Game 4 Preview: La Salle Explorers

USA TODAY Sports

The Nittany Lions continue their non-conference Pennsylvania tour, welcoming the La Salle Explorers into the BJC for another Philly-flavored affair on the hardwood.

Who: La Salle Explorers (2-1)
When: Tonight, 7:00pm
Where: Bryce Jordan Center
TV: ESPN3.com
KenPom Rank: 107
Line: Penn State -2.5

Penn State hoops is back in action tonight, following their road win at Penn over the weekend. They're staying in the Big 5 as La Salle comes to town, arguably the highlight of the home non-conference schedule (outside of that whole game-in-Rec-Hall thing). La Salle is the 3rd of 5 non-conference Pennsylvania foes for the Nittany Lions. They are coming off a slow 2-1 start to the year, losing to a respectable Manhattan team and squeaking by both Quinnipiac and Siena.

Scouting The Opposition

If you don't recall 8 months ago, the Explorers leaned on the Southwest Philly Floater from Tyrone Garland to make their first Sweet Sixteen in over 50 years. Well before their magical run in the Big Dance, the Explorers exploded in the second half of their game against Penn State, running the Tim Frazier-less Lions out of Philadelphia with a convincing 82-57 victory. Well guess what? They return quite a bit from that memorable team, including a talented senior trio in the backcourt.

It all starts with Tyreek Duren, the senior point guard who is the straw that stirs La Salle's drink. Duren sliced and diced through PSU's defense last year on his way to a career-high 29 points and 4 assists. He is the leading scorer for Dr. John Giannini's club so far on the young season (18 PPG). He is joined by fellow seniors Garland (17 PPG) and Sam Mills (11 PPG). Garland actually missed the Penn State game last year because he was still ineligible from a mid-year transfer from Virginia Tech.

While the guards carry the bulk of the load, La Salle has two talented big men that are able to produce at a high level as well. Jerrell Wright has been a contributor ever since he stepped foot on campus and now the 3rd year player is looking to become an even factor for this team. He has averaged 14 PPG and 9 RPG so far despite shooting just 34% from the field. He is joined up front by 6'11" Red Land high school graduate Steve Zack. The junior center isn't quite as involved as Wright is in the scoring column, but his great IQ is a solid option out of the high post, and he is capable of collecting the garbage points.

The Explorers don't showcase significant depth, but they will bring in a couple of 6'6" wings (DJ Peterson/Rohan Brown) primarily for matchup purposes and added length on defense.

Key Matchup

Clearly the backcourt matchup highlights what should be an entertaining game. Tim Frazier vs Tyreek Duren is a matchup of two of the elite point guards in the country, while DJ Newbill vs Tyrone Garland adds the North Philly vs Southwest Philly flavor. Whichever unit gains the advantage in the game likely will determine the outcome of this one. That advantage can come from various aspects of the game - 3-point shooting, drawing fouls, etc. But the guards who can penetrate more effectively should prove to be the difference. The Lions must hope for a much better defensive performance from their bigs, who could be susceptible to more fouls if they are unable to hedge effectively.

Prediction

This game could play out any number of ways honestly. If you're a numbers guy, you should feel better about La Salle's chances, as the Explorers are due to break out of their ugly shooting slump to start the year. They've shot PSU-like percentages, hence their lackluster performance to start the new season. The Lions on the other hand have been highly improved on the offensive end from a year ago, but many are still skeptical they can sustain their current shooting.

However, La Salle looks like they miss Ramon Galloway more than they thought, while PSU has welcomed back Frazier with open arms. Unless the Explorers post Bucknell-like numbers on offense, I like the Lions chances at earning a quality win at home. I'll take the Lions in a close one, 78-72.


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