NCAA tourney checkup: La Salle feeling bubbly

NCAA tourney checkup: La Salle feeling bubbly
March 10, 2013, 9:00 am

La Salle Explorers (21-8, 11-5)

Current outlook: That sinking feeling
RPI rank: 40*
Non-con SOS rank: 106**

Important results (opponent RPI in parentheses)

Pretty wins (vs <51-RPI opponents):
• Butler (24), 54-53
• at Virginia Commonwealth (28), 69-61.

Ugly losses (vs >99-RPI opponents):
• Central Connecticut State (201), 74-81.

Resume plus: Two nice scalps, one on the road; good record in a well-rated league.
Resume minus: Nothing much to show from a so-so non-con schedule except a home win over Villanova (52); missed opportunities for scalps late at Temple (43) and Saint Louis (29).

What La Salle's loss to Saint Louis (29) means:
Whatever committee members were watching this debacle could not have been impressed. The Explorers looked very good for about 16 minutes until new A-10 champion Saint Louis found its legs. They then got run off the floor, 78-54. It was pretty much as ugly as the score. La Salle came unglued with some selfish play and shoddy defense in the second half.

No one really expected the Explorers to invade the toughest place in the league and emerge a winner on the Billikens' senior day. But a better performance than this would've been nice.

Even with the loss, La Salle has still won 7 of 9 entering the A-10 tournament in Brooklyn and will get a first-day bye. It's just a matter now of whether it's a 3-seed or a 4-seed. If Temple beats VCU tomorrow at the Liacouras Center, the Owls get the 3-seed by virtue of a tiebreaker, and La Salle gets the 4.

What the near future holds:
The Explorers need to win their A-10 quarterfinal game on Friday. They just don't have much margin of error. Two wins in Brooklyn would be preferable. By the time they play, a lot more will be apparent about exactly who are their direct competitors for at-large bids. But the six-day wait will be excruciating and can only build the Explorers' tension as they try to end a 21-year streak without an NCAA appearance.

La Salle is now in the unenviable position of possibly facing an opponent in Brooklyn that really can't help it much if it's an upset 11- or 12-seed. More acceptable would be UMass (57) as a 6-seed provided VCU beats Temple on Sunday and La Salle gets the 3-seed. You could rationalize that the Minutemen would be more easily beatable and the Explorers need a win, not necessarily a scalp.

But I think the best case is a game with Butler (24), which the Explorers have already beaten, but whose RPI and rep packs a punch. If Temple beats VCU on Sunday, Butler will be the 5-seed and La Salle the 4-seed, putting them on a collision course – provided the Bulldogs can win their first-rounder on Thursday. Get Butler and beat them, and I think that'll be good enough to get La Salle over the hump.

La Salle has played well enough to deserve a berth for most of the season. It's still within the Explorers' grasp. But essentially, the tournament begins now.

* Rating Percentage Index figures courtesy of cbssports.com's Jerry Palm.
** The non-conference strength of schedule rank is a figure available to the selection committee to gauge how rigorous a schedule each team attempted to play outside its mandated league slate.

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