St. Joe's Outlook: Time for Hawks to put up

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St. Joe's Outlook: Time for Hawks to put up

Enough with the projections and proclamations. Phil Martelli wants results.

“We’re not selling anything to the fans,” the Saint Joseph’s head coach said recently during the team’s annual media day. “We have to be about it, not talk about it.”

St. Joe’s was picked first in last season’s Atlantic 10 preseason poll only to finish 10th in the conference and stumble to an 18-14 record. The Hawks were denied an NCAA tournament berth for the fifth straight year and ended their campaign with a first-round exit in the NIT.

With last season’s disappointment in the rearview, St. Joe’s has its sights set on some familiar achievements for 2013-14.

“The first goal is that we want to win the A-10, too,” forward Halil Kanacevic said. “We’ve been here four years. We haven’t won the A-10 either. Got picked first last year and it didn’t turn out that way at the end. I think our first goal should be for the A-10, but the NCAA tournament, that’s something you really want to say that we obviously want to make it.”

Perhaps not what you might expect to hear from a squad that lost two veteran starters from a year ago. However, the Hawks appear to be in a rare situation when they might see some addition by subtraction.

The departures of trigger-happy point guard Carl Jones and passive big man C.J. Aiken could actually be a benefit on the court. The Hawks still return starters Langston Galloway (13.8 points per game last season) along with Ronald Roberts Jr. (11.2 points, 8.3 rebounds) and Kanacevic (8.5 points, 7.2 rebounds) in the frontcourt. Also back are spot starter Chris Wilson, and contributors Daryus Quarles, Papa Ndao and Isaiah Miles.

Throw in redshirt freshmen Javon Baumann and Kyle Molock with expected impact true freshmen DeAndre Bembry (6-6, 195) on the wing and Jai Williams (6-9, 275) down low, and the Hawks not only have a solid roster but also what they say is even better chemistry.

“This team has a sense of purpose and that purpose is to leave a mark,” Martelli said.

“We have a good group,” Kanacevic said. “Most coaches will say we’ve got a good group of kids. But, honestly, this is my fifth year of college and I haven’t been with a team like this with a group of guys that get along so well and actually like each other genuinely. It’s a genuine feel.

Some of that bond can be traced back to how the Hawks stood by Martelli during a trying offseason. The Atlantic 10’s longest-tenured head coach lost his sister to heart failure, his sister-in-law to cancer and watched his mother suffer a broken hip during a fall.

Not to mention his son Jimmy Martelli resigned from his job as an assistant at Rutgers for involvement in the Mike Rice scandal of verbally and physically abusing players.

All of that is certainly enough to break a man, but Martelli had the support of his SJU family.

“Really, the body blows that came after that in my personal life never gave me cause to say, ‘Oh well. This is harder to deal with than basketball.’ I don’t deal with it that way,” Martelli said. “In the spring I let the coaches do a lot of the individual instruction and kind of focused myself in recruiting.

“I go back to the quality of people that we have on this team. They picked me up. They got me going again.”

“Not giving him much headaches,” Kanacevic said of how the Hawks helped Martelli. “We knew he had a tough loss. Time to try to make it easy on him.”

The Hawks made things easy on Martelli by keeping their focus in the gym. Thanks to an exhibition tour in Italy during August, St. Joe’s got in 10 full offseason practices before heading for its first overseas trip since 1999. The Hawks went a perfect 4-0 on the trip.

“It was good. We definitely went over there and did what our expectations were as far as winning the games,” Galloway said. “We played good.”

“Italy was definitely a great experience,” Roberts said. “The young guys got a chance to play against older people, against grown men. So it gives them kind of a head start.”

“It definitely helped,” Kanacevic said. “You see a different culture, you bond, you meet new people.”

The trip also served as a testing ground for SJU’s new style of play. After averaging just 67.4 points per game (12th out of 16 A-10 schools), the Hawks are looking to run, run and run some more this season.

“Just up-tempo this year, more up-tempo. Getting up and down [the court],” Galloway said of the Hawks, who averaged 95.2 points per game during their four games in Italy.

St. Joe’s knows it must get its offensive attack together before it embarks on a challenging nonconference schedule and tough A-10 slate.

“Our schedule measures up again if you want to take the experts and the Atlantic 10 numbers. They based it on last year’s RPI. We have the No. 2 strength of schedule,” Martelli said. “ESPN ranks it the No. 2 schedule in the Atlantic 10 and I’m proud of that fact.”

Still, no matter who stands in their way, the Hawks feel they must accomplish their ultimate objective of getting back in the Big Dance.

“I’ve never been there, so I feel like we have to get there,” Roberts said. “There’s no other route. We have to get to the NCAA tournament.”

Temple at No. 19 Navy: Owls go for first AAC title

Temple at No. 19 Navy: Owls go for first AAC title

Temple (9-3, 7-1 AAC) at No. 19 Navy (9-2, 7-1 AAC)
Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis, Md.​
Saturday, noon, ABC

It would have been hard to picture Temple in the American Athletic Conference championship game after the Owls’ first game of the season, a 28-13 loss to Army.

But that’s exactly where they are three months later, as Temple will take on No. 19 Navy in the conference championship game Saturday.

The Owls and Midshipmen have both been handling opponents as of late. Temple’s won its last four games by at least three touchdowns, while Navy has outscored opponents 141-62 in its past two games.

Let’s take a look at how one of the country’s top offenses and one of the country’s top defenses match up.

Scouting Temple
The Owls' defense seems to get better every week. Temple ranks No. 3 in the Football Bowl Subdivision in total defense and No. 10 in scoring defense. The only two teams that rank higher than the Owls in both categories are Alabama and Michigan.

Teams haven’t scored more than 13 points against the Owls in their last four games, and Temple is outscoring opponents 123-23 during that stretch.

Redshirt senior defensive lineman Haason Reddick was named a first team all-conference selection earlier this week. He leads the FBS in tackles for loss. Redshirt senior Praise Martin-Oguike is coming off one of his best games of the season last week against East Carolina, in which he had two sacks, including a forced fumble. He has seven sacks this season.

On offense, Temple’s goal this week will be to sustain drives and keep Navy’s offense off the field. The Owls are currently No. 5 in the FBS in time of possession, holding the ball for more than 34 minutes per game.

Earlier in the week, coach Matt Rhule said senior quarterback Phillip Walker was questionable for Saturday’s game. Walker will likely play, but the Owls might be without one of their top offensive weapons.

Rhule said sophomore running back Ryquell Armstead is doubtful. Armstead has 842 yards and 13 touchdowns this season.

Scouting Navy
The Midshipmen have one of the simplest — yet at that same time one of the best — offenses in the country. Navy ranks No. 2 in rushing yards at 342 per game.

Quarterback Will Worth runs the triple option for Navy. He has 2,544 total yards of offense and 33 total touchdowns. He’s passed for 1,363 yards and rushed for 1,181 more. Worth has a touchdown in 11 straight games.

Worth has attempted 258 rushes compared to 115 passing attempts. Four other Navy players have at least 40 rushing attempts this season.

Senior wide receiver Jamir Tillman is the Midshipmen’s best receiving threat. The 6-foot-4 wideout has 32 catches for 533 yards and two touchdowns.

Navy’s defense hasn’t been quite as elite as its offense. The Midshipmen have allowed 30 or more points in four of their last five games.

The Midshipmen are allowing 265 passing yards per game. Opposing quarterbacks have averaged 313 yards and three touchdowns in their last three contests.

Storyline to watch: Can Temple find a way to stop the triple option?
The last time these two teams played was in 2014, when Navy ran for 487 yards and four touchdowns in a 31-24 win over the Owls at Lincoln Financial Field. Temple’s most recent matchup against the triple option was when it lost to Army in its season opener. The Black Knights ran for 329 yards and four touchdowns. With only a week to prepare, Temple will have to find a way to cure its option woes if it wants a chance to win Saturday (see story).

What’s at stake?
The Owls have won only one other conference championship in program history, when they won the Mid-Atlantic Conference in 1967. A win would also give Temple its third 10-win season in program history. 

Prediction
Temple has to figure out this option thing at some point, right? The Owls’ ability to convert on third down and sustain long drives will help slow Navy's offense. This one will most likely come down to who has the ball last, but the Owls are a little bit more well-rounded, so they get the edge. 

Temple 31, Navy 28

Villanova at South Dakota State: Trying to extend Andy Talley's career another week

Villanova at South Dakota State: Trying to extend Andy Talley's career another week

No. 9 Villanova (9-3, 6-2 CAA) at No. 7 South Dakota State (8-3, 7-1 MVFC)
Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium, Brookings, S.D.
Saturday, 3 p.m., ESPN3

Villanova will look to extend legendary head coach Andy Talley’s career at least another week as the Wildcats travel to South Dakota for a second-round FCS playoff matchup.

Here’s a look at what’s on tap:

Scouting Villanova
Led by a dominant defense and a balanced rushing attack, the Wildcats returned to the FCS playoffs for the sixth time in nine years, earning an at-large bid after finishing tied for second in the CAA behind James Madison. Villanova opened its playoff run with a 31-21 home victory over Saint Francis last week after building a 24-point halftime lead behind three first-half touchdown passes from Zach Bednarczyk, two of which went to junior tight end Ryan Bell. As usual, star defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon (more on him here) led the defense with a career-high 2½ of the team’s six total sacks. On the season, the Wildcats rank in the top eight in the FCS in six different defensive categories and have held the opposition to just 15.4 points per game — second in the country. On offense, Aaron Forbes, Matt Gudzak and Javon White have all been productive rushers while splitting carries in the backfield, along with the speedy Bednarczyk.

Scouting South Dakota State
The Jackrabbits won the final three games of the regular season to capture the Missouri Valley Conference title, earning an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs and a first-round bye as a No. 8 seed. Their biggest victory came back in October when they upset North Dakota State, the FBS giant-slayer that’s also won the last five FCS national championships. Led by standout sophomore quarterback Taryn Christion, South Dakota State averages 314.4 passing yards (eighth in the FCS) and is scoring 37.4 points per game (11th in the FCS). On the other side of the ball, the Jackrabbits have returned four interceptions for TDs and linebacker Christian Roseboom is a finalist for the Jerry Rice Award as the nation’s top freshman after amassing more than 100 tackles.

Series history
This is the first-ever meeting between the two teams.

Storyline to watch
The key to the game will likely boil down to which one of the talented dual-threat sophomore quarterbacks has the better game and how much Villanova’s dominant defense can slow down Christion, who has thrown for 3,369 yards with 29 touchdowns while also rushing for 385 yards and a team-high six TDs. The Jackrabbits quarterback has two very good targets who have both eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards in junior wideout Jake Wieneke and junior tight end Dallas Goedert. Villanova will likely need Rob Rolle (seven interceptions) to make a big play against a team that’s only turned it over 12 times and for Kpassagnon to put heavy pressure on Christion.

What’s at stake?
The winner will almost certainly have a date with Carson Wentz’s alma mater in the third round as top-seeded North Dakota State hosts San Diego. If the Wildcats lose, it will mark the end of Talley’s career after 32 years at the helm and 12 playoff berths.

Prediction
This is a brutally tough trip for the Wildcats but something says Talley has one more win in him before running into the North Dakota State juggernaut.

Villanova 28, South Dakota State 24