Being a part of the high-profile, early season Coaches vs. Cancer/ 2K Sports Classic Tourney means no days off for the young St. John's Red Storm. The Lehigh Mountain Hawks trip to Queens tomorrow for a 7 pm matchup against the Red Storm. The players - four of whom logged 32 minutes or more on the floor - will have to get their energy up for the Patriot League squad; they hope to bottle the energy of the second half and run Lehigh off of the Carnesecca floor.
Two years ago, Lehigh won the Patriot League and hung with Kansas in the NCAA Tournament as a 16 seed. Last year, Lehigh struggled on both sides of the ball, despite being led by the high-scoring CJ McCollum.
To find out what may or may not have changed with the Mountain Hawks, the Rumble reached out to Tom Housenick of the The Morning Call, who works the Hawks/ college basketball beat. He was generous with his time and we thank him for it; check him out on Twitter @TomHousenick and on the Morning Call's Lehigh page.
Tom's answers, below the fold. A full preview of the Lehigh/ St. John's game will come by tomorrow morning.
Q: It looks like last season, the Hawks struggled to score and to defend, especially on the perimeter? What went wrong for Lehigh last year, and what makes the staff think they will be more effective this season?
Tom H: Lehigh had no leadership last season, a freshman point guard and little bench contributions. That combination led to a roller-coaster ride of a season. Nothing more than a three-game winning streak and inexplicable losses to Colgate, one of the Patriot League’s worst teams.
This season, the Mountain Hawks are more mature, their point guard is much more comfortable running the show and being vocal. By the end of last season, there was a core group playing well together, many of whom are back. And, there are two freshmen ready to step in to significant roles.
Q. Are Jordan Hamilton and Holden Grenier - mentioned as candidates to start alongside CJ McCollum - good enough to defend their positions? What do they need to improve to help Lehigh get to the top of the Patriot League? And are there other emerging players St. John's fans should learn about (especially big men)?
Tom H: Jordan Hamilton is a servicable player. He’ll start early on in the nonconference part of the schedule, but could be bumped by a freshman come conference play. Holden Greiner is the Mountain Hawks’ most improved player. He should be their No. 2 scorer behind McCollum and their top rebounder. He also has a knack for passing as a front court player.
Greiner, along with McKnight, are the two keys to Lehigh returning to the Patriot League championship game.
Conroy Baltimore and Corey Schaefer should be two newcomers Lehigh fans should get excited about. They may be erratic early, adjusting to the college game and playing against bigger, stronger players at their respective positions.
Q. What's the feeling around the Lehigh program this season? Are there hopes for winning the Patriot League and winning a game in the NCAAs, or are expectations a little more muted?
Tom H: Lehigh has but one goal this season: to win the Patriot League championship and return to the NCAA tournament. I don’t think the Mountain Hawks are thinking about anything other than that. If the players develop the way they are expected to, this team can think about winning an NCAA tournament game next season. Still too young in 2011-12.
Q. How does Lehigh get a player like CJ McCollum to go to Lehigh? Was there a pull to Lehigh (besides the academics) or was he just wildly underrecruited?
Tom H: McCollum was underrecruited because of his size (barely 6-foot-3) and his fragile-looking frame. One thing he has been since he came to Lehigh is durable. He was their leading rebounder last season and got to the foul line more than anyone else in the league. He’s not afraid of contact. He is the Patriot League’s most athletic player, for sure.
He also has a motor that never stops, even though he plays 35-37 minutes a game. There are a lot like him in the Big East, in terms of athleticism, but not in the Patriot League.