The 2016-17 season could be described as a rollercoaster for La Salle fans. There were highs and lows all year long, and at the end of the day, that roller coaster ended up in a pretty neutral spot. Bringing in a load of outside transfers, the Explorers were expected to improve greatly from their 14th place finish in the conference in 2015-16. That they did. La Salle would get decent non-conference wins over Mercer, FGCU, and Bucknell, suffer expected losses to Villanova, Georgetown, and Temple, and lose a head-scratcher to Texas Southern.
Conference play started with a bang. The Explorers ascended in the A-10 standings, starting 5-1 and pulling an enormous road upset over Rhode Island. Though after a backbreaking 90-52 loss to VCU, Dr. G’s squad would lose its swagger and only win 4 more conference games before the end of the regular season. The Explorers would finish 8th in the league and lose to Davidson in the A-10 Tournament, and despite a steady decline in the direction of the season, that 5-1 start to league play should be enough to keep La Salle fans hopeful. This team was talented enough to compete, and the Explorers could be surprisingly resilient in the 2017-18 season.
Easily La Salle’s most underrated player last season, Amar Stukes should be ready for a big senior year. Stukes had some really impressive showings last year, most notably, the one on the road in a win over Rhode Island. The junior went for 22 points and 4 assists, helping the Explorers secure their biggest win of the season. Amar Stukes’ biggest asset has been free throw shooting. He gets to the line frequently (8th best free throw rate in the A-10 last season), and he makes almost all of his attempts (88.5% in conference play). If I’m Dr. Giannini, I’m telling this guy to drive the lane and get fouled more often. Whenever Amar Stukes is getting to the free throw line, the Explorers are benefitting greatly. I’m very excited to see Stukes’ emergence in his last collegiate season.
As a junior, Johnnie Shuler was fairly limited in playing time due to the plethora of incoming transfers last season. His playing time dropped from 35.6 MPG as a sophomore to just 12.9 as a junior — that’s a big reduction. Because of this, it was difficult for Shuler to make much of an impact; his top performance as a junior was a road loss against George Mason where he scored a season-high 10 points. As a sophomore, Shuler had multiple double-digit scoring performances and added a lot on the defensive end of the floor.
With the emergence of Stukes and Powell, I don’t expect Johnnie Shuler to see anywhere close to 35 minutes per game like we saw two seasons ago. With the addition of star point guard Jamir Moultrie to the Explorers’ backcourt, it will be difficult for Dr. G to squeeze Shuler in the rotation consistently. I’m looking at Shuler as a defensive-oriented player for the 2017-18 season. He averaged 1.3 steals per game his sophomore season, and he’s excellent at defending without fouling. Look for the Explorers to capitalize on what seems to be his forte.
In all honesty, La Salle’s season is going to go as far as B.J. Johnson is willing to take it. He’s coming off an enormous junior year after transferring from Syracuse, and with the graduation of Jordan Price, this is now Johnson’s team. Averaging 17.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game last year, there’s no way B.J. Johnson got enough credit for his contributions. Though La Salle struggled late in the A-10 season, he was the catalyst behind some much-needed wins. 28 and 26 point scoring performances against Massachusetts and Fordham were some of his biggest, and a 35 point scoring night was the reason La Salle downed Florida Gulf Coast.
I’d expect Johnson’s shooting percentages to drop next season, as he’ll be taking a majority of the Explorers’ shots. That said, expect him to be a player that averages more than 20 points per game during his senior campaign. One area of concern is Johnson’s three point shooting; we saw him shoot just 33.6% from deep in conference play. Senior Cleon Roberts was, by far, La Salle’s most efficient scorer from deep, and Johnson is going to have to pick up some slack. If he can work on his outside shooting and improve slightly on the defensive end of the floor, there’s no reason he can’t be in the conversation for Atlantic 10 Player of the Year.
Like Johnnie Shuler, we saw Tony Washington’s minutes take a dive as a junior compared to his sophomore year. Going from 26.7 to 15.9 minutes per contest, Washington took a backseat at the 5 behind Demetrius Henry. But after Henry’s decision to leave the team, it becomes apparent that Washington is, once again, going to be an important player. Potentially as a starter in 2017-18, Washington is going to be a piece to what could be a dominant La Salle frontcourt. Along with 7-2 redshirt freshman Cian Sullivan, the Explorers are going to have a pair of big centers. If they look to take advantage down low, they’ll have quite a bit of size.
Though Washington was certainly limited in playing time last year, he still ranked top 10 in the A-10 in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentages. When on the floor, Washington is one of the best in the league at crashing the glass on both ends, no questions asked. In addition, shooting 58.5% from the floor, I was surprised to see Tony Washington lose as much playing time as he did. In an Atlantic 10 that will be very guard-oriented, I like the senior Washington to play his size as an enormous advantage in the post.
As La Salle’s starting point guard, Pookie Powell showed that he has the ability to affect all facets of the game. This makes him one of La Salle’s most crucial players next season. Averaging 13.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and 1.3 steals per contest, there really wasn’t anything Powell couldn’t do last year. And the best part? The Explorers still get two more seasons of the progressing junior.
Like Amar Stukes, Powell was really effective when getting to the free throw line (84.3%), and his three point shooting got better as the season went on (39.1% in conference play). The Explorers will need Powell to be a lethal threat from deep if they want to stay relevant in a guard-dominated Atlantic 10. There will be other teams in this league that will kill you from deep, and if you can’t keep up, you’re going to struggle. Powell missed significant time during conference play, and honestly, that was a big reason the Explorers fell off from their 5-1 start. With Pookie Powell ready to emerge as one of the more underrated stars in the conference, I have high hopes for what La Salle can be capable of.
As a freshman, Phiri was very limited in playing time, but you can probably expect to see him on the court more often next year. Phiri mostly played garbage time last season, notably his 11 points in a man-handling against VCU. Rarely did he see more than 10 minutes in a contest, and if he did, his contributions were limited. If he wants to earn more playing time, he’ll have to continue to prove himself as a shooter and on defense.
Deas certainly showed upside last season despite missing a large chunk of the end of the year due to injury. He started off his collegiate career on a high note with 12 points and 3 threes in an overtime loss to Temple. He’d have another game later in the season with 3 threes against Duquesne. As a three point shooter, Deas was sporadic, and shooting sub-.300 from deep on the year, he hasn’t emerged as a threat just yet. That said, those two games are indicators of his rising ability as he gets healthy for the start of his sophomore year. Dr. Giannini doesn’t often go deep into his bench, but Deas should see more minutes in his second season.
The Maryland native and incoming point guard may be the most underrated freshman in the A-10. Moultrie is considered a 4 star guard by some recruiting sites, and he generated interest from some big name schools. Georgetown and Georgia both offered the 2017 point guard, but he’d ultimately settle with the Explorers.
Something the Explorers don’t lack is depth at point guard. Expect Moultrie to be an immediate contributor off the bench (maybe even as a starter), as he’s a natural shooter and is efficient in the lane with the basketball. Also, La Salle brings in Marquette transfer Traci Carter in the 2018-19 season, so it’s pretty safe to say that La Salle’s future at the top of the key is looking very healthy.
At 6-6 and weighing in at more than 200 pounds, Dajour Joseph brings both size and athleticism to the Explorers’ 2017-18 squad. Giannini describes the Fort Lauderdale native as a great ball-handler and shooter who brings tremendous amounts of energy. He definitely has a shot at being one of the more athletic freshmen in the league.
Joseph should play a role behind B.J. Johnson as a wing this year. The Explorers won’t be short on depth at the 1, 2, and 3 spots, so don’t expect Joseph to get tons of playing time as a freshman. That said, he’s going to be one of the more crucial pieces to La Salle’s future, so he should get some development time this year.
6-10 Miles Brookins from Santa Ana, California will add size and depth to La Salle’s frontcourt. With Sullivan and Washington, the Explorers won’t lack height, but every member of this frontcourt will be valuable. The departure of Demetrius Henry makes Brookins’ presence more crucial as the Explorers lose a key post player.
Here’s a look at Brookins’ reach and athleticism. He should serve as a big guy that can not only play the post and grab rebounds, but one that can also run the floor and make big plays in transition. I think he could be a starter.
The redshirt freshman should be the biggest player in the Atlantic 10 at 7-2 (correct me if I’m wrong), so that’s a big plus for the Explorers. The Explorers won’t have much post depth and could be seen implementing a 3 guard set with Johnson at the 4. If Dr. G wants to go big, he can certainly throw Sullivan and Washington into the rotation with Brookins, but with more depth in the backcourt, we could see more guard play.
Home– St. Peter’s, South Alabama, Drexel, Mercer
Away– Penn, Temple, Villanova, Bucknell
Neutral– Northwestern, Texas Tech/Boston College, Towson, Manhattan/Holy Cross, Miami (FL)
At home and on the road, this looks like a typical La Salle Basketball non-conference schedule. You’ve got a ton of local games both on the road and at home. You’ve got a couple easy opponents like St. Peter’s and South Alabama. Finally, you’ve got a team like Mercer that the Explorers played on the road last season. The Hall Of Fame Tip-Off Tournament will be interesting, as the Explorers will get two tough games, one against NU. La Salle will also travel to Ireland to face Towson and Manhattan/Holy Cross, which is honestly a long way to go for a couple of “meh” games. My favorite game is a neutral matchup against Miami (FL) in Reading. I like La Salle’s schedule as it will bring some challenges as well as some much-needed wins before starting conference play.
Home – Dayton, George Mason, St. Bonaventure, VCU, Fordham, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Saint Joseph’s, Saint Louis
Away – Davidson, Duquesne, George Washington, Richmond, Fordham, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Saint Joseph’s, Saint Louis
La Salle’s road schedule is very easy. The Explorers get to face Davidson, Duquesne, George Washington, Fordham, Richmond, and Massachusetts away from home. Any of those teams can be beaten in their home arenas. At home, they’ll have a tough time with Dayton, St. Bonaventure, and VCU, but at least they won’t have to travel to take on those teams. La Salle’s schedule looks very favorable, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Explorers win a couple of big games in conference play next season.
Non-Conference Record: 7-6
Conference Finish: 11th in A-10
Starting Lineup: Pookie Powell, Amar Stukes, B.J. Johnson, Miles Brookins, Tony Washington
X-Factor: Pookie Powell
Biggest Sleeper: Amar Stukes
Most Improved: Jamir Moultrie
MVP: B.J. Johnson
La Salle has an up-and-coming star in Pookie Powell and a possible All-Conference first team player in B.J. Johnson, but I don’t know if that’s going to be enough. After that, I question who’s going to step up and deliver. The Explorers have a very inexperienced frontcourt with a guy in Tony Washington who saw playing time dip dramatically last season. La Salle has good recruits, but I question how much court time they’ll actually get. Freshmen Phiri and Deas barely saw the floor last season, and it’s hard to know what they’re capable of. La Salle could surprise once again, but losses of Jordan Price and Demetrius Henry don’t help. The middle of the A-10 is a mystery, so there’s certainly potential for La Salle to even improve from last year’s 8th place finish.
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