The La Salle Explorers (4-2) will enter their Wednesday night contest against the Villanova Wildcats in the midst of a two game losing skid. After taking care of business against inferior competition, including the likes of the Saint Peter's Peacocks and Saint Francis (NY) Terriers, La Salle suddenly found themselves matched up with the Virginia Cavaliers and their stifling top-5 defense in the Barclay's Center Classic. Outscoring the Cavaliers 37-27 in the second half wasn't enough to overcome a sizable early deficit and La Salle ultimately succumbed to a 64-56 defeat. The next day brought about a disappointing 68-55 loss to SEC foe Vanderbilt in the consolation game.
Coach John Giannini has done his best to make up for the loss of guards Tyrone Garland and Tyreek Duren, two of the main holdovers from the Explorers surprise Sweet 16 run in 2013. The seniors combined for 27 ppg and 6 apg in their final season and were responsible for coordinating the team's balanced scoring attack. In their absence, La Salle has struggled find a consistently efficient offense; the Explorers are averaging eight points per game less than last year's effort. Like Villanova's last opponent, Delaware, La Salle flounders from beyond the arc. As a team they shoot just above 25% from three-point territory. Of players who have more than 10 attempts, Jordan Price's 28% stands as the high-water mark.
On the defensive side of the ball, La Salle has found moderate success, where Kenpom ranks them as the 57th best squad and 189th overall.
While Villanova will enter as heavy favorites, this game marks the opening of their Big 5 contest and, consequently, anything and everything should be expected. Let's take a look at three of the most important issues facing the Wildcats.
Win the Battle of the Boards
One of the silver-linings for a team that shoots poorly from the field is an abundance of offensive rebounding opportunities. For La Salle, the front court combination of Jerrell Wright and Steve Zack have feasted on their team's misses. The two, 6'8" and 6'11 respectively, average six offensive boards per game between themselves, including 10 total against St. Peter's. Villanova, utilizing their team rebounding concept, has done well to keep its opponents off the boards to date and must continue to do so against La Salle's active front court. This will be a good test for Daniel Ochefu who will battle against the first competitive 6'11" opponent this season.
Keep Jordan Price in Check
Like the role Cazmon Hayes played for Delaware, Jordan Price represents the Explorers best chance to put points on the board against the Wildcats. Averaging just under 18 ppg, the sophomore has accounted for over a quarter of his team's field goal attempts and nearly 30% of their total point production. Price takes advantages of his thick, 6'5" frame and plus handles to attack the basket off the bounce. He gets to the charity stripe over seven times per game and converts an exceptional 80%.
The responsibility of shadowing the Explorer's main playmaker will likely fall upon Darrun Hilliard II and Josh Hart. While Price certainly isn't shy about launching from beyond the arc, over six attempts per game, it represents the most inefficient aspect of his arsenal. Villanova's wings should prioritize keeping their man out of line and forcing contested jumpers when possible.
Run Them Ragged
One of the main issues concerning La Salle to date is a lack of reliable depth, where Coach Giannini has struggled to find viable options on his bench. Only seven players average double digit minutes. And in this weakness Villanova should be able to counter with perhaps their greatest strength. The Wildcats can effectively go nine deep with a number of different player combinations for whatever the situation calls for. Coach Wright has, at least in my observations, utilized an excellent rotation strategy so far this season. Players are fresh throughout the game's progression almost interchangeable in their effectiveness. Expect to see a healthy does of the three-quarter court trapping.