Best in Missouri: Billikens, not Tigers, lay claim to the title

Sports Commentary

It’s not easy being a Missouri Tiger supporter. In fact, it’s downright hard. Especially when Frank Haith believes that aimlessly dribbling around for 30 seconds before firing up a contested shot passes for a legitimate offense. Or when the team can’t make a defensive stop to save its life. Or come up big in a close game down the stretch.

It’s frustrating, it’s even infuriating. However, there is one team in the state that is much easier on the eyes. A team that runs an offense that makes the extra pass and gets a good shot, that plays shutdown defense, that comes up big with the game on the line.

I’m of course talking about the Saint Louis University Billikens. While my esteemed colleagues wholeheartedly disagree, I don’t think it’s much of a debate. The Billikens are the best basketball team in the state.

It’s a fun little exercise, considering the likelihood of the two meeting in the Big Dance is slim to none. So we probably won’t get a head-to-head chance for the teams to settle the debate. Missouri projects to receive an 8 or 9 seed while SLU seems to be in the 4 or 5 range. The earliest they would likely meet is in the Sweet 16, and that’s assuming they’re even placed in the same region.

Now don’t get me wrong, Missouri has more talented individual players than SLU does. If we were to hold a special draft of just Missouri and SLU players, the first few picks would likely be Tigers.

Laurence Bowers, Phil Pressey, Keion Bell, Earnest Ross and Jabari Brown are all extremely talented and are all capable of playing professional ball somewhere.

But talent doesn’t always win games. When the Tigers aren’t in the comfortable surroundings of Mizzou Arena, that talent doesn’t look so hot. Poor shot selection, worse defense, terrible decision-making and a lack of composure are just a few things that plague Missouri away from home.

Missouri lacks leadership, chemistry, poise, unselfishness and pretty much any other intangible. SLU excels in all those areas. The Billikens are a whole, the Tigers are just a sum of their parts.

The boys on the eastern side of the state can play a little bit, too. Kwamain Mitchell, Mike McCall Jr. and Jordair Jett comprise a veteran backcourt, and Dwayne Evans is a talented post player who’s an Atlantic 10 first-teamer.

The Billikens won the A-10 regularseason title and will play today for the A-10 tournament title. While you may scoff at that, the A-10 is a better league this season than the SEC. According to the conference RPI rankings on CBSsports. com, the A-10 is the seventh-best conference, while the SEC is the eighth-best league. Missouri was only able to finish sixth in what was a disappointing year for the SEC. The A-10 also seems likely to get more teams into the NCAA Tournament. While this season certainly is an anomaly, there’s no doubt the A-10 is the better conference this year.

SLU’s calling card is its stingy defense. The Billikens surrender just 58.4 points per game, good for 19th in the nation. The Tigers, on the other hand, allow 66.3 points, which falls all the way down at 164th in the country. Ouch. Missouri is better on offense, ranking 20th in the country at 76.2 points per game. SLU averages 69 points, good for 137th. That margin favors the Billikens.

My coworkers claim Missouri would assert its dominance on the interior mainly with its size advantage. That’s a legitimate point. SLU’s starting frontcourt goes 6-foot-11 (Rob Loe) and 6-5 (Evans). Missouri’s goes 6-9 (Oriakhi) and 6-8 (Bowers) and has a little more heft to it. I do think SLU’s posts would struggle a bit with Missouri’s.

I also think the Billikens would be able to make up for that size disadvantage with help-side defense and quick defensive rotations, two things they are pretty darn good at. SLU’s guards are menacing on the defensive end and would almost certainly cause problems for the mistake-prone Pressey and whoever else handles the ball for the Tigers.

Unfortunately for us college hoops fans, this matchup probably won’t come to fruition this season. It’s a real shame. It would be a great battle to watch.

In my mind, though, SLU would come out the winner.

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