Havoc awaits the Hawks

Following a frustrating road defeat Wednesday at Duquesne, St. Joe's now prepares for another Atlantic 10 tilt on the road. This time, the Hawks travel south, and the quality of competition kicks up a notch. Phil Martelli's bunch has a tall task ahead as they look to snap their three-game losing streak against a top 25 VCU squad.

St. Joe's squandered an opportunity to notch a conference road win on Wednesday at Duquesne when they let an early 34-22 lead go by the wayside. Derrick Coulter poured in 22 points to lead the Dukes past St. Joe's, 72-69. It was a frustrating loss for the Hawks on many levels. They let an early comfortable lead slip away. Their offensive execution in the second half was less-than-respectable, and in the end, they failed to get a quality shot off in the closing seconds down only three with the ball.

Wednesday's loss dropped the Hawks to 6-7 on the season and 0-2 in Atlantic 10 conference play. Things certainly don't get any easier on Saturday afternoon when they take on Shaka Smart's 20th-ranked VCU Rams down in Virginia.

The Rams enter Saturday's game with a record of 12-3 on the year, and 2-0 in league play. The Rams already have wins this year over Tennessee, Oregon, Northern Iowa, and at Cincinnati. Two of their three losses (Villanova and Virginia) were to top 10 opponents, and the other was at rival Old Dominion. The Rams enter hot too, having won seven straight and not losing in over a month.

VCU is an incredibly deep team, arguably going 10 or 11 deep. As a result, not a single VCU player averages over 29 minutes per game. Coach Smart keeps his players fresh, allowing them to implement their pressing, havoc-style of defense. On the defensive end, the Rams are led by quite possibly the best perimeter defender in the country, senior Briante Weber. Weber averages an astounding 4.1 steals per game. He will cause Chris Wilson and Shavar Newkirk all sorts of issues tomorrow as the Hawks look to break press off made VCU baskets.

The Rams can kill you in so many ways. Senior swingman Treveon Graham leads the Rams in both scoring and rebounding, at 16.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per contest. He can shoot it from deep, take you off the bounce, and bully you around the basket. Graham checks in at 6'6, 220, and he has a versatile game. That was very evident in VCU's blowout win at Cincinnati earlier this year when Graham went 4-6 from 3, finishing with 12 points, 6 boards, and 5 assists.

While Graham can get you from deep, he is not alone. Junior guard Melvin Johnson is also a legitimate threat from deep. His numbers are down from a year ago when he shot 40% from downtown, but he can still snipe. He has three or more triples in 7 of VCU's 15 games this season, including the season-opener when he shot 5-11 from deep against Tennessee.

The names just keep coming at you from VCU. Mo Alie-Cox is one of the most physically intimidating post players in the Atlantic 10. That being said, the last time most Hawk fans probably saw Alie-Cox, St. Joe's wing DeAndre Bembry was putting him on a poster in the Atlantic 10 Championship game last March. The Rams have one of the best freshmen in the entire conference as well in 6'8 forward Terry Larrier. Larrier played AAU ball with St. Joe's freshman Shavar Newkirk and played his high school ball just outside Philadelphia at The Phelps School.

When it's all said and done, this has a chance to be one of Shaka Smart's best teams of the past couple years. He has depth, absurd athleticism, shooters, toughness, and experience. Guards win in college basketball, and he has a bevy of them. St. Joe's has their hands full tomorrow afternoon, and the early line (VCU -14) is indicative of that.

For St. Joe's to stand any sort of a chance on Saturday, they are going to need their guards to step up. In a big way. DeAndre Bembry has been terrific for the Hawks this year. Shavar Newkirk has shown promise as a freshman. As has James Demery. A concern this year, however, has been the play of senior point guard Chris Wilson. Chris played very well in the second half of the George Washington game, but in the Denver game prior he was just 1-8 from the field, and then he was 2-11 against Duquesne on Wednesday. If he turns in a game like that, a shooting performance like that, on Saturday, it does not bode well at all for the Hawks.

VCU is one of the better-scoring teams in the country, averaging nearly 76 points per. St. Joe's, on the other hand, ranks 304th in Division 1, at under 62 points per game. Something will have to give in there, one way or the other, for the Hawks to pull the upset.

Tomorrow's game at The Siegel Center is a 2 o'clock tip. It is being aired nationally on CBS Sports Net. I will have full coverage throughout and a recap following.

Hawk Hill Hardwood Top Stories