Saint Louis Billikens (9-5) at No. 16 Xavier Musketeers (9-2)
Cintas Center, Cincinnati, O.H., 8:00PM Eastern, Thursday
By Jay Horne of Predictem.com
The no. 16 Xavier Musketeers will host the Saint Louis Billikens tonight in the Cintas Center to kick off Atlantic 10 Conference play. The Musketeers had a tough stretch closing out December losing their only two games of the season back to back against no. 2 Duke and Butler in disappointing performances. Xavier has since bounce back with two straight wins including a solid 84-70 victory over Virginia in their last outing. St. Louis is a tough team to figure out. The Billikens started the season poorly dropping 4 of their first 6 games. However, since then Saint Louis has knocked off 7 wins in their last 8 games and look to keep the momentum going in upset fashion against Xavier.
The Billikens may not get an abundance of national attention, but they have won the last 3 out of 5 meetings against the Musketeers. Xavier barely escaped their meeting with St. Louis last year pulling off a 70-68 victory and despite the two teams records they always tend to put up a strong fight when facing each other. Saint Louis presents a slow style of play that can really get teams out of their rhythm. The Billikens are only averaging a total of 60 points per game this season, but rank 7th in the nation holding opponents to a very low 55.7 points per contest. Xavier has struggled against teams with solid defenses this year considering both of their losses they were held to 65 points or less. The Billikens will try to slow the pace of the game down and force Xavier to miss some shots from the field and challenge the Musketeers as they always do.
Xavier reached the number 7 ranking in the nation before suffering two straight losses. The Musketeers are still proud owners of the number 16 ranking in America and they will try to start off conference play on good terms tonight. Xavier has held opponents to a low 36% from the floor this season and can present teams with problems to get the ball in the basket. The Musketeers look to continue to present tough defensive looks against a Saint Louis team that shoots 41% from the floor that ranks as one of the worse shooting teams in America. The Musketeers bench will have a bit of advantage in this game considering they average 10 more points per game to support their starting five compared to the Billikens and that could play to the advantage of Xavier on Thursday night.
The books are holding the betting line with Xavier being the firm favorites by a 15 point margin over the Billikens. However, most sportsbooks have already moved the line to 15 and it could continue to climb up till game time.
St. Louis is led by the play of their back court in senior guards Tommie Liddell and Kevin Lisch. Both players offer a solid 14 points per game which may not seem like much, but considering the point total the teams score it nearly makes up for 50% of the entire teams points. Lisch and Liddell will be determining factors to how well the Billikens will play against the Musketeers. Lisch gives the Billikens an outside threat considering the senior has knocked down a strong 29 3-pointers on the season. Lisch will need to get hot from the perimeter and give the Billikens the boost they need to upset the Musketeers.
While the little guys lead the way for St. Louis, it is the big men they lead the way for the Musketeers. Xavier is a big team that can absolutely dominate the glass on weaker opponents. Xavier ranks among the nations top 35 teams in rebounds averaging a strong 37 boards per contest. The difference in this game will likely be second chance opportunities and the game could get ugly if Saint Louis does not grab more rebounds than they are accustomed to. Leading the scoring for the Musketeers this season is Derrick Brown and C.J. Anderson. Brown averages a team high 13.7 points per game while Anderson is in close pursuit with 12.3 points per contest. Brown will be the most difficult Musketeer to defend considering he is shooting 51% from the floor and an equally strong 46% from behind the arc. If the game gets close, look for Brown to take more shots and produce some big plays.
Saint Louis is a disappointing 2-5-1 ATS this season and has not played well on the road either going 0-3-1 ATS. Xavier has not faired well against the books this season as well going 4-6-1 ATS and a dismal 1-5-1 ATS at home. Xavier won the last two games against St. Louis and before that the Billikens knocked off 3 straight wins against the Musketeers. The last 3 of 5 meetings have favored the under total as well.
Jays Pick - I say the scoring stays pretty low in this game and for that reason alone I think 15 points is hard to cover. Take St. Louis +15.