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Top 25 Countdown: No. 24 St. Joseph’s

Oct 2, 2012, 1:00 PM EDT

C.J. Aiken, Micheal Eric

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.