After scoring 20.8 PPG and carrying a heavy load for the 2017-18 Explorers, B.J. Johnson has graduated and is playing summer league ball with the Charlotte Hornets. You also won’t be seeing a familiar face on the sidelines at Gola Arena — La Salle and Dr. John Giannini have parted ways since the end of the season.
The Explorers return talented senior Pookie Powell for one final go-around. They also bring back up-and-comer Isiah Deas as well as talented sophomores Miles Brookins and Jamir Moultire. One of the more underrated newcomers will be Traci Carter, an explosive transfer from Marquette. Freshmen should make a big impact as well. Ashley Howard seems like a good hire for the Explorers who are looking to get back on track — making the Sweet 16 in 2013 was a historic moment for this program, and the coaching staff would love to its team back to that level.
While the Explorers may be a few years away from seeing the NCAA Tournament once again, coach Howard has a talented group of aforementioned players ready to ride in 2018-19. Should he play his cards right, La Salle could have an impressive first season under its new head coach. This was a team (granted, with B.J. Johnson) that hung with Villanova for nearly 40 minutes last season. The talent is there — it just needs to be harnessed. Here are 3 things La Salle needs to do to be successful in 2018-19.
1. Finish close games
I think I speak for many La Salle fans when I say a lot of last season’s frustration came in the final minutes of regulation. This team struggled to close when crunch time came around, and it ended up just 1-3 in games that went to OT. Most notably, La Salle’s season ended on a devastating 2 point loss to Massachusetts, and Powell had a desperation three rim out at the buzzer.
A lot of that falls on Dr. Giannini’s shoulders — coach Howard needs to be better than his predecessor. That might take time, especially with an inexperienced roster, but Pookie Powell is the guy to get the job done. Late game execution will be a big key in 2018-19, especially in a league where there could be a lot of parity.
2. Continue to fight against tough non-conference competition
La Salle has historically done a solid job scheduling challenging out-of-conference games, and this year should be no different. We know the Explorers will travel to Gainesville to face Florida and also head out west to play in the Wooden Legacy, a tourney where they have a first-round date with the daunting Miami (FL) Hurricanes. As always, the Explorers will also get their tough Philly tests (Penn is never an easy game, and La Salle gave Nova quite the run last season).
I thought La Salle played a great non-conference slate last year even though the record didn’t show it. Things kind of melted away in A-10 play. The Explorers can’t lose that momentum; they have to treat every conference game like they’re playing the #1 team in the nation. Again, I think the energy coming from new head coach Howard will help spark the players on the court, but chemistry could take some time.
3. La Salle has to be a better team on the perimeter
It’s an understatement to say the Explorers got killed by three pointers last season. They shot 33% as a team (278th nationally), and even worse, they allowed opponents to fire at a 38.1% clip (326th nationally). La Salle even gave Miami (FL) a good fight last season, but it failed to hit a single three pointer all game. That can’t happen.
La Salle needs to improve on the perimeter on both ends of the court. Traci Carter could help a lot in that category, but this needs to be a focal point for coach Howard this offseason. We’ve seen the A-10 be a guard-heavy league in the past, and this year will be no different. La Salle is going to have to keep up with some of the sharpshooters across the Atlantic 10.