Tyreek Duren leads a La Salle team still hanging onto postseason aspirations into Rose Hill Gym for late-season Atlantic 10 battle with Fordham: (Photo courtesy of City of Basketball Love)
Fordham's 9-17 season has reached its final three games, and in order for the Rams to escape the fate of having to play the opening round game of next month's Atlantic 10 tournament, they must emerge victorious in at least one; maybe two, of their trio of upcoming contests, starting first with a La Salle team that comes in at 14-14 on the year and is holding a slim chance of returning to the postseason after advancing to the Sweet 16 a year ago.
This year's Explorers team is nowhere close to the group that shocked the nation last year by reaching the West regional semifinals as a 13 seed behind Tyrone Garland's "Southwest Philly floater," but Dr. John Giannini has done an admirable job of keeping La Salle competitive in the face of long odds and the loss of leading scorer Ramon Galloway to graduation last May. Nonetheless, guards Tyreek Duren and Sam Mills return to anchor an athletic rotation that also features one of the conference's most underrated interior pairings in 6-11 Steve Zack and burgeoning big man Jerrell Wright.
The Explorers will seek to get into transition and keep the game physical, a challenge for Tom Pecora and his smaller Fordham lineup as the Rams hope to move up into a Thursday night matchup at the Barclays Center. For more information on the Philadelphia invaders, we welcome Joe Juliano into our pregame Q&A. In addition to his exceptional work as the primary source of Villanova Wildcats coverage for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Joe also covers a great deal of La Salle, and had this to say about the residents of Olney Street:
Jaden Daly: Can one quantify just how much La Salle has missed Ramon Galloway this season, both in and out of the box score?
Joe Juliano: There’s no doubt that the loss of Galloway has had a significant impact on the team. He was a terrific player at both ends of the floor and his defense helped the Explorers get easy points in transition. He was an outstanding shooter and floor leader. Tyreek Duren has done his best to try to match Galloway’s offensive production but the backcourt in general has had an off year shooting the basketball. While I think Duren is a good leader off the court, Galloway was an exceptional one.
JD: With a four-guard lineup, how can Fordham keep Steve Zack and Jerrell Wright under control, and how much of a factor will the size difference be?
JJ: Fordham will have to be sound in the fundamentals to keep Zack and Wright somewhat under control. That means boxing out the bigger men on the boards and front their men in the post, and making sure that the weakside help is there if the Explorers try to pass it over the defenders. La Salle should have an advantage there but the key is to make sure the big men, particularly Wright, get more touches than they normally get.
JD: Having lost eight of their last ten, is there a sense of desperation from La Salle going into what could be described as a trap game in a tough environment at Rose Hill Gym?
JJ: I don’t think there are trap games at this time of the season for teams that are struggling and desperate for wins. The rest of the season is on the seniors to make sure that they aren’t sagging or counting down the days until the end of the year. I know everyone is disappointed by not fulfilling expectations after last season’s great run but there has to be pride and leadership to make sure everyone is focused on what is needed to do to win.
JD: How can Tyrone Garland's 34 percent shooting be best explained? Is he being defended better this year, or is he just a streaky shooter?
JJ: Garland’s poor shooting is hard to explain. True, he is a streaky shooter but the opposition is taking into account that he’s the No. 2 scoring option on this team and working harder to stop his drives to the hoop. A lot about shooting is confidence and you can tell Garland has struggled with that phase of his game all season.
JD: Finally, if the Explorers can win two of their final three games going into the Atlantic 10 tournament, what would they have to do in Brooklyn to earn a spot in the CBI and/or NIT, and how far of a run can they realistically make?
JJ: It’s all about winning from here on in. I think they have no shot at the CBI because they can’t put a lot of people in the Gola, and how much will the fans be interested, anyway? For the NIT, they would have to win their final three games and at least two in the tournament. Following that blueprint, they would finish 18-15 and have a shot. The fact that they’re in the Philadelphia television market would work in their favor, but even then, it would be far from a slam dunk.