After a dramatic overtime thriller, the Saint Louis Billikens have to regroup to play the No.4 Seed Louisville Cardinals. This match up pits two old Metro Conference and Conference USA foes together. Louisville leads 45-20 in a series that dates back to the 1920s.
The Bills defeated the North Carolina State Wolfpack 83-80 in overtime after trailing by 16 points in the second half. The Cardinals survived against the Manhattan Jaspers 71-64 thanks to some late 3-pointers by Luke Hancock.
Each team is competing for a spot in Sweet 16. If the Billikens win, they will advance to their first Sweet 16 in school history. They have been knocked out of the round of 32 the past two seasons. The Cardinals are looking to make their third straight appearance in the Sweet 16.
One of the biggest questions coming into this game will be, how Saint Louis moves on from such an emotional victory. They spent a lot energy in the comeback effort against NC State and seemed to be gassed after the game. It is very difficult to perform at the same level after playing at that high of a level less than 48 hours before the Louisville game.
"We know we have a huge test in front of us tomorrow afternoon, and they're a really talented team," said SLU forward Dwayne Evans. "So guys did a really good job of getting focused this morning, and we'll meet again tonight and we'll be ready."
Another key factor in this game are injuries. SLU is hurting. Evans has a hip and knee injury that has been affecting his game. At the end of the NC State game, Billikens guard Jordair Jett appeared to be in pain. He has been fighting a knee injury, but it has not affected him recently. However, Louisville is also banged up. Louisville star Russ Smith has a left thumb injury. There is no word on the extent of Smith’s injury, but it affected his play against the Jaspers.
While these various injuries affect all of these players, they are going to play through the pain to advance in the tournament.
"The team knows this is a very big game for us, and we've just got to come out and play our game and be ready," said SLU guard Mike McCall Jr.
The emotions and injuries are going to be huge factors in this game. However, another factor is SLU’s ability to control Russ Smith. Smith is one of the best players in college basketball, he can take over the game in multiple ways. He has been a distributor averaging 4.6 assists per game, but also scores 18.6 points per game. He has become a more complete player this season, but his thumb injury might affect his play. He will be matched up against Jett and it should be an interesting to see how these two athletes go at it.
Finally, the Louisville pressure is going to factor into how the Billikens play this game. Louisville uses a full-court pressure that is very aggressive. The Bills have been turnover-prone lately, which is a huge advantage for Louisville. It is one of things that the Bills will have to be careful and take into account for their strategy. They have faced a similar type of full-court pressure system playing Virginia Commonwealth twice this year and SLU struggled in the second match up against VCU. Louisville’s pressure is a different challenge, but it has a very similar concept of forcing turnovers and running down the shot clock like VCU’s ‘Havoc’.
SLU will have to play be on its a-game. They cannot go on a cold stretch against the Cardinals. The Cardinals will pull away if the Bills start missing shots. If the Bills get off to their normal hot start, then they should be a good shape, but must keep their foot on the gas.
Rob Loe will be an x-factor for the Bills. He played the best game of his SLU career against NC State and if he brings that effort again, SLU will be in solid position for victory. Plus, he has a size advantage against Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell, which he should exploit. If he has to go up against Louisville’s Stephan Van Treese, he can force Van Treese beyond the arc, where he is not a strong defender.
It will be an interesting match up against Louisville’s top ten offensive efficiency versus Saint Louis’ top five defensive efficiency.
"They've (Saint Louis) got five seniors so that's always tough playing a team with five seniors," said Louisville guard Terry Rozier. "They've been running the system and running the plays for four years now, and it's going to be a great game, a hard fought game. It all comes down to who's more well coached and who wants it at the end."