With the three eligible transfers, experienced returning players, and newly hired associate head coach in Matt Brady, the La Salle Explorers had NCAA tournament plans heading into this season. With the high expectations and tough out-of-conference schedule, even without winning the A-10 automatic bid, the Explorers had a shot to prove their worthiness of being anointed into the tournament by the selection committee.
Unfortunately for La Salle, as their season commenced, and losses to lower RPI ranked schools like Temple, Texas Southern, and Penn added up, it is clear that this year’s La Salle squad will not be selected to play in the NCAA tournament and they will need to win their conference championship in order to lock down the automatic bid. This article will preview La Salle’s A-10 tournament and what their key will be to winning each game.
Game #1 (Thursday) vs. Davidson
The 8th seeded Explorers will begin their Atlantic 10 tournament run on Thursday at noon when they will face the 9th seeded Davidson Wildcats. Davidson is 4-6 in their last 10 games and coming off of a 3-point loss to Rhode Island. In their only matchup this season, La Salle defeated Davidson 91-83 in Philadelphia. In that matchup, Davidson’s top two performers were Peyton Aldridge with 33 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists, and Jack Gibbs, who scored 25 points, along with 4 rebounds and 7 assists. While these two players did tear up La Salle’s perimeter defense, shooting 9-19 from 3 together, La Salle’s offense was even better, shooting 47% from three as a team and 57% from the total field. The Explorer’s offensive proficiency was highlighted by Jordan Price’s 29 points and B.J. Johnson’s 19 points.
Apart from the hot shooting, La Salle was also able to out-rebound the Wildcats 33-25 in their previous meeting. Rebounding has been a weakness for La Salle all year, and for the Explorers to defeat Davidson on Thursday, they will need to control the glass and limit Davidson’s total number of possessions.
Game #2 (Friday) vs. Dayton
If La Salle is able to defeat Davidson, the following day they will be matched up against the top-seeded Dayton Flyers. The Flyers ran through their conference schedule posting a 15-3 mark at the end of the season. Although Dayton is coming off a six point loss at George Washington, the Flyers are 9-1 in their previous ten games and are the favorites to win the A-10 tournament. In the Explorers only conference game against Dayton, it was the Flyers who were victorious by a score of 66-55. This was an ugly game on both sides of the floor, as the two teams combined to shoot just 26% from 3’s on 47 attempts. Dayton, who averaged 39% shooting from 3 in the conference season, managed to make just 3 of their 22 attempts (14%). Dayton's poor shooting aligned with La Salle’s 34-31 rebounding advantage and kept the Explorers in the game despite 20 total team turnovers for La Salle.
The key for La Salle in this game will be defending the interior. Despite Dayton’s woeful perimeter shooting night, the Flyers were able to convert 68% of their two-point attempts. During that game, one of La Salle’s big men, Demetrius Henry, sat out leaving the Explorers with only Tony Washington to defend underneath the basket. Dayton took advantage of La Salle’s thin frontcourt and Washington found himself in foul trouble for most of the game, ending with 4 total fouls in 19 minutes of work. For the Explorers to find themselves on the winning side of a potential matchup with Dayton, they will need to utilize Demetrius Henry and a healthy frontcourt to defend Dayton from again slicing up the Explorers’ interior defense.
Game #3 (Saturday) TBD
If La Salle is still alive after Friday, their next match would be against either Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure, Massachusetts, or St. Joe’s in the tournament semi-finals on Saturday.
Massachusetts plays St. Joe’s in the A-10 tournament kick-off game, the winner of that game plays St. Bonaventure, and the winner of that game faces the 4th seeded Rhode Island in the quarterfinals.
Game #4 (Sunday) TBD
The A-10 championship game will be held Sunday at 12:30 p.m. While there are a multitude of teams that La Salle could face, the highest two seeds on that side of the bracket are #2 VCU and #3 Richmond.
For La Salle to win their first ever A-10 tournament championship, they will need to play (and win) four straight games. This isn’t an impossible task for La Salle. In fact, from January 4th through January 19th the Explorers won five conference games in a row, beating St. Louis, Duquesne, Rhode Island, George Washington, and Davidson.
The Explorers are the top free throw shooting team in the conference percentage-wise, and when the shots are falling, La Salle had shown signs of being one of the highest scoring offenses in the country. When the entire team is engaged defensively and on the glass, La Salle has the talent and depth to compete with anyone. While there is an arduous road ahead of the Explorers, in their attempt to capture the Atlantic 10 tournament championship, at this point, they must not look ahead of Davidson this Thursday. Then just take it one day at a time. Survive and advance.
-Junior forward B.J. Johnson will declare for the NBA Draft but will not sign with an agent