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November 16, 2012

Preview: ND vs. St. Joseph's

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Head coach: Phil Martelli (18th year) - 321-223 (10-8) in 17 seasons at St. Joseph’s. Has led the Hawks to five NCAA tournament appearances, including an Elite Eight run in 2003-04 with a 30-2 record. Also made it to the Sweet 16 with a 26-7 record in 1996-97. Named AP Coach of the Year in 2004; Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year in 1997, 2001, 2004 and 2005.

You should know: That after winning just 11 games in 2009-10 and 2010-11, the Hawks bounced back with a 20-victory season in 2011-12…The Hawks opened with a 61-35 home victory Monday over Yale…St. Joseph’s is looking for its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2008…St. Joseph’s lost to Northern Iowa, 67-65, in the first round of the NIT last season…The Hawks rode the exploits of Jameer Nelson and Delonte West to the Elite Eight in 2004.

Top losses: None, although 5-foot-11, 160-pound senior point guard Carl Jones will not play against the Irish due to a three-game suspension for “an unspecified violation of the university’s community standards.”

Top players: The straw that stirs the drink for the Hawks is senior point guard Carl Jones, who averaged 17.0 points per game a year ago. But he won’t be eligible to return until Saturday night when St. Joseph’s takes on the winner/loser of Florida State-BYU.

Langston Galloway, a sturdy 6-foot-3, 210-pound junior, is the Hawks’ sharpshooter with 90 three-pointers made on 193 attempts (.466) last season. He averaged 15.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game while shooting .784 from the free-throw line.

The Hawks sport a capable front line with 6-foot-8, 220-pound junior Ronald Roberts, 6-foot-9, 201-pound junior C.J. Aiken, and 6-foot-8, 256-pound junior Halil Kanacevic.

Roberts, a top reserve last year, averaged 10.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. He had 78 offensive rebounds, but shot just .553 from the free-throw line. Roberts scored 10 points and grabbed 12 rebounds (six offensive) in the season-opening victory over Yale.

Aiken averaged 10.9 points and 5.1 rebounds per game in 2011-12. He entered the season with 237 blocked shots in his first two seasons, and added three more (with eight points and six rebounds) against Yale. Aiken is the third option (behind Galloway and Jones) on the team from beyond the arc, although he made just 29 (and .305 percent) last year.

Kanacevic, a transfer from Hofstra, led the team in offensive rebounds last year with 89. He averaged 8.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, but shot just .548 from the line. He had 11 points and 11 rebounds against Yale.

Chris Wilson, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound sophomore, replaced Jones in the starting lineup Monday, chipping in with three points, three rebounds and three assists, which are numbers comparable to his averages as a sub (20.5 mgp.) in 2011-12.

The Hawks get help off the bench from 6-foot-6, 180-pound junior Daryus Quarles and 6-foot-8, 223-pound sophomore Papa Ndao, who hit his only three-point attempt against Yale.

Brey on St. Joseph’s: “I’m very impressed with them. I know they’re down a very good player, but when you have that many veterans back off a team that won together, and are really pointing this year to going back to the NCAA tournament, this is a Big East, high-level game for us against veterans guys.

“Very impressed with how steady they are and very impressed with how they defend in the half-court, and certainly, they block a lot of shots. As older teams do, I think they play with a lot of poise. They’ve played together a lot. So it’s a great challenge for us.”

Brey on Galloway: “He’ll be one of the better shooters we’ll play against all season, and we play a heckuva schedule after St. Joe. Very impressed with him. I remember sitting with (assistant coach) Jeff Battle, watching (Galloway) play in the Peach Jam in Augusta (Ga.) after he had already committed to St. Joe. I turned to Jeff and said, ‘Man, that’s a heckuva guard.’ He’s certainly played out that way for them.

“You know what’s great about him? He doesn’t force anything. He just lets the game come to him. He’s got a great feel for the game, and we have to have a team awareness of him or he’ll bury you.”

Brey on keys to victory: “We’re going to have to be more efficient offensively against them. We can’t let Galloway go off, but they have a bunch of guys that can score it. Position defense is going to be a real key. Keeping them off the offensive boards. They’re long and athletic and bouncy. They get second shots. Again, that’s a Big East thing that we face a lot of times. Can we keep it to one-and-done? But offensive efficiency, for us, against a good defensive team is important.”

The match-up: The Irish have plenty of length in guards Jerian Grant and Cameron Biedscheid to contend with Langston Galloway, and may even use someone like Pat Connaughton to defend and put a body on him. But Connaughton, Scott Martin, Jack Cooley and Garrick Sherman will have their hands full up front against Ronald Roberts/C.J. Aiken/Halil Kanacevic, who will hit the offensive glass and - in the case of Aiken - occasionally pop outside and hit a three.

If the Irish can impose their will up front and go at St. Joseph’s big men, they might be able to get them into some foul trouble and force them to go to Phil Martelli’s relatively short bench. Notre Dame might even be able to use freshman Zach Auguste to combat the Hawks’ numbers up front.

Ultimately, however, it will come down to how well the Irish execute their offense against St. Joseph’s, and that starts with Eric Atkins, who won’t have the Hawks’ best player - point guard Carl Jones - with which to contend. Jones’ replacement, Chris Wilson, will try to use his size to deal with Atkins.

The Irish have to shoot free throws better than they have (.607) because St. Joseph’s has great difficulty from the charity stripe, and this is an area where an edge can be gained. Notre Dame is more in the .700-.725 range from the line and need to use that to its advantage.

Look for a hard-fought, close, low-scoring game. With Jones out, the Irish should have the advantage and win this basketball game. But it won’t be easy.

Pointspread: Notre Dame by 3 ˝
Prister's Prediction: Notre Dame 61, St. Joseph's 59
Prister's record: 2-0 straight up; 1-0 vs. points


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