St. Joe's enters Friday night's conference opener at 6-5, facing off against an 8-5 George Washington team. George Washington was one of the main storylines of the offseason, as head coach Mike Lonergan was fired amidst a number of accusations. He was replaced with assistant coach Maurice Joseph, who has the title of interim men's basketball coach for the 2016-2017 season. The Colonials are coming off a 72-64 loss to Miami, while the Hawks are coming off a 92-63 win over Lafayette.
St. Joe's and George Washington are both likely to look at this game as one where they have a distinct advantage over the other. For the Colonials, that advantage lies in the front court, primarily with senior power forward Tyler Cavanaugh. For St. Joe's, it is in the backcourt, with their dynamic duo of Shavar Newkirk and Lamarr Kimble.
On the year, Cavanaugh, the Wake Forest transfer, is averaging 16.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. While his three-point shooting percentage is a modest 32%, he is capable of stretching the floor, and that's something the Hawks have really struggled defending this year. Against Temple, Cavanaugh went 3-4 from downtown en route to 20 points. He went 4-8 from deep against Georgia en route to 21 points. The 6'9 post can get you both inside and out, and St. Joe's will have to decide how they are going to defend him. Will it be the 6'7 Markell Lodge? He has more of a shot defending Cavanaugh on the perimeter. Or will it be Javon Baumann, who can bang down low but is not a good perimeter defender and has been slow closing out on perimeter jumpshots this year? In addition to Cavanaugh, the Colonials start freshman Arnoldo Toro, who the Hawks recruited very hard out of high school. Toro is averaging 6.2 points and 6.6 boards per game this year. With the 6'9 Toro and the 6'9 Cavanaugh, the Colonials have also been starting the 6'10 Collin Smith. I'm curious to see if he gets the start tonight or not, with star wing Yuta Watanabe seemingly ready to rejoin the starting lineup.
For the Hawks, Friday night's game could come down to the type of productivity they get out of their two lead guards, Lamarr Kimble and Shavar Newkirk. The two should have an advantage against GW's starting backcourt of Justin Roland and Jaren Sina. Both Sina and Roland can shoot it from deep, but I am not sure I see either keeping up with Kimble or Newkirk on the defensive end. So far this season, Shavar Newkirk has been the clear-cut MVP for the Hawks, averaging 21.2 points, 5.1 boards, and 3.6 assists per game. He and freshman wing Charlie Brown have both been shooting the ball from three at a fantastic clip, right around 41% in both of their cases.
With James Demery returning from his ten-game absence, the Hawks' starting lineup will likely change. If Demery is good to start, look for freshman Nick Robinson to return to a 6th-man role. James would plug right back in at the three, alongside Newkirk, Kimble, Brown, and Markell Lodge. The match-up of Watanabe and Demery Friday night should be a fun one, and one that goes a long way in term of deciding the final outcome.
St. Joe's is currently a 5-point favorite in this one out in the desert, a line that frankly surprised me. If St. Joe's can get up and down the court, and push the tempo, I do think they win this one, say 76-71. If it becomes a game fought in the trenches, and gets bogged down in the half court, I don't see SJU coming out on the winning end, with GW pulling out something like a 68-64 win. To me, it all comes down to pace. If the Hawks are loose, Demery is good to go, and the Hawk guards do their thing, I do think the Hawks improve to 7-5 with a conference-opening win.
The game tonight is a 7 o'clock tip at Hagan Arena and is televised on Comcast Sports Net in the Philadelphia area.