By Dr. AARON J. MOORE
Special to Philahoops
Take a look at all the Bracketologists on the internet, and they have La Salle in the NCAA tournament. Joe Lunardi (who I still don’t understand how he didn’t copyright the term “bracketology” to prevent others from using it) of ESPN and RPI guru Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com both have the Explorers sneaking in the tournament for the first time since 1992.
This should seem like good news at 20th and Olney after Dr. John Giannini put together another impressive season. However, with only days to go before Selection Sunday, those predictions of La Salle finally ending its two decade absence from the tournament could change for the worse.
The Explorers’ postseason hopes have come down to this Friday night in their first game of the Atlantic 10 tournament. A win against either Butler or Dayton, puts the Explorers in the NCAA tournament, a loss and they head to the NIT for the second year.
With that being the case, even though they were the talk of the Philadelphia basketball scene for most of the year, La Salle will be kept out once again from the NCAA tournament.
On the Court Problems
The level of optimism regarding a La Salle win took a steep drop when it became apparent that 6’ 11’ center Steve Zack is most likely unavailable for Friday’s must win game.
While he does not get the box score highlights like Ramon Galloway and Tyreek Duren, Zack’s contributions – especially taking up space in the lane and his quick passes out of the post back to the perimeter – are a big reason the Explorers have 21 wins and are on the precipice of a tournament bid.
But the season is now all about Friday night and Zack’s absence proved to be monumental void in La Salle’s 78-54 loss this past Saturday in St. Louis. Dwayne Evans had plenty of room to operate in the lane and fellow Billiken Rob Loe faced little opposition on both offense and defense.
If Zack is officially declared out for the rest of the season, the NCAA selection committee will unfortunately take that into account when surveying La Salle’s at-large potential.
Even if Zack is able to play, beating Butler twice in one season seems improbable. A lineup with Zack, Randy Woods and Jack Hurd in it as well would still make La Salle an underdog to the lower seeded Bulldogs who should easily get past the Flyers in Brooklyn on Thursday afternoon.
The Bulldogs are playing well, coming off two impressive wins over Massachusetts and Xavier. In those wins, Rotnei Clarke demonstrated why he is one of the league’s best players and Kameron Woods once again provided major output off the bench.
A loss to Butler does not sound like a major strike against La Salle, but it would make two losses in a row, one a blowout, for the Explorers to end the season. How a team ends its season is a variable the selection committee addresses with at-large teams.
Remember, La Salle’s marquee home win over Butler in January came in the Bulldogs’ first game following their emotional win over Gonzaga, and Clarke was sidelined with a neck injury.
Come Friday, Clarke will likely be a major pain in the neck for La Salle’s tournament chances.
Off the Court Problems
The other schools now sitting on the proverbial bracketology bubble with La Salle include Kentucky, Tennessee, Temple, Oklahoma, and Baylor among others. It is not hard to determine who the outsider is.
While the NCAA talking heads continue to preach they don’t look at the schools in comparative terms when addressing at-large schools, it is empty political rhetoric. The reality is that NCAA and CBS are partners in the billion dollar March Madness operation. CBS CEO Leslie Moonves wants ratings for this tournament. If it comes down to selecting either Kentucky or La Salle, the committee might not feel direct pressure from Mr. Moonves, but they are certainly aware of what television wants. In this era of college realignment, we know that what television wants, television gets.
Any last minute deliberations about La Salle will put it in opposition to many higher profile schools that will certainly bring more eyeballs to a television set than the Explorers. Of course, receiving a bid after so many years is a good story line, but it won’t be attractive enough to get the committee to bypass the other behemoths sitting with La Salle on the bubble.
Another corporate partnership at work does nothing to help La Salle’s chances. The first round of the tournament will be adidas’ opportunity to showcase its new line of uniforms. One of the marquee adidas programs with a new uniform ready to be unveiled before a national audience is Baylor.
The same school seemingly sitting on the same bubble as La Salle. But La Salle and Baylor don’t wear the same sneakers.
Want to know who spends a lot of money advertising on CBS – adidas. Want to know who has a lot of friends in the selection room because of their school’s sneaker sponsorship – adidas. Once again, a call won’t come from above ordering a hit on La Salle to benefit an adidas school like Baylor, but these are certainly topics every member of the selection committee is aware of.
As a La Salle alumni who had the pleasure of being in Greensboro in 1992, the last time the Explorers were in the NCAA tournament, I hope I am wrong. However, there are just too many dynamics going against La Salle receiving the at-large bid that just two weeks ago seemed like a definite.
-Dr. Aaron J. Moore is an assistant professor of journalism at Rider University. Dr. Moore teaches public relations and event planning. Professionally, he serves as a communication consultant. Dr. Moore’s research interests include media ownership, sports journalism and gambling trends. Dr. Moore has written for The Philadelphia Inquirer and Los Angeles Times. A frequent contributor to Basketball Times magazine and the YESNetwork.com, Dr. Moore is also the creator of The Columbia Journalism Review’s database on media ownership.
Dr. Aaron J. Moore
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