NCAA Tournament: SLU vs. Memphis

SLU vs. Memphis

The Billikens will take part in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship for the first time in over a decade this year, after posting a 25-7 regular season record.  It’s Saint Louis University’s first trip to March Madness since 2000, when the Billikens won the Conference USA tournament (a tournament that was played in Memphis).

In the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Billikens take on the Memphis Tigers.  SLU received a 9-seed in the West Region, and face the 8-seeded Tigers with the winners likely taking on 1-seeded Michigan State in the second round.

The game will take place Friday at 5:50 p.m. central time, broadcast live on Turner Broadcasting System.

The Scoop on Memphis:

The Tigers won the C-USA this year, finishing with a 26-8 overall mark.  They are led by one of the nation’s best guards, sophomore Will Barton, who averages 18.1 points per game and shoots better than 50% from the field.  As a team, Memphis finished the season by winning 11 of their last 12 games, including the C-USA tournament.  They are 3-6 against tournament teams this year, including wins over Southern Mississippi, Xavier, and Belmont (SLU is 3-3 against tournament teams).

Common opponents:

Charlotte – Memphis beat Charlotte 67-58 at home, SLU beat Charlotte 68-67 on the road.

Xavier – Memphis beat Xavier 72-68 at home, SLU played Xavier three times including a win at home, 70-59, a win on the road, 73-68, and a loss at a neutral site, 71-64.

How will SLU win

Defense. Defense. Defense.  SLU allows just 57.5 points per game, one of the toughest defenses in the tournament.  To stop Memphis, the Billikens have to find a way to limit shot opportunities and contest every shot taken from the perimeter.  Memphis has the fifth best team shooting percentage in the country (49.4%), and they average 54 shots per game (five better than SLU).  Saint Louis has to find a way to shut down Barton and limit open looks if they want to stop a sharp shooting Memphis team that has been particularly hot of late.  Secondly, SLU needs to win on the boards.  Memphis is a team that shoots this well, second chance points could be devastating;  stopping a possession after the first shot could make all the difference in a game like this.

How will Memphis win

The Memphis offense is run mainly through their guards, though Barton plays a somewhat hybrid position that allows him to lead the team in points (18.1 per game) and rebounds (8.1 per game).  He will be by far the toughest matchup for SLU to defend, and a big game from him would be very hard to overcome.  But he’s also not the only threat.  Guard Joe Jackson had a huge C-USA tournament, turning in a tournament-high 19 points in the finals against Marshall.  He also notched 17 two days earlier against UTEP.  And Tarik Black, the 6-8 big man who is responsible for the Tigers’ post presence, is certainly no pushover.  Black pulled in 71 offensive rebounds this year, far more than his matchup Rob Loe, who yanked in 25.

Magic Number: 68

The magic number for the SLU defense is 68.  During the regular season, the Billikens were 24-2 and when holding their opponent to 68 points or less.  But SLU was 1-5 in games where the opponent scored more than 68 points.  It will take work to keep Memphis below the magic number, as the Tigers average 75.3 points per game.  Memphis was held under 68 points ten times this season.

Key Matchup: Will Barton vs. Whoever SLU puts on him

SLU will have a dilemma on how to guard Barton in the three spot.  Using the quicker Jordair Jett to defend his perimeter shooting is a height disadvantage, as Barton stands at 6-6 while Jett is listed at 6-1.  Using the taller Dwayne Evans to body up and get rebounds may leave Barton open for more perimeter shots.  These two could likely need help from McCall, Cassity, and Ellis to shut down the Tigers’ leader, and this matchup may very well need a halftime adjustment from Head Coach Rick Majerus, if for no other reason than to throw Barton off his game.

Old time foes:

SLU and Memphis have met 57 times in the past, including spending time in four different conferences together: the Missouri Valley Conference, the former Metro Conference, the former Great Midwest conference, and most recently C-USA.  Memphis holds the overall matchup, 32-25, and won the most recent game, played in 2005, by 20 points.

What the experts are saying:

Joe Lundardi – “I see the Billikens as the kind of defensively sound team that can frustrate and ultimately stifle the Tigers who would probably prefer to use their athleticism and get up and down… I expect to see a semi-upset of Friday in Columbus.” Pick: Saint Louis

Jay Bilas – “Saint Louis is able to slow teams down and can take care of the ball. Memphis has to defend and rebound to get out and run, but the Billikens don’t give up the ball easily. This is a matchup win for Saint Louis.”  Pick: Saint Louis

Rick Majerus- “Memphis is UMass on steroids.”

Will Barton – “I don’t know what a Billiken is, all I know is they [are] a good team.”

Statistical Matchup:

Points per game                   SLU – 69.2                 75.3 – MEM
Field goal pct                        SLU – 45.2%             49.4% – MEM
3-pt pct                                   SLU – 36.2%             36.9% – MEM
Rebounds per game          SLU – 32.8                 34.4 – MEM
Turnovers                             SLU – 11.2                 12.7 – MEM


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