It's a pretty big day for our beloved university. My interest in the football program has been waning over recent years, but due to current events and how hard our innocent players continue to fight, it's impossible to not be excited for the big game on the gridiron. This team doesn't deserve to get screwed, so here's to sticking a collective 'shove it' to the hacks out there.
Unfortunately, the basketball team is scheduled to tip at the same time in Philadelphia as the kickoff in Madison. I'm sure this is not as conflicting for many of you as it is for me, but regardless, this is realistically the biggest test to date. Let's be honest, the Kentucky game was a glorified exhibition from the beginning. Today's game will hopefully offer a heated contest against a St. Joe's team on the up and up.
Phil Martelli's program has fallen on tough times as they've won just 11 games in the last two seasons, but this year's team has already shown some grit against a respectable schedule thus far. They finished third in this year's Charleston Classic by beating Georgia Tech by 13, losing to Seton Hall by 8, and beating Tulsa by 4 (all current KenPom Top100 foes). In their last outing Wednesday night, the Hawks lost a heartbreaker against Iona in 2OT 104-99 (you know, KP top50 Iona). All four of these opponents are rated higher than PSU, who will be SJU's home opener at Hagan Arena.
The Hawks were hit with some defections over the offseason from bench reserves leaving this year's squad lacking in depth. There are only 9 true scholarship players left, but they are the current core of Martelli's rebuilding project. They took their lumps last season (including PSU's 66-57 early season win in the BJC) but seem on the right track in their development individually and as a team. Despite coming off such an exhausting game, it's too early in the season to count on any sort of fatigue advantage. However, PSU could exploit SJU's thin bench by staying aggressive on offense and drawing some fouls.
St. Joe's is led by underrated guard and former Ed DeChellis target, Carl 'Tay' Jones. Tay has been on an absolute shooting tear to start the season, averaging 23.8 PPG while hitting 56% of his 2's, 50% of his 3's, and 91% of his foul shots (on an average of 8.2 FTA a game). Jones is the former high school teammate of Trey Lewis, so I'm sure there will be some trash-talking between the two. Sophomore Langston Galloway has also started off hot, as the spot-up shooter has hit 17-34 from behind the arc. Galloway and Jones form the best duo since Nelson-West at Hawk Hill. The explosive pair can score in bunches, but they also do a respectable job taking care of the basketball. Penn State will need to pressure these guys all game long if they expect to win.
The Hawks aren't lacking in the frontcourt either with CJ Aiken, a former Class AAAA Player of the Year in PA at Plymouth-Whitemarsh. Aiken's offensive game is still a work in progress, but he's off to a solid start on his sophomore campaign (11.8 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 4.2 BPG). His biggest impact will be on the defensive end in the interior. Tim Frazier will have to know where Aiken is when driving the lane, or his length will swat some of the shots Tim has been able to get away with against lesser opponents. Hofstra transfer Halil Kanacevic was expected to make a splash for the Hawks this season, but he's struggled early on. He did record a double-double against Georgia Tech but has hampered his production with foul trouble. In fact, he is averaging nearly as many fouls (4.2) and turnovers (3.5) per game as points (5.2) and rebounds (4.4).
The fifth starter on the wing in Martelli's lineup could be sophomore Daryus Quarles or freshman Papa Ndao. Quarles has had lingering foot problems that has kept him out of the Hawks' last four games. Ndao has been starting in his place, but Quarles has been cleared to play. Both are just role players at this point who likely won't make as big of an impact as another former PSU target under DeChellis, Ronald Roberts. The 6th man has made a nice jump in production from his freshman campaign, averaging 11.8 PPG and 6.6 RPG in 26 MPG off the bench. The athletic forward does his damage extensively inside the perimeter and hits the boards hard. The last key contributor for SJU is true freshman PG Chris Wilson, but you wouldn't peg him for a frosh when you see he has assisted 22 baskets to just 8 turnovers through his first five college games.
The Hawks have been very efficient on offense so far (41st in the KP ratings) and will test PSU's new energetic defense. The obvious matchup of the game will be Tim Frazier vs Carl Jones. Both are lightning quick ball-handlers that should provide an entertaining battle. Jones is more of a pure scorer while Frazier is the more complete point guard. I expect Chambers to mix in some zone and man to keep the Hawks' honest, but I don't think the 1-2-2 will be effective against SJU's experienced backcourt.
If PSU wants to come away with a big win, they'll need to shoot like they did Wednesday night. The biggest weakness for the Hawks' is their perimeter defense. The Lions will need to hit at least 40% from 3 to be in it in my opinion (which means at least 8 makes if they shoot their usual 20+ 3PA). Another advantage on paper for PSU is rebounding. Outside of Roberts, SJU is not good on the boards at either end of the floor. It's crucial PSU exploit this and extend their own possessions while limiting SJU's. The Hawks have been shooting so well to start the year (56.6 eFG%) that giving them more shots will not yield positive results. Lastly, the Lions will need to slow down SJU's attack any way possible (preferably forcing turnovers like they have been).
St. Joe's is a 6 point home favorite. I'm not expecting a win, but we'll see what happens in Chambers' first true road test (or is it homecoming?).