There's nothing like the rush of barely hanging on to beat an 0-8 team in conference play. The Massachusetts Minutemen hopefully go that out of their system after their six point win at Fordham on Wednesday. They will host the La Salle Explorers from "the City of Brotherly Love." Tip-off is at 4PM for this Sunday matchup and can be watched on CBSSN. These teams have already met once, the result a 71-65 win for the Minutemen on La Salle's home court. Can the Minutemen sweep the Explorers? Let's find out.
La Salle 13-9 (5-4)
The Explorers are riding a three game winning streak of their own with wins over St. Joes, St. Bonaventure, and Richmond. While all three teams are in the lower half of the A-10 standings UMass has lost to the Bonnies and St. Joes recently. Their most impressive conference win however is against the George Washington Colonials that was a 63-50 spanking at home.
UMass 13-9 (6-3)
After that disappointing loss to St. Joes on January 21st, UMass has squeaked out three wins in a row. It started with Dayton at home and then two on the road, Saint Louis and Fordham. The average margin of victory for those three games was just four but given UMass' need of wins they'll take what they can get.
Players to watch:
Jordan Price: La Salle's leading scorer and main offensive option. Averaging 16 points per game he can score in bunches. The 6-5 sophomore takes about 5.5 threes per game and will hit on 32.8 percent of them. He's also their leading assist man but only averages 2.4 per game. Shutting him down on the wing will be a priority for Kellogg to gameplan
Steve Zack: The big 6-11 senior is the Explorers de facto rim protector. With 1.9 blocks per game he makes opponents think twice about going in the paint. He's also the leading rebounder for La Salle with 8.8 and adds on 8 points as well. Zack plays about 30 minutes every game so Cady Lalanne will need to be on his A game.
Cady Lalanne: Speaking of Lalanne, Cady will need to have another big day as usual if the Minutemen want to make it four in a row. While Zack may be an inch bigger than Lalanne that doesn't mean that Cady is over-matched. Few possess the post move strength of Lalanne or grab as many offensive rebounds as he does (3.5). Lalanne will need to stay out of foul trouble (no small task) because Maxie Esho and Tyler Bergantino will have a hard time matching up with Steve Zack for extended run.
Derrick Gordon: Gordon is the glue of this Minutemen backcourt. He does the nitty gritty that Trey Davis and Donte Clark cannot. He was one of the keys to the win over Fordham with 17 points and 13 boards in what was by far his most impressive game of the season. While he probably won't shoot 64% again he finally combined his toughness with his ability and had a standout game. If he can crash the boards and get to the rack like that every time, than UMass should have a very day on Sunday.
UMass blows La Salle in all the major statistical categories: Points per game (70.3 for UMass, 62.8 La Salle), rebounds per game (36.5, 33.2), assists per game (13.6, 12.1), and finally field goal percentage (.438, .423). I believe numbers never lie and I don't see why to change my mind now. La Salle does matchup with the UMass frontcourt nicely though, with Steve Zack and the 6-8 senior Jerrell Wright. It should be a good battle down low with two teams with experienced and talented frontcourts. This might allow Cady Lalanne to be freed up down low as La Salle will be less likely to need to bring down two extra help defenders.
At the end of the day UMass will be protecting home court with an ever so distance eye on the NCAA tournament. Ever since the snow day caused from snow storm Juno, the UMass team seems to be rejuvenated with more bounce in their play. The Minutemen have already proved they can go down and beat La Salle handedly on their own home floor. That doesn't mean it will be blowout though as the Explorers are a tough team to beat. All in all Cady Lalanne proves why NBA scouts continue to flock to Amherst and he leads UMass to a 75-68 victory.