St. Joseph's looking to get into the NCAA picture

St. Joe's Papa Ndao (facing camera) gets a pat on the head after the game. (Elizabeth Robertson/Staff Photographer)

With approximately five weeks left in the college basketball regular season, much can happen, but at this point, St. Joseph’s has put itself in the conversation of potential NCAA teams from the balanced Atlantic-10 Conference.

Are the Hawks in the NCAA Tournament picture?

“At this point they are in the picture frame, I wouldn’t say they are in the picture,” said ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi, who knows a little about the Hawks since he is their radio game analyst.

The Hawks made their biggest statement of the season with Saturday’s 73-68 win over Massachusetts at Hagan Arena.

St. Joseph is now 15-6 overall and tied for third in the A-10 with a 5-2 mark. UMASS, ranked No. 19 in the Coaches Poll and No. 21 by AP, is 17-4, 4-3.

The Hawks have killer home games this week with the top two A-10 teams St. Louis and VCU, so more will be known after that.

If the Hawks sweep the games, it will be reminiscent of La Salle defeating Butler and VCU in a four-day period last January. That was a two-game stretch that gave the Explorers their biggest boost toward a bid.

Most associated with St. Joseph’s mentioned that the team is just looking at things one game at a time, although forward Halil Kanacevic in a moment of candor, admitted that the NCAA Tournament is something clearly on his mind.

“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about it, it’s my fifth year, I want to make the tournament,” said Kanacevic who had 18 points, six rebounds and five assists in the UMASS win. “I have never played the tournament so that is definitely what goes in my mind.”

Of course, Kanacevic then said that he wasn’t consumed with the thought of the tournament and the only thing that matters is winning the next game

“If you win every game you are in the tournament,” Kanacevic said.  “So we feel if we win each game it only helps us.”

With a senior laden lineup led by Kanacevic, Ronald Roberts Jr. and Langston Galloway, there is no doubt that this group would be disappointed not to earn bid to the NCAA Tournament.

The Hawks have plenty of work to do, but beating the Minutemen was a start, especially after losing 66-62 at UMASS on Jan. 8. In that game, the Hawks led 57-48 with 6:23 left, but were then outscored 18-5 the rest of the way. That is a game they felt they let slip away.

The win over UMASS was St. Joseph’s first true prestige victory of the season.  

In addition to the upcoming home games with St. Louis and VCU, the Hawks have to then visit La Salle on Feb. 15. At least the Hawks will have a week off after playing VCU to get ready for what will be an extremely difficult game against the Explorers.

So right now, the season could very well come down to how the Hawks fare this week.

St. Louis is 7-0 in league play and VCU is 6-1.

This is the midway point of a difficult six-game stretch for the Hawks that began with a 77-62 loss at Richmond and was followed by a 60-57 win at Dayton. That is a Dayton team that just handed George Washington its second A-10 loss.

“I know many wanted to report we had a six-game and now a three-game season,” St. Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli said. “We had a one game season and won that game.”

It may be true, but the result of the six games will surely go a long way to helping determine if the Hawks will be in the big tournament.

Lunardi feels four or five A-10 teams will make the NCAA Tournament.

Logic dictates that if a team is tied for third, it will be in the picture, or at this point the frame.

Another strong week for the Hawks and that frame could be discarded.