The Saint Louis Billikens have one final opportunity to get out of their recent slump. The Billikens will play the North Carolina State Wolfpack in the round of 64 on Thursday at 7:20 p.m. EST. The Wolfpack won their First Four match up against the Xavier Musketeers, 74-59, on Tuesday for their opportunity to play SLU. The winner will advance in the tournament to play the Louisville Cardinals or the Manhattan Jaspers in the round of 32.
Saint Louis is one of the only teams in the nation that starts five seniors. They have played together for years, but that experience has not helped them recently. SLU has lost four of their last five games after winning 19 straight games, and were most recently knocked out of the Atlantic 10 tournament by St. Bonaventure on a last second 3-pointer. The team is well-rested and ready for the game, but their recent struggles cannot be overlooked.
SLU had one of the nation’s best scoring defenses, but their last five games have allowed 68.6 points per game. At one point this season, they were allowing under 60 points per game, but they have struggled to maintain their stout defense at the end of the year. The luck that they had at the beginning of the year seems to have turned the opposite direction in these recent games. Another problem is that the Bills have not faced a scorer like NC State’s T.J. Warren this season.
However, these seniors have realized this is their last chance and will give everything they have to this game. Also, SLU’s 3-point defense is still the second best in the nation, which is a huge advantage. SLU will have to use its defense to win this game.
NC State and their offense are on fire right now. Warren is playing at an unbelievable level right now and no team has figured out how to stop him. The Wolfpack have done the opposite of the Billikens by winning four of their last five games and have gotten hot at the right time of year.
Warren is the key for NC State. He averages just under 25 points per game and if the Billikens cannot stop him, then it is going to be a long night. Another major factor will be SLU guard Jake Barnett who is assigned to defend Warren. Barnett is a good defender, but not as a good as his teammates Mike McCall Jr. and Jordair Jett. Barnett will have to play his A-game on defense and rely on his teammates to help at appropriate times.
One disadvantage for the Wolfpack will be the extra travel. The team arrived in Orlando at 4:30 a.m. on Wednesday and have one less day to prepare for the Billikens. Another question will be if the Wolfpack play into the Billikens' trap of forcing long 2-pointers. SLU likes to force teams down into the shot clock and force shots, but NC State's offense is rolling and should not fall into this trap.
The biggest question is will the extra rest be beneficial to the Billikens and allow them to play the same type of defense when they were on their winning streak. However, if NC State continues to play this way, then it will pose a tough challenge for the Bills and their defense.