Friday, December 28, 2007

Preview -- La Salle Explorers

The Wildcats and Explorers renew their Big 5 rivalry on Saturday. The La Salle series, which stands at 29-26, is the second most competitive among Villanova's Big 5 rivalries. The Explorers may be 5 decades removed from their National Championship, but they have managed in each of the intervening decades, to find at least one very talented player to build a team around. Three of those players, Tom Gola (1954), Michael Brooks (1980) and Lionel Simmons (1990) have been honored as player of the year. They last earned a bid to the NCAAs in the 1991-92 season. The current 5-0 winning streak ties the longest consecutive Ws/Ls sequence in the rivalry history. One would have to go back to the early 1970s (1972-73 through 1976-77) Villanova's 5 game losing streak to find another streak of comparable longevity. A win this season would, like the win streak Villanova tied against Temple earlier in the month, would set another record...

What Others Say...
... Blue Ribbon gives the backcourt a B, the frontcourt a C and the bench/depth a B. A team whose freshmen promised to be the brightest lights last season are now sophomores, with another promising (but not as large...) group of freshmen to join them. The road will not be lonely.

Giannini is entering the season with a promising collection of sophomores in Rodney Green, an Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team selection last season, Kimmani Barrett and Yves Mekongo Mbala. With Sherman Diaz and Darnell Harris being the only seniors on the team, he is hoping the talented youngsters continue to mature. "The sophomores and freshmen make up the team that will play the next couple of years," said Giannini, who has four newcomers on his roster, including promising twin forwards Jerrell and Terrell Williams. "We are on a mission to win games, sharpen our skills and prove that (13th place) prediction wrong...That team will be good, very good," Giannini said. "This season is all about the growth of the freshmen and sophomores and this is the hardest working team I've had in 21 years of coaching."
- Brendan F. Quinn, The Bulletin, 1026/2007, "Owls, Explorers Hope To Join Hawks As Contenders"

The promising freshmen are sophomores now. They still have a nice mix of upper classmen who may well provide perspective and maturity to this group.

Why Everyone Believes...
...A run at the A10 championship is most likely out of the question, but the sophomores, Kimmani Barrett (guard, 6-6, 190lbs), Rodney Green (guard, 6-5, 190), Rubin Guillandeaux (guard, 6-6, 185) and Yves Mekongo-Mbala (forward, 6-6, 185) will get better, the incoming freshmen will provide depth and contribute to the overall success of the team. As the season progresses the group may be in a strong position to make some noise next season. Any damage they do this season will suggest what they can do next season.

So Far...
...After a 3-2 (promising...) start in November, La Salle took to the road in December and have gone 1-4. Those losses include Bucknell (Patriot League, 4-6, RPI #194), Morgan State (MEAC, 5-4, RPI #124), Mississippi (SEC, 11-0, RPI #11) and DePaul (Big East, 3-7, RPI #146). The lone December win came over Puerto Rico Mayaguez, a D2 school and host of the San Juan Tip Off Classic. The 'Cats and Explorers share a common opponent (so far) this year:


Admittedly not much to go on. Annual rivalries are even more difficult to predict because emotions usually run very high.

La Salle By the Numbers...
Over the past 5 years La Salle's RPI has ranged from a high of #104 (2005-06) to a low of #286 (2006-07). La Salle is a higher than average pace team this season (71.9 possessions, adjusted, via Ken Pomeroy's La Salle Scout Page which ranks the Explorers #79 out of approx. 343 - the current average for pace is 69.4). La Salle's 4 Factors for Offense and Defense look like this:

When La Salle...eFGRnkTOvRnkORebRnkFRateRnk on Offense49.318623.725037.94920.9265 on Defense48.613118.132532.213034.2137

The Explorers' overall Offensive rating (adjusted) is 99.4, ranked #189. In short La Salle is struggling to put points on the board. Their offensive rebounding percentage (37.9 -- #49) is very good and should mask their lack of accuracy shooting the ball. But they turn it over a bit too much (23.7, nearly 1 time in 4), and they don't get to the line often. Their lack of agression is apparent on defense as well. While La Salle appears to be foul prone (that may be a byproduct of the number of defeats -- late game fouling to regain a possession quickly. But the Explorers do not rebound the defensive glass as well as they do the offense, and they do not force turnovers.

Frontcourt vs frontcourt...
...Coach Giannini will start sophomore Yves Mekongo-Mbala, junior Paul Johnson (6-6, 195) and most likely freshman Jerrell Williams (6-8, 210). Also drawing consistent minutes in a frontcourt rotation are are senior Sherman Diaz (6-4, 190) and Jerrell Williams' twin brother Terrell, also a freshman (6-8, 210). Villanova will counter with 2+ year starter Dante Cunningham, most likely partnered with fellow junior Shane Clark. If this game is consistent with other December games, redshirt freshman Antonio Pena and Corey Stokes will also see time. Sophomore center Casiem Drummond, who played briefly against Temple and then missed the Hartford and Columbia games with some tendonitis, will most likely sit out this game as well. La Salle's tallest players are the Williams twins, Terrell and Jerrell, both of whom measure at 6-8.

Backcourt vs backcourt......Coming into the season Rubin Guillandeaux was tabbed as the point guard of the furture. Guillandeaux has only received small amounts of time. It is doubtful that he will start the Villanova game. Starting nods to to senior (& 1000 point scorer) Darnell Harris is starting along with Rodney Green and wingman Kimmani Barrett. Guillandeaux (6-6, 185) and freshman Kyle Griffin (6-3, 185) round out the regulars. Freshman Darryl Parton (6-4, 180) also gets a little bit of PT. The staff will counter with Big East rookie of the year winner Scottie Reynolds, along with (most likely...) Reggie Redding and freshmen Corey Fisher. Grant will also draw double digit minutes off the bench...

Final Thoughts...
...The Explorers will look to Darnell Harris, their senior sometime point guard, to supply the large measure of their offense. Indeed when he is on the court he will take (according to Pomeroy's La Salle Scout Page), about 25% of their FGAs. And that attempt will most likely come from behind the 3 point line. Harris is La Salles' most dangerous three point threat, but shares his role with Rodney Green who is decidely less efficient. Together they take about 47% of the touches and nearly 54% of La Salle's FGAs when they are on the court together. Harris & Green are the featured pieces in La Salle's backcourt-oriented offense. The 'Cats can expect to see 2 point attemtps from Barrett and Guillandeaux, both of whom contribute efficient scoring when they are on the court. Kyle Griffin also scores, though his efficiency may benefit from attention devoted to Barrett, Guillandeaux, Green and Harris. The frontcourt is there to rebound, block shots and get to the line. Mbala, Johnson, Jerrell Williams (and guard Kimmani Barrett) are all ranked in the Top 500 for offensive rebounding percentage (see side bar links for an explanation of possession-based stats). Those same three forwards and guard Rodney Green are ranked #200-#499 for defensive rebound percentage as well. If a shot is coming from the #4 or #5 position, it will most likely be taken by Jerrell Williams or Paul Johnson. Villanova's frontcourt should get one of it's biggest rebounding challenges from La Salle's frontcourt. It should be a good test going into Big East play.

Even though Villanova is on break the students and alums should be able to fill the Pav with fanatics. Played in those familiar confines (as opposed to the Palestra) should provide enough advantages for the 'Cats to take this game with a double digit margin. Any closer and fans will have to wonder whether the team will be able to stand the rigors of their Big East schedule. A win against La Salle would gurantee that Nova's February 4th meeting with St. Joseph's(PA) would decide the Big 5 championship and put Villanova in line to win an unprecedented 4th straight City Series. Ken Pomeroy gives the nod (95%) to Villanova and projects a +21 point margin of victory.

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