The best in Philly? La Salle

With coach John Giannini at the helm, La Salle knocked off ninth-ranked Butler and 19th-ranked VCU last week. The RPI computer rankings put La Salle 27th nationally. Villanova is second locallyat 50th, and Temple 55th. MATT SLOCUM / AP
With coach John Giannini at the helm, La Salle knocked off ninth-ranked Butler and 19th-ranked VCU last week. The RPI computer rankings put La Salle 27th nationally. Villanova is second locallyat 50th, and Temple 55th. MATT SLOCUM / AP
Posted: January 29, 2013

La Salle is the best college basketball team in the city.

The Explorers have the most varied offensive weapons, are playing the most consistently tough team defense, and have the steadiest point guard and maybe the most underrated big man in the city.

La Salle is no longer a state secret after beating ninth-ranked Butler on Wednesday and then doubling up, going to 19th-ranked Virginia Commonwealth on Saturday night and knocking off the Rams.

The only team that could even dispute that top-school talk right now is Villanova. The Wildcats just knocked off two top-five teams last week, Syracuse and Louisville. But forget the rankings. Butler is just as good as Syracuse. (Temple might agree.) Beating Louisville at home is really impressive, but how much more impressive than going to Virginia Commonwealth and winning?

The Explorers - who beat Villanova earlier this season in overtime - have been under the radar for a couple of reasons. The Atlantic Ten's deal with the CBS Sports Network is "national television" in some homes, but not all. Locally, La Salle hasn't been on as much as its brethren. Also, its nonleague schedule didn't feature a lot of marquee sizzle.

La Salle isn't a sexy team in terms of style of play or points on the scoreboard. Maybe what it does best is disrupt opponents, keeping teams from doing what they want to do. VCU wins by creating its trademarked havoc, full-court pressing, scoring in waves. The Rams achieved that right after halftime against La Salle, scoring six baskets before the Explorers even got off their second shot of the half.

But VCU couldn't sustain that pressure against La Salle's 31/2-guard offense, and were held 18 points under their A-10-leading average. The Rams also forced six fewer turnovers than their league-leading average.

Offensively, La Salle is an interesting mix. Point guard Tyreek Duren is the top rudder in the city, and he also can create points for himself when needed. It was no coincidence that La Salle's offense looked chaotic without him for a brief stretch in the first half. He sat for 2 minutes, 6 seconds, and the Explorers didn't score in that time, while VCU got three baskets and took a four-point lead. Duren got back out there and La Salle scored on its next four possessions while holding VCU scoreless.

Ramon Galloway went off for 31 points against VCU after scoring the game-winner Wednesday against Butler. He is La Salle's biggest offensive wild card. Galloway averages 17.2 points a game but has shot less than 40 percent 10 times, and at least 50 percent eight times. When he gets going, he really gets going.

Tyrone Garland, the Virginia Tech transfer, has proved to be what La Salle must have hoped for, averaging 13.2 points in 23.7 minutes. There's no break for defenders when John Giannini goes to his bench.

Steve Zack also came off La Salle's bench Saturday and was as important as any starter. The 6-foot-11 sophomore grabbed 11 rebounds and did a good job denying VCU's driving guards easy access to the basket. If baskets prevented could be quantified, Zack may have led in this category.

This last week was crazy locally. The Big Five drew a lot of national headlines as Villanova returned to life. A 50-foot shot was the game-winner for Drexel and was reduced to "in other news" status.

The Ratings Percentage Index computer rankings say La Salle is the best locally right now, with a national ranking of 27th. Villanova is second locally at 50th, and Temple 55th.

But the talent levels in the city are close enough so that teams have to play well on a given night to win. The A-10 games between the locals should prove that.

Trying for their first NCAA appearance since 1992, the Explorers now have the big-time scalps that will get the selection committee's attention. Finishing in the top four or five in the league should get the job done. Not an easy task in this year's loaded Atlantic Ten, but no one is selling La Salle short anymore.


Atlantic Ten Standings

Conference Overall

W   L   W   L   

Butler 4   1   17   3   

Charlotte 4   2   16   4   

VCU 4   2   16   5   

La Salle 4   2   14   5   

Xavier 4   2   11   8   

G. Wash. 4   2   10   9   

St. Louis 3   2   14   5   

UMass 3   2   13   5   

Richmond 3   3   13   8   

Temple 2   3   13   6   

Dayton 2   3   12   7   

St. Joseph's 2   3   11   7   

Fordham 2   3   6   14   

St. Bona. 2   4   9   10   

Rhode Isl. 1   4   6   12   

Duquesne 0   6   7   13   

 

RPI Rankings

Rankings through Saturday according to Rivals.com:

La Salle 27

Villanova 50

Temple 55

St. Joseph's 88

Drexel 206

Penn 306


Contact Mike Jensen at mjensen@phillynews.com, and follow on Twitter @jensenoffcampus.

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