With six games remaining in the 2015-2016 season, the La Salle Explorers sit at the very bottom of their conference standings with an A-10 conference record of 2-11. La Salle heads into the backstretch of their season following a win at home against St. Bonaventure. In this game, the Explorers were able to shoot 50% from the 3-point line and outrebound the Bonnies 38-23. Jordan Price strung together a really nice stat line of 18 points 10 rebounds and 6 assists, while Yevgen Sakhniuk was able to contribute 16 minutes off the bench and score 6 points, grab 3 rebounds, and dish-out 2 assists in his third game back from an illness that held him out of twelve consecutive games. Despite the two conference wins that La Salle has pulled off against Dayton and St. Bonaventure, a 2-11 record is not cutting it for Explorer fans. Many may be wondering, where does La Salle go from here?
Head coach Dr. Giannini is not known for his offensive ingenuity. One of the biggest criticisms of him has been that he lacks an offensive identity. Since 2011, La Salle has used a different offensive system seemingly every season. Granted, it is important that a coach adapts their strategy to complement the player’s skills, but it takes time for an offense to be learned by a team and any progress that is made over the course of a season is erased when the offense is completely changed every year. That is why Dr. G should implement a more stable offensive system that the young players can become accustomed to playing during their time at La Salle.
For a team to build a successful and lasting identity, they need to be resilient with their philosophy, during the good times and the bad. When Villanova lost 19 games in the 2011-2012 season, head coach Jay Wright did not abandon his 4-out-1-in offense. When Syracuse did not make the NCAA tournament two years in a row in 2006-2007 and 2007-2008, Jim Boeheim did not stop using his 2-3 zone defense. USC head coach Andy Enfield’s first two seasons as the Trojans’ head coach have resulted in 21 and 20 losses respectively, but he has not changed the up-tempo philosophy that got him to USC. As a result, Enfield’s team is winning this season. For any coach to have sustained success at a school, they need a consistent identity to build around on both sides of the ball.
On defense, Dr. Giannini absolutely has an idealized plan of playing opponents in man-to-man. It is only because of the severe lack of depth, that the Explorers are settling into a zone defense this season. Right now, the issue is that Dr. G has not shown that there is an offensive system that he believes will help the team win year-in and year-out. So again the question remains, where do they go from here?
The nation’s 17th worst scoring offense needs a fresh look. Dr. Giannini should look to hire a top assistant to come in and be the team’s offensive coordinator similar to what the Philadelphia 76ers did with Mike D’Antoni. There has to be an array of up-and-coming minds, climbing through the coaching ranks that have unique and virtually untapped offensive philosophies. Dr. Giannini should interview as many of these types of coaches as he can, then use his basketball instincts to pick which coach/system he thinks will best fit with the current and future La Salle roster.
La Salle will no doubt improve their record next season. With the current state of the La Salle 2016-2017 roster the way it is, the basement for expectations is much higher than what this season has produced. The only thing that can make next season worse than this season is if La Salle dismisses Dr. Giannini. As long as Dr. G is at the helm, the Explorers could use the same offense next season as they use this season and still improve by a handful of wins. If Dr. G accepts that there may be an assistant coach available that is able to help the team with Xs and Os on offense, La Salle has the potential to be competitive with the A-10s big dogs. That's not to say that Dr. G alone cannot coach the team to success. He absolutely can and has before.
Dr. Giannini fits great at La Salle as a figurehead-type coach. He says the right things to the media, is a good communicator to the players, a solid recruiter, and teaches strong defense. Adding an offensive minded assistant to the staff can only help a coach whose greatest deficiency is offensive strategy. This is a direction La Salle basketball should look to go in.
Photo: Benjamin Simon
La Salle came into today's game on a 9 game losing streak looking to find some traction after a couple below average showings. But Saint Joseph’s wouldn’t let that happen, as the Hawks led for the entire game and by as much as 30, in their. La Salle was able to cut it to 12 in the early portion of the second half, but they could not find a way to stop the potent scoring punch of Saint Joseph’s
What went well?
DeAndre’ Bembry got off to a hot start, scoring all of his 13 points in the first half, while finishing with 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal. James Demery gave the Hawks a spark off the bench with great defensive pressure and finished the game with 17 points, 2 rebounds, and 3 steals. However, it is hard to pinpoint a star for the Hawks, as this game was a complete team effort. Despite the record of the Explorers, this is a game for the Hawks to build off of.
La Salle was able to chip at Saint Joseph’s lead for much of the first half and the early portion of the second half. This was thanks to some streaky shooting by Cleon Roberts, who was able to knock down 3 three pointers and finish the game with 17 points. He was a bright spot in game that will be tough to swallow for the Explorers.
What didn’t go well?
On double teams in the post, Saint Joseph’s got lost a couple times, resulting in open shots for the Explorers. Rotations need to be quicker for the Hawks if they want to compete for an Atlantic-10 championship.
La Salle could not find a way to slow down the Explorers, as they allowed the Hawks to score 88 points and shoot 51.7% from the field. Coach John Giannini tried everything he could to fix the problem. The Explorers began the game in zone and later transitioning to soft man defense to many different variations of man defense. But nothing could work for the squad as the Hawks were able to hit 70 points by the 8 minute mark in the second half.
Saint Joseph’s hosts Dayton, while La Salle faces St. Bonaventure. Both games are scheduled for next Wednesday. The Hawks face a gigantic test against the Flyers, who are the top team in the A-10. Likewise, a win against 16-6 St. Bonaventure could give the team some confidence going into the A-10 tournament.
For fans of the La Salle Explorers, the 2015-2016 season has largely been one to forget. Often teams that are outmatched night in and night out stay interesting by playing high-risk defense, creating steals and opponent turnovers that translate to a run-and-gun, up-tempo offense that is exciting to watch for the fans. But the Explorers lack of bench depth has forced them to play a much slower, more conservative style that is designed to take its opponents out of their comfort zone while saving the player's energy on offense. Although this strategy was successful in upsetting then 25th ranked Dayton about a month ago, the Explorers are the fourth-worst rebounding team in NCAA Div. 1 and the sixteenth-worst team when it comes to points per game. They are pitted alone in last place in the A-10 conference after losing 15 of their last 16 games. Not much for Explorer nation to be happy with.
Amidst the struggles, one bright spot to point out is the play and development of sophomore big man Tony Washington. Not only did Washington hail from Detroit, MI and The Miller School in Charlottesville, VA, but he also has great size at 6-foot-10, 210 pounds. He has been given an opportunity to play extensively this season for the Explorers, as he is the only true frontcourt player that has been healthy and eligible for most of the season.
Washington has done a satisfactory job with his role as the team’s solo big man, shooting 57% from the field, which is sixth in the A-10 conference. He has additionally averaged 7.5 rebounds per game which is ninth. However, what those stats don’t tell you is that Washington has been the best defender for La Salle. A defensive rating of 106.5 per 100 possessions is the highest among the Explorer’s regular rotation players and his 1.63 blocked shots per game ranks fourth among all players in the A-10 conference.
Looking at these numbers, a Tony Washington critique might think that his solid stats are a reflection of being the Explorer’s only big man, allowing him to stuff up the stat sheet without sharing the frontcourt with any teammates. However, that is not really the case with Washington. He has averaged 27.5 minutes per game, which is a good amount of time for a blossoming sophomore, but fifth among La Salle’s starters. It’s not like Washington has played anywhere close to the amount of minutes per game as fellow starters Jordan Price, Johnnie Shuler, and Cleon Roberts, who all average at least 37 minutes.
Washington has also had to anchor the team’s interior defense while playing with foul trouble, an extremely daunting task that is improved mostly with experience. He averages 3.6 fouls per game over the season and has accumulated at least four fouls in 11 games. Sure, being foul prone usually indicates a poor defender, but because Washington is the team’s only rim protector, it is wise to make him the sacrificial fowl lamb on the inside and keep Price, Shuler, and Roberts free and clear from foul trouble.
During an A-10 conference call, when Dr. Giannini was asked about Tony Washington, he made it pretty clear that he is happy with Washington’s play thus far.
“It’s his first year of significant playing time and he’s going to keep getting better,” he said. “Whether it’s his first time getting double-teamed in a game, or whether it’s having to play extended minutes and maintain his effort, or guarding different sets and actions that people have, he is soaking all of those things in and he’s just going to keep getting better. He is a quality A-10 big guy and he’s one of the players that we think we can win with in the future.”
When talking about what factored into Washington’s strong year, Dr. G added, “We thought he would be a good player this year and we thought he’d pair up with Yevgen Sakhniuk and give us a real good inside combination similar to what we had with Steve (Zack) and Jerrell (Wright)… The reason he’s had success this year is from playing against (Zack and Wright) all last year. We had a really good plan with his development: redshirt a year and then get his feet wet and play against those guys every day for another year and that’s why he’s prepared. He’s a talented kid, he’s a good kid, he’s had time to get strong in the weight-room and he’s played against good players in practice in (Zack and Wright) and he was ready for this season. Je certainly has done his part and he’s just going to keep getting better.”
As fans of La Salle are realizing, this year’s team is not postseason material, making the Explorers' final eight games almost inconsequential. However, the development of Tony Washington into one of the A-10’s premier big men will be a sweet thing to watch. Learning to play through this season’s adversities will provide great experience for Washington and the rest of the Explorer team. Next year will contain a retooled, and battle-hardened squad that gives Explorers’ nation something to look forward to. For now, all La Salle fans can do is sit back and watch Washington develop before their eyes.
Photo: Steven M. Falk / Philly.com Staff
-La Salle loses to UMass in the first round of the A-10 tournament