A 24-6 record in the seventh-highest rated conference may look like a sure bid to the NCAA Tournament. Without any Top 50 RPI wins, however, Saint Louis hasn't established itself as a "lock" just yet. Many predictions haven't seemed to notice that the Billikens are actually 4-2 vs. the Top 58 (Washington, St. Joe's, and Xavier twice).
Nonetheless, on Friday against La Salle, the Billikens have yet another opportunity to remove all doubt about their right to be in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2000.
After re-watching the Feb. 11 meeting between these two teams, won 59-51 by SLU at Tom Gola Arena, I've put together a list of keys to watch for.
- Attack the offensive glass. With a distinct size advantage against the Explorers, SLU must follow its shots and pound the boards for second-chance opportunities. When they do, they need to finish. Dwayne Evans missed four wide open layups.
- Knock down high-percentage three-point attempts. La Salle's bigs didn't hedge on any ball screens around the perimeter the last time these two teams met allowing for several open shots behind the arc. The Bills shot just five-for-18 from deep, and must improve in this department.
- Contain the arc. The Explorers play four guards and set a lot of screens for them to get open shots from three-point range. They shot four-for-10 on Feb. 11, but have the potential to pour in many more.
La Salle Keys:
- Find holes against the SLU man-to-man defense. La Salle sets a high ball screen (usually Earl Pettis) to begin almost every possession. If SLU hedges out to stop this, the big man must roll to the bucket.
- Take care of the ball. SLU isn't a high pressure team, yet La Salle managed to have 20 turnovers in the first matchup. If the Explorers don't make crisp passes, it could lead to a lot of transition points for the Billikens.
- Get Jerrell Wright touches. Although he's a freshman going against veteran Brian Conklin, the 6-foot-8 not only has offensive skills, but can use inside position to pass out for open three-point attempts. The Explorers did a nice job of getting him the ball down on the block and it kept them close until the final minute.
Prediction: SLU 64, La Salle 56