Full disclosure: I am a La Salle graduate and cover the Explorers almost exclusively for Philahoops.com. This has been a season of misery for La Salle fans, due in large part to the Tom Gola Arena-size expectations put upon the team following a Sweet Sixteen appearance last season. Less than month ago, La Salle was in the midst of a five-game winning streak. Today, they sit losers of four out of five, with a daunting task of taking on a nationally-ranked Saint Louis.
No. 13 Saint Louis at La Salle - 5 p.m. - ESPN2 / Watch ESPN
- Saint Louis- 21-2 Overall, 8-0 Atlantic 10
- La Salle - 12-10 Overall, 4-4 Atlantic 10
- Odds: La Salle +4
It has been an excellent season for a few Explorers. Tyreek Duren has put up great numbers, leading the team with 14.5 points per game and shooting almost 38 percent from behind the arc. Duren was hampered by plantar faciitis earlier this season, which put the senior guard off to a slow start. In Saturday's game, however, the Philly native is called on to do both the scoring and the creating, something that is a load on this team.
Perhaps the most improved player in the A-10 (and maybe one of the most improved in the country) is Steve Zack, who comes into this game averaging 9.5 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. Dubbed (by me!) as a walking double-double, the 6-11 Zack has carved a niche for himself as a steady, productive force for coach John Giannini.
The last time out, La Salle was demolished by UMass, who used an aggressive attack to score at will. Giannini warned after the double-overtime loss to VCU that he worried about his team's resolve. Since that game, the Explorers have seemed apathetic to the game at hand and their body language has showed it.
Their opponents have had different fortunes this season, as the Billikens come into Philadelphia riding a 15-game winning streak, one of the longest in the country. Like Duren, point guard Jordair Jett has taken over some scoring duties this season. The senior is averaging 12.7 points per game and almost five assists. He is helped by Dwayne Evans, who leads the team with 14.6 points per game. The 6-6 senior also grabs 6.5 rebounds per game, and is just one of the many options Jim Crews has for his offensive attack.
Where the Billikens thrive is on defense, where they allow just 58.6 points per game, good for 7th in the country. Holding teams to just 38.7 percent shooting from the floor, Saint Louis also doesn't let teams beat them from deep. This is a fact that will hurt the Explorers. Opponents of the Billikens shoot just 27.5 percent from beyond the arc.
The line on this game is peculiar, as I would have thought Saint Louis would steamroll the Explorers. With it sitting at four, I think La Salle makes a run in this one. Don't count out the Explorers, but they'll have to shoot effectively from deep to be in this one.
Saint Louis 70, La Salle 68