City 6 Preview 2014-15: St. Joe's turns to Wilson, Bembry


City 6 Preview 2014-15: St. Joe's turns to Wilson, Bembry

Our City 6 men's basketball previews continue with a look at St. Joe's. Sunday, we looked at La Salle. Monday, we looked at Temple and Tuesday, Villanova. Tomorrow, Drexel. Above, our Big Man on Campus Series continues with Hawks guard DeAndre Bembry. 

In the offseason, Phil Martelli’s grandson was a superhero.

Batman. Captain America. Whatever costume the precocious 5-year-old could get his hands on.

But a few weeks ago, young Philip Stephen Martelli idled up to his grandfather — the head coach of the Saint Joseph’s University men’s basketball team — and asked if it was true that college hoops season was almost here. When the elder Martelli said that it was, the boy changed into a different kind of costume: a sweatsuit. Then, he went into an office and watched game tape.

“I think the superheroes will go the side,” Phil Martelli said, “and coaching the team will come back.”

While it may have gone into hibernation for a few months, the 5-year-old’s obsession with coaching college hoops — he was adorably caught on camera mimicking his grandfather during the 2014 Atlantic 10 tournament — was one of a few magical moments for St. Joe’s last March. So was the Hawks’ surprising run to the A-10 championship that caused their head coach to cry on the Barclays Center court, the program’s first NCAA tournament berth since 2008, and an overtime loss to eventual national champion UConn in the Big Dance (though that last one still stings).

Now that a new season is here — St. Joe’s opens at home against Farleigh Dickinson on Friday — the excitement among the entire Martelli family is once again palpable.

But if the Hawks hope to return to the national spotlight in March, they’ll have to do it with a mostly new team as the three star players from last year’s championship squad — guard Langston Galloway and forwards Ronald Roberts Jr. and Halil Kanacevic — have all graduated.

“This has been different but it really has been kind of exhilarating in a way,” Martelli said. “I really do miss Halil telling me what I should be doing and what I should be saying. I do miss that part. But they’re such nice kids and they’re really good teammates that it’s been easy to deal with them.”

Galloway, Roberts and Kanacevic all had tremendous all-conference careers, so losing them will be a big blow. But the Hawks do have at least two reasons to be excited: a veteran point guard in senior Chris Wilson and a rising star in sophomore DeAndre Bembry.

Both started all 34 games for the Hawks last season, combining for more than 20 points per game. And both were named captains for the 2014-15 season, with Bembry becoming the program’s first sophomore captain since 1936-37.

The only reason for concern is whether too much is being asked of Bembry, a fantastic swingman with an equally fantastic 'fro.

“He’s an old spirit,” Martelli said. “He’s a basketball player and that’s how he wants to be seen. And he’s not afraid to take on the responsibility of being the first sophomore captain here since 1936 and being a defending Atlantic 10 champ. None of that seems to matter to him. But I am concerned. I do have it in the back of my head about holding him to a standard. Am I asking too much?”

One player that should ease some of his burden is freshman James Demery, who arrived on campus with as much hype and expectations as Bembry did last year. The two swingmen have a lot of similarities, too. They’re both 6-foot-6, from North Carolina and are terrific lockdown defenders.

Martelli even said that Demery will defend the opposing team’s top perimeter player, a role in which Bembry thrived last season and won’t necessarily relinquish easily.

“He said Demery might guard the best player, but I’m going to make sure I’m going to get on him most of the time too,” Bembry said. “I love guarding the best players on other teams. We can share it a little bit.”

Bembry and Demery are similar in another way — both need to work on their jump shots. Martelli said he’s been encouraging Demery to take more shots but is already preparing for his team to get much less scoring from behind the arc than last season when Galloway went a blistering 108 for 244 (44 percent) from three-point range.

When asked how the Hawks can replace Galloway’s shooting, Martelli was blunt.

“It’s impossible,” he said. “If you asked me our Achilles heel, it’s perimeter shooting. So we’ve had to change the way we play. We’re going to drive the ball more, make more layups, play a little more aggressively defensively.”

The Hawks certainly have the personnel to be a more aggressive team in the backcourt with Wilson, Bembry and Demery leading the charge. But the team still has a lot of question marks in the frontcourt.

Martelli didn’t reveal who will start, but with Papa Ndao missing the entire season because of an illness, 6-7 junior Isaiah Miles (3.0 ppg) and 6-8 sophomore Javon Baumman (1.5 ppg) figure to get a lot of minutes. West Virginia transfer Aaron Brown could also get some time at the “4,” and freshmen Obi Romeo and redshirt freshman Jai Williams are poised to see some action as well.

For what it’s worth, Wilson has liked what he’s seen from the young big men and predicted a big season for Miles in particular. And he’s counting on them to help him enjoy one more special season before graduating.

“I think the goal is still to win the Atlantic 10 championship and to make it to the NCAA tournament,” Wilson said. “Ever since I’ve been here, I don’t think that goal has ever changed. And I wouldn’t expect it to change now just because we have different pieces.”

Many things will have to go right for the Hawks to recreate the magic of last March, of course. But Martelli and his superhero-turned-coaching-assistant grandson are optimistic.

“Look, everybody loves their team right now,” the St. Joe’s coach said. “But we’re a little further ahead than I would have anticipated. And it’s because of what those guys — Halil and Lang and Ron — left behind in the approach to how you’re supposed to be a St. Joe’s Hawk.”

Tons at stake as Temple hosts unbeaten UCF; Penn, Villanova wrap up

USA Today Images

Tons at stake as Temple hosts unbeaten UCF; Penn, Villanova wrap up

Temple (5-5, 3-3 AAC) vs. No. 15 UCF (9-0, 6-0 AAC)
Lincoln Financial Field
Saturday, noon, ESPNU

Last time out
Temple beat Cincinnati, 35-24, last Friday.

UCF beat UConn, 49-24, last Saturday.

Scouting report
Both teams have a lot at stake in Saturday’s game. An Owls win would make them bowl eligible and give them a victory against a high-ranked opponent, which would certainly help when it comes time for bowl selection. On the other hand, UCF will look to preserve its perfect season and stay atop the AAC's East Division with a crucial matchup against 8-1 South Florida looming.

Frank Nutile, who will make his fourth consecutive start at quarterback, has sparked Temple’s offense. Since he stepped in, he has completed 61 of 89 passes for 803 yards, six touchdowns and just two interceptions, and led the Owls to two wins. He will need to continue his stellar play for Temple to beat UCF, which boasts the second-best total and scoring defense in the AAC, allowing 371 yards per game and 20.7 points per game.

The Knights also have the best total offense in the conference, putting up 538 yards per game and 48.6 points per game, which is more than six points better than the second-best team. The Owls must keep UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton (2,720 yards, 22 touchdowns, five interceptions) and the Knights' rushing attack, which averages 210.2 yards per game, in check if they want a chance at the upset.

Series history
The series is tied at 2-2 and Temple has won the past two matchups, including a 26-25 come-from-behind win last year.

What's next?
Temple travels to play Tulsa next Saturday.

UCF hosts No. 23 South Florida on Friday night.

Penn (5-4, 3-3 Ivy) vs. Cornell (3-6, 3-3 Ivy)
Franklin Field
Saturday, 1:30 p.m.

Last time out
Penn defeated Harvard, 23-6, last Saturday.

Cornell lost to Columbia, 18-8, last Saturday.

Scouting report
Penn has won its last three Ivy League contests and has gained a lot of momentum after losing its first three Ivy League games this season. Cornell shouldn’t pose much of a challenge to the Quakers since the Big Red are second worst in the conference in scoring offense, total offense and pass efficiency. The Quakers’ strength is their rushing attack, as they average 192 yards per game on the ground. Cornell’s rush defense is sixth in the conference, so look for the Quakers to take advantage of this matchup.

Series history
This is the 124th meeting between the teams. The Quakers hold a 72-46-5 advantage and won, 42-20, last season. 

What's next?
This is the final game of the season for both teams.

Villanova (4-6, 2-5 CAA) vs. Delaware (7-3, 5-2 CAA)
Villanova Stadium, Villanova, Pennsylvania 
Saturday, 1 p.m.

Last time out
Villanova lost to Rhode Island, 20-6, last Saturday.

Delaware beat Albany, 22-3, last Saturday.

Scouting report
What stands out about this regular-season finale are the defenses for Delaware and Villanova. Delaware’s scoring defense is second to James Madison as the Blue Hens allow just 15.7 points per game. The Wildcats’ specialty on the defensive side of the football is their run defense. Villanova allows only 72 yards per game on the ground and will look to slow down a Delaware rushing attack that averages 200 yards per game. Also to note, the Blue Hens come in fighting for a berth in the FCS playoffs.

Series history
Villanova leads the series 28-21-1. The Wildcats won, 41-10, last season.

What's next?
This is the regular-season finale for both Villanova and Delaware. For the second time in the last three seasons, the Wildcats won't make the FCS playoffs.

Fastbreak Friday: La Salle looks to upset No. 20 Northwestern

Fastbreak Friday: La Salle looks to upset No. 20 Northwestern

NBC Sports Philadelphia anchor/reporter Amy Fadool and senior producer Sean Kane get you set for all the weekend's local college basketball games with Fastbreak Friday. Look for this column every Friday during the college basketball season.

Note: Temple played Auburn at 11 a.m. on Friday in a game that started too early to include in this week's edition of Fastbreak Friday.

Lafayette (0-2) at No. 5 Villanova (2-0), Friday, 8 p.m. at PPL Center in Allentown
Villanova makes the trip up the Northeast Extension to take on Lafayette in what is technically a home game for the Wildcats in a building located in their opponent's backyard. This will be the second meeting between these teams in a little over 12 months. Villanova beat Lafayette, 88-48, in the 2016-17 season opener last November.

Jay Wright's team is coming off a lopsided 113-77 win over Nicholls State on Tuesday. It was the program's highest point total in a game since 2003. Wright had some complaints concerning the Wildcats' defense following the game, but there wasn't much not to like about their offensive execution. Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo and Jalen Brunson combined for 60 points as Villanova shot 57 percent from the field and 43 percent from three-point territory. 

Wright is utilizing a nine-man rotation that includes four freshmen. This is a deep and athletic Villanova team, but there will be some growing pains with so many first-year players taking on critical roles. Two members of that freshman class — starting center Omari Spellman and reserve guard Collin Gillespie — have had little trouble adjusting to the college game. Gillespie has been particularly impressive, averaging eight points and three assists in just over 18 minutes per game. The 2017 Philadelphia Catholic League Player of the Year is a steady ballhandler and passer with a smooth jump shot — he made four of 11 three-point attempts in the first two games of the season. 

Lafayette opened the season with losses at George Mason and NJIT. The 0-2 start comes on the heels of last season's 9-21 finish that saw the Leopards go 5-13 in Patriot League play. Lafayette is always well-coached under former Villanova star Fran O'Hanlon, but they don't have the talent to keep up with Villanova. Look for the Wildcats to roll on Friday night before things heat up next week at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas.  

Villanova 85, Lafayette 60

La Salle (3-0) vs. No. 20 Northwestern (2-1), Saturday, 2:30 p.m. in Hall of Fame Classic in Connecticut
 The Explorers are 3-0 on the young season but it hasn’t been an easy undefeated start. Sure, Saint Peter’s wasn’t much of a test out of the gates, however, La Salle found some difficulty after that. It took two overtimes to finally put away Penn in the first Big 5 game of the year. Then Dr. John Giannini’s team saw a 20-point halftime lead evaporate at home Thursday night, letting South Alabama back into the game and winning by just eight points. 

B.J. Johnson has been as advertised for the Explorers. The senior transfer is everything they wanted and expected him to be: a scorer, a finisher and a leader. But he can’t do it by himself. La Salle needed all of his 30 points — 22 of them in the first half — to beat South Alabama. Guard-scoring hasn’t been an issue for La Salle in the past and that’s true once again. But getting some points in the paint and low block courtesy of a big man is something Giannini is really hoping Tony Washington can provide. 

I’ll tell you who could be a difference maker not only in this weekend’s game against Northwestern, but for the Explorers this season, Saul Phiri. He played 35 quality minutes Thursday night and was rewarded with a double-double, 14 points and 10 rebounds. On a team with plenty of guards, Phiri is still finding his way as a starter, but he could be a key contributor for La Salle to have a successful season. 

Funnily enough, Northwestern and La Salle shared an opponent already in Saint Peter’s. But unlike the Explorers, the Wildcats have already posted a loss this season, falling to Creighton this week. For more on that, check out our Fastbreak Friday video above. My co-author of this column will tell you all about the Big East.

Northwestern is ranked, though probably not for much longer if they play like they have in their first three games. They needed free throws late to hold off Loyola in their opener. 

If La Salle shoots well, there’s a chance they pull off the win in Connecticut. Northwestern’s defense got a workout with a very high-scoring Creighton team, so the game plan to beat the Wildcats has been laid out. But the Explorers will need all of their gunners and their big man to score well into double digits in this one. 

Northwestern 68, La Salle 64

Princeton (0-2) at Saint Joseph's (1-1), Saturday. 7 p.m.
You can forgive St. Joe's fans for thinking they can't catch a break. After losing their starting backcourt of Shavar Newkirk and Lamarr Kimble to season-ending injuries last season, the Hawks lost their best player Charlie Brown to a preseason wrist injury in October. Brown has yet to play this season. 

Then in the season-opener against Toledo, Kimble re-injured the same foot he fractured last season. Friday morning the school announced that Kimble is out for the remainder of the season as a result of the injury (see story). It's a devastating blow for the Hawks — Kimble is a team captain and terrific floor general.

Every team deals with injuries, but the Hawks have been downright ravaged by key players going down over the last 12 months. Phil Martelli's team has little choice but to soldier on. Without Brown and Kimble, St. Joe's pulled out a gritty 86-82 overtime win at UIC to even their season record at 1-1. James Demery was outstanding in the victory, scoring 25 points to go along with five rebounds and three steals. Freshman forward Taylor Funk added 22 points and nine rebounds. Funk has wasted no time making an impact -— averaging 19 points and 7.5 rebounds.  

The hope is Brown will be ready to rejoin the lineup in the near future. Even without Kimble, the Hawks will be a very difficult team to deal with once Brown returns. 

Princeton is a respectable 0-2 with losses to Butler and BYU. The Tigers are the defending Ivy League champs after winning 23 games a year ago. This is a very solid program that has proven they can play with anyone. I'd be surprised if Saturday's game isn't decided in the final minutes. But in the end, I'm banking on the Hawks figuring out a way to win in their home opener at Hagan Arena this season. 

Saint Joseph's 71, Princeton 69

PSU Brandywine (0-1) at Pennsylvania (1-2), Saturday, 11:30 a.m.
The Quakers picked up their first win this week, dispatching Navy at the Palestra by 21 points. But it could’ve been a winning week if they would’ve taken advantage of the opportunity to take down La Salle and earn a Big 5 win in the process. 

Watching that game against La Salle, which I did on NBC Sports Philadelphia (shameless plug), you saw a spark in the Quakers that wasn’t present in the loss to Fairfield to start the season. Ryan Betley is definitely going to be the engine that makes this Penn squad go. But nice performances from Max Rothschild and Antonio Woods showed that there is some depth on this team.. 

But it was a cold night shooting, something that has plagued the Quakers in the past. Against the Explorers, Steve Donahue’s team was a woeful 34 percent from the field and just 25 percent from beyond the arc. Despite all of that, they were still in this game, forcing double overtime thanks to forcing La Salle into 17 turnovers. 

Defense and turning those miscues into points are going to be keys for Penn to beat teams this year and get back to the Ivy League Tournament. And if we learned anything from last year, this is a late-blooming team. So maybe if they figure out their scoring troubles early, they can set themselves up nicely for March. 

And this weekend’s opponent should help the Quakers find their shooting stroke. They welcome Penn State-Brandywine to the Palestra. It actually wraps up a brief home stand for Penn. The next eight games for the Quakers are on the road, not returning home until December 27th. But they will at least head out on the road on a winning note. 

Penn 77, PSU-Brandywine 63

Drexel (1-1) vs. Houston (1-0), Friday, 2:30 p.m. at Paradise Jam in Virginia
 Unfortunately, this game is not being held in its intended location. The Virgin Islands were ravaged by hurricanes this summer, so the Paradise Jam is taking place in Lynchburg, Virginia on the campus of Liberty University. As they say, the game must go on. On a humanitarian note, all tournament gate money will be donated to the U.S. Virgin Islands to help the recovery. So if you’re cruising around Appalachian, stop by and see some good basketball while helping a great cause. 

Drexel posted its first win earlier this week, beating Arcadia at the DAC. It was great to see the Dragons find their scoring groove, posting 95 points in the win. Also good to see, Tremaine Isabell. The transfer from Missouri tallied 15 of his 22 points in the second half and that’s something Zach Spiker has to like. And it should bode well for the Dragons as they get into the heart of their season. 

And speaking of scoring, Houston is no stranger to putting up points. In the Cougars' lone win of the season, they shot a blistering 69 percent in the first half and eventually put away McNeese State by nearly 30 points. Kelvin Sampson returns his top scorer a year ago in Rob Gray, who also led the American Athletic Conference with 20.6 points a game. To paraphrase Luke Walton who spoke about Joel Embiid, he’s gonna be a problem.  

Houston 85, Drexel 70

Prediction Records
Sean Kane: 2-1
Amy Fadool: 0-2