less spot-up shooting. He also suffered a foot injury, though he appears to be recovered fully. In any case, the dude can stroke it: Clarke has shot 39.3 percent, 42.7 percent and 43.8 percent in his freshman, sophomore and junior seasons, respectively, and has 274 career 3s to his name. It will be interesting to see what his new team does for his production/efficiency (his Arkansas teams were never particularly good, so it could just as easily enhance both, too), but there’s no question Clarke is a major threat beyond the arc.

6. Langston Galloway, Saint Joseph’s: I’m guessing most casual hoops fans will not be familiar with Langston Galloway, but it’s time to correct that. In 2011–12, Galloway was one of the best 10 3-point shooters in the country, making 46.6 percent of his 193 attempts. Almost all of those shots came via the spot-up, where Galloway is just lethal. According to Synergy Sports, Galloway scored 1.38 points per spot-up jumper, and 1.49 points for every spot-up shot that came from beyond the arc. It is a bad idea to let him get loose, but with so many other returning weapons making up Phil Martelli’s highly regarded A-10 contender, keeping Galloway in check is easier said than done.

7. Chase Tapley, San Diego State: Tapley’s presence is a through line marking the recent ascendance of Aztecs hoops, beginning with his supporting role* on the Kawhi Leonard-led 2011 breakout squad. He stepped into a larger role last season, and responded by making 43.3 percent of his 3s, an improvement from the year prior despite an 70-attempt increase in volume (and a decrease in 2-point field goal accuracy). Tapley will have to be just as deadly from outside this season if San Diego State plans to live up to its preseason billing. I’m not worried. (*The original version of this post said Tapley came off the bench in 2011; in fact, he started the majority of games that season. My apologies for the error.)

[+] EnlargeChristian Watford
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireChristian Watford drained arguably the most memorable 3 of the college basketball season.
8. Christian Watford, Indiana: There is a reason the Hoosiers offense was the fourth-best in the country last season. Not only did it boast monster freshman center Cody Zeller, and not only did it get efficient shooting from the aforementioned Jordan Hulls, and balance from Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey (to say nothing of Matt Roth’s 54.5 percent 3-point shooting), but its second-most-used player is a 6-foot-9 forward who also happens to be lights-out from the perimeter. Watford made 43.7 percent of his 3s last season, and he shot plenty of them -- 119, to be exact (one of which you may have seen a few times before). Before Zeller’s arrival, Watford was often forced to play in the post, a position for which he is particularly ill-suited. Now that Zeller commands the low block, Watford is free to set up outside, peer over the defense, and fire away. It’s his niche.

9. Kenny Boynton, Florida: Among the handful of players who shot as many 3s in 2011-12 as Boynton, only Vanderbilt guard John Jenkins was a fellow member of a power-six conference. Boynton fired from downtown 270 times last season. If we were talking about his freshman or sophomore seasons -- in which Boynton was similarly free of conscience but far inferior as a shooter -- that would not necessarily be a good things. But because Boynton hit 40.7 percent of his 3s, he was a major reason why Florida’s offense was so difficult to stop. He can handle it and get into the lane, too, but his 3-point attempts dwarf his 2s, and as long as he’s making them at a 40-percent or higher rate, he’s very dangerous to opposing defenses.

10. Scott Wood, NC State: We talk a lot about NC State’s pieces, and these discussions typically center on point guard Lorenzo Brown, or forward C.J. Leslie, or touted freshman shooting guard Rodney Purvis. Far more overlooked is the offense Wood provides, and the way he provides it. At 6-foot–6, Scott is similar to Watford in his ability to step out and see over defenses, if slightly easier to run off the ball. (Despite his size, Wood attempted 232 3s and just 78 2s in 2012.) Whatever his breakdowns, Wood’s 40.9 percent shooting on a large number of attempts is crucial again this season, because NC State’s still-improving offense will desperately need the outside balance.

Honorable mentions: Travis Bader, Oakland; Scott Bamforth, Weber State, C.J. Wilcox, Washington, Allen Crabbe, Cal; Ethan Wragge, Creighton

Freshmen to watch (thanks to Dave Telep for the suggestions): Phil Forte, Oklahoma State; Isaiah Zierden, Creighton; Omar Calhoun, UConn; Katin Reinhardt, UNLV; Melvin Johnson, VCU; Kellen Dunham, Butler; Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke, Michael Frazier, Florida
They stopped throwing streamers after the first made basket years ago. The doubleheaders, too, are things of the past. And with the renovations to Saint Joseph’s on-campus arena, as of last season only Penn played its home games at Philadelphia's famed Palestra.

But they play.

Despite scheduling inconveniences and nonconference sacrifices every year, the five Philly schools still complete their Big 5 round robin.

“It’s not easy, but I think for all of us, it’s valuing and understanding the opportunity that was given to us so many years ago and not wanting that tradition to die,’’ Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. “It’s such a unique thing about Philadelphia and we don’t want to jeopardize that, so for the greater good, for the good of tradition, we play each other.’’

[+] EnlargeDunphy
AP Photo/Michael PerezTemple coach Fran Dunphy is on board for keeping the yearly Big 5 games going.
That argument, of course, is dying a quick and painful death in most corners of college athletics, where tradition has been tossed by the wayside like a piece of trash.

But in Philly, the Big 5 -- begun in 1955 -- appears destined for an everlasting life.

“It’s just inbred -- this is how you do things,’’ Dunphy said. “If one of these jobs opened up, people at the institution would say, ‘Here’s part of our nonconference scheduling. This is what it is.’ There’s really not a lot of discussion.’’

Back when, there never needed to be discussion. The Big 5 was begun in a different era and rolled through its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s, when the five schools -- La Salle, Saint Joseph’s, Temple, Villanova and Penn -- encompassing a mere 17-mile radius played raucous doubleheaders at the beloved Palestra.

Older fans will still wax poetic about the on-court talent they spied on the court or spin yarns about sneaking in through the creaking doors to watch.

Time has eroded plenty of it. They used to throw streamers on the court after the first made bucket. Now that will get you a technical.

One game is tough enough to schedule, so forget about double- or tripleheaders.

Over time, each school has built its own on-campus castle, so splitting the house at the Palestra has little appeal. The last holdout, St. Joe’s, moved its home games on campus this season after renovations to its new fieldhouse were completed.

And the games have lost some of their luster as the five teams have taken turns on hard times, but every year, a Big 5 champion is crowned and an all-Big 5 team is named at the annual banquet.

It still exists, which, in this time of flux, says a lot.

“Change is inevitable,’’ Dunphy said. “And it’s unfortunate that so many of us don’t hold on to our traditions. I really admire the presidents and athletic directors and coaches in Philadelphia who are saying that carrying on this tradition is important.’’

But there’s no doubt keeping the Big 5 tradition alive in the current nonconference scheduling world is at best an inconvenience and, at worst, a convoluted mess.

Consider: Villanova plays 18 Big East games, the SEC/Big East challenge, plus four Big 5 games annually. That’s 24 locked-in games before Jay Wright can even shop for national games.

Soon that will be Temple’s problem, too. The Owls join the Big East in 2013-14, and for a time, the conference might need to schedule 20 league games.

Three seasons ago, the year Nova went to the Final Four, the Wildcats beat Texas in a 9:30 game on Dec. 9 at Madison Square Garden, bused back to campus by around 4 a.m., played Saint Joseph’s on Dec. 11 and nearly lost. Plenty attributed that to "Big 5 magic." No doubt dead legs played a part, too.

“The scheduling is impossible because you always get caught with an opportunity for a national game that you can’t play because you agreed to a Big 5 game on that date,’’ Wright said. “And it’s not like these are easy games. These are really hard games. But you have to decide, you have to be all-in or you’re out. We decided we would be all-in.’’

At one time, of course, the Wildcats decided they were out. From 1991 to 1999, the Big 5 disappeared. Villanova was now more of a national program and with TV deals set up with individual -- not conference -- paydays at the time, the Big 5 was costing the university big bucks.

That’s the official and logical story.

Ask anyone in Philadelphia what happened and they will tell you a succinct, but different, story: Former Villanova coach Rollie Massimino killed the Big 5.

That’s neither fair nor accurate, but in Philly, where native son Kobe Bryant ranks among the city’s most disliked athletes because he’s a Laker, grudges are taken seriously.

“[Rollie] was vilified,’’ said Wright, who was an assistant on the staff at the time. “I’m sure if you dropped an outsider in here, they’d look at the schedule and say, ‘What the hell are you doing here? Why are you doing this?’ But if you’re from here -- and more, if you count on living here after you’re done coaching -- it’s a no-brainer. Everybody saw what it was like to be without the Big 5 and I don’t think anyone wants to go there again.’’

3-point shot: Kentucky still needs work

December, 30, 2011
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1. Kentucky coach John Calipari said the Wildcats aren’t where they need to be at this stage in the season, especially with Louisville on deck Saturday. “We’ve got a ways to go,’’ Calipari said. “I would have hoped in the (Lamar) game we would have shown improvement. We’re not executing the way we need to be right now. Indiana executed better than us. Louisville can be that same kind of team.’’ The players that Calipari knows will likely produce on a given night are Anthony Davis (on the defensive end) and Doron Lamb and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (on the offensive end).

2. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said Travon Woodall probably shouldn’t have played at Notre Dame. Dixon said Woodall wasn’t ready to return from the groin injury that kept him out of the previous six games; he went 0-for-5 in the loss to the Irish. Meanwhile, Dixon said the Panthers saw defensive slippage in the defeat, something that must be corrected before the Panthers host Cincinnati on Sunday.

3. Saint Joseph’s still won’t release graduate student Todd O’Brien to play at UAB, a likely requirement for him to get a waiver that has been denied twice. The NCAA responded to the inaction, through spokesperson Erik Christianson: “It is extremely rare for an NCAA member to oppose a student-athlete transfer, and St. Joseph’s opposition was an important factor in both the NCAA staff’s and the independent Division I Subcommittee for Legislative Relief’s review of this waiver request. The Subcommittee also spoke directly with Mr. O’Brien, UAB representatives and Mr. O’Brien’s legal counsel as part of the appeal process. These decisions are never easy, and the Subcommittee’s final determination was based on all facts and views presented.”
Melo sets Syracuse record
Fab Melo blocked a school-record 10 shots as Syracuse defeated Seton Hall 75-49 on Thursday. Etan Thomas previously held the Syracuse record with nine blocks, which he reached on three occasions. The performance doubled Melo’s previous career high of five.

Melo had eight blocks at halftime, and was poised to challenge Dikembe Mutombo’s record of 12 in a Big East conference game. But Melo logged only eight second-half minutes in the blowout. It’s still tied for the third-most blocks in a Big East game.

Rebels runnin’ up the score
UNLV shot 67.1 percent in a 124-75 win over Central Arkansas. It’s the most points scored by UNLV since the 1990-91 squad that included Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony. It’s the most points scored against a Division I opponent since Seton Hall put up 134 on VMI in December 2009.

UNLV’s bench scored 82 points, the most by a bench against a Division I opponent since UMKC got 94 points from its reserves in a 2007 loss to Oakland. Chace Stanback came off the bench and went 9-for-11 from 3-point range to lead all scorers with 29 points.

Moore owns the boards
UAB’s Cameron Moore pulled down a school-record 24 rebounds in a 56-49 win over George Washington. It’s the most rebounds in a game since December 2009 when Morgan State’s Kevin Thompson grabbed 25. Moore also led all scorers with 19 points, and had a double-double at halftime.

His 24 rebounds equaled George Washington’s team rebounding total on the night. In the second half, he single-handedly outrebounded the Colonials 14-12.

Everything but the points
The outcome of St. Joseph’s 81-50 win over Morgan State was never in doubt, so let’s just focus on one of the strangest lines of the season. Halil Kanacevic had seven blocks, eight rebounds, 12 assists and five fouls in 22 minutes. Oh, and he went scoreless.

His 12 assists fell two shy of the school record, and were the third most this season without scoring a point. His seven blocks tied the most in a scoreless game this season. Not surprisingly, he’s the only player in at least the past 15 seasons with 12 assists and seven blocks in a game.

What on Earth is Phil Martelli doing?

December, 20, 2011
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The transfer rules in college basketball are bad enough when coaches don't abuse them.

More often than not, when a player wants to transfer — whether that's early in his career, or it's to take advantage of the rule that allows an athlete to play immediately if he transfers to pursue a graduate degree in a field not offered by his current school, or whenever — his coach releases him.

It's unsettling that this needs to happen at all, really, that players don't have anywhere near the same freedom (never mind the money) and personal efficacy their coaches possess. But in most cases, coaches realize that denying a transfer request is (a) the wrong thing to do morally, (b) horrible for recruiting and perception or (c) some combination of the two.

[+] EnlargePhil Martelli
Mitchell Layton/Getty ImagesThe college basketball world awaits coach Phil Martelli's side of the Tom O'Brien story.
Phil Martelli, apparently, is not one of those coaches.

Former Saint Joseph's basketball player Todd O'Brien went public Monday on SI.com with his first-person account of his attempt to transfer from Saint Joe's to UAB this season. O'Brien graduated from the Philadelphia school in the summer and sought a graduate student transfer exception release from the NCAA. O'Brien's plan was to head to UAB, play one more year of basketball at the school and begin his graduate work in UAB's public administration program, a field that O'Brien says aligned with his focus of study and internship work before the transfer.

Naturally, O'Brien had to tell his current coach, Martelli, about the decision. According to his account, that's when things got strange:
I met with Coach Martelli to inform him that I would not be returning. I had hoped he would be understanding; just a few weeks before, we had stood next to each other at graduation as my parents snapped photo. Unfortunately, he did not take it well. After calling me a few choice words, he informed me that he would make some calls so that I would be dropped from my summer class and would no longer graduate. He also said that he was going to sue me. When he asked if I still planned on leaving, I was at a loss for words. He calmed down a bit and said we should think this over then meet again in a few days. I left his office angry and worried he would make me drop the classes.

A few days later I again met with Coach Martelli. This time I stopped by athletic director Don DiJulia's office beforehand to inform him of my decision. I told him I would be applying to grad schools elsewhere. He was very nice and understanding. He wished me the best of luck and said to keep in touch. Relieved that Mr. DiJulia had taken the news well, I went to Coach Martelli's office. I told him that my mind had not changed, and that I planned on enrolling in grad school elsewhere. I recall his words vividly: "Regardless of what the rule is I'll never release you. If you're not playing basketball at St. Joe's next year, you won't be playing anywhere."

When O'Brien finally settled on UAB (which came after his initial decision to transfer), the school was flummoxed when it found that Martelli and Saint Joe's had objected to his eligibility this season on their release form.
Confused, UAB contacted Saint Joseph's to ask why they had done this. Turns out, Coach Martelli was adamant to the athletic director that I should not be allowed to play because I had "wronged him."

So, yeah. O'Brien is stuck in NCAA legal limbo. Martelli still hasn't released him. And for his trouble, he appears in the pages of Sports Illustrated looking petty, vindictive and monstrously out of touch.

Of course, there are two sides to every story. What's Saint Joe's side?

Nothing, actually. The school released a statement Monday, one that hid behind the NCAA's waiver decision and said the school "considers the matter closed." The reaction to this statement was not positive. (SI's Seth Davis called it "pathetic," to name one example.) In the meantime, our Andy Katz spoke with O'Brien's attorney, Donald Jackson, who said that Saint Joe's could reopen the release case and get the NCAA to grant O'Brien's eligibility within hours. Katz attempted to contact Martelli, as did others from ESPN.com. Saint Joe's athletic director Don DiJulia — with whom O'Brien recounted a positive conversation — declined to comment.

There are two sides to every story, unless one side refuses to give it, as Martelli and DiJulia have here. The immediate impulse, then, is to assume their side of the story is suspect. If there isn't some major chunk of information left undiscussed, and if O'Brien's account is accurate, Martelli is merely lashing out. He's making a personal point — and a self-destructive one at that.

Because here's the thing: O'Brien (no disrespect, Todd) is not a great college basketball player. He played 7.2 minutes on an 11-22 team last season. He would not be playing much more for the Hawks this season, especially given the emergence of sophomore forward C.J. Aiken, who has provided solid post work in Saint Joe's 8-3 start to 2011-12. It's not like O'Brien's transfer cost Saint Joe's a chance to be competitive. O'Brien didn't transfer to a school in the same league or the same city. He transferred rather harmlessly and with minimal impact.

In a normal transfer situation, a coach does a quick cost-benefit analysis and realizes that, yes, although he technically can prevent a player from transferring from his program, he should not exercise that ability. For one, it's wrong. Two, it's bad publicity. Three, is the kid that good anyway? Four, it's a headache — if a player doesn't want to be on your team, why would you want him? Why keep a kid against his will? How does that help your team?

So, usually, the coach does the math and quickly says, "Hey, sure, go ahead, transfer. We wish Player X the best of luck in all his endeavors," etc. Maybe he'll append a restriction or two, like saying the player can't transfer to a team within his own league or he can't go play for an in-state rival. Or whatever.

You can have murky philosophical opinions on the transfer rules. I know I do. But in practice, these things usually work out.

Not for O'Brien, not for Martelli, not for Saint Joe's. And it just doesn't make any sense. Why is Martelli preventing a former benchwarmer from going where he wants to go with his final year of college basketball eligibility? He didn't really think it would just go away, did he? That O'Brien would just happily sit on UAB's bench all season without a peep?

If he did, he vastly underestimated O'Brien. If he didn't, he was apparently willing to take the risk that this would become public and that he would get, to use the sports writer parlance, "crushed," which is pretty much exactly what's happened since O'Brien's account was published Monday. With no response, let alone a competing version of events from Martelli or the school, we're left to assume O'Brien's story is true. Martelli, for his part, appears to be hiding.

Why? For what? It's Todd O'Brien! It's a graduate transfer exception! You're 8-3! You just beat Creighton and Villanova! What on Earth are you doing?!

The only explanation, based on what we know, is that the Saint Joe's coach holds the mother of all grudges. Otherwise, your guess is as good as mine. Or, for that matter, Todd O'Brien's.

Video: St. Joseph's coach Phil Martelli

October, 17, 2011
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Andy Katz catches up with St. Joseph's coach Phil Martelli at Atlantic 10 Media Day.

Coaches survey: Best arenas, bucket lists

September, 7, 2011
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In July, Dana O'Neil surveyed 15 college head coaches at the EYBL Peach Jam on the subject of recruiting -- more specifically, classic tales from the road and memories of the recruiting steals and the ones that got away. While there, she also asked those coaches about the shrines of college basketball: the toughest place they've ever coached and the one arena that's at the top of their bucket list.

The toughest place I’ve ever coached:

Rick Barnes (Texas): Oklahoma State. “Before they raised the roof at Gallagher-Iba, you could not hear yourself talk.’’

Mark Fox (Georgia): Oklahoma State. “The old Gallagher-Iba was just crazy loud.’’

Darrin Horn (South Carolina): Wichita State. “They started coming for our NIT game about an hour and a half before the game began. Not students. Grown-ups. It was loud and obnoxious. Really tough.’’

[+] EnlargeOregon
AP PHOTO/Chris PietschOregon students, seen here greeting former Washington guard Nate Robinson, played a large part in the McArthur Court aura.
Ben Howland (UCLA): Oregon. “At the old Pit there was no room on the baseline and you were all crowded in. Plus the ceiling was so low. It was just deafening.’’

Bob Huggins (West Virginia): Kansas. “They’re right on top of you. They’ve got these old wooden bleachers and they’re usually pretty good.’’

Tom Izzo (Michigan State): Kansas and Duke. “They’re always the toughest places to play.’’

Kerry Keating (Santa Clara): Kansas. “When I was at Tulsa, we went there. Had a pretty good team. Had been to the Elite Eight the year before. We got blasted.’’

Phil Martelli (St. Joseph's): Duke. “During a timeout, freshman Yah Davis said to me, 'Coach, it’s way too loud in here for me to concentrate.'’’

Fran McCaffery (Iowa): Campbell. “The old gym there, the capacity I think was like 857. You’d have to turn your head sideways to get in the locker room.’’

Josh Pastner (Memphis): Oregon. “The old Pit crowd was on top of you and it was just tremendous fun. Coach [Lute] Olson, who never took off his jacket, always took his jacket off there.’’

Rick Pitino (Louisville): Barnhill Arena, Arkansas. “When Nolan Richardson was there, that was a tough, tough place to play. Just crazy.’’

Mark Turgeon (Maryland): Kansas. “The crowd and the players. That’s a pretty good combination.’’

Bruce Weber (Illinois): Murray State. “We played there in the OVC championship game and I think the place was supposed to hold 5,000. There were probably 8,000 in there.’’

Roy Williams (North Carolina): Oklahoma State. “I’ll never forget the first time we played there. They had that Pistol Pete and he fired that gun. I’d about like to die.’’

Jay Wright (Villanova): New Mexico State. “When I was at UNLV, the rivalry was especially heated. Those games were nasty.’’

The one arena I’ve never coached in but would like to:

Barnes: The Palestra, Philadelphia
Fox: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke
Horn: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke
Howland: Assembly Hall, Indiana
Huggins: Pauley Pavilion, UCLA
Izzo: The Palestra, Philadelphia
Keating: Assembly Hall, Indiana
Martelli: Pauley Pavilion, UCLA
McCaffery: I think I’ve coached in them all
Pastner: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke
Pitino: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke
Turgeon: Dean E. Smith Center, North Carolina
Weber: Pauley Pavilion, UCLA
Williams: WVU Coliseum, West Virginia
Wright: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke

Video: Roundtable (Calipari, Brey, Martelli)

August, 19, 2011
8/19/11
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Andy Katz sits down with coaches John Calipari (Kentucky), Mike Brey (Notre Dame), and Phil Martelli (Saint Joseph's) to discuss pay-for-play, one-and-done and the new NBA draft deadline.

Bracket reveal: Charleston Classic

August, 3, 2011
8/03/11
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Tournament bracket for the Charleston Classic presented by Foster Grant

When and where: Nov. 17-18, 20 at the Carolina First Arena in Charleston, S.C.

Initial thoughts: The Charleston Classic lacks star quality but has the potential to produce some intriguing storylines for a November affair. Northwestern is still on the doorstep of its first NCAA tournament berth with the core group back for a third straight attempt to finally crack through to the Dance. VCU is coming off a magical run to the Final Four. Coach Shaka Smart stayed rather than taking a major payday, but key players Joey Rodriguez, Jamie Skeen and Brandon Rozzell finished their eligibility. Georgia Tech is under a new direction with Brian Gregory and the potential for his first squad is unknown. Saint Joseph’s should finally show improvement after being mired in mediocrity since the Elite Eight run several seasons ago. LSU has had a hard time rebuilding under Trent Johnson and could desperately use something good to happen early. Seton Hall has Herb Pope back but is still stuck at the bottom of the Big East. Tulsa and Western Kentucky were supposed to be NCAA tournament teams in the last two seasons, respectively, but neither could break through.

First-round matchup I can’t wait to see: LSU versus Northwestern. The organizers ensured that the two teams with perhaps the best chance to win the tournament are playing each other in the first round. The Wildcats have the experience and should have the talent to win the game, but they won’t have an easy time taking on LSU freshman big man Johnny O’Bryant. He has the advantage inside. The winner of this game should be in position to win the tournament. It should be the most balanced and competitive first-round game.

Potential matchup that I’d like to see: VCU versus Georgia Tech. Smart could have made a play for the Georgia Tech job but decided to stay put in Richmond. Georgia Tech went after the more experienced Gregory from Dayton. I’ll be interested to see how this game turns out -- if it occurs -- as Smart could potentially prove that rebuilding the Rams is easier than taking over an ACC project like the Yellow Jackets.

Predicted final: Northwestern versus VCU. The Rams lost quite a bit off the Final Four team but there’s something special brewing with VCU. The Rams will have a hard time getting past Seton Hall, let alone a possible semifinal matchup. And I’ve already mentioned the difficulty the Wildcats may have getting out of the top part of the bracket. But a Northwestern-VCU final would carry the most cachet if both squads can make it and then use the tourney to jump-start the season.

Five players to watch

John Shurna, Northwestern: Shurna didn’t make the World University Games roster heading to China. But he’s still the Wildcats’ go-to player and best chance to lead this team toward a possible NCAA berth. He has an unorthodox shot but he’s consistently good for the most part. He needs to be special this season.

Bradford Burgess, VCU: The departure of Skeen, Rodriguez and Rozzell means Burgess will be the go-to player for Virginia Commonwealth. He proved he can be a viable scoring option for the Rams, scoring 14.4 ppg last season. Now he must show he can be the primary offensive option for the Rams.

Johnny O’Bryant, LSU: The Tigers have had plenty of marquee freshman talents come through Baton Rouge, regardless of head coach. But O’Bryant has even more pressure than his predecessors with the last two seasons being utterly forgettable. If O’Bryant can be a star, the Tigers have a chance to move up in the SEC.

Herb Pope, Seton Hall: Pope nearly died last offseason, yet returned after collapsing to be a key member of the Pirates. Pope’s return should be celebrated. He’s lucky to be on the court. If he can be a major player in a tournament like this over three days, then the Hall has a chance to be a tough out in the Big East.

Glen Rice Jr., Georgia Tech: Gregory didn’t inherit much, especially in numbers. But Rice is a scorer and he can help his new coach in his attempt to bridge the end of the Paul Hewitt era into his own. Rice should be a featured scorer from the outset and he’ll need to be for the Yellow Jackets to have a chance.

Predicted winner: Northwestern. By now we all know about the Wildcats' desperate search for their first NCAA tournament bid. For that to happen, Nothwestern desperately needs to get off to a good start. They can't expect the Big Ten games to get them in alone.

Who others are picking:

Eamonn Brennan: Northwestern
Diamond Leung: Northwestern
Dana O'Neil: Northwestern

A touching pregame moment at St. Joe's

February, 16, 2011
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PHILADELPHIA -- The doctors told him what to do. The therapists urged him on. His mom, dad, aunts, friends … everyone was there to coax Lenny Martelli literally back onto his feet.

And he listened and he believed. But Lenny is an athlete, and before the freak snowboard accident robbed this high school student of his athleticism, robbed him of feeling from his chest down, Lenny was used to listening -- especially to one sort of person.

A coach.

And so when Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli -- no relation -- called and told Lenny in no uncertain terms that he would walk again, Lenny listened a little harder.

“It’s like a coach, when he orders you to do something, you do it,’’ Lenny said. “You don’t question it. You do what your coach tells you to do.’’

And so Lenny walked. Not immediately -- it took four grueling months -- but eventually he walked.

And on Wednesday night, before the Hawks' game with Xavier, Phil Martelli delivered the reward he had promised the first time he met Lenny.

When Phil Martelli took the court, Lenny Martelli walked out beside him. With his family wearing their Lennystrong T-shirts in the stands and in tears, Lenny came from the locker room to midcourt.

“He’s a coachable kid, that’s why he listened to Phil,’’ Lenny Sr. said. “He does what his coaches tell him.’’

Lenny, of course, did the hard work. He spent the endless hours in Magee Rehabilitation, enduring the emotional, physical and intellectual toll that is the all-consuming work of learning to walk again. He was the one who spent 9 a.m. until noon and 2 until 3 each day in therapy, hooked up to the contraptions that force legs that that don’t want to walk again to move.

He was the one who did his homework in his hour off each day and went from therapy to working with a tutor so he wouldn’t fall behind in his schoolwork at Pope John Paul the Second High School.

But Phil Martelli was there, on the phone, in the hospital and he didn’t have to be.

“The kindness of a stranger,’’ said Leti Martelli, Lenny’s mother. “It’s just an amazing thing, the kindness of a stranger.’’

There have been so many emotional days in the last year -- a year and a day, to be exact, since the accident. This night won’t be the top.

The top is still reserved for that May day when the therapists told Lenny to wrap his arms around their necks like a wounded soldier and walk.

“And he just started walking,’’ Leti said. “I said, ‘What are you doing?’ And he said, ‘They told me to walk, so I did.’’’

But this day, most everyone agrees, ranks up there because it’s not a day anyone planned for.

Lenny always said he would walk. Doctors told him he wouldn’t. He ignored them.

Leti always knew he would walk. Therapists said her optimism was lovely, but reality was a necessary tool.

She ignored them.

But this? The chance to walk onto a basketball court and bask in the moment just because a guy with the same last name -- a guy who responded to a mom desperate to give her injured son an emotional lift -- gave a lot more than lip service? That, no one planned on.

Lenny spoke with the Hawks prior to tipoff. He didn’t have any notes, but he knew exactly what he was going to say.

“I’m just going to tell them to believe,’’ Lenny said. “Against all odds, no matter what anybody says, believe.’’

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