The La Salle 2016-17 men’s college basketball team only had slightly less hype attached to it than the Segway. Dean Kamen promised that his invention would change humanity forever. Big swinging dicks like Steve Jobs, John Doerr and Jeff Bezos believed that the Segway was the most innovative invention any of us would ever see in our lifetime. Kamen’s creation was going to change everything about our way of life.
Whereas the La Salle men’s 2016-17 basketball team wasn’t necessarily poised to alter our day-to-day lives (although I bet if I Google long enough I could find a college basketball writer who went that far), I can almost guarantee I read more posts celebrating the transfer-laden Explorer team’s potential (Sidenote: before you even bother to look it up, I will clarify it for you here — the Segway’s creator did not die when he drove his creation off a cliff. That would have been too perfect).
The point is, the hype surrounding this year’s La Salle team could never live up to the hype. It reminds me of the moment I heard Kate Upton was hacked and those big ol’ fat tiddies were finally live on the Internet. Upton’s hangers could never live up to their perceived legend. It was impossible, and let’s be honest — seeing Justin Verlander’s cock in those pics didn’t exactly heighten our fondness for Upton’s nudes (and I say that as a proud heterosexual, I don’t want to push my privilege on anyone else).
The lesson here is simple: nothing is ever as good as it seems and nothing makes you more of a liar than reality. La Salle has plied its trade on transfers to mixed results (the 2013 Sweet Sixteen squad was led by free agents Ramon Galloway and Ty Garland, so I’ll give credit where credit is due). Dr. John Giannini pushed all in on this season, he rounded up a whole fine mess of Power 5 transfers and hoped they would someone evolve into the class of the Atlantic Ten.
With the conference slate now upon us, it doesn’t appear that La Salle will reach the heights they envisioned coming into the season. The Explorers have added talent, of that there can be no question. Will this year’s La Salle team go the way of Kate Upton’s tits, where the hype simply cannot match the expectations? Can the squad mesh together and challenge the likes of Dayton, VCU and Rhode Island for the A-10 crown? That’s unknown. Giannini’s crew has enough talent to beat anyone in the league, they have an opportunity to make a statement later tonight.
La Salle is 6-4, that is a fact. The Explorers, like Dayton, had a few free shots at some upper-level vermin and simply failed to take advantage of the opportunities. Losses to Temple, Texas Southern (huh?), Villanova and Georgetown are a decent array of defeats but they mean nothing in the long run. Dr. John’s best win coming into the Sweater Centre, on paper, is probably Florida Gulf Coast. La Salle fans are looking at the conference race the same way us Flyer backers are, a chance to right the wrongs, reset the speedometer and fight for the right to represent the Atlantic Ten come March.
This year’s La Salle club is similar to the last few teams Giannini has put on the floor. The Explorers can certainly score in bunches but they could not be less interested defensively. La Salle is an exceptionally efficient offensive squad, boasting the 35th best profile as far as that rating is concerned. An effective field-goal percentage of 55.4% is one of the nation’s best and their turnover percentage of just 14.9% is good enough for eleventh in the country. The Explorers are connecting on 38% of their three-point attempts, 54% of their two-point tries and are shooting approximately 75% from the charity stripe. If La Salle broke a sweat on defense they’d be the odds on favorite to win the league.
Instead, their effort on the defensive end of the floor has been atrocious. Opponents are racking up a ridiculous effective field-goal percentage of 55.6%, that ranks as 310th in the nation. Like I said, atrocious. Offenses are hitting 43.1% of their three-point attempts against Giannini’s club, which, like we mentioned before the VMI game, that number simply defies belief. The Explorers’ foes are connecting on 75.7 of their free-throw attempts, La Salle could actually learn a thing or two from VMI when it comes to defending foul-shots.
It’s pretty clear, La Salle is going to score points on Dayton but they will provide UD with ample opportunities to get even on the other side of the floor. In theory, this will be a wide-open game with scoring galore. In theory.
No one player epitomizes La Salle’s “shoot now, play defense never” mentality than senior guard Jordan Price. The 6’5″ wing has still never met a shot he didn’t like or a man he won’t guard. Price is averaging 18.5 points per game this season, shooting a tepid 32.9% from three and an overall field-goal percentage of 43.6%. He’s a fun player to watch because he can heat up quickly and has absolutely no conscience with the ball in his hand. Pookie Powell, a transfer from Memphis, joins Price in the Explorer backcourt. Powell is what we commonly refer to as a “volume scorer.” The six-foot point-guard routinely puts up double-digit scoring numbers, it just might take triple-digit attempts to do so.
Say this for Giannini, he did himself a big favor when he went out on the free-agent market and snagged B.J. Johnson from Syracuse. Johnson didn’t fully buy into Jim Boeheim’s system and this has been a blessing for La Salle. Johnson is scoring around twenty points a game, grabbing 6.2 rebounds a contest and is racking up an impressive shooting line: 52%/42%/86%. Make no mistake, Johnson is going to get his. I’m not sure there is anybody on UD’s roster that can handle him one-on-one, it could be a situation where Archie is throwing fresh body after fresh body at the 6’7″ wing. He good.
Amar Stukes is somehow still at La Salle and he rounds out the Explorer starting lineup along with big ole Tony Washington. Gianinni should sit across from Stukes like those two dudes in Office Space — “so what would you say you do here?” To give Stukes a little credit, he is the team’s leading assist man and does chip in around six points a game. And this is the killer, he is only a junior. Washington is the proverbial four-year project that ends with everyone just asking what more could they have done? TW is halfway through his third season under Giannini and I think it’s safe to say he will never reach the potential many observers believed he had coming into the program. This is why rooting for guys like Sam Miller or X-Man is great, the expectations are so low they can’t help but exceed them.
La Salle’s bench is thin and underwhelming. Demetrius Henry, the South Carolina transfer, appears to be the best of the bunch. Henry provides the Explorers with another tall, lanky body that can make plays around the basket. Cleon Roberts, the Georgia Southern transfer, scores around ten a game and has been ruthless from behind the arc, knocking down 59% of his attempts from twenty feet, nine inches and beyond. Johnnie Shuler is another solid reserve coming off the pine for Giannini, he’s a decent defender who can handle the ball. You can never have too many of those dudes.
Last year the annual scarlet letter Dayton had to wear on its tournament resume was a road loss at an abysmal La Salle team. That team was terrible on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. This years team is a bit different. The Explorers are still absolutely terrible on defense, but much improved on offense. The additions of BJ Johnson and Pookie Powell to a lineup with Jordan Price, and an improving Cleon Roberts, has taken this offense from less than a point per possession in 2015-16 to 1.1 points per possession this season. La Salle has improved in just about everything outside of offensive rebounding and is even Top 50 in all shooting categories. All that being said, La Salle still sucks at defense. Just shockingly bad. With a Flyer schedule filled with land mines, the ones who will allow our offense to score at will are probably easier to avoid. Our defense, in theory, should hold.
I expect Dayton to open as a 10.5 point favorite and close at 10. Charles Cooke’s availability could change some of this. Dayton opened at 25.5 against VMI, dropped to 23.5 when Cooke was confirmed out of commission. Flyers got to the window easily. I’m 3.5 off openers, 7.5 off closers on the year to date.
It’s hard to go against the Flyers in a conference home game, so I won’t. This one should be a high-scoring affair, let’s say Dayton wins 83-77. UD gets a much needed conference-opening win and shifts its attention to a tough game in Olean against the St. Bonaventure Bonnies.
Charles Cooke is the team’s leading scorer, dropping 21 points and grabbing seven boards. Scoochie Smith hits a big shot with around two minutes left and Jordan Price takes three shots no one on earth has any business taking.