As of Monday, February 15th, Joe Lunardi had Saint Joseph’s (21-4, 10-2) as a ten-seed facing Providence in the first round of the East bracket in his latest edition of Bracketology. The team also has the 28th most points in the latest AP Poll. With just a few games left in the regular season, the Hawks are in prime position for a tournament bid, but it is not yet a guarantee.
What’s exciting is not that a local team could be playing on a national stage, or that little old Saint Joseph’s could be going up against basketball goliaths like Oklahoma or Kansas. What’s exciting is that once this team reaches the tournament, they have the potential to go far. But they’ve got to get there first.
A home game against a ranked Dayton team is without a doubt their biggest remaining battle. The Flyers are first in the conference (21-3, 11-1) and ranked 12th in RPI. Two other remaining home games are in store for the Hawks against Saint Louis and Duquesne. On the road, the Hawks still have games against Davidson, Massachusetts, and St. Bonaventure.
Saint Louis and Massachusetts are each in the bottom five of the Atlantic 10 standings and combine for a 19-29 overall record. Although nothing’s guaranteed, Saint Joseph’s should be heavily favored in both of these games. Therefore, they become must-win games. A loss in either of these matchups could be the difference-maker in the fate of Saint Joseph’s and would make it difficult for them to prove they belong come March.
The good news is that the idea of these games being “trap games” is unlikely for the Hawks. St. Joe’s demolished a very poor La Salle team on Saturday, just a couple of days before the Dayton game. Coach Martelli was adamant that the team wasn’t at all looking ahead to Dayton prior to the match against La Salle. “There are some guys in that locker room that had no idea we play Dayton on Wednesday,” he said. They focused on their next opponent and that’s it.
Duquesne, Davidson, and St. Bonaventure are all important games in which St. Joe’s will most likely be favored in again, but will be more challenging contests. Still, the Hawks must win these games. Although it may not bump them from the tournament, a loss would push SJU back a bit in the rankings. Multiple losses in this set of games and the Hawks will be watching from home.
A win against Dayton, who is in the midst of a nine-game win streak, is key. While a loss against the Flyers wouldn’t kill the Hawks, a win would absolutely solidify a tournament berth and put St. Joe’s atop the Atlantic 10. Lunardi said earlier that, “[St. Joe’s] would have a lot more room to err with a win on Wednesday [against Dayton].”
Essentially, with a win over 15th-ranked Dayton, St. Joe’s would all but guarantee itself a trip to the tournament, regardless of what happens in the other games, according to ESPN’s Bracketologist.
Coaches and players have bought into the idea that the Hawks are worthy of a tournament game. Isaiah Miles said, “I think we deserve it. No doubt. We don’t want to focus on that too much, but me personally? I think we deserve it. I think we’re good enough.”
We’ll find out Wednesday night if the Hawks are good enough. The last time St. Joe’s faced a ranked opponent was Villanova in December. Despite losing by 14, the Hawks kept the game close and remained competitive for the first 35 or so minutes. Villanova is now the top-ranked team in the country.
The SJU-Dayton game is also for first place in the Atlantic 10. The last time the A10’s first place team didn’t make the tournament was 2005. George Washington, who won the conference tournament and earned an automatic bid, was the only team that year to represent the conference. It was actually Saint Joseph’s who finished first in the league, but did not make the tournament.
The moral of the story is that for ten straight years now, the A10’s first place team has made the tournament – more evidence that a win over Dayton wound indeed solidify a tournament trip.
Photo: AP Photo/Chris Szagola
-Saint Joesph's loses to #25 Rhode Island in the Semifinal of the A-10 tournament