The amazing Saint Louis Billikens host St. Joseph’s on Wednesday, trying to extend the A-10’s longest winning streak to ten games. The Bills will have their hands full in the last two weeks of the season, with St. Joe’s, then a trip that takes them to George Washington and Xavier before wrapping up at home against LaSalle.
The way things have gone so far, it’s become difficult to pick against the Billikens. Last week I picked against them when high-flying Virginia Commonwealth came to town, and the Bills crushed them. Then they want on the road to Butler and knocked off the fifteenth ranked Bulldogs by four after falling behind by nine in the first half.
The Bills are eighteenth in the country, and first in the A-10 defensively in allowing just 57.9 points per game. The way Jim Crews and his staff have gotten each player to buy in to great defensive effort is remarkable. It takes a lot of stamina and focus to play hard defensively for 30-35 seconds for every possession for a whole game, but Saint Louis U. does it on a consistent basis.
The Bills also respect the basketball. They are fifteenth in the nation in turnover ratio, at 3.9. In Friday’s win over Butler, they turned the ball over just four times. Their discipline is what makes them special, and what can make them a tough out come tournament time.
After the SLU victory at Hinkle Fieldhouse, Bulldogs coach Brad Stevens, who has coached in two Final Fours, said “I said it all week; that’s a heck of a basketball team.”
And it’s a team in the classic image. Like the late Rick Majerus did has his previous stops, like Tom Izzo does at Michigan State and Mark Few does at Gonzaga, this team is set up to be led by juniors and seniors. Seniors Kwamain Mitchell and Cody Ellis have provided a calm demeanor when it’s been necessary. Juniors Jordair Jett, Rob Loe, Mike McCall, Dwayne Evans and Jake Barnett have played intense defense and provided the most balanced scoring in the conference.
This team does have the elements of a surprise team in the tournament. They need to keep their heads about them and continue to play great defense. The Bills don’t have a player than can take over a game and win it with his own spectacular performance. They have to play well as a team, which they’ve done in winning eighteen of 20.
It should be a great stretch run and a fun NCAA tournament. Last week, Stevens touted the Bills as a Final Four contender to the Indianapolis media. This is the most fun a Saint Louis U. basketball has been in my lifetime. They can do it. I just have trouble picking them to do it.