Saint Louis Billikens (26-6, 13-3 Atlantic 10)-The defensive-minded Billikens began the season at 25-2 before fading down the stretch and bowing out in the first round of the A-10 tournament. Saint Louis’ only losses until that point were to Wisconsin and Wichita State (not bad). But defeats to Duquesne and Saint Bonaventure accentuate the fact that the Billikens are not playing their best basketball heading into the tournament.
This is a senior-laden team, led by top scorers Dwayne Evans (14 ppg, 6.4 rpg), Jordair Jett (13.8 ppg, 4.7 apg) and Rob Loe (10 ppg, 5.5 rpg). All three are playing for former coach Rick Majerus’ memory. It was Majerus who lifted this program from middle of the road semi-mid-major to top-flight team.
The Billikens guard like a Majerus team, allowing just 61.2 points per game and 0.91 points per possession, which ranks sixth in the country. Jett is one of the best defensive guards in college basketball, and averages 1.5 steals per game. He was named Atlantic 10 Player of the Year.
6th Points Allowed per Possession (0.91)
16th Points per Game (61.2)
36th Rebounds per Game (26.1)
12. NC State Wolfpack (21-13, 9-9 ACC)-A late four-game winning streak, and a win over Syracuse, probably pushed the Wolfpack into the field. NC State has the highest number of losses for an at-large team, and was beaten by 14-seed North Carolina Central, Clemson, Miami (FL), Wake Forest, and Missouri. They probably shouldn’t have gotten in ahead of SMU, which owned more impressive wins and was ranked for several weeks this season.
NC State is led by ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren, who beat out Jabari Parker for the honor. Warren deserved to win the award, though. He had a tremendous season, averaging a conference-high 24.8 points while also grabbing 7.2 rebounds per game. The 6-8 sophomore forward is the main reason why the Wolfpack are in this position, and should be a high pick in the NBA Draft come June.
The rest of the team shares the scoring load, as seven players play 22-plus minutes and put up between 4 and 8 points per game. Ralston Turner is the leader of that group, averaging 10.2 points per game.
It’d be a stretch to call the ‘Pack a hot team, but they are at least warm entering the tournament, having beaten Pittsburgh as well as Syracuse in the last few weeks.
90th Field Goal Percentage (.459)
159th Points Allowed (69.5)
12. Xavier (21-12, 10-8 Big East)-The Musketeers afforded themselves well in their first season in the Big East, winning 10 games and outmuscling St. John’s and Marquette for the last conference spot in the Big Dance. They will play well in their opening game. Xavier has an NBA talent at point guard in sophomore Semaj Christon, who averaged a team-leading 17.1 points and 4.2 assists per game.
Christon is big at 6-3, and quick enough to defend any point in the country. He’s a gifted playmaker and shoots the three well, at 38%. X will go as far as Christon can take them. That isn’t to say there isn’t other talent on this roster–6-10 center Matt Stainbrook can provide some matchup problems down low and will be tough to handle for N.C. State and Saint Louis, if the Musketeers get that far. He averaged 10.4 points and 7.3 boards this season.
41st Field Goal Percentage (.471)
48th Assists per Game (14.8)
PREDICTION: Xavier over N.C. State, Saint Louis