La Salle finished last season with a 17-16 record. Despite their average record, the team made it into the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament, where they lost to Davidson (the regular season A-10 champions) on a buzzer-beater. This was their first winning season since their deep run into March Madness back in the 2012-13 season. Coach Giannini will have to find a way to replace the frontcourt tandem of forward Jerrell Wright and center Steve Zack, but it won’t be easy. He has started to replace the tandem with transfers B.J. Johnson and Demetrius Henry, but they will be unable to play this season because of NCAA transfer rules. Until then, forwards Rohan Brown, Yevgen Sakhniuk, and Tony Washington must pick up the slack. Coach Giannini will have a young and undersized frontcourt but will have a strong backcourt with redshirt junior Jordan Price, who averaged 17.2 ppg last season, redshirt sophomore Amar Stukes, and redshirt junior Cleon Roberts.
at Villanova, December 13th, 2015
The Explorers will have to bring their best against Jay Wright’s Wildcats. Projected as the 8th best team in the nation by Dick Vitale’s preseason top 40, La Salle will have to deal with Villanova’s great backcourt depth.
vs Miami, December 22nd, 2015
After finishing last season (25-13, 10-8 ACC) with an NIT championship berth and big wins against Duke, Syracuse, and Florida, the Hurricanes will give the Explorers a great challenge.
vs VCU, February 3rd, 2016
Coach Giannini will remind his team of last year’s overtime victory over VCU and look to build off of that, as the Explorers will try to beat a top in-conference foe once again.
Projected Starting Lineup and Statistics
G: Amar Stukes (8 PPG, 4 APG)
G: Jordan Price (17 PPG, 4 RPG)
G: Cleon Roberts (11 PPG, 4 RPG)
F: Rohan Brown (5 PPG, 5 RPG)
F/C: Tony Washington (6 PPG, 8 RPG)
6th: Johnnie Shuler (5 PPG, 2 APG)
7th: Yevgen Sakhniuk (7 PPG, 4 RPG)
Amar Stukes returns after a solid freshman campaign. In 22 minutes of work per game, Stukes was able to produce an average of 5 points, 1 assist, and 1 steal. The rising redshirt sophomore is a stellar defender and is able to cover some of the best guards in the A-10. Coach Giannini encouraged him to be more confident in his offensive game last season, and hopefully he can put his coach's words to work. Jordan Price is a no brainer at the two. At 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, he has a body built for the NBA. Although he averaged 17 points per game, it was often matched by inconsistent shooting and turnovers. However, he’s only a redshirt junior, and could easily improve his shot selection with a little offensive help from Stukes and guard Cleon Roberts.
Roberts is an intriguing prospect. In his first year with La Salle, the former transfer averaged 8.8 points per game with an offensive rating of about 100. Most of his offensive stats are below average (11.8 PER, .496 TS%, .7 OBPM), yet his production was pretty solid. This shows how much room he has to improve, even though he had such a solid sophomore campaign. He is long and showed flashes of real greatness (7 games with 15 or more points). The Explorers will desperately need him to step up on more consistent basis, something that fans didn’t see last season.
The frontcourt however has loads of inexperience for the Explorers. Tony Washington played in 13 games last season, and Rohan Brown wasn’t much better with less than 10 minutes per game. Yevgen Sakhniuk joins the team after having to sit out for an “NCAA-mandated year in residence.” It is safe to say he’s a little rusty. But the good news is, all three have spent some time learning under former La Salle big men, Steve Zack and Jerrell Wright. Washington also brings NBA level length that is sure to disturb defenders around the rim. Brown is a undersized banger, but plays hard and has been in the La Salle system for some time, as he is a fifth year senior.
With a shallow bench, Johnnie Shuler and Yevgen Sakhniuk will have to play a fair amount of minutes. Shuler, a small, tough, and steady guard should see an increase of minutes from last season, but will be pushed by freshman Karl Harris. As a long 6-foot-7, 235 pounds, Sakhniuk has proved himself with the Ukrainian national team and was even good enough to earn a spot in the FIBA Europe All-Star game in 2013. He is a wildcard, but could see some time in the starting lineup with a lack of experience at the big man spots. 6-foot-5 freshman Karl Harris will also compete for minutes and will likely emerge as a large part of the offense in the distant future. But for now, he still needs to learn the ropes. A larger role may come later in the season if need be.
With only 9 scholarship players, the Explorers do not have high expectations riding on their back. But they do have some upside that could prove worthy. Price is one of the A-10’s best players. Coach Giannini calls him an extremely hard worker so therefore there should be no reason he won’t continue to improve. He should keep scoring and leading the Explorers. Stukes and Roberts are the members that should be expected to take on much larger roles. The La Salle College High School graduate, Stukes, will have to step up on the offensive end. Last year, he was a defensive stopper, but coach Giannini will need him to have more confidence. Roberts, on the hand, will gladly take shots. It is safe to expect him to continue shooting on a consistent basis, but hopefully he can start to be more efficient. He had only 8 games in which he shot 50% or higher from the field. That just cannot cut it on a team that will need to replace 44% of their scoring from last season with the losses of Khalid Lewis, Jerrell Wright, Steve Zack, and D.J. Peterson.
In a deep A-10, the Explorers are going to have trouble responding each and every night to the competition they are faced with. An unexpected force will have to step up and progress their game in gigantic way. Amar Stukes, Cleon Roberts, or Tony Washington look like the prime candidates to take on bigger roles and surprise some teams in the NCAA. But if someone on the team cannot help out Price, the Explorers are looking at a long season.
Last year the Explorers were 8-10 in conference play. During that span, they were 6-3 at Tom Gola Arena and 2-7 away from there home arena. La Salle must find a way to win more conference games on the road if they want to compete for the A-10 crown. Without the improvement, the Explorers will have a hard time digging their way out of the depths of the A-10, come tournament time.
-Benjamin Simon and William Derry
Photo courtesy of CBS Philly
-Junior forward B.J. Johnson will declare for the NBA Draft but will not sign with an agent