Is La Salle A Contender or Pretender?

La Salle begins Atlantic 10 Conference play this weekend against city rival Temple. The Explorers are currently 8-5 but have no impressive victories and 0-4 against Top 100 teams. Yet La Salle may be playing their best basketball now so the question begs to be asked. Can La Salle be an Atlantic 10 contender or are they a pretender. The Owls are the first test for the second half of the season.

The truth is La Salle is probably not far from where most predicted heading into Atlantic 10 play from a record perspective. 8-5 or 9-4 is where most probably believed the Explorers would be at this point in the season. That is exactly where they stand coming into this weekend's tilt with Fran Dunphy and the Owls. The season has been pretty uneventful for Explorer fans. Wins against teams they should beat and losses to teams most feel they should have lost to. Still, stinging losses to Florida State, Southern Mississippi, and Cornell leave a bad stain on this season for many La Salle fans. No impressive wins against good teams have not allowed fans to remove some of that stain. With a clean Atlantic 10 slate now on the horizon, the Explorers have a chance for a successful season but it won't be easy... Their next 8 games come against teams with a combined record of 60-35. Most of the teams in that stretch are teams with comparable the talent and experience to the teams La Salle could not beat in the out of conference schedule.

So the question needs to be asked. Is La Salle a contender or pretender? The good thing for La Salle is they are playing their best basketball of the season. The ball movement has been better, the turnovers have been reduced, and additional players like 6"5 junior guard Ruben Guillandeaux have stepped up their game to provide help for double digit scorers Rodney Green, Kimmani Barrett, and Yves Mekongo Mbala. In addition, ever-improving big man Vernon Goodridge is making life difficult on opposing teams in the paint, still these performances have come against lesser opponents and while it has raised the win total La Salle still must continue to improve as it begins facing much stiffer competition.

The most recent victory over Howard showed both the improvement La Salle has made and also why they still have a ways to go to become an Atlantic 10 upper tier program. Dominating and over-matched Bison team, the Explorers were easily on their way to victory but as they have done in many games this season against sub-par competition they lost their focus and Howard began to make their run... La Salle's defense allowed open perimeter shots and the Bison drilled shot after open shot and while they never got into a position to win the game you could just see the loss of focus on the floor. Against Howard this issue does not hurt them. It did against Florida State and Southern Mississippi and could do the same against Atlantic 10 teams with the same talent level.

Another strong outing by Rodney Green, who became the 46th La Salle player to surpass 1,000 points in his career, sparked the Explorers in the victory while Kimmani Barrett just continues to bring a steady game to the floor every night chipped in 16 points. Ruben Guillandeaux had another solid night getting 12 points and 5 assists while not committing a turnover. All three were the stars of the game and have been the stars for the past two weeks.

It must begin now for La Salle. If they don't start fast, after this eight game stretch they could be pretenders pretty quickly. There are no more tomorrows. The Explorers need consistent good games from most to become factors in the conference. They cannot afford to have one or two guys play well while others disappear. Everyone must help in the effort night in and night now. Good teams get consistent good nights from multiple players. Everyone must find their role and make a contribution. The team that created a double digit lead against Florida State and traded punches with Connecticut for 40 minutes must show up and play 40 minutes of basketball night in and night out to become a contender.

Howard Stars of the Game:
Third Star: Ruben Guillandeaux
Second Star: Kimmani Barrett
First Star: Rodney Green

ExplorerHoopReport Most Valuable Player Award Standings for the Season

Kimmani Barrett 23 points
Rodney Green 23 points
Vernon Goodridge 11 points
Yves Mekongo Mbala 8 points
Ruben Guillandeaux 6 points
Jerrell Williams 5 points
Paul Johnson 2 points

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