The Billikens improved to 21-8 overall and 10-6 in Atlantic 10 conference play with a win on the road at Rhode Island on Sunday. Saint Louis dominated Rhode Island on their home court for the full 40 minutes, including an 11-0 run to start the game and multiple 14-point leads in the second half. The Billikens entered the game as 6-point underdogs yet never once trailed from tip-off to finish. At the final whistle SLU found themselves in a three-way tie for 4th place with Duquesne and St. Bonaventure and each team had two regular season games left to play. Prior to this week’s games there was plenty of room for teams to climb or fall the conference ranks – Saint Louis had a chance to finish as high as 2nd and as low as 8th. This graphic displays the probability prior to this week’s games of each team’s position in the final conference standings:
FYI: cool website I came across that shows playoff scenarios for A-10 Tournament seeding. You can see how probabilities change with different outcomes too. Here’s where the league currently stands: https://t.co/Xysk27zpJf
After the first two games of the week Saint Louis no longer has a chance of taking 2nd nor 8th place after wins from both Duquesne at VCU and Richmond against Davidson. Duquesne’s win puts them at 11-6 and half a game ahead of Saint Louis and St. Bonaventure. Richmond’s win improves their record to 13-4, meaning they can finish no lower than 3rd, and preventing SLU from finishing any higher than 3rd. VCU’s loss guarantees that SLU cannot finish 8th and Davidson’s loss guarantees that they will finish in the top 6 with just one win in their next two games.
The first of their next two games is Wednesday against the George Mason Patriots. The Patriots are 12th in the Atlantic 10 with a record of 4 and 12 in conference play and 15 and 14 overall and for all reasons it would be easy to assume Saint Louis will walk away with an easy victory. This is a perfect example of a “trap game” – losing to a weaker opponent because they were underestimated or overlooked for another approaching matchup, in this case St. Bonaventure on Saturday. Duquesne almost fell prey to their trap game against George Mason this past Saturday, winning by only 3 after trailing for most of the second half. When researching George Mason I found some statistics that were particularly surprising, considering their underwhelming record:
- The Patriots average 67.2 points per game and allow their opponents 67.9 points per game. A margin of -0.7 points per game, only a total difference of 19 over the course of the season. They may have lost 14 of 29 games, but they sure were close, and losing by just three to Duquesne – who has beaten SLU twice this season – proves that they are better than their record.
- George Mason is third place in the A10 in rebounds per game, two spots behind Saint Louis (37.2 to 39.9). In opponent’s RPG, George Mason falls just one spot below Saint Louis, 5th 4th, allowing 34 to 33.4. SLU’s last 5 opponents are all ranked between 9th and 12th in rebounds allowed per game, so George Mason will be the best rebounding team the Billikens have faced since Dayton on February 8th.
- George Mason and Saint Louis both have three different players averaging double-digit scoring figures for the season, but the next two highest scorers for George Mason are both less than .5 below 10PPG. Saint Louis has had 4 or more players in double-digit scoring figures in each of their last three games, including 5 on Sunday at Rhode Island. Clearly each team has a deep arsenal of offensive weapons.
George Mason has lost four of its last five games and Saint Louis has won four of its last five, putting both momentum and statistics in favor of the Billikens, but in college basketball anyone can beat anyone on any given night. With that being said, in order to win tomorrow, I believe that these three things above all else must be made a priority in order to sweep this two-game road trip and return home with a five-game win streak:
- Avoid playing down to the level of the competition. Don’t let George Mason’s record be reason to not play the patented ”Billiken Defense” and continue with the high-efficiency offense we have seen lately. In our last five games, SLU has not allowed any opponent to score 70 points, we have scored 80 or more points twice, and have shot greater than 50% from the field.
- Win the rebounding battle. As I mentioned above, George Mason is the best rebounding team we have faced since the first week of February. Preventing offensive rebounds and getting second chance points will provide us with a great advantage. Rebounding is one of the few advantages that George Mason has, and if we take that away from them, they will have little to nothing left.
- Rely on defense, hustle, and sharing the ball to create offense. Second chance points, off-ball movement, and assists have been creating a highly efficient offense and highly productive in the past few weeks and allowing everybody on the court to become a threat. By not playing “hero ball,” and instead playing team-first basketball, every player becomes a point of concern for opposing defenses and in match-ups like this one without double-teaming players like French, Goodwin, and Perkins, George Mason will be hard pressed to prevent us from doing exactly what we want whenever we want to do it.
Saint Louis plays its final road game of the regular season on Wednesday when it takes on the George Mason Patriots in Fairfax, Virginia. Game time is set for 6 p.m. (CT). The game will be streamed exclusively on ESPN+. The radio broadcast will be carried on 101 ESPN.
Tip-off for Wednesday’s matchup between the Billikens and the Patriots is at 6PM, and you can watch the game on ESPN+ or listen with Bob Ramsey and Earl Austin Jr. on 101.1 ESPN. The Billikens are on fire, quickly climbing the A10 standings, and making a convincing run at an NCAA tournament bid with a lot on the line with every remaining game – so support your hometown team. Follow @ChapleyMedia and @StuDurando for game day and live-time updates and #RollBillsRoll.