The Saint Louis Billikens might just be the best team that no one is talking about.
Tuesday night’s defeat of newly 24th ranked Virginia Commonwealth extended the Billikens A-10 winning streak to eight straight games. They now sit alone in first place in the conference, a half game ahead of both VCU and Butler with a one game advantage in the loss column.
So why are the Billikens so good? Why is no one talking about them?
For one thing. They don’t really score. Teams like that aren’t too exciting to fuss over. They rank in the bottom half of the conference, scoring just under 69 points per contest. They rank 15th in the conference in rebounding the ball, with only 32 boards a game. The offense isn’t fast paced or high flying. However, they are efficient. In terms of field goal percentage, Saint Louis makes nearly 46% of its shots, which is third best in the A-10.
The real reason that Saint Louis has ascended the A-10 standings has little to do with its prowess on the offensive side of the ball. The Billikens can thank their 20-5 record on their stingy defense. The Billikens allow only 57.8 ponts per game, ranking first in the A-10. They have one of 13th best turnover margin in the nation at 4.0, and have allowed the 10th lowest amount of points among division one teams. (Ed. Note: St. Louis ranks 28th in adjusted defense nationally according to KenPom as well.)
The name of the game for Saint Louis is effiency and consistency. In only four games this season have they allowed more than 70 points, while allowing less than 60 in 15 of its wins on the year. They have suffered only one bad loss, an 82-80 overtime defeat to a Rhode Island team that’s probably a lot better than its record states. They have two winning streaks of eight games or more, and have defeated teams such as Butler and New Mexico.
They don’t have a single player averaging more than 12 points a game, but they have four players averaging in double figures. They don’t rely on any one scorer to carry them on a given day. In fact, not a single player has scored more than 24 points in a regulation game this season.
Saint Louis does have some extra motivation this season. Early on in the year, their former head coach, Rick Majeurus passed away. The next day, the Billikens started a nine game winning streak, and have gone 17-2 since his passing. Thirteen of the 15 players on the current roster played for Majerus, and you have to be sure that playing for his memory has given the fans, the players, and the entire Saint Louis University community a boost.
It’s obvious that the legacy that Majerus left behind has had a profound effect on many of the current upperclassmen at SLU. Guys like junior Dwayne Ellis and senior Cody Ellis have both seen their numbers improve over the course of the season.
The Billikens are the type of team that has the capability to go deep into the NCAA tournament because they are so well balanced. They play well in close games. They have solid guards. They limit turnovers, and they allow very few points. While they may not turn heads like some of the more intense teams in the A-10 or around the country, they can and will win games come tournament time. (Heck, Butler’s Brad Stevens thinks the Billikens are going to the Final Four.)
Sam Blum covers the A-10 for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @DaBlumsta