Perhaps a better question might be “what the hell is a billiken?” For now, we’ll focus on the leaders of Atlantic 10 basketball.
The Billikens have succeeded this season in spite of tragic circumstances, as head coach Rick Majerus passed away in December. In his place, interim coach Jim Crews has led the team to the top of the A-10 with a 12-2 record in conference and 23-5 record overall.
While much of the preseason discussion on the A-10 centered on Virginia Commonwealth and Butler, St. Louis has emerged as arguably the conference’s best team.
In addition to owning the conference’s best record, they also lead the conference in efficiency margin (via John Gasaway of Basketball Prospectus).
The Billikens (named after what is apparently a “charm doll,” by the way) are also highly regarded by both the major human polls and computer ratings.
As for where they could be seeded later this month, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi currently has the Billikens as a 5-seed in the NCAA tournament. The Bracket Matrix, a composite of numerous tournament projections, also lists St. Louis as a 5.
Their resume is headlined by a season sweep of Butler and VCU, as well as a non-conference win over New Mexico. In two victories over Butler, and the wins against VCU and New Mexico, St. Louis won by an average of 12.25 points.
St. Louis is primarily a defense-oriented team, leading the A-10 in defensive efficiency in conference play by surrendering only 0.92 points per possession, according to Gasaway. Nationally, the Billikens are 20th in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to Pomeroy. According to TeamRankings.com, the Billikens do a good job of denying three point attempts, holding opponents to a three-point attempt rate of 26.5%, good for 21st in the nation.
Pomeroy, in a post from this past December (that incidentally incorporated a discussion of St. Louis’s defense), spoke of how the percentage of three-point attempts allowed should be the true barometer of a three-point defense’s strength. This metric is better than an opponent’s three point shooting percentage, as statistics show the latter to be a victim of random luck.
The St. Louis defensive effort is spearheaded by junior forward Dwayne Evans, who is also the team’s leading scorer. Evans is second in the A-10 in both defensive rating and defensive win shares, and is fifth in the conference in defensive rebounds. Also, since 2009, only one A-10 player has a higher career defensive rebound percentage (stats via Sports-Reference.com).
In terms of his overall game, Evans leads St. Louis and is fourth in the A-10 in Player Efficiency Rating, and is ninth in the conference in total rebounds per game.
Evans’s defense is supported by senior forward Cory Remekun, whose block percentage of 7.3% is seventh in the A-10.
While the Billikens are not as strong on offense as they are on defense, they are still in a tie for the third most efficient offense in the A-10, averaging 1.08 points per possession in conference play (via Gasaway). Pomeroy’s ratings have them 48th in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency.
As mentioned, Evans leads SLU in scoring, in addition to being sixth in the conference in true shooting percentage. Evans is complemented on the offensive end by junior guard Jordair Jett, who is sixth in the A-10 in assist percentage and is second on the team in true shooting percentage behind Evans.
Other playmakers on offense include junior guard Mike McCall, who is a career 42.5% three point shooter averaging 10 points per game this season.
Senior forward Cody Ellis, joins McCall and Evans as the third Billiken averaging double figures in scoring.
Looking ahead to the tournament, St. Louis has the potential make a solid run with their sound defense as the catalyst, a style of play Coach Majerus would undoubtedly be proud of.