Defense Can Carry Saint Louis Billikens Deep Into March
One of the main reasons the Saint Louis Billikens are still perfect in the Atlantic 10 Conference is their defense. For the season, Saint Louis is allowing only 59 points per game, good for 11th in the nation. This is fitting of their national ranking in the top 25, currently 10th. On Saturday night, facing a tough home game against the George Washington Colonials, the Billikens (25-2, 12-0) played exactly to their script, holding GW over the final 87 seconds to secure a 66-59 victory.
Winners of 18 straight games, the victory over George Washington marked the 11th time during that streak that the Billikens have held an opponent to less than 60 points. Beyond simply points allowed, the reasons that the Billikens’ defense functions so well is that they do everything at a high level.
Saint Louis is in the top 40 in the country in both rebounding and steals per game. Against GW, the Billikens were uncharacteristically beaten in rebounding, 42-36, but there were plenty of rebounds to be had given that Saint Louis held the Colonials to just 32 percent shooting (20-for-61). GW picked up 17 offensive rebounds, but couldn’t convert enough of them against the Saint Louis defense to win the game.
Except for teams that have star scorers or that run their offenses effectively at extremely fast paces, teams that play top-notch defense are the most dangerous when the NCAA tournament starts. Saint Louis won a game in the tournament last year before being knocked out by Oregon 74-57 in the round of 32. The Billikens had turned in a great defensive effort in their first tournament game, beating New Mexico State 64-44. Oregon tries to play quick and get up shots and weren’t a good matchup for SLU.
The Billikens, who were led Saturday night by 16 points from guard Jordair Jett and 12 points and nine rebounds by forward Rob Loe, may run into a team like Oregon (though likely, not Oregon itself) in this year’s NCAA tournament. And while there have been questions about quality wins this season for Saint Louis, a recent victory over VCU and Saturday’s triumph over GW are notable. Saint Louis gave up an average of 60.5 points in those games. It will all depend on seeding and matchups, as success in the NCAA tournament always does, but the way the Billikens play defense will make them a very tough out in the NCAA tournament.