Team preview: Saint Joseph's

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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)

Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli is widely regarded as the Atlantic 10's best X and O man, a reputation he's earned by turning the Hawks into a perennial postseason team.
Follically-challenged Phil didn't hurt his rep last season by taking his Hawks from 10-12 and left for dead after an ugly Valentine's Day loss at Temple to within a whisker of reaching of the 2006 NCAA Tournament.

Late in the year, Martelli challenged his four seniors -- especially point guard Dwayne Lee and sweet-shooting wing Chet Stachitas -- to carve out their own niche, and they responded by leading the Hawks to victories in their final five regular-season games and then three triumphs in the A-10 Tournament before a one-point loss to Xavier in the A-10 title game. Saint Joseph's consolation prize was a trip to the NIT, the program's sixth consecutive postseason berth.

At first glance, it appears Martelli will have to dig deep into his bag of coaching tricks for the Hawks to make a seventh straight trip to the postseason. Four starters are gone from last year's 19-14 squad, including the team's top three scorers. If that weren't enough turnover, two of Martelli's three assistant coaches departed -- Monte Ross to become head coach at Delaware and Mike Rice for an assistant's job at Pittsburgh.

However, Saint Joseph's can't be written off in large part because of Martelli, who will come up with a style of play that works best for his current Hawks. When current NBA guards Jameer Nelson and Delonte West were playing for him, Martelli played a fast-paced style. And when things slowed down, he asked Nelson to drive into the teeth of the defense and either score himself or kick the ball out to open shooters once he had drawn extra defenders. That simple plan worked beautifully as the unselfish Hawks went 30-2 and reached the 2004 Elite Eight.

Once the gifted backcourt duo left, Martelli came up with a different approach, running a much more structured offense with screens galore. Playing at a slower pace forced the Hawks to win games in the 50s and 60s rather than in the 80s, but they were able to win 43 times over the last two seasons because they ran their sets, played stifling defense and made a ton of free throws. Last season Saint Joseph's led the nation in free-throw percentage (.799.)

"I take a lot of pride in the fact that our teams do get better," Martelli said. "And they don't get tired, they don't get stale, they don't get frustrated."