La Salle has a problem. It's not that the team lacks chemistry, like last year. It's not that all the new pieces aren't adapting to playing with each other, like many thought could happen.
No, the Explorers' problem is much simpler than anything anyone could have anticipated coming off last season's 15-16 campaign: they are having trouble putting the ball in the hoop.
"I have a team of great kids and hard workers and good players who are strangely hesitant to shoot, including when they are wide open," Dr. John Giannini said following his team's 58-57 loss to Temple at the Palestra on Saturday.
How do they fix that?
"No idea," Giannini answered.
It seems to be a chronic problem for the Explorers this season. They are overly passive on the offensive end, unless the ball is in the hands of Jerrell Wright. When they do finally decide to shoot, it's late in the shot clock when the pressure is high just to get a shot off.
"I tell them to shoot till I'm blue [in the face]," Giannini said. "I can't possibly tell them to shoot the ball more individually and collectively." The problem is simple, but the fix is not.
The Explorers simply do not have the confidence to shoot the ball at will. Jordan Price, the transfer from Auburn, is the most willing to take shots, but he isn't doing so consistently. He can disappear for halves at a time. It's not like La Salle lacks for good shooters. Price holds the SEC record for consecutive threes made - and he set it in his freshman year.
Cleon Roberts was shooting almost 40 percent from beyond the arc at Georgia Southern before transferring to La Salle. D.J. Peterson shot 43 percent from downtown in his first two years at 20th and Olney.
This year, Price is shooting 25.6 percent from downtown, Roberts is shooting 33.3 percent and Peterson come in at 22.2 percent.
"There's some evidence that these guys can shoot the ball, but we are electing not to," Giannini quipped. "The whole season. It's been consistent."
La Salle had a shooting slump last season as well. That was caused, though, not by a lack of taking shots. but by a lack of making them. Where can the Explorers garner the confidence to start shooting before it gets to the meat of their season?
Their non-conference schedule seems to set up nicely for them to break out of the funk. None of their remaining non-conference opponents are ranked in KenPom's top-100, and the most difficult is No. 133 American.
Giannini believes his team can still have a successful year despite dropping four straight. In his postgame press conference Saturday, he cited a raft of historical comparisons - and appropriately for the venue, they were all to Big 5 rivals.
"Last year at this time, St. Joe's was 4-4 with losses to Temple and a large loss to Villanova [and] we all know what happened next: they went to the NCAA tournament," Giannini said. "Two years ago, Villanova loses three in a row: by 18 at home to Columbia, a big loss against Alabama by 22 and a loss in Gola Arena. Three in a row, they are 4-3, and we all know what happened next."
Giannini still thinks his team has what it takes to make a run in the Atlantic 10, and perhaps beyond. He says the offense cannot get much worse than it is right now, so there is only one way to go. If they are going to go that way, they need to start taking the shots presented to them against the lesser opponents left on their non-conference schedule.