BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- If you want a good tournament riddle, look at La Salle. The Explorers were a third-place finisher in the Atlantic 10, own wins over Butler, VCU and Villanova -- three NCAA tournament teams -- but have little else to show for why they should be in. The RPI is at No. 40. But with such a high number paired with a definitive cluster of unimpeachable wins, it only makes you question that metric.
So now comes the tough part. On Friday afternoon, the Explorers could not get the play that they needed against an aggressive and adroit Butler team and, so, down they went, 68-59. Now the wait begins.
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Among bracketologists, the case for La Salle varies. Dr. John Giannini, the coach, said this when asked to make a case for his guys:
"I don't think I have to. I don't even think I should. Our record, our standing, finishing third in a great league speaks for itself," he said. "I think we have some high-level wins. But there's a lot of good teams out there. I have no idea how we compare to some of these other teams. ... The crazy thing is ... we've been in pretty much all year. It would be sad for us to lose it in the past two or three days."
Giannini said he spoke with Boise State coach Leon Rice about what it's like to ride the bubble for a few days heading into Selection Sunday. Rice told him he has done it, but it drove him nuts. He'd never do it again.
"For the record," said Giannini, "I'm going to make myself nuts."
The Explorers were hurt most by a bad game from their best player, all-conference guard Ramon Galloway. He managed just four points on 1-of-10 shooting. Had he played better, La Salle would've had a better chance. But in general, the team got tossed out of its style. That's Butler for you. Giannini said his team was fatigued as the game went on, and there were signs this could happen in the past few days.
"I was a little bit disappointed with the week we had," Giannini said. "Physically or mentally, we weren't getting a great practice and a great physical effort. It's hard to try to squeeze a blood out of a rock in March in practice, and that's what it felt like what we were doing."
La Salle's players don't have much concern, and I think that shows well for Giannini, who has prepared this team for postseason play -- regardless of how that comes to be. La Salle fans have been yearning for an NCAA tourney appearance for more than two decades.
"I don't want to say we're nervous, but depending on how other teams do will determine our fate in the NCAA tournament. But either way, we're looking forward to playing again," junior guard Tyreek Duren said.
Their spirits are up. The team now travels returns to Philadelphia, where Giannini told me he'd have a close group get-together and watch the Selection Show -- as they always have since he has been there. Only this time, it's so close it has to hurt until the news finally comes down Sunday night shortly after 6:30 p.m. ET.
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