1) Lamarr Kimble and Shavar Newkirk starting together in the backcourt clearly gives the Hawks the best chance to win. Newkirk poured in 28 points on 9-16 shooting from the field and 3-4 shooting, while also chipping in 7 rebounds and 3 assists. Fresh Kimble, who came off the bench for the Hawks last year, was named one of three captains on this year's St. Joe's squad. He also set a new career high, tallying 16 points on 6-14 shooting. Newkirk and Kimble have both transformed their bodies from a year ago. Newkirk is noticeably stronger and finished through contact on several occasions, while also appearing to have an extra gear blowing by opponents. Kimble slimmed down a bit, and was able to use his craftiness finishing around the rim last night. The two point guards are extremely shifty and more than compensated for lack of size by attacking the rim, shooting well from the floor, and attacking defensively. The two were dynamic Saturday night. And they'll have to continue like that all year.
2) The atmosphere was tremendous. I was extremely impressed by the packed student section. Granted, it was the season opener, but Phil Martelli stated post-game how the strong student and fan turnout impacted the game. The players fed off of it. The last couple years, even during two Atlantic 10 championship seasons, turnout at times left something to be desired. Last night was great. I'm curious to see if that is sustainable. There were also a handful of recruits in the house. 2017 Hawk commit Taylor Funk was seated behind the bench. 2018 Friends' Central (PA) wing Justin Steers, 2018 Roman Catholic (PA) guard Allen Betrand, and 2019 Neumann-Goretti (PA) point guard Chris Ings were also in Hagan Arena Saturday night.
3) In my Player Profile Series, Dave Duda mentioned the Hawks using a "three-headed" approach to the center position. That was on display last night, with Markell, Jai Williams, and Javon Baumann all giving the Hawks minute at the five. Markell Lodge got the start and played 19 minutes, while Javon Baumann came off the bench to play 15 minutes, and Jai Williams played 5. The three combined to score 10 points and grab 6 boards in 39 minutes. I think that the coaching staff would have liked to see Markell Lodge grab more than one board, but if the three centers can get you somewhere in the range of 8-12 points and 8-12 boards a night, it should keep the Hawks competitive.
4) James Demery sparked the Hawks early in the second half. The athletic North Carolina native had a relatively quiet first half but poured in three buckets early in the second half for St. Joe's to help spark them. Demery shot 5-14 from the field, finishing with 11 points and 8 boards. James was terrific on the defensive end and really rebounded well. He also had a huge highlight-reel jam in the first half, dribbling it the length of the court before throwing down a one-handed jam. He also left some points on the board, not finishing at the rim like the did last year. He also took several deep jumpers, early in shot clock situations, that had the Hawk coached shaking their heads. James will be called on to shoulder much of the scoring load this season. I'm curious to see how he plays Monday night against Columbia. His defense and rebounding are high-level, but the Hawks will need consistency from him scoring the ball this year too.
5) Two of the freshmen saw significant run Saturday night. Charlie Brown got the start and played 30 minutes, and Nick Robinson played 19 minutes off the bench. Brown hit two early free-throws then connected from three on his first shooting attempt. Charlie missed his next and final five from the field though. He finished with 5 points and 4 boards. Nick Robinson hit his one shot from deep and finished with 7 points and 3 boards in his college debut. Both Robinson and Brown possess tremendous length. Charlie was very engaged defensively in the first half and showed glimpses of a lock-down defender. Robinson came up with a big steal at the end and showed a willingness to really stick his nose into the action defensively. There will be growing pains with both freshmen this year, but the upside and potential that both posses was on display last night.
6) The coaching staff will have to be creative with lineups this year, and they'll have to vary lineups game by game. Toledo had tremendous size. 6'9 240-pound Toledo senior Steve Taylor caused the Hawks' front court some fits last night. His final stat line of 14 points and 7 boards doesn't even do his impact justice. The Rockets ran their offense through him much of the second half. If the Hawks doubled, he would kick out. When they left Javon or Markell on him on an island, he used a variety of post moves, baseline drives, and pivots in the post to score seemingly at will. Javon had the size and mass to battle better in the post. There will be games this year where Markell is the better defensive match-up. Others where it will be Javon or Jai. The coaches will also have to adapt and decide, game-by-game, what their philosophy is going to be in doubling the post.
7) This year will be an entertaining one, but one that will require some patience. Shavar Newkirk and James Demery are the only two remaining starters. Charlie Brown and Nick Robinson are two of the primary 8-man rotation, at least at the moment, and they are just freshmen. Chris Clover and Markell Lodge hardly played last year. There is a lot of inexperience. Guards win in college basketball though, and St. Joe's has two very good ones in Shavar Newkirk and Fresh Kimble. They have one impact wing in James Demery, and possibly two others in Charlie Brown and Nick Robinson.
St. Joe's returns to action Monday night against Columbia at home. The Hawks won a thrilled last year at Columbia thanks to a monster 26-point game by Aaron Brown. This year's Columbia team is much different than a year ago, with the most notable departure being star guard Maodo Lao, who spent some time this summer on the 76ers Summer League team. I will have a full preview up tomorrow morning.null