If it's not falling, it isn't exactly blue, either. Rightly or wrongly, the Hawks were picked to win the Atlantic Ten, but they came into the league opener with the seventh-best RPI computer ranking in the conference. They had one big notch on their belt, a neutral-court win over Notre Dame in Brooklyn, and here was a chance for another huge one against another ranked team.
Martelli was certainly right when he said this one was hard-fought and highly competitive. It was all that to the last minute, a terrific college basketball game. "I think that's the way it's going to be every night in this league," Martelli said.
Nonetheless, the margin for error starts to get slim surprisingly quickly when you're talking about postseason hopes. It's a little tighter on Hawk Hill because of self-inflicted wounds. Yes, the Hawks still earned that Notre Dame win even with leading scorer Carl Jones being suspended for the first two games of the season for a violation of the university's community standards. But maybe it hurt their equilibrium a little bit when Jones came back and had to find his place on the court.
Halil Kanecevic, who does so many little things well for the Hawks, saw his fire turn back on him with that obscene gesture at Villanova, which obviously changed the momentum of that night, and you'd think he has to wonder if his absence for a suspension cost the Hawks their next game, a home loss to Fairfield.
That's the history of the season. That wasn't what Monday night was about. You could say that St. Joe's came out looking just like the grind-it-out team Martelli wants the Hawks to be this season at both ends, except the first half also brought some surprises, especially the one provided by sophomore guard Chris Wilson, who hit five three-pointers before halftime, two short of his previous season total.
"You've got to pick and choose - and we chose wrong for about 30 minutes," said Butler coach Brad Stevens, who mentioned that he almost had to put this down as a coaching 'L' since his guys were following the game plan and getting beaten by it.
"Nobody panicked when things didn't necessarily go our way," Stevens said.
There was no panic from the Hawks, either. In the last minute, the player they wanted to get open looks, Langston Galloway, got them, but his shots didn't fall. Earlier, an alley-oop to dunker supreme Ronald Roberts was a touch off, and his dunk, which would have put the Hawks up four, flew off the rim. At the other end, Butler shooting ace Rotnei Clarke hit a three to put his team up. Butler never trailed again.
The Hawks, who saw a number of layups spin off the rim, had worked hard chasing Clarke around a succession of screens, but he still got open looks, making 6 of 10 three-pointers and scoring 28 points. He had an inside partner, Andrew Smith, who added 24 points and grabbed six offensive boards.
"I'll be honest with you, I read today: underachieving," Martelli said of his overall outlook, as he talked about the sky not falling. "Eight and four is underachieving? I don't agree with that. I really don't agree with that. Eight and four is eight and four. But to label it as a smashing success or underachieving, that doesn't get it."
Martelli said he told his players he "has their back in all this."
"But, I also told them that eight teams would be in first place," the Hawks coach said, referring to the start of the Atlantic Ten season. "What I just told them, we're in last place. We have to change that."
Contact Mike Jensen at firstname.lastname@example.org.