Hawks, Explorers hope to defy A-10 predictions

John Giannini (left) and the Explorers are predicted to finish seventh in the Atlantic 10. Phil Martelli and the Hawks are predicted to finish ninth.

PITTSBURGH - La Salle finished last in the 14-team Atlantic 10 Conference in 2015-16 after placing ninth the year before.

If preseason predictions mean anything, this season it is Saint Joseph's turn to be wary of a fall in the standings.

The Hawks were picked to finish ninth on Tuesday during the annual Atlantic 10 media day at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, which will be the site of the March conference tournament. La Salle was picked to finish seventh in a poll conducted by conference coaches and media members.

Last season, Saint Joseph's was 28-8 overall and fourth in the conference during the regular season at 13-5.

There are two good reasons the Hawks are picked to slip: the loss of DeAndre' Bembry, drafted in the first round by the Atlanta Hawks after his junior year; and Isaiah Miles, the conference's most improved player who averaged 18.1 points and 8.1 rebounds as a senior.

"I have been fortunate to have a lot of good players and good people," Hawks coach Phil Martelli said. "Isaiah and DeAndre', in terms of their cohesiveness as a duo, were extraordinary. It was that way in practice and when they did individual work. They won two (conference) championships."

In his 22nd season, Martelli has seven players on his roster from the Philly area.

"When you don't have to spend a night in a hotel to recruit, that is a great thing," he said.

The Hawks return two starters - junior point guard Shavar Newkirk and sophomore forward Pierfrancesco Oliva, who combined to average just 12 points per contest last season.

Martelli noted he is the only coach in the conference who does not return a double-figure scorer.

La Salle was 9-22, 4-14 last season but could be on the rebound - literally. The Explorers were among the worst teams in the nation in rebound margin (minus 7.0) but a slew of transfers could turn that around quickly.

"Everything was a concern last year. Last year is over. I apologize for it," La Salle coach John Giannini said. "We are a year older and better."

The group includes 6-5 Jordan Price, who averaged 19.2 points per game last season, 6-6 Cleon Roberts (12.9 ppg), and transfers Demetrius Henry (South Carolina), Pookie Powell (Memphis) and B.J. Johnson (Syracuse).

"We have always had success with transfers, even going back with the (2012-13) Sweet 16 team," Giannini said. "Things have changed over the last several years. We certainly don't want to settle in our recruiting for high school guys.

"For some reason, we have been more fortunate in transfer recruiting. Frankly, we are having more success in that area right now. The second time around they are just looking for the best fit and the place where they feel comfortable. We kind of fit the bill for good transfers."

Price was a preseason all-conference second-team pick.

"The talent is there," Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley said of the Explorers.

La Salle was pegged for fifth by The Sporting News and NBC Sports and 11th by USA Today. St. Joe's was picked to finish seventh by USA Today, 11th by The Sporting News and 11th by NBC Sports.

The conference has sent 33 schools to the NCAA Tournament since 2007, and seven times in the last nine years a conference school has made the Sweet 16.

"This could be a great year for the league," Hurley said.

The Hawks open the season at home Nov. 12 against Toledo. Their first Atlantic 10 game is Dec. 30 against George Washington. La Salle begins the season Nov. 11 at Temple and the conference opener is Dec. 30 at Dayton, the conference favorite.

"No one has any idea what will happen," Giannini said. "We hope to be one of those surprise teams."