Just like last season the La Salle Explorers got off to a slow start in non-conference play, and with that being the case the hope amongst the La Salle faithful is that this group will be able to duplicate the turnaround that resulted in a run to the Sweet 16. On Sunday afternoon Dr. John Giannini’s team moved to 2-0 in Atlantic 10 play with a 75-56 win at Duquesne, handing the Dukes their first conference defeat.
Tyreek Duren led the way offensively with 23 points and six assists, and forward Steve Zack posted his seventh double-double of the season with 13 points and 11 rebounds. As a team La Salle shot 52.9% from the field and 10-for-22 from beyond the arc, with their shotmaking ability countering their 17 turnovers on the day.
By comparison Duquesne shot 35.8% from the field and 4-for-16 from three, and given how well the Explorers shot the Dukes were ill-equipped to making up that 18-point disadvantage from beyond the arc. Since losing at Miami the Explorers have won three straight games, and with the likes of Duren, Zack and Tyrone Garland (17 points on Sunday) they have the pieces needed to factor into the Atlantic 10 race.
In the Atlantic 10 opener for both La Salle outlasted George Washington 76-72 in Philadelphia and their guards led the way. Sam Mills scored a team-best 17 points, with Tyrone Garland (15) and Tyreek Duren (13) also scoring in double figures for the Explorers, who are looking to capture some of the magic that resulted in a trip to the Sweet 16 last season. La Salle struggled in non-conference play in 2012-13, only to rebound with an 11-5 mark in the Atlantic 10.
Isaiah Armwood led three George Washington players in double figures with 15 points to go along with 12 rebounds, and the Colonials had a chance to tie the game in the final seconds. However Joe McDonald was called for a charge with four seconds remaining, and on the ensuing possession Duren hit two free throws to provide the final margin.
If there’s a concern for La Salle moving forward it’s rebounding, with George Washington rebounding 42.5% of its missed shots on the night. La Salle entered the game eighth in the Atlantic 10 in defensive rebounding percentage, and besides Jerell Wright and Steve Zack there isn’t much depth for Dr. John Giannini to rely on. But that was the case last season, and the Explorers were able to account for this with effort and solid guard play. Can they do it again? Thursday’s victory is a step in the right direction.
La Salle bounces back after a poor rebounding effort on Saturday
While their 99-90 double overtime loss to Manhattan on Saturday afternoon qualified as one of the best games of the opening weekend, the way in which the defeat occurred revealed a big issue for the La Salle Explorers. That issue was rebounding, with the Jaspers out-rebounding La Salle 51-33 and finishing the game with a staggering offensive rebounding percentage of 55.8%.
So entering their game on Tuesday morning against Quinnipiac, which has been one of the nation’s best rebounding teams in each of the last two seasons, it was clear that Dr. John Giannini’s team would need a better performance on the glass in order to avoid an 0-2 start. The Explorers were by no means dominant on the glass against the Bobcats but they held their own, breaking even (43-43) on their way to the 73-67 victory.
Tyreek Duren led four Explorers in double figures with 17 points, but shot selection is another area in which La Salle will need to improve as they inch closer to the start of Atlantic 10 play. To be fair that issue’s to be expected at this stage, with La Salle beginning the (in-game) process of adjusting to life without leading scorer Ramon Galloway.
Galloway, who averaged 17.2 points per game last season, factored into nearly 29% of La Salle’s possessions and posted a shot percentage of 28.9% per kenpom.com. Even with key contributors such as Duren, Tyrone Garland and Jerrell Wright back, that’s a significant personnel loss and it will take this group some time to adjust.
As for Quinnipiac, which moved from the NEC to the MAAC during the summer, rebounding will continue to be a strength for them with senior forward Ike Azotam (17 points, seven rebounds) leading the way. And in freshman Kasim Chandler (team-high 19 points), the Bobcats have a guard fans will certainly enjoy watching develop. But on Tuesday it was La Salle’s improved rebounding effort that carried the day, resulting in both teams moving to 1-1 on the season.
Manhattan made a statement on Saturday, winning a thrilling, double-overtime battle at La Salle 99-90.
George Beamon led five scorers in double-figures with 24 points and eight boards while Emmy Andujar chipped in with 14 points, 11 boards, three assists and three steals.
Tyrone Garland led the way for La Salle with 28 points, which included a 26-foot three that he hit without about 10 seconds left in the game to force overtime. La Salle had trailed by 10 points with about four minutes left in the game.
La Salle had control for much of the overtime period, but Rhamel Brown — who finished with 14 points, eight boards and five blocks — grabbed one of his seven offensive rebounds and tied the game for Manhattan at 81. He blocked a potential game-winner by Tyreek Duren at the other end to force the second extra period.
Manhattan took control in the second overtime, with Michael Alvarado hitting the three that put them ahead for good.
The Explorers are a top three team in the Atlantic 10. They are coming off of a trip to last year’s Sweet 16 and have enough talent on their roster to make a return to the NCAA tournament this season. Winning this game on the road is quite the statement from Manhattan, who is expected to contend for the MAAC title.
Atlantic 10 can remain strong conference without Butler, Xavier, Temple and Charlotte
All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.
The Atlantic 10 Conference saw a record five teams play in the NCAA tournament in 2013, with every single team advancing to at least the Round of 32. That was before conference realignment struck again, as the Catholic 7 claimed Butler and Xavier, the AAC brought on Temple, and Charlotte headed back to Conference USA.
Butler and Temple accounted for two of those five bids last spring, and all four of the departing teams were ranked in the RPI top 100. The A-10 took a blow, but the league has been resilient, especially in the ever changing college landscape.
“The A-10 has kind of sustained the test of time,” UMass head coach Derek Kellogg told NBCSports.com in a phone interview. “There has been a lot of changing and transformation within the league the last 15-20 years, dating back to when Rutgers, West Virginia and schools like that were in the A-10.”
The conference had 16 teams last year, and by the start of the 2014-2015 season, that number will be back up to 14, thanks to the addition of two programs with strong basketball histories. George Mason joins the A-10 this season, replacing one Final Four team (Butler) for another, as Kellogg said. The following season Davidson joins the conference as the 14th member.
“The A-10 historically been a very strong conference and we are a basketball-centric conference,” Atlantic 10 Commissioner Bernadette McGlade said last Tuesday at the league’s media day. “We know who we are and we want to stay focused on that and we want to be successful.”
George Mason fields a club football team and Davidson’s football program is in the FCS, which gives the A-10 two new members that a focused and locked in its basketball programs.
“I think realignment is inevitable,” Kellogg said, “but the A-10 is one of those leagues, where its priorities are that of a basketball league. We’ll be able to compete on a national level because the schools are committed to their coaches, their programs and their basketball teams.”
“I think we’ve done a good job of bringing in schools as this transformation has gone on. That softens the blow of losing traditional A-10 schools.”
UMass ended up on the wrong side of the bubble on Selection Sunday, but in hindsight, after seeing what the five teams in the tournament did, you can make a good case that the Minutemen deserved a bid. Kellogg, now in his sixth season at his alma mater, is looking to take his program to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998.
Shaka Smart and VCU are ranked heading into the season, and are the favorites in the Atlantic 10. Havoc in all likelihood will return to the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight season, but who will be joining the Rams from the conference will be the big question this season. Despite all losses of Butler, Charlotte, Temple and Xavier, it’s not inconceivable to see the A-10 get as many as four bids this season.
“We have three returning tournament teams, and those teams are all rated highly,” Kellogg said of his conference. “Then I think you have three or four teams in that next group that are all vying to chip away. A lot of it will do with how we play out of conference. A lot of teams have upgrade their schedules. Would five be a stretch? … We’d have to play really well [as a conference] to get that. But there will be four, five, as many as six teams in the conversation.”
La Salle comes back after a Sweet Sixteen run in March, returning the back court of Tyreek Duren and Tyrone Garland. Saint Louis, not Butler or VCU, finished atop the conference standings and won the A-10 tournament. The Billikens return a conference Player of the Year candidate, Dwayne Evans, along with three other starters. Then there is UMass, who could pick up quality non-conference wins against LSU, Boston College, BYU and Providence this season and get to play La Salle, Saint Louis and VCU all at home during conference play.
In the preseason the A-10 has four teams with realistic shots at bids, as the league attempts to build off the momentum of last March. But for the A-10, it isn’t just this year that looks promising. The conference has devoted new memberships to schools with a focus on their basketball teams, but the it’s the universities themselves are providing their programs with the resources to be stable fixtures in college basketball for the future.
This offseason, Saint Louis removed the interim label and made Jim Crews the head coach. Shaka Smart, Dr. John Giannini, and Danny Hurley were all awarded extensions by their respective schools. Crews, Smart, and Giannini all took their programs to the NCAA tournament, while Hurley is building towards that goal in his third season at URI.
St. Bonventure’s Andrew Nicholson was the last player drafted from the A-10 back in 2012. Although, the league didn’t have an NBA draftee this season, it still managed to produce five tournament teams. As Matt Norlander writes, that’s a product of Atlantic 10 programs building teams with three and four year guys; quality players that tend to have playing careers overseas.
“It’s underrated. It’s been underrated since I’ve been [at Dayton],” Flyers head coach Archie Miller told reporters. “There’s a lot of guys on a lot of teams that can play heavy roles anywhere win the country. There’s really legitimate, high-level players who come into the league. The last couple of seasons, with success in the NCAA, in some cases guys are a little older.”
It’s also the image the Atlantic 10 gives, such as hosting its conference tournament in the brand-new, luxurious Barclay’s Center.
“We are portraying an image of being big-time basketball, playing in what I consider the nicest arena in the world at this particular moment,” Kellogg said. “We are in one of the top media markets in the world, and that has helped solidify the message that we were trying to send, that we are on the same stage.”
The Atlantic 10 solidified that message last season, and will look to reinforce the notion that its a power conference again this season.
All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.
To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.
The Atlantic 10 was not immune to conference realignment, as five teams have moved either in or out of the conference this season with a sixth team (Davidson) joining the A-10 for 2014-2015. The conference lost Butler after its one-year stint, as well as Charlotte, Temple and Xavier. For all the losses the conference still fields VCU — a top-25 team to start the season — and several teams that have expectations of going to the NCAA tournament, including La Salle, Saint Louis and UMass. The conference has a lot of momentum following a year that saw all five bids advance, and despite the losses of four programs, the Atlantic 10 has another promising season on the horizon.
IN: George Mason OUT: Butler, Charlotte, Temple, Xavier
FIVE THINGS TO KNOW:
1. Despite the losses, the league is still strong: The conference is down, but not out after losing two of the five teams that secured NCAA tournament bids last season. If you take the four departing schools out the equation, the Atlantic 10 still had five teams that finished in the RPI top 100 last season, and that’s before you take into account the expected improvement of Rhode Island, Dayton and George Washington.
3. UMass got their star back: UMass point guard Chaz Williams had a chance to skip his senior year and play in Turkey, though decided to return because of unfinished business both in the classroom and on the court. That’s enormous news for Derek Kellogg, as Williams is one of the best point guards in the country and a huge part of the Minutemen’s attack.
4. Guards. Lots and lots of guards: The back courts in this conference will be great to watch, especially the teams at the top of the league. We know about VCU’s guards and La Salle’s back court is no longer a secret thanks to their Sweet 16 run, and Williams is joined by Western Kentucky transfer Derrick Gordon at UMass this year. Rhode Island, St. Joe’s, Dayton, St. Louis. There’s plenty of back court talent here.
5. The Atlantic 10 has its games on the NBC Sports Network this year: 25 regular season games can be seen on the NBC Sports Network. The full schedule of games can been seen here.
PRESEASON ATLANTIC 10 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Chaz Williams, UMass
Coming off another productive year, the senior point guard has one more shot at an NCAA tournament. He averaged 15.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game last season as a junior, and this year will have familiar pieces and new weapons to utilize. Cady Lalanne and Raphiael Putney return in the UMass front court and Western Kentucky transfer Derrick Gordon is eligible after sitting out last season. Williams can not only grab player of the year honors, he can also advance UMass to the Big Dance for the first time since 1998.
THE REST OF THE ATLANTIC 10 FIRST TEAM
Tyreek Duren, La Salle: Leading the La Salle perimeter attack this season after a junior campaign averaging 14.2 points a game
Dwayne Evans, Saint Louis: The senior forward helped the Billikens capture the A10 title with 14.0 points per game and 7.7 rebounds.
Juvonte Reddic, VCU: Shaka Smart will look to Reddic to man the VCU frontline. The senior forward shot 57 percent from the field a season ago, grabbing 8.1 rebounds per game.
Xavier Munford, Rhode Island: The Rams are looking to make the next step in the rebuilding process and Munford can help in his last season at URI. With Munford is the top scorer returning to the conference this season.
FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:
Isaiah Armwood, George Washington
Derrick Gordon, UMass
Treveon Graham, VCU
E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island
Tyrone Garland, La Salle
BREAKOUT STAR: Tyrone Garland, La Salle
Garland, who transferred into the program from Virginia Tech, was a lightening bolt for John Giannini’s team last season. His “Southwest Philly Floater” is the reason they made it to the second weekend of the Big Dance. But with Ramon Galloway gone and graduated, Garland’s role for the Explorers will have to expand. If they are going to make a push for the A-10 title, Garland will need to have a big season. We expect just that.
COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Derek Kellogg, UMass
Kellogg is under pressure this season, but he isn’t necessarily on the “hot seat”. Kellogg is now in his sixth season and is still looking to take his alma mater back to the NCAA tournament. UMass was on the wrong side of the bubble this year, but with the returners he has the Minutemen have realistic chances to be one of the 68 teams come March.
ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … The league lost Butler, Temple and Xavier and still got five teams into the tournament.
I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT: The guard play in the league. Seems like everyone has an all-conference caliber player in their back court.
FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:
1. VCU: Shaka Smart returns Treveon Graham and Juvonte Reddic, two all-conference caliber players. The Rams a couple pieces in their back court, but there is still plenty of depth on the roster. Point guard play, and the new hand-checking rules, will be the keys to their season. 2. UMass: Five A-10 teams received bids to the tournament last March, but the Minutemen were on the outside looking in. This season UMass has a favorable conference schedule — home games against La Salle, Saint Louis and VCU — which could help them finishing higher in the conference standings. 3. Saint Louis: The Billikens return leading scorer Dwayne Evans, as well as Mike McCall, Jordair Jett and Rob Loe, who were key components to Saint Louis’ top scoring defense in the A-10 a season ago. 4. La Salle: The Explorers made the deepest run in the tournament of any conference team last spring, but lost Ramon Galloway, the team’s leading scorer. Tyreek Duren and Tyrone Garland return to lead La Salle’s perimeter attack. 5. Richmond: Darien Brothers is gone, but the Spiders have the next three top scorers from a season ago back in the mix this year. 6. Rhode Island: Dan Hurley is still building up that URI program, and this is the season they can make the jump. The Rams add Gilvydas Biruta from Rutgers and have a freshman tandem of Hassan Martin and E.C. Matthews in the lineup this year to go along with Xavier Munford, who poured in 17. 4 a game in 2012-2013. 7. Dayton: Archie Miller’s team should improve even without Kevin Dillard. Matt Kavanaugh returns from suspension and Devin Oliver, Vee Sanford and Dyshawn Pierre all return as starters. 8. St. Joseph’s: Phil Martelli’s team finished 10th in the conference a season ago after being pegged as the preseason favorite. This year, three seniors — Langston Galloway, Ronald Roberts and Halil Kanacevic — will lead the Hawks. 9. George Mason: The newcomers to the the conference returns a lot of talent from last year’s 22-win team, including Sherrod Wright. 10. George Washington: Eight freshmen or sophomores are on the roster. Isaiah Armwood provides a nice player inside, and Mo Creek joins the team from Indiana. 11. St. Bonaventure: Roster features a lot of newcomers to go along with seniors Charlon Kloof, Matthew Wright and Marquise Simmons and junior Youssou Ndoye, though none of them averaged double figures last year. 12. Fordham: Jon Severe, a three-star recruit and Rivals150 in the Class of 2013, should be fun to watch for Fordham. 13. Duquesne: Jim Ferry is still putting the pieces in to place, but does have Derrick Colter coming back after a strong freshman season in the Dukes’ back court.