La Salle University has been one of the nicest surprises in the Atlantic 10, but how does their out of conference play translate to the rest of the conference? The Explorers have been able to accumulate an impressive 9-3 record with their worst loss coming in Big 5 play against the University of Pennsylvania. In fact, the Explorers have only lost to Philadelphia Big 5 opponents this season. Other than that, Ashley Howard has done an extraordinary job preparing this team for non-conference opponents. Regardless of their strength of schedule, it hard to not tip your hat to a team that is coming off of a 10-21 season.
Winning with Defense
What has been the strength for La Salle this season? The defensive play of this team has been the biggest strength of this roster. La Salle has allowed an average of 67.5 points per game this season. A better indication of La Salle’s defensive ability is their overall Net Defensive rating. According to sport-reference.com, La Salle has a rating of 92.5, which places them fifth in the Atlantic 10. They are also fifth in the Atlantic 10 in defensive rebounds and sixth in blocks.
The only weakness this team has on defense is personal fouls. The Explorers commit the most amount of fouls in the Atlantic 10, averaging around 20 a game! To put some positive spin on that, it might indicated that La Salle does not give up easy points. Instead they force teams to shoot free throws rather than giving up open baskets. Bad news is, it could just be because they are undisciplined or too aggressive defensively. I suspect it is the latter of the two. So what does this strength in defensive mean? It means La Salle’s defensive is no joke, and a good defense is something that is easier to deploy when you are playing away from the Tom Gola arena.
Is the Offense Good Enough?
While the defense has been a strength of this team, La Salle is not terrible on the offensive end either. When compared to the Atlantic 10, La Salle is fifth in Free Throw Attempts, sixth in Three Points made, and in Three Point Percentage. However, La Salle does struggle to secure the ball. They average around 15 turnovers a game. While the turnover numbers are not ideal, it is safe to say that the offense is just good enough. If The Explorers can reliably play strong defense, their offense is just good enough to out score their opponents. It is why they have are 10th in net rating, but 5th net defensive rating. Their offense is just not a strength for them.
Where will La Salle Finish in the A10?
La Salle is a team that will not roll over against Atlantic 10 opponents. This team’s defensive mentality brings that Philly attitude an SJU alumni like I can appreciate. I am so impressed by this team’s success so far that I’m confident in saying that they are good enough to be a fifth seed in the Atlantic 10 tournament this year. There is no doubt Reaching a fifth seed in the tournament would be a massive accomplishment for Coach Howard. It would be a huge step in the right direction for a program that has struggled to find consistent success over the last twenty years.
Kenpom predicted a 8 and 10 conference record for the Explorers. But I am more optimistic on La Salle for two reasons. First, their Atlantic 10 schedule is very favorable. The Explorers get Dayton, SLU, VCU, and Saint Bonaventure at home. The odds that La Salle drops all of these home games are small. In addition, La Salle also gets to play SJU, Umass, and Fordham twice! These are the three worst performing teams in the Atlantic 10 this season. When these facts are put into context it appears that Kenpom’s prediction is on the more conservative side.
The second reason I am favorable towards La Salle is their style of play. It is easier to bring consistent play on the road when a team’s strength is defense. I believe that teams who are defensively oriented tend to be more consistent on the road. Pair La Salle’s favorable schedule with their strong defense, and the team will be poised to surprise everyone with a deep run in the Atlantic 10 Tournament.