Billikens sweep Butler, take command of A-10 -- and a great story
Can we all start giving a lot of credit to Saint Louis now? A lot. This is a second-weekend NCAA tournament team, people.
And it's a group carrying a storyline you're bound to hear more and more about as we turn toward the tournaments, both conference and national. The Billlikens are kicking a lot of butt in the same season that their former coach, Rick Majerus, died. That's a powerful motivator, even if the narrative can get a bit propped up, inevitably, by writers -- present company included.
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But this is undeniably an embraceable story. Here's how it continued heading into the weekend. The Billlikens have now compiled their second nine-game winning streak of the season after sweeping Butler on Friday night. Jim Crews' team is 21-5 and 10-2 in the league after going into Hinkle Fieldhouse and beating Butler at its game. The final: 65-61.
SLU trailed by nine points in the second half yet rallied with vicious defense. It was a slugfest, the kind of ugly fight that Butler wins nine out of 10 times, especially at home. This was the one. Butler had more blocks, free throws, rebounds and 3-pointers.
But Saint Louis committed just four turnovers, its best performance of the season in that regard. And now with a one-game lead in the loss column on VCU -- which SLU just beat at home by 14 this week -- it's essentially a two-game lead with four games to go.
This is a team with just two losses -- one of them in overtime -- since the end of November. I mentioned the sweep of Butler. You recall how that first game went? On Jan. 31, SLU pasted Brad Stevens' team by 17 points -- and it felt like double. This past week, Stevens said he thought the Billikens were capable of reaching the Final Four.
I can't go there just yet, but they can certainly flirt with it, and by flirt I mean convincingly win their first two tournament games. We know this: Saint Louis is winning the Atlantic 10. That's both a factual, current statement and promise for the immediate future. The team made the Round of 32 last season and gave Michigan State a real scare in nearly reaching the Sweet 16. It was a good final hurrah for Majerus, though he didn't fully know it at the time.
This team is approaching a point where it might be making even more noise, and playing even better basketball, without the man that built the program back up to what it is today. Credit to Crews and this group for doing this. We all want feel-good stories come March. Saint Louis can provide us with that, even if there's a bittersweet layer surrounding it all.
For more college basketball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnCBB on Twitter, like us on Facebook and subscribe to the thrice-a-week podcast on iTunes. You can follow Matt Norlander on Twitter here: @MattNorlander.
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