Ranked 24th nationally, the Saint Louis Billikens have won ten straight games since losing to Wichita State on December 1. How have they done it? Primarily due to a defense that has been absolutely stifling in the half court, while also limiting opponents’ opportunities to get out in the open floor. Limiting teams to 38.7% shooting from the field and 25.1% from three, Jim Crews’ team leads the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency according to kenpom.com.
With those defensive credentials Saint Louis will look to move to 4-0 in Atlantic 10 play Saturday afternoon when they take on Fordham at Chaifetz Arena (2:30 p.m. EST) in the second of three games to air this weekend on NBC Sports Network. Tom Pecora’s Rams are 7-9 on the season and 0-3 in conference play, but in guards Branden Frazier and Jon Severe he’s got one of the highest scoring perimeter tandems in the country.
The senior Frazier and freshman Severe combine to average 39.9 points per game, with sophomore guard Mandell Thomas contributing 12.8 points as their third scorer. As a team Fordham’s scoring more than 76 points per game, but they’ve been doing so despite shooting just 40.4% from the field. Tempo’s been key for both teams in this matchup and that will once again be the case, with Fordham having greater success when they find shots within the first ten seconds of a possession per hoop-math.com.
Clearly this is a game the Billikens should win, with Dwayne Evans II and Jordair Jett leading the way offensively for a team that has five players scoring at least eight points per game. Things may not always look pretty offensively for Saint Louis, but when a team’s as good as the Billikens are defensively those offensive issues can be accounted for. And with their upcoming schedule, Saint Louis has the potential to rack up the wins ahead of their two-game swing through Philadelphia in early February (at Saint Joseph’s on February 5, at La Salle on February 8).
Also slated to air on NBCSN is an Atlantic 10 battle between George Mason and Rhode Island (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. EST), with both teams in need of a win. The Patriots (1-3 Atlantic 10) allowed one to slip away on Wednesday night against No. 16 UMass, falling 88-87 in a game they looked poised to win before a late Minutemen rally. As for the Rams, they’re still winless in conference play (0-4) and with games against Saint Joseph’s and Dayton next on the schedule Dan Hurley’s team needs to defend its home floor.
On Sunday afternoon (3:30 p.m. EST) Towson visits College of Charleston in a key CAA contest, with the Tigers being the preseason favorite to win the league due in large part to the presence of forward Jerrelle Benimon.