What: La Salle (19-8, 9-4 Atlantic 10) vs. Duquesne (8-19, 1-12)
Where: Tom Gola Arena, La Salle
When: 2 p.m. Saturday
For the first time in over 20 years, the La Salle Explorers (19-8, 9-4 A10) enter March with a shot at NCAA tournament play.
Not a long shot either, as the Daily Bracket head and Philahoops contributor Greg Eversmeyer has them at a 75-percent shot at tournament play. Even more fascinating is how resilient these Explorers have been. Following an eight-point loss to Temple (that was not nearly that close), coach John Giannini‘s team could have folded, but instead ran away from Rhode Island in their next game in Kingston. In doing so, La Salle avoided back-t0-back losses, something they have not done this year.
On Saturday, the Explorers will host a Duquesne (8-19, 1-12 A10) team that was in shambles until an 84-83 win at Temple shocked the Owls. The win snapped an 11-game losing streak for the Dukes, who have now dropped 14 of 15. Clearly in a rebuilding phase since the school fired Ron Everhart last March , new coach Jim Ferry inherited a team with just two seniors and two juniors. The lack of experience and depth has shown, but Duquesne proved in the that Temple game that they can at the very least, compete.
With the increased focus on La Salle’s tournament chances this year, there is always the worry that a team will overlook a struggling opponent. Duquesne fits that bill, but Giannini promises that this is not the case.
“We want to make the NCAA tournament,” he stated in the weekly conference call. “We do talk about it, but we talk far more about our upcoming opponent.”
And while the team from Pittsburgh is stuck with 10 players in their first or second year, La Salle has a more even roster. This is evident in their poise, which shines in the play of their point guard, Tyreek Duren. In his last three, Duren has averaged 22 points per contest, including 21 against Rhode Island.
“That is the benefit of having a team that is sophomore and junior oriented,” Giannini continued about his roster. “They have seen how hard every game is. They have had tough losses. They realize that everyone at the D1 level is better. They know that nothing comes easy.”
The offense should come easier against Duquesne, as the Dukes are averaging just 7.5 steals per contest (40th worst in the NCAA). Without pressure on their guards, La Salle should have little trouble with penetration. That said, Ferry’s team shoots a lot of three-pointers, about 25 per game. Deep shots account for nearly 37-percent of their points, which is 13th in the country. If Duquesne has a good shooting night (they shot 43.5-percent from three against Temple), they can remain in the game.
The biggest thing lacking for Duquesne is their big man, as 6-foot-6 Andre Marhold is about as big as they get. Look for the Explorers to go big and rely heavily on Jerrell Wright and Steve Zack. Wright, who finished with 12 points and 15 rebounds against Rhode Island, has had dominant games this season while Zack has been a much better facilitator.
Scouting La Salle: The Explorers enter the game winners of five in their last six and seven out of nine. Ramon Galloway is third in the A10 in scoring at 17.2 per game. D.J. Peterson has the highest offensive rating in the A10. Peterson also has an assist-turnover ratio of 3.4, best in the league. Wright has averaged 9.9 points and 6.6 rebounds per game this season.
Scouting Duquesne: The Dukes are led by Derrick Colter, at 13.0 points and 5.1 assists per game. That is second in the league. Duquesne does not have a player taller than 6-foot-6 average more than 10 minutes. They shoot just 64.8-percent from the free throw line.
Can the Explorers move another step closer to an NCAA bid?