Update: 'Nova Loses first of the Season by Ed'77
Rich Majerus, who led Utah to the Final Four in 1998, looked forward to the 76 Classic as an early test for his St. Louis Billiken team. So far, they have passed with flying colors. Today, his team handed Villanova its first defeat of the young season 80-68 in the semifinal round. The Billikens hit a blistering 51% from behind the arc for 42 points while the Cats hit only 33% for 15 points. Game, set, match.
Maalik Ways tried to put the team on his back, scoring a career high 29 points on 50% shooting, grabbing a team-high 6 rebounds, and 4 assists, but turned the ball over five times. James Bell had his best game of the season, scoring 16 points on 60% shooting from the field, including 4-6 from 3-point range. The rest of the team did not show up.
There was reason for hope among the Wildcat faithful in the first half, when Maalik Wayns put the Cats up 26-16 with two free throws with 9:19 remaining. "We did a really good job over those first ten minutes," stated Wright. "We were grinding and executing early, playing great defense." But with Yarou exiting with his second foul, things suddenly went south for the Cats. St. Louis went on a tear, hitting four 3-pointers over a five minute stretch to take the lead 28-26 with 4:36 remaining. Villanova went in to the locker room down by only four, 38-34, thanks to an unlikely turnaround jumper by Maurice Sutton as he fell out of bounds with time expiring.
The second half gave little cause for cheer when Brian Conklin’s layup put the Billikens up by 14 with 12:11 remaining. The Cats never threatened the rest of the way.
"All the credit goes to Saint Louis," stated Villanova head coach Jay Wright. "They played a great game. At this point in the season they are just are more refined team than we are. I think we played like a young team. We got crazy, took some crazy shots. We were doing a great job defensively, but they got easy baskets from us turning the ball over and taking bad shots. When you have a chance to control the game early against a good team, you’ve got to do that. You have to give it to them – they got hot and we were playing from behind after that. They just do what they do better than we do what we do right now. This was a great experience for us. I didn’t want to lose to get that experience but I think Coach (Rick) Majerus has a great team there. We just had no answers defensively (today). They made the extra pass, the extra play and that’s the sign of a very experienced, well-coached team."
The Cats hope to salvage a third-place finish on Sunday at 6:30PM (ESPNU) when the face the loser of the Santa Clara – Oklahoma game (Midnight, ESPN2). "We’ll learn from this, take a day tomorrow to re-energize, and be back here on Sunday against another quality opponent," stated Wright.
Player Grades from Statsheet.com
Original Post: What is a Billiken? by Brian Ewart
The Billikens shocked the world before coming to California for the 76 Classic by solidly defeating a Washington team in St. Louis. They did that behind what is rated the number-8 defense in the country by KenPom.com. The Rick Majerus defense has been firing on all cylinders so far this season to make SLU a real threat to beat anyone in the country.
Not quite a cruise, the Billikens didn't struggle much to advance to the second round of the winner's bracket by beating Boston College 62-51 in the early game in Anaheim. They improved their record to 4-0 with the win.
Though their defense is what is sustaining them, their offense has been solid so far as well. 6-6 senior forward Brian Conklin has averaged 16.7 points per game to lead the Billikens, while shooting 63% from the field and 94% from the charity stripe. Junior guard Kwamain Mitchell is the real driving force of the SLU offense, averaging 12 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds and 2 steals per game. Cody Ellis, a junior forward from Perth, Australia, is the third Billiken averaging double-digit points with 10 per game, along with 5 rebounds per game.
Ellis had high expectations when he arrived on campus, but hasn't been able to get enough time on the court to become the star fans had expected. He missed a significant number games over the last two seasons to the NCAA clearing process and to injury. He has a good ability to shoot threes for a 6-8 big man, and could prove a tough match-up for the Wildcats on the perimeter when he gets on the court.
Against Boston College, Conklin and Mitchell were the two offensive stars for SLU, scoring 18 and 20 points respectively. As a team, they shot 42.3% from the field and 30% from beyond the arc in their first game of the tournament. That was down from a season percentage of 49% from the field and 43.1% from three.
Defensively, KenPom.com describes the Billikens as a "mostly man" scheme. While they get stops and manage to control the game with that system, it hasn't seemed to help with rebounding, where the Billikens have been outrebounded by opponents, 119-95 (or about 8 boards per game). They are particularly weak on the offensive glass, while grabbing a few more defensive boards than opponents.
The Billikens are a dark-horse candidate to challenge for an Atlantic 10 title this season and one of the best teams in the 76 Classic field.
Villanova will have their hands full trying to solve the SLU defense, and will need to continue to move the ball well and use the drive and kick to set up shooters. Mouph Yarou and the other bigs will be needed to grab boards and give the offense second chances after a miss, and all of the Wildcats players should be looking to beat their man for a second-chance ball.
Offensively, Villanova is about as efficient as Washington, a team that has been St. Louis' signature win so far this season. Villanova will need to play at least that well, while playing tight defense. Getting to the free-throw line is also very important for the 'Cats as they convert those opportunities at a higher rate than shots from the floor, and the fouls on SLU would limit their ability to get physical on defense.
Since you are all wondering, a Billiken (unlike a Hoya) is a real thing. They were charm dolls created by a St. Louis-based illustrator in 1908 and were very popular for a period of time. How the name became attached to the university is disputed, but may have something to do with a former football coach's resemblance to the creature.
This game will tip off from the Anaheim Convention Center at 2:30 this afternoon on the east coast (11:30am locally) and will be broadcast nationally on ESPN.