La Salle head coach Dr. John Giannini has shouldered a majority of the blame for his team’s fledgling season. The Explorers are currently carrying a 5-12 record after Sunday’s game against Saint Joseph's and have lost 11 of its last 12 games. Due to the fact that these struggles are happening 12 years into his tenure, and three years after an appearance in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tournament, fans are worried that the program is not improving under Dr. G the way it should be after earning national prominence. However, if the Explorers nation can notice this as a “growing year” and look forward to next season, Dr. Giannini has put the La Salle program into a position to have success in the upcoming seasons.
In college basketball, a team’s head coach serves not only as the leader on the bench, but also the team’s GM, head of scouting, and director of player personnel. That being said, there are many factors to coaching college basketball that are critiqued, especially when the team is struggling the way the Explorers are right now. Fans, students, and alumni want answers for their disappointment and there is one person to look to, Dr. John Giannini.
Here is an argument to why, despite the current struggles and the mediocre past couple of seasons, Dr. G deserves the support and trust from La Salle nation.
The most common critique of Dr. G is his recruiting. If you compare the players of La Salle to its rival contenders in the Atlantic 10 conference, there is much more talent on the latter’s roster. The past couple of high-school recruiting classes have been tough ones for Dr. G. In 2015, Karl Harris was the only signing, while for the 2016 class, the only commit at this point is ESPN rated one-star recruit Cian Sullivan with three-star point guard Tyree Breein mulling over Dr. G’s offer.
Following its appearance in the NCAA tournament, La Salle looked to take advantage of its success by attempting to recruit more 3 and 4 star players. Marquette’s Sandy Cohen, Virginia’s Marial Shayok, Auburn’s Horace Spencer, and Temple’s Levan Alston are a few names that Dr. G has unsuccessfully given scholarship offers to in recent years. Higher expectations following the Sweet Sixteen run may have hindered La Salle’s recruiting because Dr. G was spending more effort swinging for the fences to sign the above recruits, rather than scouring through the undervalued one and two-star players that the Explorers have a good chance of signing.
Although La Salle is not really a school that the elite high school basketball players dream of attending, Dr. G does do a really good job of finding good players to transfer to La Salle. On this year’s team, the Explorer’s two best players, Jordan Price and Cleon Roberts, spent time at other colleges prior to their Explorer careers. Next season, La Salle will have a trifecta of talented eligible transfers in Pookie Powell, B.J. Johnson, and Demetrius Henry. The Explorers could put together a pretty formidable lineup with the five transfers that Dr. G was able to pluck from bigger, more prestigious schools.
Fans are entitled to critique La Salle’s head coach as much as they want, but the reality is, Dr. Giannini is fighting an uphill battle when it comes to recruiting really good players out of high school to La Salle. National prestige is low, the athletic facilities are lacking, and there are five other schools that La Salle shares Philadelphia college basketball with. For La Salle to continue refueling its roster with talented players, Dr. Giannini knows that finding transfers to play for him is a better option than attempting to compete for highly touted high-schoolers with bigger schools on the recruiting trail. If La Salle is able to build around transfers and round out its roster with young, hard working, role players that have ideal size and potential to improve, the Explorers are in a position to have greater success and a subsequent post-season tournament run in the next few years is certainly not out of the question.
Photo: Greg Carroccio/Sideline Photos/La Salle Athletic Communications
There is no better game to attend than a Big 5 game in the Palestra. The crowd is packed. The sound is unforgettable. The band is loud. It is one of the greatest collegiate athletic atmospheres in America.
On this upcoming Wednesday, January 20th, the Palestra will host back-to-back Big Five matchups. La Salle and Temple will clash in the first game at 7 pm, while Penn and Saint Joseph’s will follow at 9 pm.
Here is our preview to the first of these matchups, La Salle vs. Temple:
Fran Dunphy and the Owls (9-7) are entering this game on the back of a 2-point victory over AAC conference foe Cincinnati and they are poised to carry over that momentum against an undermanned Explorers team.
La Salle (5-10) has struggled so far this season, partly due to a lack of depth (only six scholarship players currently available), but have won two big games against Towson and Dayton. Temple will have the upperhand in this one, but if La Salle can continue to effectively run their low-tempo offense, then they can make a game of it.
What to expect:
Look for both teams to play slow, mostly out of their half court sets. Coach Dunphy’s teams always play in the half court at a methodical pace, while La Salle has had recent success with their new offensive style. A much more patient offense has worked for them and they will need to run it effectively if they want to compete against a surging Temple team, who can get impatient at times.
Key Matchup: Quenton DeCosey vs. Jordan Price
Quenton DeCosey will most likely be matched up against La Salle’s leading scorer, Jordan Price. Price has scored in double figures in all but one of his games this season and has been the focal point for the offense, averaging nearly 22 points per game. On the contrary, Price will have to guard DeCosey who is Temple’s leading scorer and is shooting a career high from three at about 41%. This battle will specifically decide their team's fate, as both players are the stars and key players on their respective offenses.
X-Factors: Amar Stukes and Daniel Dingle
Two players that have struggled mightily at times. Two players that have sent their coaches scratching their heads. Two players that need to step up for their respective teams to win. Amar Stukes is coming into his own as of late, as the Philly native is averaging 7.6 points and 4.6 assists in his last five contests. In two out of La Salle’s five wins, Stukes has scored in double figures and if he can find a way to reach that mark again, the Explorers may have a chance. On the other side, forward Daniel Dingle will look to recover after a mere 13 points over his last five games. However, when he has scored more than 5 points, the team is 3-1. If he can come in and have more of a consistent offensive impact, it will prove to be a huge boost off of the bench for the team.
What Temple needs to do to win: Hit their threes
Despite only shooting 31% from three on the season, the team has shot an average of 23 threes per game. If they want to continue shooting, they need to start hitting them. This has been demonstrated in their two wins against ranked teams, where they shot above 38% from three. Guys like Devin Coleman and Obi Enechionyia need to provide that touch off of the bench. In games where Coleman shoots above 45% from three, the team is 4-1. When Enechionyia shoots higher than 45% from three, the team is additionally 4-2. If Temple wants to not only beat La Salle, but make some noise in their conference, they will need to begin hitting their threes more consistently.
What La Salle needs to do to win: Control the pace of play and play through their star
As of late, the Explorers have played slow and run down the shot clock. As a result, they’ve been able to use much of their energy on the defensive end. It translated into a recent win for them, against a nationally recognized Dayton team. La Salle ran basic offensive sets for good looks, which also subsequently helped to limit turnovers. The team also needs to make sure they play through their star, Jordan Price. For the most part, the Explorers are successful in getting Price the ball in positions to score, but this will be imperative against a stingy Temple defense.
Prediction: 65-50, Temple
This game will probably be close for much of the contest, as Temple has consistently played down to competition. Expect both teams to come out of the gates slow, but for Temple to pull away as the game wanes on. Temple’s talent and added depth (compared to La Salle) should eventually outmuscle the Explorers. Although Temple will probably win by more, their lead will most likely hover around 10 points for much of the game.
-Benjamin Simon & William Derry
La Salle’s 5-10 record has not given much for Explorer fans to be excited about this season. They often play low-risk zone defenses, have additionally slowed down their offensive pace to a painstakingly boring rate, and get out rebounded almost every game. Despite this, La Salle has produced big wins against Towson and Dayton. In these moments of prosperity, three factors have been nailed down as keys to the Explorers success.
One key to success for the Explorers is playing with the lead. La Salle is 5-2 when leading at the half and 0-8 when trailing. The reason it is important for the Explorers to play with the lead has to do with their adapted playing style. With only six scholarship players available for Dr. Giannini to use for their six most recent games, the Explorers have been forced to play at an extremely low-tempo brand of offensive basketball. Playing with the lead, this style can be effective. Turnover numbers are low and subsequently opponents are unable to produce many fast break points or points off turnovers. When they have the lead, the Explorers are able to milk the clock, get one or two looks at a shot and then settle back into their half-court defense. The downside to playing like this is the lack of ball or player movement throughout the possession, which is has partially caused their 39% shooting percentage from the field, second to last in A-10 conference play. If La Salle hopes to enjoy any more success this season, it is essential for them to start games off strong and not dig themselves into a first-half deficit.
Another key to success for La Salle is containing their opponent’s big men. With the Explorers only playing with one healthy true frontcourt player right now in Tony Washington, this is much easier said than done. A look at the point and rebound numbers from La Salle’s opponent’s top frontcourt players may correspond to their success:
Rhode Island (L), Kuran Iverson, 12 points, 12 rebounds
Richmond (L), Terry Allen, 26 points, 16 rebounds
Dayton (W), Dyshawn Pierre, 12 points, 4 rebounds
Fordham (L), Ryan Rhoomes, 25 points, 18 rebounds
UMASS (L), Seth Berger, 15 points, 7 rebounds
FGCU (L), Antravious Simmons, 17 points, 10 rebounds
Miami (L), Tonye Jekiri, 10 points, 14 rebounds
Villanova (L), Daniel Ochefu, 6 points, 10 rebounds
Drexel (L), Rodney Williams, 14 points, 13 rebounds
Hofstra (L), Denton Koon, 12 points, 10 rebounds
Rowan (W), Dan Brogan, 2 points, 2 rebounds
Penn (L), Darien Nelson-Henry, 31 points, 14 rebounds
Lafayette (W), Matt Klinewski, 23 points, 4 rebounds
Rider (W), Xavier Lundy, 19 points, 4 rebounds
Towson (W), Timajh Parker-Rivera, 8 points, 8 rebounds
As shown by the list, opposing big men have gotten the better of La Salle’s paper-thin frontcourt. Over La Salle’s 15 games, they have conceded 8 double-doubles to frontcourt players. Not one of them happened during a game that La Salle won. For La Salle to scrape together some more wins this season, they will have to contain their opponent’s big men and keep the ball out of their defensive paint. Although Washington is certainly a capable interior presence, the Explorers’ opponents have been able to get him into foul trouble and keep him on the bench. In conference play, Washington is averaging four fouls a game. Saturday against Rhode Island, Washington was only able to stay on the floor for a total of 13 minutes before fouling out. This is a real problem for the Explorers and the only foreseeable ending to this is getting Yevgen Sakhniuk back and healthy to be a viable spell option to Washington. Sakhniuk was expected to be the successor to Jerrell Wright and Steve Zack in the Explorer’s frontcourt. In the first few games of the season, Sakhiuk had played reasonably well. He has put up per 40 numbers of 19.8 points and 6.1 rebounds on 74% from the field and an offensive rating of 105.5 per 100 possessions. However, an undisclosed sickness has kept Sakhniuk out the past six games. For the Explorers to make more noise during A-10 conference play, the return of Sakhniuk and the containment of the opponent’s big men is essential.
The third key to success for La Salle is strong play from homegrown product and La Salle College High School’s own Amar Stukes. As Stukes has struggled during the first half of the season, many Explorer fans have considered him to be over-recruited as a starting point guard in the tough Atlantic 10 conference. Stukes is averaging 4.9 points and 3 assists per game and has held an offensive rating per 100 possessions of 78.9, worst on the team among La Salle’s regular rotation players. However, in the past five games that the Explorers were the victors, Stukes has averaged 7.6 points and 4.6 assists per game, a noticeable improvement. While Stukes may be better served as a backup point guard rather than a starter, due to the current state of the Explorer’s roster, he will have to suffice for Dr. Giannini the rest of the season. Dr. Giannini has done a good job of not relying on him to do too much. Stukes’ struggles is highlighted by his 14% 3-point shooting, yet he still keeps defenders honest in guarding him on the perimeter by putting up 1.4 3-point shots per game. However, La Salle will need Stukes to play tough for the rest of the season for them to find more success.
As the La Salle Explorers embark on the second-half of their 2015-2016 season, there is certainly a recipe for their success that needs to be followed. They will need to start games off strong, contain their opponent’s big men, and get strong play from Amar Stukes. If La Salle can combine all three of these factors, they will find some more wins this season. However, without realizing these three keys to success, it will be a long spring for the La Salle men’s basketball team and Explorers’ fans alike.
Photo: David Swanson/Philly.com
Struggling through a seven-game losing streak, the current state of the La Salle Explorers was looking bleak. For La Salle’s matchup against the Dayton Flyers on Saturday afternoon, a comfortable Flyers win seemed imminent. The Explorers are still playing without forwards Rohan Brown and Yevgen Sakhniuk and it was expected that the Flyers would use their up-tempo-motion offense to attack the Explorers’ defense through ball movement and setting up forward Dyshawn Pierre with inside looks. La Salle’s head coach Dr. John Giannini did a great job of creating a conservative game plan that took Dayton out of their up-tempo comfort zone and manufactured the biggest win of the season so far for his Explorers.
Offensively, La Salle ran their offense mostly out of a 1-4 or 1-2-2 set with either Jordan Price or Johnnie Shuler at the top of the play and dribbling the ball until there was about 10-12 seconds remaining in the shot clock, then running a pick and roll play for an efficient look.
When asked about the tempo affecting Dayton, Dr. Giannini said, “Very few people play that way so it is unusual. People like to be comfortable, not a lot of people want to play against that.”
This strategy was a really smart move by Dr. Giannini for two reasons. First of all, milking down the shot clock allows the players to rest on offense. La Salle only used six players during this game. Both Cleon Roberts and Amar Stukes played all 40 minutes of the game, Jordan Price played 38 and had Tony Washington not have fouled-out with 2:30 remaining, he would have added onto his 34 minutes played in this game. With the Explorers five starters averaging 37 minutes played, an up-tempo attack was not a viable option. Knowing that he is not playing with a full hand, Dr. Giannini implemented the slow-tempo attack and saved his players energy on offense so that they would be able to give an all-out defensive effort.
Sophomore guard Amar Stukes, who scored a season-high 13 points to go along with a pair of steals, said about the benefits on defense from slowing the game down, “We definitely had a lot more energy on defense. We were able to keep the ball in front of us this game and get some good stops towards the end. The energy we had from the rest on offense really helped us out this game.”
Another reason this conservative offensive game plan worked for the Explorers is because the more passes in an offensive possession, the more opportunities the offense has to turn the ball over. In this offense, La Salle does not waste any passes in a possession and the Explorers were able to turn the ball over only 10 times against a Dayton defense that is averaging 13.4 opponent turnovers per game. With La Salle’s low turnover number, the Dayton Flyers were not able to produce many fast-break points, forcing them to run their offense almost exclusively in the half-court.
It wasn’t only the offense that was conservative for the Explorers. La Salle’s half court defensive strategy was a mix of man-to-man and 2-3 zone, never really pushing the Flyers with any full-court pressure. La Salle’s defense is really what won the game. Dayton averaged 74.6 points per game heading into Saturday’s matchup. Against La Salle, Dayton was only able to score 57 points. One might think that La Salle’s time-draining offense limited the amount of Dayton possessions over the course of the game, but Dayton’s 55 field goals matched their season average for team field goals per game. What caused Dayton to only put up 57 points was their 30.9% shooting from the field, almost 17% lower than their season average of 47%. The Explorers collapsing defense forced the Flyers to attempt 25 three-point shots, Dayton only connected on seven of those attempts.
Despite 20 offensive rebounds from the Flyers, La Salle was able to stay with Dayton in the rebounding matchup, snagging 32 compared to Dayton’s 36. Considering how undersized the Explorers are, going with four and five-guard lineups, La Salle can consider the rebounding battle yesterday a success for them despite giving up four more rebounds to Dayton.
Even as La Salle went to the free throw line in the second half, Dr. Giannini used conservative methods, neglecting to put any players in the lane and conceding any offensive rebound opportunity. This tactic was completed in favor of having four defenders in the back court to prevent the Flyers from early-offense opportunities off of missed free throws. Everything the Explorers did in this game was calculated and purposeful.
As Atlantic-10 conference play continues, it will be interesting to see if La Salle continues to implement this ultra-conservative method. If they continue to have success with this, it will also be interesting to see how the Explorers’ opponents adjust. I would expect teams to try to trap the Explorers’ ball-handlers and force them into earlier offense. The question will then be, how will the Explorers respond to this? If you ask Jordan Price, he has confidence in Dr. Giannini’s ability to prepare the team for anything, stating, “Our game plan has worked. If we listen to coach G, we are going to win.”
Photo: Mike Stobe/Getty Images North America
This has been an erratic season for the La Salle Explorers thus far. After a strong opening stretch to the season going 4-1, the Explorers have not won a game since defeating Rowan on November 28th. However, they are currently struggling through a 6 game losing streak, most recently to the UMass Minutemen by a score of 74-67. While the Explorer’s shining star has been Jordan Price, who ranks among the NCAA’s leaders with 22.8 points per game, guard Cleon Roberts has enjoyed success this season as the secondary scoring option (12.9 points per game). Because opposing defenses typically put their top wing defender on Price and the next-best perimeter defender on Johnnie Shuler, the Explorers best ball-handling guard, Roberts finds himself with either open looks or favorable matchups during many games. This was definitely the case on New Year's Eve. Although the shorthanded La Salle squad was not able to prevail in Dunk City, Cleon Roberts had an excellent game, scoring a career high 30 pts.
Traveling down to South Florida was a sort of homecoming for Roberts, who hails from Miami-Norland High School right across the state from Ft. Myers. In fact, Florida Gulf Coast University recruited Roberts, prior to his commitment to Georgia Southern in 2012. Roberts must have felt comfortable in the FGCU gym as many of his family and friends were in attendance, along with the current Miami-Norland boy’s basketball team, cheering on their alum.
Getting Roberts involved in the offense must have been in the Explorers’ game plan. After Roberts passed up a really good look at a 3-point shot early in the game that resulted in the Explorers’ second turnover in a row, La Salle’s head coach Dr. John Giannini turned to his bench and exclaimed, “I’m begging him to shoot! I’m begging him to shoot!” During a subsequent timeout, Roberts must have gotten the message because by the 11:47 mark of the first half, Roberts had 9 points on 3-4 shooting (2-2 on 3 point shots).
At the post-game press conference, when asked whether he was glad Roberts was leaving, FGCU’s head coach Joe Dooley affirmed, “No doubt.”
On January 3rd, La Salle dropped their sixth game in a row to UMass. Despite a pedestrian stat line; 11 points on 25% shooting from the field, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 3 turnovers, Roberts continued to take on a bigger role in the offense. He tied Jordan Price with a team-high 16 field goal attempts against UMass and his usage percentage of 26.6 was second on the team, behind Price’s 33.1%. On defense, Roberts did a laudable job containing his matchup, star sophomore guard Donte Clark, who only shot 3-15 from the field and racked up 5 turnovers over the course of the game.
If there is one critique of Robert’s recent play it has been his inability to defend without fouling, as he has 8 fouls over the past two games. This could be due in part to his thin body type. Although Roberts stands a solid 6-foot-5, his lanky 175lbs frame is a disadvantage against some of the beefier Division 1 small forwards that he faces. Finishing games with a strong defensive effort down the stretch is difficult when you are only one foul away from fouling-out, as has been the case for Roberts the past couple of games.
As the La Salle Explorers look to turn their season around in 2016, Cleon Roberts’s play will be critical to the team’s success. If he can replicate his recent efforts (without fouling), the tandem of him on the wing with Jordan Price will cause some serious issues for opponent’s defenses. Despite the recent losses, putting up 30 points against a solid Div. 1 mid major opponent in FGCU should give Roberts some confidence to know that he can have a big game like this and put up numbers that match his star teammate. On January 6th Roberts has a chance to build upon his recent success as Atlantic-10 conference play continues for the Explorers against Fordham.
Photo: (H. Rumph Jr./AP)
-La Salle loses to UMass in the first round of the A-10 tournament