O26 Storylines: On Harvard, Atlantic 10, #dunkcity Again…

Posted by Adam Stillman on February 14th, 2014

We are a little more than four weeks away from Selection Sunday. And the bubble picture is as muddled as ever. Let’s check out this week’s O26 storylines:

Is Harvard in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament?

Is it possible Harvard might miss the NCAA Tournament? (Robert F. Worley)

Is it possible Harvard might miss the NCAA Tournament? (Robert F. Worley)

Harvard was basically penciled into the NCAA Tournament before the season began. If the Crimson weren’t able to secure an at-large bid, certainly they’d run away with the Ivy League. Right? Well, all of the sudden Harvard isn’t looking like such a sure thing. You can thank Yale and its shocking 74-67 win AT Harvard last Saturday for that. Now those two sit atop the Ivy League standings with a 5-1 conference record. Furthermore, Yale boasts a more favorable schedule the rest of the way. The Bulldogs close out the season with a combination of four home games and four road games, including the return home game with Harvard. The Crimson, on the other hand, hit the road for six of their final eight contests. Is it time to hit the panic button for Harvard? Not quite yet, but the Ivy favorite is making things much harder than they should be. It still wouldn’t be a surprise to see Harvard win the league by a few games and earn the conference’s automatic bid without much trouble. But this storyline definitely can’t be overlooked for now. Ken Pomeroy projects Harvard as the favorite in all eight of its games, and predicts the Crimson will win the league with a 9-3 final record. Pomeroy projects Yale as the favorite in five of its last eight games, predicting the Bulldogs will finish with a 10-4 conference mark. It would be a travesty to see such a talented team miss the Big Dance, but the possibility of that happening isn’t all that far-fetched.

Can VCU keep pace in the Atlantic 10 race?

Saint Louis is on the verge of running away with the A-10 regular-season title. The Billikens (9-0 in league play) host VCU (7-2 in league play) on Saturday with a chance to move three games ahead of the second-place Rams. That would be a lot of ground to make up with just six games left on the docket. SLU, the defending regular season and tournament champions, can go a long way toward a repeat with a win Saturday at a sold-out Chaifetz Arena. Sure, there’s a return game at VCU on March 1, the only game the Billikens aren’t favored to win the rest of the way, per Ken Pomeroy. And that includes a season-ending trip to Massachusetts. Pomeroy projects the Billikens to finish 14-2 to take the title, with VCU coming in second at 12-4. The Rams need to steal a win Saturday, otherwise it’s looking like two straight A-10 titles for SLU. For more insight on Saturday’s game, read Tommy Lemoine’s excellent preview.

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O26 Game of the Week: VCU Visits Saint Louis in Defensive Clash

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 12th, 2014

Each week the O26 microsite will run down the biggest upcoming game of the week as well as a handful of others to keep an eye on.

Virginia Commonwealth (19-5) at Saint Louis (22-2) – 2:00 PM ET, ESPN2, Saturday

This game punctuates what could be a decisive week in the Atlantic 10. If VCU can take down George Washington on Wednesday night, it will claim sole possession of second place and remain just two games back of Saint Louis heading into Saturday. A victory would pull Shaka Smart’s club within a game of the top spot, setting the stage for a crucial rematch on March 1st; a loss would give the Billikens an overwhelming advantage over the rest of the league, nearly guaranteeing a second-straight regular season title. And conference implications aside, this game offers each team—both stingy-defensive units with second-weekend potential—the opportunity to notch a resume-bolstering victory just one month out from Selection Sunday. A lot will be at stake in Chaifetz Arena.

VCU travels to Saint Louis for an enormous Atlantic 10 tilt. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

VCU travels to Saint Louis for an enormous Atlantic 10 tilt. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

If last year was any indication, Saint Louis should have no problem handling VCU and its HAVOC defense, which is predicated on forcing turnovers and scoring points in transition. In their only regular season meeting of 2013, the Billikens—who run a slow-paced, ball-control offense—broke the Rams’ press time after time down the floor, committing just eight turnovers and getting countless easy looks under the basket. In turn, VCU was unable to get anything in the way of transition buckets—a huge problem against a dominant half-court defense adept at taking away the three point shot, the Rams’ next-best scoring method. Saint Louis coasted to a 14-point home victory in that one and validated it a month later in the A-10 Championship game, again staving off VCU’s pressure on its way to claiming the league’s postseason crown.

So, then, what hope could the Rams possibly have this year, on the road against virtually the same team? Well, for starters, the Billikens have been skating on the thin ice in recent weeks. Three of their last five games have been one possession contests in the final minute of regulation, including an overtime home victory over then-winless George Mason. They won all three—part of a current 16-game winning streak—but showed slight vulnerabilities on defense and at times struggled to score. If Saint Louis continues playing with fire, odds say it will eventually get burned. Plus, this season’s Billikens aren’t quite the offensive team they were a year ago (scoring at a modestly lower rate), and VCU is even better on defense. Anytime a middle-of-the-pack offense meets an elite defense, the former is probably going to have trouble at various points in the game. Of course, the same can be said for VCU’s offense and Saint Louis’ defense, but the point remains: the Rams certainly have a chance. And if they do manage to pull one out on the road, the A-10 will become a whole lot more interesting.

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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on February 12th, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Looking Behind the Conference Win-Loss Records

The conference win-loss record hints at the overall dimensions of the conference race. Possession-based statistics can provide insight on how any of the teams developed their current standing. The sample is small, anomalies and outliers abound — the conference records and efficiency differences will not “behave” for another two-to-three weeks (if then). By comparing the record, the difference between a team’s offensive and defensive efficiency (points scored per 100 possessions), and their difference (offense – defense), along with the conference strength of schedule, we can understand more precisely where a team stands with respect to the conference race, and their prospects going forward.

Table01140212

The top four (Saint Louis, George Washington, VCU and Massachusetts) and the bottom four (Rhode Island, George Mason, Duquesne and Fordham) are clearly separated from the “middle six”, forming three basic tiers. A paradox or two jump out quickly: Saint Joseph’s -2.7 efficiency difference contradicts the Hawks’ 6-3 conference record as does St. Bonaventure’s +2.5 difference with a 3-6 record. Coach Phil Martelli’s squad suffered through double digit routs (versus Richmond and Saint Louis), while all three of the Bonnies conference wins (Richmond, La Salle and Massachusetts) were by double digits. While Saint Louis, GWU, Massachusetts and VCU are relatively secure in the NCAA field of 68 with seeds ranging from Joe Lunardi’s bracket (#5 seed — Saint Louis to #9 seed George Washington, four bids total), to Jerry Palm’s bracket (#6 seed — Saint Louis to a first round play-in #12 — Richmond, five bids total), to RTC’s Daniel Evans’ bracket (#7 seed — Saint Louis and Massachusetts to #9 seed George Washington, four bids) the consensus is about four+ bids with the mostly upper bracket seeds. Palm’s fifth bid — a right side of the bubble play-in seed for Richmond — hints that the conference could garner more than four bids.

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We Salute You: Paying Homage to the Nation’s Undefeated Teams in League Play

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) on February 6th, 2014

Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) is a national columnist for Rush The Court and spent way too much time on these articles.

With the calendar turned to February and the meat of conference play upon us, the most dominant and least effective teams are showing their colors against equal competition. And with the halfway point of conference season rapidly approaching for many – and already here for others – now is a good time to take stock of both teams that are undefeated in conference and those who have yet to win. Tuesday’s installment took a look at the less fortunate teams among us, ranked from least likely to most to not win a game in conference play. Today, we do the same, but with the 10 teams still undefeated in conference play.

Note: All statistics dutifully harvested from kenpom.com.

Syracuse (22-0, 9-0 Atlantic Coast Conference)

Jim Boeheim has done a masterful job managing his lineup. But will the grind of the ACC season catch up to the Orange? (Getty)

Jim Boeheim has done a masterful job managing his lineup. But will the grind of the ACC season catch up to the Orange? (Getty)

  • Odds: 1.8 percent chance to go undefeated
  • Most likely losses: Feb. 22 at Duke, 67 percent; March 1 at Virginia, 59 percent
  • Biggest strength: Top 10 offense; defensively, second in block rate and steal rate
  • Achilles’ heel: Middle-of-the-road free-throw shooting
  • Key player: Freshman point guard Tyler Ennis (12.1 points per game, 5.6 assists per game, 2.3 steals per game; plays more of his team’s minutes than any other power conference freshman)
  • Outlook: Syracuse’s chances of going undefeated are not equal to their chances of beating the teams on this list. (In fact, I’d take the Orange in each match-up, and I hope that the team most likely to go undefeated and this Syracuse squad end up facing off in the NCAA Tournament, because that would be one hell of a game.) But the Orange still have to go into Cameron Indoor Stadium to face a Duke team that took them to overtime in Syracuse in an instant classic this past weekend. They also have to travel to Virginia and former Big East rival Pittsburgh in the regular season, which are the three toughest away games on their entire schedule. Syracuse has played a grind-it-out slow tempo this season, its seventh straight in which its pace of play has slowed down, going from 27th in tempo in 2007-08 to 344th of 351 teams in 2013-14. That slow tempo lets coach Jim Boeheim play six to seven players regularly, and his starters have played tons of minutes, which could be a big problem as the season drags on or, heaven forbid, a core player gets hurt.

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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on February 5th, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

If the week proved to be a momentum builder for a few teams (Saint Louis, Virginia Commonwealth, Saint Joseph’s), it also proved to be a killer for several others (like Richmond and Massachusetts).

Halil Kanasevic and St. Joseph's had a good week. (Getty)

Halil Kanasevic (right) and Saint Joseph’s had a good week. (Getty)

Good Week

  • Saint Joseph’s — With the loss at Richmond January 25, the Hawk appeared ready for life support. A 2-0 week has improved their conference record to 5-2, though, and with a 15-6 overall record and a #54 RPI ranking (via RealTimeRPI.com), revived Saint Joseph’s hope for a bye seed in Brooklyn and NCAA consideration. For the skeptics, these were not run-of-the-mill conference wins. The first came on the road in Dayton, as the Joe’s overcame a 25-20 halftime deficit with a 27-5 second half run that put a “must-win” Flyers squad back on their heels. The Hawks held them off to post a 60-57 win. The second win, a 73-68 decision over an increasingly desperate UMass squad, came over the weekend. Coasting out to a comfortable 17-point halftime lead, the Hawks fought off a Minutemen rally to secure the win. Four Saint Joseph’s players (Halil Kanasevic — team high 18, Ron Roberts, freshman DeAndre Bembry and Chris Wilson) posted double-figure points with Kanasevic, a center/forward, also dishing five assists. Who knows, if the Hawks can roll through this week (they host Saint Louis, followed by Virginia Commonwealth), RTC’s resident bracketologist Daniel Evans may even give them a nod next week. Read the rest of this entry »
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O26 Game of the Week: Indiana State Looks to Ruin Perfection

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 5th, 2014

Each week the O26 microsite will run down the biggest upcoming game of the week as well as a handful of others to keep an eye on. 

Wichita State (23-0) at Indiana State (14-5) – 8:05 PM ET, Wednesday. This is probably the greatest remaining hurdle on Wichita State’s quest for an undefeated regular season. Now 23-0, the Shockers have just eight games left on their schedule, only three of which come against squads with a .500 or better record, and just one versus a team ranked within the KenPom top-100. That team is Indiana State, and that game is tonight at the Hulman Center.

Jake Odum and the Sycamores should give Wichita State a fight this time around. (Fernando Salazar/ The Wichita Eagle)

Jake Odum and the Sycamores should give Wichita State a fight this time around. (Fernando Salazar/ The Wichita Eagle)

Greg Lansing’s group should be dialed in after regaining some much-need momentum over the weekend at Northern Iowa, using a big second half rally to end the Panthers’ 11-game home winning streak and return to the win column. The Sycamores suffered a dreadful 19-point drubbing at Southern Illinois just three days earlier to all but end their at-large hopes, a sobering reality that perhaps bled into Saturday’s contest early. It took an angry locker room message from the head coach before the team finally woke up, ripping off 12 straight points in the first four minutes of the second half, tying the game before the first media timeout and maintaining firm control until the final whistle. It was an impressive comeback, the kind of focused, resilient effort they will need for a full 40 minutes in order to beat Wichita State.

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RTC Top 25: Week Twelve

Posted by Walker Carey on February 3rd, 2014

This past week of college basketball was highlighted by a plethora of upsets – especially over the weekend when we saw six top 10 teams fall victim to the upset bug. Starting at the top, previously unbeaten and top-ranked Arizona suffered its first setback of the season Saturday evening when it was bested on the road by California. Previously 4th-ranked Kansas was also a road victim earlier in the day, as the Jayhawks were thoroughly outmanned in a defeat at the hands of Texas. Previously 6th-ranked Michigan State, a team that is suffering through well-documented injury issues, started its week off with a bang by winning in overtime at Iowa. But that victory proved to be the Spartans’ only positive tally of the week, as they fell to unranked Georgetown on Saturday in a non-conference game played at Madison Square Garden. Previously 7th-ranked Michigan entered Sunday’s game at Indiana as one of the hottest teams in America — the Wolverines had won 10 consecutive games and sat atop the Big Ten standings with an 8-0 record. None of that mattered in Bloomington though, as John Beilein’s team struggled offensively throughout a 63-52 defeat. Previously 9th-ranked Oklahoma State suffered what was probably the most puzzling loss of the week, as the Cowboys were bested at home on Saturday by a Baylor team that had lost six of its last seven games prior to Saturday. With February now in full swing, there is really not much that can be considered unexpected – especially with how this season has played out thus far – so you should expect even more shocking upsets moving forward as teams jockey for March position. The quick n’ dirty analysis of this week’s poll is after the jump.

rtc25 02.03.14

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Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback on January 31st, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Teams on the Rise… Teams on the Slide

Just over 38 percent of the conference schedule is in the books and two teams — Saint Louis and Virginia Commonwealth — have emerged as the teams to catch. Three other teams – George Mason, Duquesne and Dayton (!) — are falling out of contact with the rest of the conference.

Shaka Smart and company are once again right in the mix for the A10 crown. (AP)

Shaka Smart and company are once again right in the mix for the A10 crown. (AP)

Rising – Teams that are finding their groove

  • Saint Louis — Skeptics who groused that the Billikens’ early conference success came compliments of an easy draw have to pause for reflection after this week. Wins over Dayton, a rallying St. Bonaventure, and most recently Richmond (by 20 points) confirm that the Billikens are unlikely to slip against the conference’s middling teams and will continue to set the pace in the conference race for at least the next two weeks. A good deal of ink has extolled and analyzed Virginia Commonwealth’s HAVOC, but Jim Crews’ smothering defense — ranked #1 nationally by Ken Pomeroy (and a runaway #1 in conference play, over eight points per 100 possessions better than #2 VCU) — that provides the winning edge for the Bills. A combination of consistent two- and three-point field goal defense and strong defensive rebounding has powered Saint Louis’ defense in sharp contrast to VCU’s gambling, steal-oriented, press-and-trap approach that tolerates fouls as a byproduct. Saint Louis by contrast does not foul. Jordair Jett, the Bills’ thick but quick point guard, combines with undersized forward Dwayne Evans to provide the Billikens with an adequate, but hardly prolific, offense. The defense — for now — is enough. Their February 15 date with Virginia Commonwealth, the first of two games they will play with the Rams in the final three weeks of the regular season, is the opening shot in what may well become a three-game set that will be decided in the conference championship game at the Barclays Center. Read the rest of this entry »
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O26 Game of the Week: MAC on the Line as Toledo Faces Ohio

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 29th, 2014

As conference hierarchies begin taking shape and teams gear up for the stretch run, this week offers a whole host of compelling O26 contests that are sure to impact the picture come March. Let’s take a look at the most intriguing match-ups on tap.

Game of the Week

Toledo (17-2) at Ohio (14-5) – 1:00 PM ET, ESPNU, Saturday.

The Bobcats host the 17-2 Rockets on Saturday in a huge MAC tilt. (John Kuntz / The Plain Dealer)

The Bobcats host the 17-2 Rockets on Saturday in a huge MAC tilt. (John Kuntz / The Plain Dealer)

Efficient offense meets stingy defense in what could very well be a preview of the MAC Championship game on March 15. After losing at home to a gritty, defensive-minded Bowling Green group last Wednesday night, Ohio again found itself in serious trouble at Eastern Michigan last Saturday, trailing by 13 points late and completely unable to generate baskets against the Eagles’ 2-3 zone. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the Bobcats ripped off 20 points in the final eight minutes — including a 12-0 run to take their first and final lead — and stunned EMU to remain a game back of Akron for the MAC East’s top spot.  It was a big win for Jim Christian’s crew, but Saturday’s contest will be a different beast altogether.  For all of the conference’s tough defensive teams, Toledo is the stand-alone offensive power, ranking 11th nationally in offensive efficiency and featuring five starters each within the top 500 in offensive rating. That ability to score has helped the Rockets to a 5-1 conference record and a stellar 17-2 mark overall, among the best in the entire country.

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O26 Storylines: Wichita Unbeaten, St. Louis, Harvard, WCC & New Mexico…

Posted by Adam Stillman on January 24th, 2014

There’s been no lack of storylines in the O26 conferences this week. Let’s dive right into five of them.

1Can Wichita State really go unbeaten?

Ron Baker and Wichita State could be looking an an undefeated regular season. (Photo courtesy of si.com)

Ron Baker and Wichita State could be looking an an undefeated regular season. (Photo courtesy of si.com)

Well, the Shockers (20-0, 7-0 MVC) passed the first of their few remaining major tests in the Missouri Valley Conference by blasting Indiana State by 20 at home Saturday. The biggest obstacle left is the February 5 rematch game in Terre Haute. Should Wichita State pick up a win there, you’d have to like the Shockers’ chances at going unbeaten in the regular season. A potential trap game pops up right after the Sycamores, as the Shockers head to Northern Iowa on February 8. Indiana State and Northern Iowa figure to duke it out for runner-up position in the MVC. Ken Pomeroy currently gives Wichita State a 33.5 percent chance at finishing the season without a blemish — the Shockers are projected as favorites in all of their remaining games, with the closest being a five-point win at ISU. Despite all of that, KenPom lists the Shockers’ projected record to be 30-1 overall and 17-1 in the MVC entering postseason play. As fun as it would be to see the Shockers run the table, I just don’t see it happening. Missouri State put quite a scare into Wichita State a couple of weekends ago, blowing a 19-point second half lead at home to lose in overtime. I still think the Shockers will slip up at some point, but, man, you’ve got to love what Gregg Marshall is doing with that program.

2. Is Saint Louis now the favorite in the Atlantic 10?

It’s hard to argue against it. Remember that the Billikens are the defending Atlantic 10 regular season and tournament champions, and right now SLU (18-2, 5-0 A-10) remains the conference’s only unbeaten team. Massachusetts, the league favorite heading into this week, suffered its first league loss Wednesday night at Richmond after a string of close calls. SLU, meanwhile, just keeps winning. Sure, it’s not pretty. The Billikens waited until the last minute to pull out a victory against cellar-dweller Duquesne on Wednesday, and also struggled with St. Bonaventure at home the week before. But SLU keeps winning. The Billikens are 26th in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings and boast the top-rated defense in the nation (87.1 points allowed per 100 possessions). A home-and-home with VCU, along with road games at St. Joseph’s, La Salle and Massachusetts still loom, but for now the Billikens have to be considered the favorite until proven otherwise. SLU is projected to win every game from here on out except for those two road games to Richmond (VCU) and Amherst (UMass). KenPom projects SLU’s final A-10 record at 13-3, with UMass and VCU coming in at 11-5. A two-loss or three-loss squad seems like a pretty good bet for an Atlantic 10 champion.

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Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback on January 23rd, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Bid Talk: 3? 4? 5!?

Two weeks of conference play has scrambled the conference’s NCAA bid picture. Going into conference play, the Atlantic 10 had five teams in the postseason conversation, increasingly a “normal” situation for the A-10. However, five conference games has shuffled the New Year’s pecking order of Massachusetts, Saint Louis, George Washington, Virginia Commonwealth and Dayton (last eight in). The Minutemen picked up their second loss of the season (58-55 at Richmond) after a couple of close calls (with St. Bonaventure and George Mason), as the Billikens edge closer to UMass in the hearts and minds of bracketologists — if not the poll voters (compliments of a strong opening run).

The Saint Louis faithful is gearing up for another run at post season play. (Saint Louis athletics)

The Saint Louis faithful is gearing up for another run at post season play. (Saint Louis athletics)

With the losses of Temple, Xavier, and Butler to other leagues, more than a few publications predicted a step back for the conference’s overall postseason prospects. At this point the conference offers four candidates that will need consistent conference play to maintain their chances. How many bids can the conference get (maximum), and was the non-conference showing strong enough to boost any of the outlier programs into postseason contention (should any of the front runner fade)? Massachusetts (#13 in the January 20 AP poll; #12 in the USA Today/Coaches poll) and St. Louis (#19 AP, #20 in the USA Today/Coaches) are legitimate “High Fliers” that should contend for the conference title and draw NCAA bids with their consistently solid play. The non-conference resumes for George Washington, Virginia Commonwealth and Dayton are good enough, but their conference work could move them out of contention. GW is among those “also receiving votes” from voters in both polls. Note that Ken Pomeroy, Jeff Sagarin, the RPI and ESPN (the BPI) all rank five conference teams among their top 60 — see the below table of the consensus top eight conference teams below. Read the rest of this entry »

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O26 Resume Review: Saint Louis Trending Upward; Harvard, Boise, St. Mary’s Dropping…

Posted by Adam Stillman on January 15th, 2014

Conference play is in full swing for every team that falls into the O26 category. It’s a new season of sorts. We’ll see teams that set themselves apart from the rest of their leagues, thus thrusting themselves into the NCAA Tournament at-large conversation. Then we’ll see other teams crumble, taking themselves out of the big picture. It’s time for the contenders to separate themselves from the pretenders, so let’s take a look at a few of the O26 teams that either helped or hurt their at-large cases during the past week of action.

Helped

To be honest, there weren’t many O26 teams that really boosted their credentials this past week. Sure, Nevada has had a nice couple of weeks by starting out 4-0 in Mountain West play before Tuesday night’s loss to Boise State. But the Wolf Pack’s lackluster non-conference slate — complete with losses to Cal State Bakersfield, Pacific, Morehead State and Nebraska-Omaha — really remove them from the conversation. George Washington picked up a nice home win against VCU as well, but that loss to La Salle on January 9 prevented the Colonials from turning in a big week.

Saint Louis (14-2). There was only one O26 team that really helped itself last week. Saint Louis went entered the weekend with a gaudy record but didn’t have much meat on its resume (10 RPI 150+ wins). That all changed after the Billikens traveled to Dayton and picked up a huge road win. The 67-59 victory on January 11 handed SLU its first top-50 RPI win of the season, as prior to the victory over the Flyers, the Billikens’ best win was a 17-point drubbing of Indiana State (RPI #65) at home. Now SLU’s 14-2 mark finally has something to stand on. Boasting a #33 RPI doesn’t hurt either. The two losses are to Wichita State and Wisconsin, a pair of top-five teams. The Billikens are now at home for four of their next five games — the one roadie is at Duquesne — meaning SLU should enter the toughest part of its schedule with a 19-2 mark. Not too shabby. Then comes games at Saint Joseph’s and La Salle before a home date with Virginia Commonwealth, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet.

Dwayne Evans and the Saint Louis Billkens are on the rise. (Thearon Henderson)

Dwayne Evans and the Saint Louis Billkens are on the rise. (Thearon Henderson)

Projected seed for now: #9

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