It’s no secret that the Kansas Jayhawks need something “good” to happen. After a disappointing home-loss to a talented Nevada team, KU rebounded by beating Western Illinois -- but Kansas needs a good old-fashioned shot in the arm. A win against a quality opponent like 3-1 St. Joseph’s would fit the bill and go a long way with head coach Bill Self’s young team. Self and St. Joseph’s head coach Phil Martelli shared their thoughts heading into Tuesday night’s match up at Madison Square Garden in New York.
St. Joseph’s and Kansas do mirror each other in many way starting with the coaches -- both put a heavy emphasis on tough defense and the statistics prove it. The Hawks’ stingy “D” allows just 61.8 ppg, while the Jayhawks allow only 62.5 ppg. Kansas also leads the Big 12 in field goal percentage defense at 34.7 percent. St. Joe’s has held three of four opponents to under 60 points but did give up 100 to Davidson in an overtime loss.
Both teams like to score by committee. Kansas has six players averaging six or more points per game, Martelli’s bench might not be quite as deep as Self’s but nonetheless the Hawks have six players averaging 5.8 ppg or more.
That being said, both teams have also struggled to score at times – by the way, don’t expect this one to get out of the 60’s. St. Joe’s went into the season knowing points might be hard to come by at times, but Martelli’s squad has put up 69 points or more in all four games. Kansas is averaging a deceiving 76.8 ppg but it’s no secret the Jayhawks have had problems putting the ball in the basket at times.
That would probably be the end of the similarities.
Perimeter shooting is where the gap widens between these two teams. While Kansas has had issues with perimeter shooting, the Hawks have been remarkably efficient. As a team St. Joe’s averages nearly 50 percent from the floor, and shoots nearly 46 percent from three. Senior Chet Stachitas, who shoots over 60 percent from three (10-16), is the main reason for that number being so high. In the first four games the Hawks have proven they are virtually automatic from the foul line. St. Joseph’s leads the Atlantic-10 with a trio of players who average over 90 percent from the line and they are 67-79 on the season. The Jayhawks will pay for fouling this team.
“I think one thing that stands out is how well they shoot it --from the floor and the line. I think they have three guys who’ve missed two free throws between them, so we’ve gotta keep them off the line,” said Self.
Technically between the five starters, St. Joe’s has only missed five free throws in its first four games.
Meanwhile, Self continues to mix and match while searching for a lineup that gives him offensive and defensive balance. At this point of the season you get the impression that the KU coach might prefer making offensive and defensive substitutions every time down the court. A lineup with Micah Downs, Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush, C.J. Giles, and Sasha Kaun would probably give Kansas one of its best shooting lineups, but Downs and Chalmers struggle defensively at times. Mario seems to be adjusting to the college game on both ends of the floor. Mario had four steals against Western Illinois (15 on the season) and has 14 assists in his last three games.
Perimeter shooting has been a point of emphasis for KU, but Martelli is fully aware of the dangers this Kansas lineup presents.
“The first thing I notice about Kansas is the aggressive style of ball that Bill teaches,” Martelli stated via conference call Friday. “But what really gets to me is their size.”
After watching the Nevada-Kansas game Thursday night Martelli was in awe of the size Kansas boasts up front.
“I think we have big guys up front and in the lane – but I just noticed on TV that C.J. Giles, Sasha Kaun, and Brandon Rush looked so much bigger than our guys – their size is definitely a concern,” said Martelli.
Kansas may have the size but they will need the rebounding in this game. The Hawks have gone to the boards with a vengeance through the first four games out-rebounding their opponents 145-101 for margin of +10.9 per game. Conversely Kansas’s rebounding margin has been much slimmer -- through the first six games the Jayhawks have out-rebounded their opponents 249-224.
If St. Joseph’s is able to defeat Kansas, it would be a first for the Head Hawks.
“I know I’ve never come close to (beating) any of Bill’s teams at KU or Tulsa,” said Martelli stating last year’s 40-point loss in Lawrence as an example. “One thing is for sure wherever Bill goes, the uniforms may change but all his teams do the same things, they look the same and what stands out is their aggressiveness on offense and defense.”
While Kansas has yet to play a true road game, this is the fourth neutral court contest of the season. St. Joe’s in the meantime, has lost the meaning of “home sweet home.” After opening the season in Philly this will be their fourth straight game away from home. And how’s this for tough scheduling? St. Joe’s won’t return to Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse until January 4th. The Hawks will play Ohio State in the Palestra (which is in Philly of course), but then they play at Bucknell, at St. Mary’s and at Gonzaga. The always-entertaining Martelli joked about his scheduling during the conference call and said he just hopes his team comes back for the second semester.
St. Joseph’s is road-tested but the only game that featured a margin of victory under ten points was the Hawks lone defeat against Davidson. Half the games Kansas has played this season have been heart-stoppers. In their three wins, KU outscored the opposition by an average of 33.7 points per game, but the three losses have come by a combined 15 points.
“We’re a young team struggling to find a way to win. We certainly need better execution down the stretch,” said Self.