Fantasy College Basketball Game(s) of the Week
The college basketball season begins as it ends: with tournaments. While clearly the NCAA tournament that finishes the season is the greatest event on the annual sports calendar (and briefly shines the national spotlight on my personal favorite sport), the early season tournaments give college basketball enthusiasts some interesting previews of potential Big Dance match ups. In-conference rivals rarely meet in the early season tournaments (just like the early rounds of the NCAA tournament) and there is sometimes the dire clash of styles that separates college from pro basketball. This weekend I took in a pair of games played by St. Joseph's, the favorite to win the A10. The first against Notre Dame and the second against Florida State in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic played at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
First, I'd like to give a few words to the A10. With the inclusion of Butler and VCU to this year's 16-team conference, how close is the Atlantic 10 to Tier 1 status? Granted, Temple (a big loss) and Charlotte (not so much) will leave after this year for the Big East and Conference USA, respectively. Last year, the A10 had four teams - Xavier, Saint Louis, St. Bonaventure, and Temple - make the NCAA tournament and I'd say that the conference is knocking on the door of the Pac 12 for Tier 1 inclusion. The conference still has a soft underside with teams like Fordham and Duquesne, but the same could be said of almost any Tier 1 conference.
Last year, the Hawks went to the NIT where they were knocked out by Northern Iowa. I don't believe close losses are much better than any other type of loss, but St. Joe's last four losses last year were by five points or fewer (the five-point loss coming in a double-overtime thriller against St. Bonaventure and Andrew Nicholson). With everyone back, the Hawks figured to take a step forward. Coming into the games, I was familiar with shot-blocking C.J. Aiken and scoring guard Langston Galloway. Galloway's backcourt mate Carl Jones, the team's leading scorer the past two seasons, was finishing a three-game suspension and did not play Friday against the Fighting Irish.
In the first game, the thing that stood out for the Hawks was their excellent frontcourt. Aiken teamed with Halil Kanacevic and Ronald Roberts Jr. to play the Notre Dame frontcourt to a standstill. With double-double machine Jack Cooley on the Irish, that was no mean feat. The game went into overtime, but coach Phil Martelli let his starters each play at least 41 minutes. This is a perfect situation for fantasy players. Kanacevic showed off a nice all-around game with 15 points, eight rebounds, and six assists. I figured Aiken would be the star and he did have three blocks to go along with 11 points and seven boards, but it was Roberts who stood out. The 6-8 junior has a knack for offensive rebounds and quick putbacks. He battled Cooley well and the Notre Dame star fouled out, which helped the Hawks dominate in overtime.
Perhaps the best thing about the early season and conference tournaments is that you get to see the same team on consecutive days. To help the minutes crush against the Seminoles, the Hawks did have Jones back from suspension. Jones showed off his quickness and finished with 13 points. The senior played 28 minutes and will likely supplant sophomore Chris Wilson in the starting lineup soon. Wilson did a nice job as more of a pure point guard than Jones and will continue to get minutes if Martelli is willing to use his bench. Roberts was again a huge factor on the offensive boards with seven rebounds (11 overall) and 15 points. Hanacevic fouled out after 21 minutes.
For the Seminoles, it wasn't hard to see how they'd be a nightmare match up in a back-to-back game situation. The Florida State guards put tremendous and constant pressure on the perimeter. Michael Snaer, Ian Miller, and Montay Brandon did not give the guards of St. Joe's an inch to breathe. When the threes are dropping for the Seminoles (like any team), Florida State will be tough to beat. They were 6-of-13 against the Hawks from three. Okaro White and Terrence Shannon looked strong on the interior. Despite losing their opener to South Alabama (in a game in which the threes weren't falling, just 5-of-21), the Seminoles will be a tough out in the ACC. Leading scorer Snaer will likely be the Seminole bellwether. He has hit nine threes in the team's three wins, but went 0-of-6 against the Jaguars.