College Basketball Nation: Saint Louis Billikens


ORLANDO, Fla. -- After Louisville guard Russ Smith went 1-of-5 from the floor and turned the ball over five times against Saint Louis in the first half on Saturday, Cardinals coach Rick Pitino pulled him aside in the locker room at halftime.

“Russ, there’s a lot better coaches than me in the other locker room, but picture if I was in the other locker room,” Pitino told him. “Do you think I would even let you breathe any time down the court? Do you think I would let you breathe?”

“No, Coach,” Smith told Pitino . “You would double me, you would trap me.”

[+] EnlargeRuss Smith
AP Photo/John RaouxThough he struggled with his shot (3-of-10), Louisville guard Russ Smith scored 11 points and had seven assists in the Cardinals' win over Saint Louis.
“So don’t you think the other coaches are doing the same thing?” Pitino asked him. “All the great ones from Michael Jordan to Kobe [Bryant], they don’t try to score 20 points in the first quarter. They get everybody else the ball and they let the game come to them, and then the other team fatigues and things open up.”

Smith, a senior from Brooklyn, N.Y., must have listened to Pitino’s advice because he played much better in the second half, leading the No. 4 seed Cardinals to a 66-51 rout of the fifth-seeded Billikens in a round-of-32 game in the Midwest Region of the NCAA tournament at Amway Center.

The Cardinals, the defending national champions, will meet the winner of Sunday’s game between No. 1 seed Wichita State and No. 8 seed Kentucky in the Sweet 16 in Indianapolis on Friday.

Smith finished with 11 points and seven assists, and he didn’t try to force things against Saint Louis’ suffocating defense as much as he did in the first half.

“Russ Smith has grown so much as a basketball player,” Pitino said. “But he still has one thing left, and I tried to explain this to him at halftime. He has a very difficult time because he’s a distracted young man. His last lesson is to play like he did in the second half. He doesn’t understand the scouting of the other teams. He’s all Michael, all Kobe. He doesn't get it. So we're going to give him shock treatment on Monday."

Smith said he’s willing to do whatever it takes to help the Cardinals move forward in the tournament.

“I agree with anything [Pitino] says,” Smith said. “He’s gotten me to the point of being an All-American. Everything he says is correct. I’m just playing to win. I’ll do whatever I have to do.”

Against Saint Louis, less from Smith turned out to be more in the second half. Pitino warned his team that Saint Louis’ slow pace and stingy defense would frustrate them.

“They watched the Pitt-Florida game, and I said, ‘Guys, that’s the exact game you’re going to be in. You’re going to have to be the prettiest team in an ugly game because that’s the way it’s going to be,'" Pitino said.

Pitino’s comments were prophetic because the Billikens and Cardinals slugged their way through a forgettable first half. Louisville shot 40.9 percent in the first half; Saint Louis shot 28.6 percent. The Billikens went 0-for-15 on 3-pointers in the game.

After taking a 25-16 lead over the Billikens at the half, the Cardinals couldn’t make anything at the start of the second. Louisville went nearly six minutes without making a field goal -- its only points came on a pair of free throws on a Saint Louis technical foul. But after the Billikens went ahead 29-27 on forward Rob Loe’s layup with 14:17 to go, Smith ended Louisville’s drought with a basket and then made two foul shots on the next trip for a 31-29 lead.

After Louisville forward Luke Hancock made 3-pointers on consecutive trips a few minutes later, the Cardinals finally seemed to be back in rhythm.

[+] EnlargeLuke Hancock
David Manning/USA TODAY SportsLuke Hancock led the Cardinals with 21 points, including four 3-pointers.
“The emphasis we put on taking the 3-point shot away was big, and we just wanted to grind out a ‘W,’” Pitino said. “It’s not every game that you can play up and down, like if it’s Houston or Connecticut, the teams that run. This is a team that will turn you over, they’ll grind you out, and they play everybody close. We were real proud of our effort defensively. We grinded out a win, and that’s what the NCAA tournament is all about.”

Maybe that’s why Smith was trying to force things so much early against Saint Louis. During Louisville’s run to a national championship last season, the Cardinals breezed through their region in reaching the Final Four. They beat North Carolina A&T by 31 points, Colorado State by 26, Oregon by 8 and Duke by 22.

Then Louisville won close games over Wichita State and Michigan to earn Pitino a second national championship.

“[This year] feels good,” Smith said. “Nothing is going to feel like last year. We were clobbering teams. Last year’s team is incomparable. The new guys are hungry, but this team is different. This is our first year playing together. Last year, we’d been playing together for three years. We all have new roles this year and there’s different chemistry. I feel good about our guys and where they are.”

After the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament, the defending national champions have as much of a chance as anyone else to win another title.

“Obviously, they’ve got a chance to repeat,” Saint Louis coach Jim Crews said. “They’re going to be in the final 16, so they’ve got a better chance than the other 314. [Their chances] are a lot better than us."

ORLANDO -- Florida hardly looked like the No. 1 overall seed Thursday night in its opening-round game of the NCAA tournament.

And Louisville didn’t look much better in its first NCAA tournament game in defense of its national championship.

Both will be looking for redemption when they play round-of-32 games Saturday, with another trip to the Sweet 16 on the line:

South Region: No. 1 seed Florida (33-2) vs. No. 9 seed Pittsburgh (26-9), 12:15 p.m. ET Saturday

[+] EnlargeCasey Prather
AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackCasey Prather and No. 1 seed Florida must play better in order to beat No. 9-seeded Pittsburgh.
Florida, which has won a school-record 27 games in a row and hasn’t lost since Dec. 2, had to work much harder than expected in a 67-55 win over No. 16 seed Albany in a second-round game of the South Region.

The surging Panthers walloped No. 8 seed Colorado 77-48 Thursday.

“It was good enough to win, but is it good enough to play against a team like Pittsburgh? Probably not,” Gators coach Billy Donovan said. “But I’m proud of our guys because they found a way to win when they didn’t play their best. And you know what? They’ve always been really good at being able to learn valuable lessons in a lot of ways. So hopefully they’ll be able to come back and correct that and do a little bit better.”

The Gators will probably have to be much better against Pittsburgh, which is a lot bigger and more physical than the Great Danes. Albany, which had to win a first-round game against Mount St. Mary’s on Tuesday night to earn the trip to Orlando, trailed UF by only six points at the half and tied the score at 39 with about 14 minutes to play. The Gators finally pulled away with a 9-0 run in the final 10 minutes.

“I think in this tournament you have to be aware that every team is fighting for their life, and the goal is just to survive,” Gators center Patric Young said. “Moving forward, we have to make sure we do whatever it takes just to survive and every team is going to be trying to keep that same mindset of just moving on to the next round. Hopefully, we can keep it going, as well.”

Pittsburgh, which led Colorado by 28 points at the half and committed only three turnovers in the game, seems to be hitting its stride. The Panthers won 16 of their first 17 games this season, then dropped six of 10 after losing sixth man Durand Johnson to a season-ending knee injury.

Pittsburgh has played better lately, though, winning four of five, including an 80-75 victory over North Carolina in the ACC tournament.

Pitt was 1-7 against ranked opponents this season and is 2-15 all time against the country’s top-ranked team.

“I think we feel like we’re playing really good basketball,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “We think we’re playing our best. We played well in the ACC tournament. We didn’t win it, but we thought we were playing better and we played good the other day. I think all that matters is not so much the seed but how you feel like you’re playing and how you are playing.”

Midwest Region: No. 4 seed Louisville (30-5) vs. No. 5 seed Saint Louis (27-6), 2:45 p.m. ET Saturday

Louisville and Saint Louis were in even more trouble than Florida on Thursday night.

[+] EnlargeRuss Smith
David Manning-USA TODAY SportsRuss Smith and fourth-seeded Louisville struggled against No. 13 seed Manhattan. The Cardinals face No. 5 seed Saint Louis on Saturday.
The Cardinals trailed No. 13 seed Manhattan 58-55 with less than 3 minutes to go. But then Louisville stars Russ Smith and Luke Hancock bailed out their team by scoring 14 of their final 16 points, leading the Cardinals to a 71-64 victory over the upstart Jaspers.

The Billikens trailed No. 12 seed NC State by 14 points with 5 minutes to go, and eight points with 90 seconds to go, but somehow won the game 83-80 in overtime.

Louisville and Saint Louis will meet on Saturday, with the winner advancing to next week’s Midwest Region semifinals in Indianapolis.

“We won the game, but any team in this tournament [can win],” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “Albany played Florida to the mat. Because of everybody leaving so early, that’s what makes March Madness so much fun. I think we’re a very good basketball team. I thought Manhattan was the better team [Thursday night] until 4 minutes to go in the game, and then we were the better team.”

Manhattan’s familiarity with Louisville -- Jaspers coach Steve Masiello played for Pitino at Kentucky and coached under him at Louisville -- made things more difficult for the Cardinals. Louisville missed 13 of its first 17 shots in the second half.

But Saint Louis and Louisville also are very similar. The Billikens have started five seniors in all but three games this season, and they’re built on defense. Saint Louis ranks eighth nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, allowing 91.4 points per 100 possessions. Louisville, which starts three seniors, ranks sixth in adjusted defensive efficiency (90.6 points).

"It's like watching one of [SMU] coach Larry Brown's teams," Pitino said. "You weren't quite sure whether his team executed better on offense or defense, and that's indicative of Saint Louis and Jim [Crews]' teams. They execute at both ends of the floor in a terrific fashion. Obviously they've got seniors, and seniors execute very well, and they're very impressive."

One group of seniors will be together on the court for another chance Saturday.

“We’ve been the underdog pretty much my entire time at Saint Louis, so it’s nothing new,” Saint Louis forward Dwayne Evans said. “But to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best, and obviously Louisville won it last year. I think we have the team to do it."

ORLANDO, Fla. -- North Carolina State led No. 5 seed Saint Louis by 14 points with five minutes to play in regulation in Thursday night’s second-round game of the Midwest Region at Amway Center.

“We just didn’t want to give up,” Saint Louis forward Rob Loe said. “We didn’t want to end on that kind of note. We just wanted to keep playing.”

The No. 12-seeded Wolfpack led by eight points with 90 seconds to go and by six points with one minute left.

[+] EnlargeJordair Jett
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsSaint Louis guard Jordair Jett scored 18 points and hit four 3-pointers in the win over NC State.
“We had to keep fighting,” Billikens guard Jordair Jett said. “It was all or nothing. If you lose, you go home. If you win, you advance in the tournament. We had to keep playing.”

Somehow, the Billikens fought until the very end, erasing the aforementioned deficits in regulation in one of the most memorable comebacks in recent NCAA tournament history, and then pulling away from the Wolfpack for an 83-80 victory in overtime.

Saint Louis, which dropped four of its previous five games after winning 19 straight, including a 71-68 loss to St. Bonaventure in the A-10 tourney, advanced to play in Saturday’s third round, where it will meet the winner of Thursday night’s game between No. 4 seed Louisville and No. 13 seed Manhattan.

“I can’t salute these guys enough in terms of how they just stayed with it,” Saint Louis coach Jim Crews said. “I don’t know how many we were down late, but we were down plenty late. They just stayed with it. Obviously, our press gave us a little energy. We got a few buckets out of that, and that picked up things for us and we had guys making big plays down the stretch.”

Saint Louis fans won’t forget the Billikens’ comeback anytime soon, but they certainly had plenty of help in erasing NC State’s wide margin. After the Wolfpack took a 59-45 lead on ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren’s layup with 5:03 to play, NC State came apart at the seams. The Wolfpack missed 12 of 21 foul shots and had three turnovers in the final five minutes of regulation.

“Well, it’s heartbreaking,” NC State coach Mark Gottfried said. “Obviously, we’re going to always feel like we let one slip away.”

With the Wolfpack holding a 65-57 lead with about 1½ minutes left in regulation, Loe drained a 3-pointer and then Grandy Glaze stole the in-bounds pass and scored on a layup to cut NC State’s lead to 65-62 with 1:14 remaining. After NC State pulled back ahead 68-63 in the final minute of regulation, the Wolfpack missed two straight foul shots and then Saint Louis’ Jake Barnett made a long 3-pointer to make it 68-66 with 47.2 seconds left.

“We knew that we were right there, and coach has been saying all week, it doesn’t matter if you’re up 10 or down 10,” Barnett said. “Obviously, we were down a lot, but we kept fighting and kept battling. The thing that was cool is guys came in off the bench and made great plays. Everybody stepped up, made big shots, and we were just able to cash in down the stretch.”

[+] EnlargeDwayne Evans
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesBillikens forward Dwayne Evans had 11 points and six rebounds vs. the Wolfpack.
After Barnett’s deep 3-pointer in front of the Saint Louis bench, the Billikens fouled NC State’s Anthony Barber, who made one of two foul shots to make it 69-66 with 45 seconds left. Loe quickly made a layup to cut it to 69-68 with 35 seconds remaining, and then the Billikens fouled Warren, who made one of two foul shots for a 70-68 lead with 28 seconds to go.

Jett tied the score at 70-70 on a layup and was fouled by Warren with 18 seconds left, but he missed a free throw that would have ended the game in regulation.

“That’s probably the weirdest turn of events that I’ve ever been a part of,” Loe said.

In overtime, the Wolfpack trailed 81-80 when Warren missed a foul shot for a three-point play with 38 seconds left. Earlier in overtime, one of Warren’s foul shots was wiped out when he committed a lane violation.

The Wolfpack made only 20 of 37 foul shots in the game.

“It’s hard to explain,” Gottfried said. “We’re a good foul-shooting team. We’ve been a good foul-shooting team here recently, and it kind of steamrolled on us there from the foul line.”

Once the Billikens were rolling, NC State seemingly could only watch.

“It was definitely tough,” NC State guard Ralston Turner said. “At one point we had the lead and things were going our way. We had a 10-point lead and they started fouling. They just extended the game. We started missing a lot of free throws, and a lot of uncharacteristic things started happening.”

Tournament preview: Atlantic 10

March, 11, 2014
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Armageddon did not arrive. The end, as it turns out, is nowhere near.

Conference realignment has come, team pillaging has gone, and the Atlantic 10 is still here and still fine, thank you very much.

Just a year ago, teams gathered in Brooklyn for what seemed like a swan song to real excellence, with Xavier, Temple, Butler and Charlotte on their way out the door.

Instead, the reorganized and recharged Atlantic 10 expects to get six of its 13 teams into the NCAA tournament field, a rather nice little percentage. How? Because exactly what needed to happen for the A-10 to remain relevant, did. Teams that had been stuck in the middle of the pack for years emerged this season as viable threats, replacing the ones that left for greener pastures.

[+] EnlargeJim Crews
Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY SportsCoach Jim Crews and Saint Louis have won back-to-back regular-season titles in the Atlantic 10.
George Washington, Saint Joseph’s and Dayton all have reconvened on the scene after too many years on the shoulder of the road, while UMass finally has formally delivered on years of promise. Mix in regulars Saint Louis and VCU and you have a core of teams that are, by ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s estimation, solidly in the field before the tourney even tips off in Brooklyn.

Credit the schools for making good hires (Archie Miller at Dayton, Mike Lonergan at GW) and making a commitment to be basketball-centric, and credit the coaches for pushing the right buttons.

But mostly credit the conference for keeping its vision clear amid the chaos.

What’s at stake?

A shot at history for five teams -- VCU, St. Joe, GW, UMass and Dayton.

The last time one of those won the Atlantic 10 Tournament -- how about 2007?

VCU gets a pass. The Rams are in only their second season in the conference.

The rest, though, were once part of the conference backbone, league stalwarts that could be counted on for big results. Hard times and coaching changes have conspired to send all of them into reshuffling, if not flat-out rebuilding mode.

George Washington won the tourney in 2007 and again in 2005. Dayton’s drought stretches back to 2003. Saint Joseph’s, despite that magical 2004 season run, hasn’t won a postseason title since 1997, and UMass has to go all the way back to 1996 when a certain young coach by the name of Calipari led the Minutemen.

This isn’t about securing a bid, though no doubt the certainty of a relaxing Selection Sunday would be welcome.

With Saint Louis already claiming its second consecutive regular-season title, this is about lofting a trophy and legitimizing success.

Team with the most to gain

Dayton. If there is a team even slightly on the bubble, it’s the Flyers. More than likely the strong finish -- with wins against both UMass and Saint Louis -- solidified things for Dayton, but a few wins here wouldn’t hurt.

The Flyers have a solid RPI (40) and schedule (41), but no one wants to be sweating out upsets elsewhere. A longer stay in Brooklyn wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Of course, the ironic twist for Dayton is that being one of the last teams in could almost work in the Flyers’ favor. The First Four games again will be played on Dayton’s home court, and with no way to pick a new site on the fly, the selection committee has agreed to allow the Flyers to play there if they are in one of those early games.


We’re just two weeks away from the start of the NCAA tournament. And we still have some legitimate questions about a few squads, right?

Well, here are eight teams that you shouldn’t trust yet:

North Carolina: The Tar Heels made some great plays to finish Notre Dame in a 63-61 win on Monday and extend their winning streak to 12 games. But they entered the second half with a 14-point lead against a Fighting Irish team with a 6-12 record in ACC play. That’s just North Carolina basketball. That stretch illustrated their entire season. Always up for the top dogs, always vulnerable against the rest. This team might show up and make a remarkable run in the Big Dance. But don’t be surprised if they don’t get past the first weekend, either.

Texas: The truth about Texas is that Rick Barnes’ program has been overachieving for months. The Longhorns have lost three of their past four, although all three losses came on the road against ranked teams. This is a squad that’s hovering around the 50s in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency ratings. The Longhorns have had issues with turnovers. Javan Felix is enduring a tremendous 16-for-48 slump. Isaiah Taylor looks like a freshman. But Texas has wins over North Carolina, Iowa State and Kansas because it has found ways to play to its potential in tough matchups. Texas is a good team on its best nights and a really sloppy, poor-shooting, turnover-prone assembly on its worst nights.

Oklahoma State: In its past four games, Oklahoma State has been reborn. This four-game winning streak (victories over Texas Tech, TCU, Kansas and Kansas State) has been orchestrated by a desperate team that’s making a strong push for an at-large bid. If the Pokes make the field of 68, they’ll be only the second team since tourney expansion in 1985 to reach the Big Dance after enduring a seven-game losing streak, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Remember that losing streak? Remember the Oklahoma State team that struggled for about three weeks? Maybe everything is different now with Marcus Smart back. Travis Ford’s program has played well in recent matchups. But let’s see if it lasts.

Cincinnati: Cincinnati possesses one of America’s most impenetrable defenses. Only 11 of its 29 opponents thus far have scored 60 or more. There’s just one problem. The Bearcats (129th in adjusted offensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy) can’t score. Sean Kilpatrick is a dynamic player, but it’s clear that he’s also Mick Cronin’s only reliable scoring option in clutch situations. When he’s on, Cincinnati usually finds enough offense to compete with the best teams in the country. When he’s off (18-for-60 in the team’s past three losses), Cincy is an unstable operation. Can the Bearcats beat the best teams in America? Yes, they’ve proven that. But few teams rely so heavily on one player’s production to reach their ceiling.

Wichita State: This is probably unfair. Wichita State’s limited competition in the Missouri Valley Conference and throughout its nonconference slate (BYU, Tennessee and Saint Louis are its best wins), however, demands it. The Shockers were in the Final Four last year, and this team seems equally capable of making another run. Fred Van Vleet is one of America’s best point guards. Gregg Marshall also has Tekele Cotton, Ron Baker, Cleanthony Early and a bunch of glue guys. That’s a good formula for a repeat. But the naysayers can’t be dismissed. Wichita State, in terms of national perception, still has something to prove in the Big Dance. A run in the NCAA tournament would add another layer of validation to Wichita State’s 31-0 record. But beyond that, we need to see Wichita State face an opponent that’s in the top 50 of the RPI because the MVC (Indiana State is 74th) doesn’t have one outside Wichita, Kan.

Iowa: Which Iowa will show up in the NCAA tournament? It’s not clear. Fran McCaffery clearly has his best roster in Iowa City, but he also commands a program that can’t seem to get out of its own way in critical moments. Roy Devyn Marble & Co. have already proven their worth in wins against Ohio State and Michigan, but the Hawkeyes also have looked like the same team that hasn’t been able to finish tight games in recent years. And their defense hasn’t been impressive in weeks. This stretch of three losses in four games has created some suspense about the Selection Sunday fate of a team that should be a unanimous lock for the NCAA tourney by now. The Hawkeyes should get into the field, but they haven’t exactly looked like a squad that will do much if they do secure a berth.

Saint Louis: Jim Crews’ squad has been a defensive force all season. The Billikens are fifth in adjusted defensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy. And they’ve only lost four games this season. It’s not like teams are praying that Saint Louis ends up in their region, but in these past two games, losses to Duquesne and VCU, the Billikens have committed 33 turnovers combined. They’ve recorded turnovers on nearly one of five possessions (18.4 percent, 169th, per Ken Pomeroy) this season. For a team with a mediocre offense, its margin for offensive error is slim. And that’s what we’ve learned in the past week about Saint Louis. Definitely a dangerous team. But it’s also a program that could be hindered by its offensive inconsistency and questionable ballhandling.

Kentucky: Well, this didn’t work. Kentucky entered the season as one of the most hyped squads in college basketball history. The Wildcats had everything, it seemed. Julius Randle & Co. were supposed to be another great Kentucky team. Now look at the Wildcats, who lost to South Carolina over the weekend. You definitely can’t trust them. But this is still a team with a bunch of guys who could be NBA millionaires in a matter of months. Yes, a win over Louisville is the only major accomplishment on Kentucky’s resume. The Wildcats are ranked only because they’re the Wildcats. Who have they defeated? And yet, no coach in America wants to play this disjointed group of talent that might figure it out in the Big Dance.

Efficient Virginia biggest climber in BPI

March, 3, 2014
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Not surprisingly, the biggest mover in the upper reaches of ESPN’s Basketball Power Index in the last week was Virginia, which rose from No. 13 last week to No. 7 after posting two emphatic victories and clinching the ACC regular-season championship.

After handling Miami (FL) on Wednesday, the Cavaliers defeated Syracuse 75-56 in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday. Virginia averaged 1.32 points per possession, the greatest offensive efficiency achieved against Syracuse in the last three seasons. By BPI Game Score (a 0-to-100 scale), the Cavaliers earned a 99.7, their best this season and the third-best among all teams.

 

Not all losses are created equal
It wasn’t just that Saint Louis lost, but where the Billikens lost, and to whom.

On Thursday, Saint Louis fell 71-64 at home to Duquesne, the 142nd-ranked team in BPI. That earned Saint Louis a Game Score of 25.7 – the Billikens’ worst of the season by a margin of more than 25 – and cost the team 2.0 in BPI’s 0-to-100 scale.

On Saturday, Saint Louis lost 67-56 at BPI No. 21 Virginia Commonwealth. That resulted in a drop in BPI of 0.9.

Once the week was over, Saint Louis had fallen from No. 19 in the BPI rankings to No. 30, the biggest drop in BPI ranking this week among Top 75 teams.

In The Associated Press’ weekly Top 25 released Monday, Saint Louis fell from 10 to 17. In the NCAA’s RPI rankings, the Billikens rose one spot to 17.

Falling in place
Kansas’ 72-65 loss at Oklahoma State on Saturday had an effect on the Jayhawks’ BPI rating, but not on their BPI ranking.

The Jayhawks’ BPI dropped 0.7 after they lost to the BPI No. 20 Cowboys. Kansas earned a Game Score of 73.2, its third-worst this season, with the performance in Stillwater, Okla.

Kansas maintained its spot at No. 3 in the rankings, however. The Jayhawks had enough of a cushion over the remainder of the teams that the decrease in BPI didn’t drop them in the rankings. (They did fall from fifth in eight in the AP poll and from No. 1 to No. 2 in RPI.)

Last week, the teams that BPI ranked fourth through eighth were separated by 0.1 in the BPI. There is less congestion this week, although No. 6 Louisville, No. 7 Virginia and No. 8 Villanova are separated by 0.2.

Video: Jay Bilas' weekly report

February, 26, 2014
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In his weekly report, Jay Bilas identifies four teams that could be dangerous as the NCAA tournament approaches.

Video: VCU-Saint Louis breakdown

February, 14, 2014
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Seth Greenberg goes to the game film to preview Saturday's matchup between VCU and No. 12 Saint Louis.

3-point shot: Billikens' quiet dominance

February, 11, 2014
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Andy Katz discusses Saint Louis' quiet dominance, Lamar Patterson's injured thumb and the impact of Marcus Smart's suspension on the selection committee.

3-point shot: Weekly awards

February, 10, 2014
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Andy Katz hands out awards for the player and team of the week and points out a couple notable wins across college basketball.

3-point shot: Team of the week

January, 13, 2014
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Andy Katz dishes out awards for the team of the week and the player of the week and recognizes a few other notable victories.

BPI Talk: Duke is not a top-25 team

December, 17, 2013
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The Duke Blue Devils came into the season as a preseason Final Four contender, but after losses to Kansas and Arizona and a one-point win over Vermont, the Blue Devils are ranked No. 31 in BPI.

Duke's BPI game score in its six-point loss against Arizona (ranked No. 4 in BPI) was higher than two of its wins (vs East Carolina, vs Vermont). Other than its wins over No. 40 Michigan and No. 63 Alabama, Duke doesn't have any other wins over teams ranked in the top 180.

Duke has the best adjusted offensive efficiency according to KenPom.com, but its adjusted defensive efficiency ranks 101st.

Is Wisconsin the best team in college basketball?

The Wisconsin Badgers rank No. 1 in BPI after starting 12-0 with five wins over top-50 BPI teams -- St. John's, Florida, Saint Louis, West Virginia and Virginia. Their five wins against top-50 teams are the most by any team. Kansas and Davidson are the only other teams that have even faced five top-50 teams.

Wisconsin has the 11th-most difficult schedule according to BPI. Seven of their 12 wins are against top-100 opponents and none of them are against teams outside the top 175.

The Badgers have been successful playing a slow pace (17th-fewest possessions per game). Two of their three worst BPI game scores this season have come in the two games in which they played at the fastest pace (at Green Bay, vs North Dakota).

Michigan State barely cracks the top 25

The Michigan State Spartans, previously ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll, come in at No. 24 in BPI. The Spartans only have one loss, but it was by far their worst BPI game score and it came against their second-best opponent (No. 23 North Carolina).

Why else is Michigan State's BPI lacking? The Spartans have five wins against teams ranked outside the BPI top 100. Three of those wins are by 15 points or fewer, including two by single digits, and one of the five wins is against No. 338 McNeese State. Also, they haven't played a single true road game yet.

Welcome to the top 10, Saint Mary's

The undefeated Saint Mary's Gaels are ranked No. 8 in BPI, and it's not due to any wins over top-notch opponents. The Gaels haven't faced a single top-50 team yet, but five of their eight wins came against top-100 opponents and six of their eight wins are by double digits.

Saint Mary's has performed well against top-100 teams, posting a BPI game score higher than 95 in four of those five wins.

Why isn't Pittsburgh ranked yet?

The Pittsburgh Panthers are ranked No. 9 in BPI but aren't in the top 25 in the AP Poll. The Panthers are 10-0 with each of those 10 wins coming by at least nine points and nine of the wins coming by at least 17 points.

Pitt doesn't have any top-50 wins, but the Panthers do have two wins against teams just outside the top 50 (No. 51 Penn State, No. 55 Stanford). Their three best BPI game scores came against their three best opponents -- Penn State, Stanford and Texas Tech (No. 110).

Pitt is one of seven teams ranked in the top 20 in both adjusted offensive efficiency and adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom.com, along with Louisville, Oklahoma State, Arizona, Wisconsin, Kansas and North Carolina.

BPI Rankings

A conversation with Jim Crews

December, 16, 2013
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Two years ago, Saint Louis coach Jim Crews joined Rick Majerus’ squad as an assistant. A year ago, everything changed when Crews was promoted to interim head coach as a result of Majerus’ health challenges and eventual death in December 2012.

Crews was promoted to head coach this season, and his Billikens are 9-2 just a few weeks prior to the start of Atlantic 10 play. Crews recently spoke with ESPN.com about the 2013-14 season and the legendary coach with an undeniable impact on the Saint Louis program and college basketball.

[+] EnlargeJim Crews
AP Photo/Mary AltafferSaint Louis' Jim Crews has the Billikens off to a 9-2 start in his first season as the full-time head coach.
ESPN: How have the new rules affected your team this season?

Crews: I think the biggest one is the block-charge because they’re calling like 95 percent of them blocks, it seems to me, because they’ve changed the rules. So if they err, they’re going on the block side. Actually, we’ve called a bunch of coaches to see what they’re doing to make adjustments and I haven’t really heard anyone who has a definite answer on that situation. I guess you just gotta get there earlier.

ESPN: What did your team take away from those tough losses to Wisconsin and Wichita State?

Crews: [Saturday] night we played against Wofford, who really doesn’t have a great record and is not a national name or anything. But I think this is where college basketball is. But they are as tough-minded as you can be. They run great stuff. Everything was very, very difficult. I thought our team grew [Saturday] night. I thought we really stayed the process. ... So when you play the teams like Wisconsin, Wichita State, it just kind of tells you where you are and what you have to improve on. Every possession is a really important possession. And when you can get a team mentally tough that has a purpose each and every time down the floor, the better you are. So you’re trying to get a consistency with it. If you’re inconsistent with things, then you’re going to get hurt at this level.

ESPN: How much does it help you as coach when your team is anchored by veterans such as Mike McCall Jr., Jordair Jett, Dwayne Evans and Rob Loe?

Crews: Tremendously. I think their knowledge of the system that Rick put in is impeccable. So as a coach, I kind of lean on them. ... We’re always talking in terms of ‘What do you guys see and what do you guys think?’ Sometimes we think they’ve got a better answer, sometimes we don’t. That’s what makes it enjoyable because they’ve invested and they understand why things work and don’t work instead of just doing whatever the dumb coach says. They understand the bigger picture. That’s a great thing. That’s a really great thing.

ESPN: A year ago, Coach Majerus passed away. How difficult was that period for you and your program?

Crews: The emotions, when you have so many people affected by it, I mean we all came to Saint Louis because of Rick -- the coaches and the players. And so all the young guys were affected in different ways because to some he was a father figure and to all he was a great coach and the older guys he was a friend to. And then from us coaches, he was a friend-type situation and a peer situation because some of us had been in the coaching profession a long time with him. It’s kind of like a family. Everyone goes through their emotions at different times. You don’t know when your emotions are going to hit. So it’s not like a three-day process or a week process. Some guys are affected a month later. Some guys are affected right off the bat earlier. Since we were all going through it, that was the common denominator. We were all very affected by it. That was the negative of his death. The positive part of going through that process is we were all doing it at the same time and it just didn’t affect one group or the other. It makes the game, and I think the vision became very clear, that it’s just a basketball game. It’s not life or death. And I think our guys really enjoy playing basketball, which it should be. We all take it seriously. But sometimes we all take it a little bit too seriously.

[+] EnlargeRick Majerus
Matt A. Brown/Icon SMILeading the Saint Louis program after Rick Majerus' death was an emotional time for Crews and the Billikens.
ESPN: How difficult was it to serve as the interim head coach in that situation?

Crews: I actually think the interim, it might have worked to an advantage. The only reason I was there was because I wanted to be there. ... We were there to help in any way we could, try to put the players in a position to be successful on and off the court. And Rick was always a big proponent of it’s the kids’ program, it’s their team, it’s their season and we’re there to serve them. It’s their time. They only get to go through college once. We had a collection of guys who were very mature. Those were big advantages for us.

ESPN: Coach Majerus had a great sense of humor. What’s your favorite funny story about him?

Crews: We played two years ago at Rhode Island and I think it was the next-to-last game of the year and if we would’ve won, we would’ve had a chance at the championship. We got off to a good lead and our kids wanted to beat them bad, not that they wanted to beat them bad, but just so it was over with and wasn’t close. ... They got too anxious. Anyways, they beat us. So I’m sitting out in the hallway, Rick had already addressed the team and everything. So about 20 minutes later, we get in the car, the team gets on the bus, another assistant is driving (the car) and Rick gets in the front seat and I’m in the back seat. Rick doesn’t even turn around and he goes, ‘I bet you’re glad you’re not the head coach.’ And I just start laughing because that’s exactly what I was thinking. I said, ‘That’s exactly what I’ve been thinking for the last 20 minutes.’ We just started laughing. It was good, it was good.

ESPN: What does Saint Louis have to do to compete for the Atlantic 10 title this year?

Crews: Probably consistency. I always say to win championships you’ve gotta be awfully good and you’ve gotta catch some breaks. ... Just consistency. I think that’s been our strength the last few years. That’s hard. It’s a long season. It’s up and down. A lot of time, a lot of effort, a lot of emotion. You’re lining up every three days and you’re playing someone good.
With college basketball defined more and more each season by parity, we probably shouldn’t be surprised by anything these days.

Especially in the NCAA tournament.

In three of the past four seasons, a team from a non-power conference has advanced to the Final Four and more than held its own upon arrival.

The most recent example is Wichita State, which defeated the likes of Pittsburgh, Gonzaga and Ohio State en route to a showdown with Louisville in the national semifinals. The Shockers lost to the eventual NCAA champs 72-68, but Gregg Marshall’s team certainly made its presence felt in a game that wasn’t decided until the final minute. Along with earning a ton of national respect (if it hadn't done so already), Wichita State’s postseason march was surely inspiring to teams from similar leagues hoping to accomplish the same feat this season.

I’m not predicting that any of these programs will pull a Wichita State and make the Final Four, but here are some schools from non-power conferences that could make some noise in March.

10. Southern -- Florida Gulf Coast became the first No. 15 seed to advance to the Sweet 16 last season, but Southern nearly accomplished something even more impressive when it almost upset Gonzaga before falling 64-58. A victory would’ve made the Jaguars the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1. Southern should be a scary team again in 2013-14. Four of its top five scorers return including 6-foot-6 wing Malcolm Miller, who averaged 15.8 points and a team-high six rebounds. Javan Mitchell (9.5 points) and Jameel Grace (9.2) posted impressive numbers, as well. The Jaguars, who defeated Texas A&M in a nonconference game last season, will likely be challenged in the SWAC by Mike Davis’ Texas Southern squad. Texas Southern won last season’s SWAC title with a 16-2 record (compared to 15-3 for Southern) but was ineligible for the postseason.

9. Towson -- The Tigers pulled off the biggest turnaround in NCAA history by going 18-13 one season after finishing 1-31. Pat Skerry’s squad could be in for even better things, thanks to the return of four starters. The best of the bunch is former Georgetown forward Jerrelle Benimon, who ranked third in the nation in rebounding last season with 11.2 a game. Benimon, who also averaged a team-high 17.1 points, may be even tougher this season thanks to the arrival of 3-point standout Four McGlynn, a Vermont transfer who will be a welcome addition to a team that ranked 258th in the country in 3-point shooting. Small forward Marcus Damas should be the team’s top defender for the second straight season, while Timajh Parker-Rivera has the edge on replacing departed senior Bilal Dixon at power forward. Towson will be playing in a new arena, and the CAA tournament is in Baltimore. It couldn’t be happening at a better time for the Tigers, whose last NCAA tournament appearance was in 1991.

8. Florida Gulf Coast -- It wasn’t long after last season’s surprising march to the Sweet 16 that Eagles coach Andy Enfield was poached by USC. The interest in Enfield hardly came as a surprise, as FGCU was one of the most fascinating stories of the NCAA tournament. Even though Enfield and his “Dunk City” style are gone, the Eagles likely won't take a huge step back. Longtime Kansas assistant Joe Dooley was hired as a replacement and with his pedigree, FGCU may not miss a beat. It’d be a mistake to assume the Eagles will play a completely different style under Dooley, who retained two of Enfield’s top assistants (Marty Richter and Michael Fly). FGCU returns four of its top five scorers: Bernard Thompson, Chase Fieler, Brett Comer and Eric McKnight. And the Eagles add a pair of transfers in Jamail Jones (Marquette) and Nate Hicks (Georgia Tech).

7. Louisiana Tech -- A lot of people forgot about the Bulldogs because they didn’t make the NCAA tournament. Still, finishing 27-7 overall and 16-2 in any conference (yes, even the WAC) is no small feat. Neither is making an appearance, albeit brief, in the Top 25 poll for the first time since 1985. It will be interesting to see if Louisiana Tech can experience similar success during its first season as a member of Conference USA. The Bulldogs certainly have enough pieces for a great season. Leading scorer Raheem Appleby (14.9 points) returns along with Cordarius Johnson (7.9) and Alex Hamilton (7.8), who ranked second and third on the team in scoring, respectively. Leading rebounder Michale Kyser (5.3) is also back. Louisiana Tech lost its final two regular-season games last spring, then fell to UT-San Antonio in the first round of the WAC tournament, which meant it had to settle for an appearance in the NIT, where it beat Florida State and then lost to Southern Miss. It has the potential to make the NCAA tournament in 2013-14. That hasn’t happened since 1991.

6. Boise State -- The Broncos finished 21-11 last season and made the NCAA tournament for just the second time since 1994. Even though they lost to La Salle in the “First Four,” the season was still deemed a huge success, especially considering Boise State played in the Mountain West, easily one of the nation’s toughest conferences. The Broncos have to feel good about their chances for another good season in 2013-14. Four of their top six players return, including leading scorers Anthony Drmic (17.7 PPG) and Derrick Marks (16.3 PPG). Marks shot 42 percent from 3-point range and also averaged nearly four assists. Mikey Thompson (7.9 points) is back, as is leading rebounder Ryan Watkins. With a handful of the conference's top teams expected to take minor steps back, this could be a special season for the Broncos.

5. La Salle -- Last season’s run to the Sweet 16 (which included victories over Boise State, Kansas State and Ole Miss) earned Dr. John Giannini a contract extension, and rightfully so. Before last season the Explorers had won just one NCAA tournament game in 30 years and hadn’t even made the field since 1992. The Explorers are confident their success will continue in 2013-14. Leading scorer Ramon Galloway is gone, but La Salle returns three other double-digit scorers in Tyreek Duren (14.3 points), Tyrone Garland (13) and Jerrell Wright (10.8), who also led the team in rebounds with 6.8 per game. Starting guard Sam Mills, who averaged 33 minutes per game, is also back. Replacing Galloway certainly won’t be easy. He led the team in points, assists and steals. And his on-court swagger set the tone for a team that relied on toughness. Still, with confidence soaring following last season’s 24-10 finish, the Explorers have an excellent chance of returning to the NCAA tournament.

4. Harvard -- Tommy Amaker’s squad pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the NCAA tournament last season by upending No. 3 seed New Mexico. And let’s not forget, it was somewhat surprising that Harvard was even in the field. Harvard played the entire season without its two best players but still managed to win the Ivy League. If Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey return, as expected, the Crimson likely will have their best team in recent history. Wesley Saunders, Siyani Chambers and Laurent Rivard were all double-figure scorers last season, and Curry and Casey likely will average similar or better point totals in 2013-14. If Harvard makes a postseason run this season, it won’t be nearly as big of a surprise. This is a Top 25-caliber team.

3. Saint Louis -- Some publications tabbed Jim Crews as the national coach of the year after he led the Billikens to the Atlantic 10 title last season. Crews had stepped in for Rick Majerus, who left the team in the fall for health reasons and passed away in December. SLU named Crews the full-time coach after the season, and it’s not unreasonable to think SLU could be just as salty in 2013-14. Guard Kwamain Mitchell is gone, along with A-10 sixth man of the year Cody Ellis. But the Billikens return every other starter from a squad that also won the league tournament title while setting a school record for wins (28). Leading the way will be forward Dwayne Evans, who led last season's team in points (14) and rebounds (7.7). Jordair Jett is back after being named to the A-10’s all-defensive squad. So is Mike McCall Jr., whose 47 3-pointers ranked second on the team. The battle between SLU, La Salle and VCU for the A-10 title should be a good one.

2. VCU -- There were times last season when VCU looked like a top-10 team. Even when VCU went 1-2 at the Battle 4 Atlantis, losing to Duke and Missouri, the Rams showed glimpses of becoming a team that could make the Final Four. No one would be surprised if Shaka Smart’s squad accomplished that feat this season, especially if VCU establishes a little more consistency. The Rams will likely open the season ranked in the top 15. All but two key players (Troy Daniels and Darius Theus) return from last season's squad. Included in that group are double-digit scorers Treveon Graham (15.1 points), Juvonte Reddic (14.6) and Rob Brandenberg (10.1), along with defensive standout Briante Weber, who ranked fifth in the country in steals with 2.7 per game. VCU will continue to play its relentless full-court defense, which is hard to prepare for in a tournament setting because of the quick turnaround. On offense the Rams will score a ton of points in transition. This, once again, will be a fun team to watch -- and a difficult one to play.

1. Wichita State -- Can the Shockers make it to the Final Four two years in a row? Heck, why not? There’s a strong chance that this year’s team could be even better than the unit that lost to Louisville. Losing bruising forward Carl Hall and court leader Malcolm Armstead will hurt, but Marshall’s team returns all of its other key parts. Cleanthony Early, who had 25 points and 10 rebounds against Louisville, is an NBA-caliber small forward. Ron Baker ignited the Shockers’ NCAA tournament run with his prowess from beyond the arc, and point guard Fred VanVleet logged valuable minutes as a freshman backing up Armstead. Tekele Cotton is a returning starter who helps set the tone defensively, and standout shooter Evan Wessel is back after redshirting last season. Look for 6-foot-9 Louisiana-Lafayette transfer Kadeem Colby to replace Hall in the paint. Colby spent the past season working out with the Shockers and Marshall couldn’t be more impressed. Chipola (Fla.) College transfer Earl Watson also will be in the mix down low. It should be another great season in Wichita.

Bonus team: Butler -- I goofed up in an earlier version of this blog by including the Bulldogs on this list. The things that Butler accomplished as a mid-major -- advancing to the NCAA title game in 2010 and 2011 -- made Brad Stevens’ players the poster boys for non-power conferences. But things are different now. Butler is in the Big East -- and it made the move without Stevens, who was hired earlier this month as head coach of the Boston Celtics. His replacement, Brandon Miller, faces the tough task of carrying on the tradition established by Stevens and his predecessors. Miller left coaching altogether a few seasons ago when he resigned after six years as an assistant at Ohio State. He got back in the game last year as a special assistant to Illinois coach John Groce before Stevens brought him back to Butler as an assistant a few months before his departure. Miller inherits a team that lost its top two scorers in Rotnei Clarke and Andrew Smith.

But standouts Khyle Marshall and Roosevelt Jones (the hero of last season’s dramatic win over Gonzaga) return along with Kellen Dunham, one of the country’s top shooters. The biggest issue will be at point guard, where there is no clear front-runner for the starting spot. Jackson Aldridge has yet to establish himself after two seasons, and Devontae Morgan hardly saw the court last year as a freshman. Walk-on Alex Barlow is also a candidate. The Bulldogs certainly don’t have the look of a Final Four team, but if Miller does half as good of a job as Stevens, it would be foolish to count the Bulldogs out.
1. New Butler coach Brandon Miller couldn't have had the summer lay out better for him with the decision by assistants Michael Lewis and Terry Johnson to stay on the Bulldogs staff. It's unclear if either had a shot to go with former coach Brad Stevens to the Boston Celtics, but the point is moot now. A much bigger coup is that the team's scheduled trip to Australia is still on for August. Miller didn't know the Butler players -- he came back to the school in April after spending a year at Illinois as a special assistant and the year before that doing pharmaceutical sales. The trip gives him 10 practices and four games Down Under. "I couldn't ask for a better time to be here,'' Miller said during our ESPNU college basketball podcast Tuesday. "We've got our Hinkle campaign (to update the famed arena), the Big East, and the new locker room, scoreboard and chair-back seating. The Australia trip is a huge advantage. It gives us a chance to bond."

2. The 2013-14 season will be crucial for the Atlantic 10's efforts to continue the momentum it built last season with La Salle's run to the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16 from the First Four. The top three teams return in Virginia Commonwealth, Saint Louis and La Salle, though the league loses Xavier and Butler. The A-10 will need that top three to stay on top, with a deeper second tier in Richmond, Saint Joseph's and Massachusetts. George Mason is the wild card in its first year in the league (Davidson joins in 2014-15). Dayton, Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure are all more than capable of cracking the aforementioned crew. The A-10 gets overshadowed by the Big East and might at times by the American. That's why this is an important year for the A-10 to re-establish its foothold in the East.

3. USC made it official with the transfer of UNLV's Katin Reinhardt. As with Darion Clark, transferring from Charlotte, Reinhardt will have to sit out next season. The Trojans, meanwhile, are trying to get Maryland transfer Pe'Shon Howard eligible immediately. Don't be surprised to see this kind of roster-building under Andy Enfield. He'll have to balance transfers, those who can play immediately and players he can stash for a year in his effort to create balanced classes. Oregon has made this an art in the Pac-12. Arizona State has gotten into the mix in attempting to climb up faster. Enfield is well-versed in compiling a roster in a variety of ways. To ensure USC is a viable player over the next two seasons, the Trojans will have to take some gambles.

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