Your guide to the stretch drive

Just about four months ago, as everyone on Hawk Hill awaited the forthcoming basketball season with the ever so alluring and deceptive hope that accompanies each fresh season, St. Joe’s fans  (this one included) sat back and looked at a somewhat bleak outlook and told themselves, “It’s not that bad. It won’t be that bad. Right?”

Well, we were wrong. And now the possibility that hung so forebodingly in the shadows all season long has been brought to the forefront as realistic as can be: the Hawks failing to qualify for the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

Now, before we go forward, let’s just make something eminently clear. This team, even if it does sneak somehow sneak into a 12-seed in the conference tournament, isn’t  going anywhere. These last two games of the regular season aren’t a prelude to a miraculous run from the back of the back to the Big Dance in the homestretch. Inclusion in the top 12 of the A-10 is at best window dressing, and possibly undeservingly so, for what has been a very rough season. It may be akin to making sure all the tables in the main dining hall of the Titanic were neatly set just before hitting the iceberg, but it’s still something, albeit small, to hang their hats on. And who are we kidding, it’s a pride issue, and possibly a recruiting issue.

But even with that in mind, because we have to fill space on this blog somehow, here’s how things shake out:

At the top of the standings, Richmond, Temple, and Xavier lead the way with 11-2 records. Richmond puts their eight-game win streak on the line tomorrow at Xavier, the latter of whom has the easiest slate of games to finish the season. Temple has two road games left, but all three are likely to secure first-round byes.

Charlotte and Saint Louis are tied for fourth at 9-4; whoever comes out on top out of those two earns the fourth bye into the quarterfinals in Atlantic City, while the fifth place team hosts a first-round game in their home gym. Rhode Island is just a game back at 8-5. Dayton, Duquesne, St. Boanventure, and George Washington each have at least five wins, and are guaranteed a spot in the final 12.

At the bottom, Fordham and their 19-game losing streak is still winless in 14 conference attempts and is eliminated from postseason contention. That leaves three teams for two spots: Massachusetts, La Salle, and St. Joe’s.

UMass has the inside line to the 11th spot with a 4-9 record (including two wins over St. Joe’s). They have three games left, including road contests at Dayton and La Salle, before closing out the season at home to Rhode Island. Just one win (presumably at La Salle) guarantees them a spot in the tourney.

The Explorers pretty much control their own destiny in this equation. They have a game in hand on the Hawks, as do the Minutemen, and face both of their bottom-of-the-standings rivals. They don’t have to leave Philadelphia from here on out, hosting Temple and UMass before heading across town to face St. Joe’s. Two wins (hardly outside the realm of possibility) could very well earn them the 11th seed.

Now, for the Hawks. They have only two games remaining, which based on their play this season merely minimizes the damage they can do. The travel to George Washington on Wednesday, before welcoming La Salle into the Hagan Arena for the season finale. Both games are winnable, and could see the Hawks vault themselves into a spot in the tourney. UMass holds the tiebreaker over the Hawks should it come to that, but a Hawks win over the Explorers would give them the edge on the head-to-head.

Here’s how I see it going down: The Hawks split with a loss at GW and a win at La Salle, putting them at 4-12. UMass manages one win, pulling out a tough victory at La Salle to finish 5-11. The Explorers then end up falling in their last three to end the season on a 10-game losing streak with a 3-13 record, giving St. Joe’s the final berth in the A-10 Tournament, at which point Charlotte repeats their 37-point shellacking of just under a week ago.

Some prize for optimism.

– Matthew De George ’10

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