La Salle’s 2019 year was a whirlwind. The Explorers went 9-3 in non-conference play and won the Gulf Coast Showcase, but the Atlantic-10 competition wasn’t as kind.
Head coach Ashley Howard is in his third season. La Salle’s wins increased from the first year to Year 2 overall, but the conference record decreased. The Explorers have the talent to take another step forward, but they’ll go through a tough non-conference slate and a deep A-10 schedule, where they’re projected to finish 13th of 14 teams.
“We feel like we’re a little better than what the preseason projections would project, but all we can control is continuing to work hard, staying safe and keeping our team healthy,” Howard said.
La Salle can produce as many lineup combinations as any team in the city. The questions are how effective can they be, and which is the best option?
Howard is considering playing David Beatty at point guard. Beatty spent most of his time at shooting guard, but inserting him at point guard deepens the lineup offensively. The downside is it takes a ball handler off the floor and probably wouldn’t help La Salle’s turnover issues from last season.
“We definitely improved in the turnover situation,” Beatty said. “We know that you can’t win a ton of games if you have a lot of turnovers, so we keep that in mind.”
Scott Spencer, Christian Ray and Jack Clark are also expected to start. Clark, who medically redshirted last season, is the wildcard of the group. There just aren’t many six-foot-eight guards walking around.
“[Jack Clark’s] a guy that a lot of people sort of forgot about, but I don’t think they’ll forget about him this year,” Howard said.
Although undersized at 6-foot-8, Jared Kimbrough makes up for it with his ability to guard every position.
This lineup should be versatile on both ends. Starting Beatty at point guard would put four proven shotmakers with Kimbrough, but if Ayinde Hikim gets the nod, La Salle’s ability to handle ball pressure improves.
La Salle needs a traditional point guard to get teammates easier shots, and Jhamir Brickus could be that guy. The Explorers didn’t have that type of point guard last season, and it showed with their 41.4% field goal percentage.
“He has all of the great instincts of a great point guard,” Howard said. “I think he’s going to be really good. He just needs to get some games under his belt.”
Losing Isiah Deas and Saul Phiri didn’t hurt La Salle’s wing depth. Howard said that sophomore Sherif Kenney is good enough to start. His level of consistency can determine the length of the Explorers’ bench.
Howard believes both center Tegra Izay and forward Anwar Gill are more prepared than typical freshmen. Izay can be a mistake eraser defensively, and Howard loves what Gill brings defensively. Clifton Moore is another big presence inside, and Brandon Stone has added weight to his six-foot-11 frame.
This year’s non-conference schedule is much tougher than last season. A road game versus St. John’s team is first, and a Big Five meeting with Temple is 10 days later. The Explorers play three of the top four squads from the preseason CAA polls, and then a road matchup against Maryland is the final test.
A-10 play is always tough, and the Explorers can’t have another stretch like last year’s seven-game losing streak. The top of the league is headlined by stellar offensive and defensive teams, so La Salle will have to take a step forward in one of those areas.
That area could be the defensive end. The Explorers’ identity is their toughness, which should lead to a better defensive unit that can keep them in games late.