La Salle's growth and other hoops musings

January, 28, 2013

Monday musings from a weekend that had looked like a dull slate of games only to deliver plenty of storylines and court storms:

• Dr. John Giannini has been a Division I head coach for 16 seasons, the past eight at La Salle. He didn't have a shot at an NCAA tournament berth, or at least not much of one, at Maine (still looking for its first NCAA tournament appearance). La Salle has hardly been a lock for any kind of postseason. Well, the wait may finally be over if the Explorers can capitalize on a tremendous week of knocking off the two newest A-10 teams in Butler at home (court storm) and VCU on the road.

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Dr. John Giannini
G Fiume/Getty ImagesUnder Dr. John Giannini, La Salle has followed a consistent path of progression.

Giannini says this season isn't as huge of a turnaround as it appears after the Explorers made the NIT last season with 21 wins, including nine in the A-10. But it has been a slog the past few seasons after La Salle made the mistake of trying to build its team around Aaric Murray, who subsequently transferred to West Virginia.

"This year is a natural progression,'' Giannini said. "We have had four upper-half A-10 finishes in the last seven years [third, fifth, fifth and seventh]. That's up from zero prior to us being here. So first we had to compete in the A-10. We did that. Then, last year, we took another step with the NIT. So this has been natural growth.''

But La Salle still can't find consistency, losing earlier this season to a struggling Central Connecticut State.

"Our talent was just as good a few years ago, but our chemistry was not as good,'' Giannini said. "We have great chemistry now. We also have one senior playing a lot, so the future is good, too. Rebuilding takes time. You have to recruit good players but also develop them, get experience, build a culture and recover from any mistakes in recruiting, which can happen.''

One of the biggest pluses for Giannini is that he has been given time -- eight years so far at La Salle where no one is calling for the Explorers in any kind of realignment pursuit.

"Fortunately, I'm with a great administration who has allowed us to build something,'' Giannini said.

Now the key for La Salle is to beat the teams it should in the A-10 and compete for the regular-season title to earn an NCAA berth. The Explorers are done playing Butler and VCU but still have to play at St. Bonaventure, Temple and Saint Louis, so they still have challenges ahead.

• The Catholic 7 Big East schools are trying to show television leverage. Of course, the past 10 years should be taken into consideration, but it doesn't hurt that Marquette is contending for the Big East regular-season title and Villanova, Syracuse and Georgetown beat Louisville. Oh, St. John's is above .500 and looking like a real pest in the Big East.

• Oregon's staff isn't too worried about Dominic Artis' foot injury that kept him out of the Washington game Saturday. The Ducks are expecting him to be fine but won't know more until Monday or Tuesday. The Ducks may need Artis at full speed in the backcourt to ultimately hold off Arizona, UCLA and Arizona State.

• Arizona State coach Herb Sendek has adjusted to Jahii Carson's playing style, much like he did when he had James Harden. Sendek's struggles last season had nothing to do with his coaching. He simply didn't have the talent. He does now.

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Askia Booker
AP Photo/Matt YorkAskia Booker and Colorado can be a dangerous bunch come March.

• Don't sleep on Colorado. The Buffaloes' long, arduous climb back to respectability is at hand with Sunday's win over Cal moving them to .500 in the Pac-12. The core of this team was in the NCAA tournament last season and is starting to find its groove.

• The theme for March may just be veteran teams, in contrast with the freshmen who led Kentucky to a title last season. Kansas, Michigan, Indiana, Florida, Miami, Arizona, Louisville, Syracuse, Gonzaga and Butler are all relying on experienced core players to lead them. And it shows.

• Miami hasn't dipped and is finding ways to win after a big-time win over Duke last week. NC State now needs to beat Miami on Saturday to keep up with the Canes.

• The two best nonconference road wins might not have as much shelf life as I once thought if Illinois (win at Gonzaga) and Boise State (win at Creighton) don't rectify their conference situations very soon.

Marshall Henderson may be the most polarizing player this season. He has been a sensational scorer for Ole Miss, but he needs to dial it back just a tad. He can be an in-your-face performer on the court, but there is no reason to incite the fans like he did at Auburn on Saturday.

• I've got Florida over the field in the SEC, Gonzaga over the field in the WCC and Kansas over the field in the Big 12. I don't think it will be close in any of the three conferences.

• Lehigh's win at Bucknell still has shelf life in the Patriot League even after reality struck the C.J. McCollum-less Mountain Hawks, who fell at home Sunday to rival Lafayette.

• Air Force was due to snip one of the perceived elites in the Mountain West with an experienced lot. The Falcons got rival Wyoming, and now the Pokes' NCAA résumé has a few holes in it.

• The scary thing about New Mexico is that when the Lobos lose, they lose. The loss at Saint Louis and this latest one at San Diego State have to be concerning.

• No team needed a win as much as the Aztecs did this past weekend.

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Erik Murphy
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesErik Murhpy and the Gators are playing as well as any team in the country.

• Michigan and Kansas are playing like two of the best teams in the country and deserve to push for No. 1. But there might not be another team clicking as well as Florida.

• Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton oversold the Seminoles in the preseason. So, too, did Marshall coach Tom Herrion on the Herd.

• I'm starting to believe Iowa State's loss at Texas Tech was a blip.

• Get ready to learn the name Will Cherry of Montana in March. Cherry scored 28 points as the Grizzlies took out rival Weber State and moved to 10-0 in the Big Sky.

• Pacific coach Bob Thomason said he would have a Big West contender in his final season, and he was right. The Tigers are in a race with Long Beach State for the title.

• Southern Miss' Donnie Tyndall has fit in as well as any new coach in recent memory, as the Golden Eagles are a threat to challenge Memphis for the C-USA title.

• 8-0 Northeastern coach Bill Coen should win CAA Coach of the Year hands down.

• If you're looking for a potential sleeper NCAA team, file away Indiana State. The Sycamores beat Miami and Ole Miss at the Diamond Head Classic, two wins that are looking better with each passing day. ISU has two shots at Wichita State and one more against Creighton for high-profile Valley wins.

• Maryland will love the money in the Big Ten, but the Terps certainly will miss playing Duke. Next season will be the Terps' last playing the Blue Devils in the ACC.

• Norfolk State struggled in nonconference play after beating Missouri in the NCAA tournament last season, but a 7-0 MEAC start means the Spartans are positioning themselves for a return.

• I was way off on Stanford. I thought the Cardinal would be a Pac-12 title contender.

• The absolute lock of the weekend was Duke beating Maryland after the Blue Devils were hammered at Miami by 27.

• I think North Carolina likely will miss the NCAA tournament, but Kentucky still has a few chances left to build its case, beginning Tuesday at Ole Miss.

• Saint Mary's has a gaudy record (17-4), but it had better beat Gonzaga at home on Feb. 14, or else the Gaels might not have a win over an NCAA team.

• I have four All-Americans if the season ended today: Doug McDermott (Creighton), Trey Burke (Michigan), Ben McLemore (Kansas) and Kelly Olynyk (Gonzaga). The fifth spot is wide-open.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer


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