Scouting the La Salle Invitational Tournament

The first annual La Salle Invitational Tournament begins this Thursday and the Explorers welcome three foes into Tom Gola arena. Holy Cross is the opening night opponent and then La Salle hosts a suddenly hot Niagara team before closing out the tournament against winless Delaware. This is a basketball junkie's paradise with 6 games in three days.

Holy Cross Crusaders Starters: (6-5)

1 Torrey Thomas 5"11 SR. G
2 Kyle Cruze 6"2 JR. G
00 Tim Clifford 6"10 JR. C
21 Alexander Vander Baan 6"8 SO. F
10 Keith Simmons 6"5 SR. G/F

Niagara Purple Eagles Starters: (4-6)

1 Lorenzo Miles 5"11 SR. G
24 Charron Fisher 6"3 JR. G
34 Rydell Brooks 6"2 FR. G
13 J.R. Duffey 6"8 SR. F
33 Cliff Brown 6"7 SR. F

Delaware Blue Hens Starters: (0-9)

23 Darrell Johnson 6"4 FR. G
11 Zaire Taylor 6"4 SO. G
5 Brian Johnson 5"10 FR. G
33 Henry Olawaye 6"8 JR. F
15 Herb Courtney 6"7 JR. F

Holy Cross comes into the tournament on a 4 game skid. The Crusaders have played a difficult non-conference schedule so those losses to the likes of Syracuse, Duke, and Providence just make for a more desperate Holy Cross team. With Torrey Thomas, Tim Clifford, and Keith Simmons all scoring in double figures, one might think offense is the Crusader's game. That is not the case. They don't shoot the ball particularly well but they do rebound the ball and play terrific defense. 8th year head coach Ralph Willard, preaches defense and his team responds. They are among the top defensive teams in the nation, grab almost 10 steals a game, and force their opponents into 16 turnovers a game. The Crusaders are coming off a 58-46 loss to last year's Cinderella, George Mason. Keith Simmons must be watched as he gets over 16pts/game. Big Man Tim Clifford is low post threat and will look to get Explorer frontcourt players into foul trouble. However, the engine that makes this team run is senior Torrey Thomas. An All–Patriot selection, Thomas does a little bit of everything. He scores over 11 pts/game and also averages 4/rebs and 4/assists per game.

Niagara may be the hottest team coming into the tournament. Led by ex-La Salle assistant coach Joe Mihalich the Purple Eagles are riding a three game win streak including a win over A-10 rival Duquesne. Niagara was decimated by suspensions this off-season to 8 of their players but now all return led by All-MAAC performer and local product Charron Fisher. The 6"3 Roman Catholic alum is averaging 24.6pts/game and is their go-to player. The frontcourt of J.R. Duffey and Cliff Brown may be the best frontcourt La Salle will see in this tournament. Both average double - digit points and Brown is just shy of averaging double digit rebounds as well. Both are seniors with basketball smarts. Niagara, like the other teams in this tournament do not shoot particularly well shooting only 30% from long distance. Their Achilles heel is defense. They allow opponents to shoot 46% from the floor.

Delaware, the Explorers final opponent is looking for their first win. 1st year head coach Monte Ross has had a rough go thus far. 9 consecutive losses, some close and painful, has the Blue Hens desperate to get their first win of the season. The Hens have two very good players in 6"4 sophomore Zaire Taylor and combo forward Herb Courtney. After that no one else has really stepped up for Ross this season. Taylor is a gem. A good defensive player and steady offensively he has good size and can match-up with the Explorers larger guards. Courtney is a do-everything combo forward. He played locally at Hatboro-Horsham high school and can post up or step out and shoot the jumper. Active and springy he is a clone of Explorer freshman Yves Mekongo-Mbala. Delaware also does not shoot well and is a very poor rebounding team. If the Explorers shut down Taylor and Courtney they should make quick work out of the Blue Hens.

La Salle is coming off a 64-51 loss to cross-town rival Villanova. The Explorers seem to be gaining steam. Better defense, strong rebounding, and more maturity mean a team much more dangerous today than the one that started the season. Darnell Harris got back into the offensive flow against the Wildcats and the continued emergence of the freshmen along with steadier play from power forward Mike St. John have Explorer fans excited about this tournament which has a vast array of teams with different strengths and weaknesses and should prepare the Explorers accordingly as they head into conference play.

Cove Nuggets - Holy Cross will be without the services of point guard. Pat Doherty. The Scranton Prep and former La Salle recruit, has a broken bone in his foot. Promising Niagara freshman and Harry S. Truman grad Tyrone Lewis is also out with a knee injury. How did they get away? How in the world did Billy Hahn let Charron Fisher and Herb Courtney get away from La Salle? Explorer fans would be much happier with both on this roster.