Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Friday night’s game between Saint Louis and Butler in Indianapolis. You can follow him at @walkerRcarey.
Three Key Takeaways.
- These Are Two Teams “High Majors” Should Treat With Caution In March. Both Butler and Saint Louis can really, really play. While each team is very different – Butler is more offensively-oriented and Saint Louis is a team that excels on the defensive end of the court — the common denominator that exists between the two teams is that they both are capable of beating anyone. Butler has shown it is capable of doing so for several years now, but this season’s wins over #1 Indiana and #3 Gonzaga have once again proven the Bulldogs can never be taken lightly. Of Saint Louis’ 21 wins, four have come against ranked opponents — home wins over #15 Butler, #16 New Mexico, and #24 VCU and Friday’s road victory at Hinkle Fieldhouse. With the marquee victories that each squad has already earned this year, it would be wise to believe that both teams could absolutely find a way to beat a well-regarded “high major” when the NCAA Tournament commences.
- The Success Of Saint Louis Has To Be One Of The Stories Of The Year in College Basketball. When Rick Majerus stepped away due to a heart issue in August, the team was placed in the hands of assistant coach Jim Crews on an interim basis. The Billikens struggled through their first six games with a record of 3-3, partly due to senior guard Kwamain Mitchell being sidelined with a foot injury. Majerus passed away on December 1 when the team had that 3-3 record and since his passing, the team has won 21 of 23 games. While it might be a tad overzealous to equate the two events, it has to be noted that the way the Billikens have played since the death of their legendary leader would have had him brimming with pride. At 10-2, Saint Louis is all alone in first place in the Atlantic 10 standings and with four winnable games left on its slate (home match-ups with Saint Joseph’s and La Salle and road contests at George Washington and Xavier), a conference championship is certainly in reach, and with the adversity and heartbreak the team has experienced away from the court, that makes Saint Louis one of the stories of the year in college basketball.
- Despite Losses In Two Of Its Last Four Games, Butler Fans Should Not Panic. With home losses to Charlotte and Saint Louis in the last nine days, some Butler fans might feel the need to panic a bit as the conference slate winds down. Those fans need to calm down, as there really is not anything substantially wrong with the Bulldogs. When Butler lost to Charlotte on February 13, the Bulldogs were without the services of 6’11” senior center Andrew Smith, who was out with an abdominal injury. This was a big loss for the Bulldogs because Smith anchors the interior of the defense and is a solid scorer in the low post. With him sidelined, Charlotte was able to have its way with Butler’s interior defenders and rode that to a 71-67 victory. Friday’s loss to Saint Louis was a match-up of two very good teams where one played just a bit better than the other. It was the type of game that if were played 10 times, each team would have a good shot at winning five. The Bulldogs are currently sitting in a tie for second place in a very strong Atlantic 10 and with two weeks left in the season, the team still appears poised to be a legitimate contender in the conference tournament and a team that could turn heads in the NCAAs.
Stars of the Game. Mike McCall Jr. and Dwayne Evans, Saint Louis. McCall Jr. led the Billikens in scoring with 18 points and was part of a suffocating defensive effort aimed at limiting Butler guards Rotnei Clarke and Kellen Dunham. The effort was mostly successful as the Saint Louis defense forced Clarke to turn the ball over six times and held Dunham scoreless in the second half after he had tallied 14 points in the opening 20 minutes. Evans continued his steady play by finishing with 17 points as the team’s key post player. Another thing that was impressive about Evans’ game was that in what was such a physical contest, he only committed one foul in 32 minutes, thus never making his availability a concern.