Atlantic 10′s Slow Start Continues With St. Joe’s LossPosted by BHayes on December 12th, 2012
Before the 2012-13 season kicked off, the Atlantic 10 seemed poised for a banner campaign. The offseason additions of VCU and Butler meant that eight A-10 teams harbored legitimate NCAA Tourney hopes, and even the most level-headed of prognosticators would have admitted that the conference seemed likely to match or improve upon the four NCAA bids it earned last season. All was rosy back then, but unfortunately for A-10 enthusiasts, little has gone to script thus far. The non-conference slate simply has not included the signature victories necessary for that surplus of NCAA Tournament bids to appear in March, and a number of A-10 powers have experienced unexpected struggles. One of the few marquee victories the conference can lay claim to is a St. Joseph’s victory over Notre Dame at MSG, but the Hawks have gone just 3-3 since, and hardly looked the part of the conference favorite (as they were selected by the media before the year) again tonight, as they fell 65-61 at Villanova.
A loss at the Pavilion (in a rivalry game nonetheless) is hardly a reason to call off the season, but early results have indicated that this is an unusually weak Villanova team, as the Cats had already dropped two games to A-10 opponents (La Salle and Temple), and even more damning, been pasted at home (losing by 18) by the Ivy League’s Columbia. A familiar cliché advises you to “throw out the records” in a rivalry game, but for a St. Joseph’s team with significant preseason buzz and real NCAA Tournament hopes, I don’t think you should be shuttling to the trash can — this was a game they should have won.
The Hawks had their chances, too. St. Joe’s took a five-point lead (the largest advantage either team held in a back and forth second half) on Langston Galloway’s three-pointer with two minutes to play, but a series of mental errors down the stretch proved to be their undoing. Junior forward Halil Kanacevic was involved in much of the late-game meltdown, as he missed a pair of free throws and committed two turnovers in the final two minutes, including a botched inbounds pass with seconds remaining that all but sealed the Hawks fate. Martelli has to be unhappy with his team’s late-game execution, but he must be more displeased with Kanacevic for the offering (a particular finger) he provided the Villanova student body midway through the second half. With all due apologies to believers in good old-fashioned karma, Kanacevic and the Hawks’ undoing on this night seemed to be letting the emotion of a Big 5 game get to them.
The Hawks feature five upperclassmen in the starting lineup, but given the dearth of NCAA Tournament experience on the roster, and their early road struggles (see: a 29-point loss at Creighton), Martelli has to be seeking a little more mental toughness from his bunch as they find their identity. Perhaps the lone good sign tonight for St. Joe’s fans was the slumping Galloway finding his touch from the outside, as he knocked down six threes on his way to a game-high 22 points. Outside of Galloway’s slump-busting evening, there was not a whole lot to be excited about. The long, athletic front line of Aiken, Roberts and Kanacevic struggled on the glass (-10 rebounding margin), and leading scorer Carl Jones never seemed to find a rhythm. He finished the game just 4-of-14 from the field.
There is little doubt that the talent is there for St. Joseph’s to be successful, as five very capable players round out that starting lineup. But like the rest of the league, they now find themselves on the verge of conference play with a slew of questions left unanswered, a less than perfect non-conference resume (that shimmery Notre Dame scalp notwithstanding), and the knowledge that the margin for error in this rough and tumble A-10 is a little narrower for them than we would have thought six weeks ago.