After winning 19 consecutive college basketball games, the Saint Louis Billikens have picked the worst time of the season to fall into a slump. Once looked at as only needing to be given the crown in the Atlantic-10 Conference, Saint Louis has seen their massive conference lead dissolve down to just one game over St. Joseph’s after a 67-56 loss at VCU on Saturday evening. Jordair Jett led Saint Louis with 18 points. The Billikens do hold a tiebreaker over the Hawks, having beaten them 65-49 earlier in the season. But with tough games left against Dayton and at Massachusetts, Saint Louis can no longer take anything for granted. They dropped Saturday’s game to VCU and suffered a bad loss at home to Duquesne earlier in the week.
It’s not like the Billikens can’t recover. Jim Crews is a veteran coach who surely has seen these kind of situations before. And Saint Louis still has the A-10 Tournament to play to get their game back in order. The Billikens aren’t on bubble watch or anything like that. Saint Louis will return to the NCAA Tournament after winning a game in that event last season. But defense — which had been the calling card for Saint Louis for much of the season — has tailed off a bit in the last couple games. The Billikens gave up 71 points to a Duquesne team midweek that is 12-15 overall and a lowly 4-10 in the A-10.
On Saturday, the Rams, who are always tough to beat in front of their usual sell-out crowd in Richmond, scored 67 points and that, combined with VCU’s trademark pressure defense, was more than enough to send Saint Louis crashing to its second straight loss. Prior to the 19-game winning streak, the Billikens’ only losses were to 31-0 Wichita State and then-No. 10 Wisconsin (now 23-5). Those losses wouldn’t do any harm to Saint Louis’ possible NCAA Tournament seeding. But with gripes already out there about a lack of quality wins for SLU, the loss to Duquesne is a real stinger and now falling again to VCU will surely raise questions about just how good the Billikens really are.
The answer is that Saint Louis is still really good. Its schedule has toughened up a bit at the end of the conference season, but a win over Dayton at home on Wednesday night would clinch the top seed in the A-10 Tournament for the Billikens. Further helping Saint Louis is the fact that St. Joe’s has a very tough game that night at George Washington (20-7, 8-5). The A-10 is a very solid league this year, even after the departures of Butler and Xavier to the Big East before the year. There’s no shame at all in Saint Louis being 12-2 in the league, but the timing and the style of the losses have to be giving Crews and SLU fans a bit of nerves.