It’s a new season for the La Salle Explorers, welcome words for fans and players alike. Last year was a struggle with La Salle finishing the season at 9-22 with a 4-14 record in the Atlantic 10. It wasn’t a good season but it was mostly due to lack of depth. Head coach Dr. John Giannini admitted that he redshirted too many players which led to his rotation not being deep enough. La Salle had four of their five starters average over 30 minutes per game and only three bench guys averaged 10 plus minutes per game.
Only playing eight guys per night led to major breakdowns at the end of games which is something that the Explorers will look to avoid this year. But it wasn’t all bad for the Explorers last year. They have a legitimate scorer in Jordan Price who averaged 19.2 points per game last year. As far as price goes, this team will go but he will have to improve his shot selection. Most of it was due to him being the only effective member of the offense (as well as a hand injury). He’ll be joined in the starting lineup by another scorer who also averaged double digits for the Explorers.
Cleon Roberts will be a large part of the team’s success coming off a year that he averaged 12.9 points per game while shooting 36 percent from three (which will need to improve). The surprise performer of the year Johnie Schuler will also be back after averaging 9.6 points per game while running the offense. Shuler also averaged three assists per game, a number that will need to go up for the Explorers to gain a NCAA Tournament berth.
The X-factor for the team will be junior forward Yevgen Sakhniuk. He should see an expanded role for La Salle this season now that he has gotten acclimated to America and coach G’s offense. Last season, Sakhniuk averaged 13.5 minutes per game but that number should climb into the mid 20’s this year. He also averaged 6.1 points per game in that time. He had trouble with fouls but if he can overcome that Sakhniuk could be an effective interior presence for La Salle. Coupled with an imposing center like Tony Washington, there should be space for Sakhniuk to shoot and be an impact player for the team.
La Salle will also be helped by the injection of redshirts freshmen including Pookie Powell, B.J. Johnson, and Demetrius Henry. Those three will add to the rotation for the Explorers and help create a deeper squad. They will all bring different skills that should make the team more competitive. While the offensive side of the game will be important defense will be the name of the game for the Explorers.
Since La Salle usually plays a three-guard lineup, steals and pushing the tempo will be important for them to have success. Last season, four members of the starting lineup averaged at least one steal per game. Playing a small lineup, turnovers are key and the guards will need to be pesky.
Projected starting lineup:
Guard: Jordan Price
Guard: Johnie Schuler
Guard: Cleon Roberts
Forward: Yevgen Sakhniuk
Center: Tony Washington
Looking at the schedule, La Salle has a tough non-conference schedule before entering into A-10 play. The non-conference schedule is highlighted with tilts against Temple, Villanova, Georgetown and Mercer. Winning a few of these games will go a long way to giving La salle some confidence heading into the always loaded A-10 schedule.
I think that Las Salle will finish the season at 20-10 (the full schedule is pending on the team’s performance in the Hoophall Miami Invitational) with a 12-6 record in A-10 play. Coupled with a decent run in the conference tournament it should be enough for the Explorers to sneak into the First Four round of the NCAA Tournament.
Check out La Salle as they open their season against Temple in a Big Five clash this Friday at seven pm.