Just like the elevator business, the 2014-2015 season for the La Salle Explorers had its ups and downs. They finished 17-16 overall and 8-10 in conference play, good for 9th in the Atlantic 10 standings. The Explorers started out very streaky, winning their first four games of the season, then immediately losing their next four games.
Unfortunately, that wasn't their only major losing streak last season. They lost four consecutive games at the end of February, losing to Saint Louis, Fordham, Rhode Island, and Saint Joseph's. Before that stretch, the Explorers were 15-11 and on pace for a top 6 seed in the A-10 Tournament. The Fordham lost hurt the most. Losing to a program as bad as Fordham's is a huge blow to a team's confidence.
A higher seed in the A-10 tournament would have been great for the Explorers to have. They defeated Massachusetts in the first round, but lost to the number one seeded Davidson in the next round. Just two seasons removed from a memorable Sweet 16 run, the Explorers will look to some new faces to try and reach those same heights soon.
The Explorers had a plethora of upperclassmen in the 2014-2015 season. Jerrell Wright, who was around for the Sweet 16 run, played his most minutes in any season last year, and was good for 12 points and over 6 rebounds per game. He was a bit undersized compared to the heights of other big men he played, but at 245 pounds, he was easily one of the strongest in the post.
Post play was a huge focal point of the 2014-2015 Explorers, as they had Steve Zack to pair with Wright. The 6-11 Zack was the perfect compliment to Wright on defense, and will definitely be missed this season. Zack was an anchor on defense and was good for close to two blocks per game.
While they didn't score as often as Wright, Zack, and Jordan Price, Khalid Lewis and D.J. Peterson were important pieces for the Explorers. The two were tenacious on-ball defenders and kept the turnovers to a minimum on offense. Lewis will play in the 2015-2016 season with the Illinois Fighting Illini.
Key Returning Players: Jordan Price (17.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg), Cleon Roberts (8.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg) Amar Stukes (5.3 ppg, 1.3 apg)
The Explorers lost a few important players from last season, but they will have more than enough fire power to compete and improve this season. Returning is leading scorer Jordan Price, who was a huge surprise last season. He transferred from Auburn and found a place where he can thrive at La Salle. Expect Price to contend for many All Atlantic 10 honors.
One thing he will need to improve upon is managing his turnovers. He will have the ball in his hand quite a bit now that he is the clear number one option on offense, but he averaged 3.1 turnovers per game last season. It's a minor issue, which I expect he will improve at now that he is more comfortable with the system the Explorers run.
At 6'6", Cleon Roberts will give the Explorers some much needed versatility on defense, as he can cover both perimeter and post players. The Miami native averaged just under 9 points per game last season, but that number should bump up to 11 or 12 ppg now that there are a lot more opportunities available.
Amar Stukes is another player who, like Roberts, was buried a bit on the depth chart behind all of the upperclassmen. Now that they have all left, it's time for Stukes to be one of the main ball handlers on the Explorers. He is quick and a very good perimeter defender. Stukes doesn't need the ball in his hands to create on offense, which makes him the perfect compliment to Price in the backcourt.
X-Factor: Tony Washington
The Detroit native played sparingly last season, but with Wright and Zack both gone, Washington will be looked upon to be a big contributor in the frontcourt. He averaged 0.5 ppg and 0.5 rpg, but played just 2.8 minutes per game. At 6'10", Washington is a big body who can step into Steve Zack's role as an anchor on defense this season.
The Explorers have a good amount of scorers in the backcourt, so there is no need for him to become a double-double machine right away, but the Explorers can make a leap in the A-10 if Washington lives up to his potential on defense.
The Explorers lost a lot of their production on offense with Wright, Zack, Lewis, and Peterson gone. However, Jordan Price is one of the best players in the A-10 and the Explorers have a plethora of underclassmen. Expect some growing pains while the new guys get their feet wet at the Division 1 level.
While they may not be am A-10 contender this season, they should be one of the better teams in the conference and should be even better next season.
By: Dan Goggin
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