Saint Louis came into this 2013 NCAA tournament as a trendy underdog pick to make the Final Four after winning the Atlantic 10 championship this past weekend. The Billikens took their first step toward that goal Thursday with a 64-44 win over New Mexico State in the Round of 64 at The Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Mich.
Dwayne Evans, fresh off winning the Most Outstanding Player award in the A-10 tournament, led Saint Louis with 24 points and six rebounds. Evans was the centerpiece of a Saint Louis gameplan that didn’t change and likely will not change for the remainder of this tournament. The Billikens thrive on defense at one end of the floor and efficiency at the other.
Saint Louis turned the ball over just 10 times, credit going first and foremost to point guards Kwamain Mitchell and Jordair Jett. Those two combined for 12 assists and four total turnovers. Their ability to facilitate is why Evans and sharpshooter Cody Ellis are able to get involved. Ellis finished with 12 points.
Saint Louis now moves on to face the winner of Oklahoma State vs. Oregon, which tips off in San Jose at 4:40 p.m. ET.
Oklahoma State is favored, but regardless of who advances to meet Saint Louis, the focus will be on the backcourts. Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart is a physical and productive freshman guard who is one of the biggest reasons why the Cowboys are where they are right now. Dominic Artis’ injury hurt Oregon during conference play when he was forced to sit on the bench.
Whoever advances will have their hands full against a veteran Saint Louis backcourt in the Round of 32.
The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 10.3 points per game, while shooting 42 percent from three, as a freshman. He, along with Malcolm Hill and Michael Thorne Jr., is one of three returning players who averaged double figures last season.
This could prove to be a make-or-break year for John Groce, who enters his fifth season at the helm. He guided the Illini to an NCAA Tournament in his first season, but hasn’t been back since.
The key for the Illini is health. Abrams gives them experience and leadership, but it won’t be a surprise if there’s some rust in his game after spending the past two seasons on the sideline. Having a healthy Coleman-Lands will help stabilize the backcourt, while Hill, an all-conference caliber forward, and Thorne anchor the frontcourt.
Like Alkins, Jones was a sought-after scorer. The 6-foot-4 two-guard was rated No. 69 overall in the Class of 2016 by Rivals. He picked Indiana over offers from Cal, Cincinnati, Georgetown and more than a dozen other high-major programs.
Jeter, the 6-foot-10, played in a reserve role as a freshman, averaging 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game last season. He will be part of a loaded frontline that includes heralded freshmen Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, as well as redshirt senior Amile Jefferson, who returns to the lineup following a foot injury.