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La Salle sees opportunity in Brooklyn

Despite a disappointing season, La Salle sees an opportunity to make a run in the Atlantic 10 tournament.

La Salle, like the rest of the Atlantic 10, will make the trip to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to play for an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. As the nine seed in the tournament, gives the Explorers a 1.2 percent chance of hoisting the trophy on Sunday, but that is not hindering their confidence going into Thursday when they open play against UMass at noon.

“It all comes down to how often do you play your best,” Dr. John Giannini said at a media availability on Tuesday afternoon. “We haven’t done that often enough. Hopefully we can do it now. If Kentucky is not in the game, trust me, it is a wide-open game.”

Luckily for the Explorers, John Calipari's 31-0 team will not be in Brooklyn, leaving the tournament up for grabs. A-10 newcomer Davidson is the top seed in the tournament, showing just how wide open the league is for the taking this year.

Just because the league is there for the taking does not mean La Salle should automatically be in the conversation. The Explorers had high expectations coming into the season, but could only muster a 16-15 record, including going 8-10 in the A-10. They are 0-4 all time at the Barclays Center, with two of those losses coming this year via Virginia and Vanderbilt.

"We expect to win, and we did not win as much as we thought," Giannini said. "But it's over. I can be disappointed after the season but right now, I am excited and optimistic because I think we have a team that can win and I love my players.

"There is nothing that I am pleased with," Giannini said about this year. "I am not pleased that we haven't done more. I always expect to do more. You never expect to be under .500 in your league unless you don't have any confidence in yourself."

Confidence is something that La Salle is full of at the moment. They are coming off a 55-53 win over then A-10 leading Dayton that capped off the season. They have proven they can beat the top teams in the league, earning wins over five of the top seven teams in the A-10. The eighth team in the league? The UMass team that will stand between the Explorers and the quarterfinals.

The Minutemen have beaten La Salle twice this season, 72-65 at Tom Gola Arena and 66-59 at Mullins Center. The Explorers are hoping the cliche that it is hard to beat a team three times in a season rings true, but they realize the task ahead of them.

"They are a great transition team, that's how they hurt us a lot the past two games," senior Steve Zack said. "They get the ball out quick and run. They press well. They have good guards, talented big guy. They are an all-around good team."

La Salle may have lost Massachusetts (17-14, 10-8 A-10) twice already this season, but Giannini sees this as a matchup that could favor them mentally, if nothing else.

"Physically they present problems for us," Giannini admitted. "Mentally, which I think is most important thing all the time, I think it is a team our players are going to be really focused on and really motivated against."

"I think mentally it is a good draw for us because we have the confidence coming off the Dayton game but we have the hunger knowing that UMass is good and we have to play really hard against us. It is scripted pretty well for me as a coach," Giannini added.

Giannini and his Explorers will have to act out the script as the massive underdog if they want to make a run in Brooklyn. Just don't tell them that.