NCAA countdown: No. 35 La Salle
by Scott Gleeson, USA TODAY Sports
The first word: Of all the top-tier teams in a loaded Atlantic 10 Conference that enjoyed its best season ever in 2012-13, La Salle was by no stretch a favorite to orchestrate a deep NCAA tournament run.
But the on-the-bubble Explorers snuck into the NCAAs as a No. 13 seed and trumped league foes Saint Louis, Virginia Commonwealth, Butler and Temple in the postseason by reaching the Sweet 16 — beating Boise State, Kansas State and Ole Miss before falling to eventual Final Four finisher Wichita State.
This season, the surprise factor’s over.
With coach John Giannini returning three starters and a cast of pivotal reserves, the guard-heavy Explorers have the talent and experience to step away from the bubble discussion and once again become a nightmare matchup for higher-ranked opponents in March. Overall, La Salle brings back 75% of its scoring.
2012-13 in review: 24-10 overall (11-5, tied for third in Atlantic 10), lost in the Sweet 16 to Wichita State.
Star watch: The biggest question mark for this team will be how to replace the offensive production from Ramon Galloway, who averaged a team-best 17.2 points. That answer starts with Tyreek Duren, one of the best point guards in the country. He averaged 14.2 points and 3.3 assists as the team’s floor general last season. Duren will have the ball in his hands much more and take on a leadership role. Backcourt mate Tyrone Garland (13.0 ppg) is a streaky scorer who hit hit the game-winning tear-drop floater in the Big Dance to lift the Explorers past Ole Miss and into the Sweet 16. On the interior, Jerrell Wright (10.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg) gives La Salle a strong rebounder and defender. Other key returners include 6-11 big man Steve Zack (6.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and guard Sam Mills (8.0 ppg).
Path to the Dance: An at-large bid.
Tournament projection: No. 8 seed.
Conference outlook: Last season the Atlantic 10 had a coming-out party — sending nine teams to the postseason and five to the NCAAs. Aside from the Big East, no conference had more top-100 teams. Despite the loss of Butler and Xavier to … [For more on College basketball countdown: No. 35 La Salle, click here.]