ORLANDO, Fla. – Jim Crews isn’t buying the notion that Saint Louis might be in a precarious position as a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Billikens (26-6) face No. 12 seed N.C. State (22-13) in the second round of the Midwest Region, however the coach stressed Wednesday the outcome will be determined by how well the teams play – not recent history, which suggests his team should be wary.
From 2008-13, at least one No. 12 seed has upset a No. 5. In five of the past eight years, there have been at least two such upsets.
“You can speculate the seeds or the matchups, and the locations, and who’s playing (today), who’s playing Friday ... all these things that are fun to try to figure out. But it comes down to the game doesn’t know that,” Crews said.
“The game knows who blocks out, the game knows who handles the ball strong, who knows their assignments. That’s what the game does,” the St. Louis coach added. “They don’t know any of that other stuff, so that’s what we try to concentrate on.”
What might be more relevant is Saint Louis played its best basketball early in the season, while N.C. State surged late to squeeze into the NCAAs, where the Wolfpack already has won one game.
Exhausted but delighted to be on a flight bound for Florida in the wee hours of the morning, N.C. State settled into its Orlando hotel around 4:30 a.m. after beating Xavier, 74-59, in a first round game in Dayton, Ohio, the previous night.
Saint Louis won 19 straight after an early December loss to Wichita State, but the Atlantic 10 regular season champions have lost four of five heading into tonight’s game. N.C. State won four of five down the stretch to make the tournament. Now, the Wolfpack is determined to make some noise.
“I feel good about what’s happened because of where we started,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said.
“Even after the tough games we had and losses we had that were really emotionally tough, our guys seemed to always bounce back and have a good spirit about themselves,” Gottfried added. “That’s made it a lot of fun. Hopefully, we can keep on going with this for a while.”
Four things to know about the second-round matchup between the Billikens and Wolfpack.
SENIORS RULE Saint Louis starts five seniors, which is rare in college basketball these days. The Billikens have a balanced lineup, with Dwayne Evans (14 points per game) and Jordair Jett (13.7) the only players averaging in double figures. They also play stingy defense, allowing 61.2 points per game and ranking second nationally in three-point field goal percentage defense (.284).
DEFENDING T.J. ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren is averaging just under 25 points per game for N.C. State. The 6-foot-8 sophomore forward was the star of Tuesday night’s win against Xavier, scoring 25 points.
TRAVEL WOES N.C. State didn’t have much rest after beating Xavier, however Gottfried is confident fatigue won’t be a factor against Saint Louis. Still, having to travel through the night to make it to Florida and having one day to prepare for Saint Louis will be a challenge.
LET’S GET STARTED AGAIN St. Louis didn’t finish the regular season the way it wanted, and losing to St. Bonaventure in the A-10 tournament has made the Billikens even hungrier headed into tonight.
“We didn’t end conference play the way we wanted to, but we had fire. We’ve had fire in practices,” Rob Loe said. “I think we want to prove we’re still a great team.”