C.J. Aiken, Micheal Eric

Top 25 Countdown: No. 24 St. Joseph’s

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 20-14, 9-7 Atlantic-10 (t-5th); Lost in the First Round of the NIT

Head Coach: Phil Martelli

Key Losses: None

Newcomers: Kyle Bolock, Isaiah Miles, Javon Baumann

Projected Lineup:

G: Carl Jones, Sr.
G: Langston Galloway, Jr.
F: Halil Kanacevic, Jr.
F: Ronald Roberts, Jr.
F: CJ Aiken, Jr.
Bench: Chris Wilson, So.; Daryus Quarles, Jr.; Papa Ndao, So.

Outlook: Back in 2010, when Phil Martelli landed a recruiting class that included CJ Aiken, Langston Galloway and Ronald Roberts, St. Joe’s, quite frankly, wasn’t any good. They were coming off of a season that saw the Hawks win just 11 games and finish 5-11 in the Atlantic 10. And while there was considerable hype for the incoming class, that first season on Hawk Hill didn’t go any better; St. Joe’s again won just 11 games and finished 4-12 in league play.

But St. Joe’s impressed last season, and while they still missed out on the NCAA tournament, it wasn’t because they were overmatched; St. Joe’s was still learning how to win. The Hawks held a second half lead in 11 of their 14 losses. The only games they lost by double-digits came at Xavier, at Temple and at home against St. Louis. With a roster that can now be called experienced — every player from last year’s rotation returns, with six of the eight now registering as upper-classmen — the expectation is that this is the year Martelli’s club turns around their misfortune.

The commonly held belief with this group is that their strength lies in the back court, which is the result if the extent of your research into this group is checking box scores. That’s not necessarily wrong, as Martelli has one of the best returning guard duos in the country. Senior Carl Jones has led the team in scoring for the past two seasons. A 5-foot-11, 160 pound spark-plug, Jones is capable of putting up big numbers in a hurry. His average of 17.0 points last season would have been even higher if he hadn’t been dealing with a bum ankle throughout late January.

Jones’ running mate is junior Langston Galloway, who is the Hawk’s resident sharpshooter. Galloway is an excellent complement to Jones. Where Jones was somewhat of a chucker, Galloway was by far the most efficient player in the Hawk lineup a year ago. He took more threes than he did twos, knocking them down at a 46.6% clip, while keeping the floor spread and avoiding turning the ball over. Junior Daryus Quarles and sophomore Chris Wilson round out the back court for the Hawks.

But where the difference gets made for this team is with their burgeoning trio of junior forwards.

The guy that will likely make the headlines is 6-foot-9 CJ Aiken. Aiken’s strength is his athleticism and wingspan. He’s already one of the best shotblockers in the country — he averaged 3.5 bpg during his first two years in college — and takes quite a bit of pressure off of his teammates with his ability to finish around the rim. Aiken is a string bean, however, which means that most of his damage on the offensive end of the floor comes from pick-and-pops (he has three-point range) and cuts to the rim. The bully on the block for the Hawk’s is 6-foot-7 Ronald Roberts, who is a ferocious athlete in his own right. There isn’t much about Roberts’ game that would be considered pretty or smooth, but he’s your prototypical, undersized A-10 forward: strong, aggressive and athletic.

The x-factor for this team is Hofstra transfer Halil Kanacevic, a 6-foot-8 forward who will remind some people of a poor man’s Draymond Green. Kanacevic was the team’s leading rebounder a season ago as well as their best passer, averaging 3.7 assists. He’s not all that efficient — he turns the ball over quite a bit and didn’t shoot the ball all that well last year — but his ability to pass out of the high post is important with the amount of talent on the floor with him.

Predictions?: The Atlantic 10 is just loaded this year. With Rick Majerus getting sick, there may not be a top 15 team in the league. But there are six teams that got serious consideration for the preseason top 25, which should be an indication of just how difficult and balanced the top of the conference is, and, in turn, just how easy it will be to finish in fifth or sixth place. This team is good enough not only to make the NCAA tournament, but to make a run to the second weekend once they get there given the  size, athleticism and back court production they have. Another trip to the NIT and anything outside of a top four finish in the conference would be a major disappointment.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Seton Hall’s Derrick Gordon won’t pursue pro basketball to become a firefighter

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 12:  Derrick Gordon #32 of the Seton Hall Pirates celebrates after hitting a basket against the Villanova Wildcats during the Big East Basketball Tournament Championship at Madison Square Garden on March 12, 2016 in New York City. Seton Hall Pirates defeated Villanova Wildcats 69-67.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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After a successful career that included stops at Western Kentucky, UMass and Seton Hall, Derrick Gordon, Division I college basketball’s first openly gay player, will not pursue professional opportunities and will instead become a firefighter.

The 6-foot-3 Gordon averaged 8.0 points and 3.3 rebounds per game as a senior for the Pirates, helping the team reach the NCAA tournament during his graduate transfer year. By making the NCAA tournament with Seton Hall this past season, Gordon became the first college basketball player to reach the event with three different teams.

A tenacious perimeter defender who could have earned a pro contract if he stuck with basketball, Gordon will instead pursue a career as a firefighter in San Francisco.

“I’ve had an amazing basketball career and want to thank everybody who has always been there supporting me every step on the way,” Gordon said via his Instagram. “But I’m making a change in my career…I will now be working towards becoming a San Francisco Firefighter!! I’m excited about this and looking forward to having a long career!!”

While Gordon likely would have never made the NBA on talent alone, his defensive prowess would have likely given him a shot overseas or in the D League. It’s hard to say why Gordon is making this decision, but given what we saw with all of the attention surrounding Michael Sam when he tried to play in the NFL, Gordon was probably going to face a lot of scrutiny wherever he decided to play.

Hopefully Gordon finds his calling as a firefighter and brings the same energy and leadership that he brought on the floor to helping other people outside of basketball.

Washington guard Markelle Fultz pulls off sick spin and dunk at FIBA U18 Americas

Kelly Kline/Under Armour
Kelly Kline/Under Armour
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Washington incoming freshman guard Markelle Fultz is going to be one of the premier players in the country next season as his unique game is going to be fascinating to watch.

The 6-foot-5 Fultz is currently playing with the USA U18 team in Chile for the FIBA U18 Americas as he’s second on the team in scoring and first in assists as the Americans play Canada for the title on Saturday.

Against the host country, Fultz had an electric spin move in the paint and finished with an easy dunk. If you’re not willing to stay up late to watch this dude play this year, then set your DVRs, because Fultz is going to have some fun moments during the season.

(H/t: Jonathan Wasserman, Bleacher Report)

POSTERIZED: Class of 2016 forward Chris Seeley has a massive dunk on defender

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The Las Vegas AAU events are all going on this week and it’s the final event for rising seniors.

At the Las Vegas Fab 48, forward Chris Seeley of the Splash City 17U team put down one of the best poster dunks of the summer as he skied over a defender for an emphatic finish.

The Class of 2016 forward attends Central High School in Fresno, California as he’s receiving plenty of buzz for his recent play.

 

 

 

Five-star forward Jarred Vanderbilt cuts list to nine

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LAS VEGAS, NV — Five-star Class of 2017 forward Jarred Vanderbilt has been one of the most sought-after recruits in the country since he was a freshman in high school.

The 6-foot-8 native of Houston is beginning to wind things down in the recruiting process as he cut his list to nine schools on Friday. Vanderbilt’s list includes some of the most storied programs in college basketball and plenty of schools from his home state of Texas.

“I just followed my heart. Went with the schools I liked the most and who I have the best relationships with. Thear were the schools I could see myself playing for,” Vanderbilt told NBCSports.com.

Regarded as the No. 13 overall prospect in the Rivals.com national rankings, Vanderbilt is currently recovering from a broken fifth metatarsal in his left foot.

Vanderbilt will see a doctor in three-to-four weeks as he’s currently in a boot to help his foot heal.

Report: Michigan State and Penn State will play at the Palestra

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 10: Head coach Patrick Chambers of the Penn State Nittany Lions looks on against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the second round of the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 10, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo has previously expressed a desire to coach a game at the legendary Palestra in Philadelphia and it appears he’ll get his chance in a Big Ten game this season.

According to a report from Brendan F. Quinn of MLive, Penn State will use the Palestra as its home gym for the Jan. 7, 2017 Big Ten game against Michigan State. It is the only time the two teams are scheduled to play during Big Ten season and Penn’s home gym will offer a unique setting for the game.

Since the capacity of the Palestra is 8,722, it should make for a fun atmosphere for both programs since this will be a game both fan bases will likely want to attend.

With Nittany Lions head coach Pat Chambers making Philadelphia a major recruiting priority for his program, a game like this in Philadelphia makes sense while Michigan State has always been open to playing games in unique settings such as aircraft carriers.

The Palestra has been a college basketball mainstay since it was built in 1927 as it hosts all Penn home games and, in the past, hosted a lot of Big 5 Philadelphia college games between La Salle, Penn, Saint Joseph’s, Temple and Villanova.

Overall, a fun idea that should make for an interesting experience for both programs. It’s not often that a team will change its home venue for a conference game, but it could be the start of something we see other schools look to do.