NC State-Saint Louis Preview
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) Jim Crews isn’t buying the notion that Saint Louis may be in a precarious position as a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament.
The Billikens (26-6) face No. 12 seed North Carolina State (22-13) in the second round of the Midwest Region, however the coach stressed Wednesday the outcome will be determined by how well the teams play – not recent history, which suggests his team should be wary.
From 2008-13, at least one No. 12 seed has upset a No. 5. In five of the last eight years, there have been at least two such upsets.
”You can speculate the seeds or the matchups, and the locations, and who’s playing Thursday, who’s playing Friday … all these things that are fun to try to figure out. But it comes down to the game doesn’t know that,” Crews said.
”The game knows who blocks out, the game knows who handles the ball strong, who knows their assignments. That’s what the game does,” the St. Louis coach added. ”They don’t know any of that other stuff, so that’s what we try to concentrate on.”
What may be more relevant is Saint Louis played its best basketball early in the season, while North Carolina State surged late to squeeze into the NCAAs, where the Wolfpack have already won a game.
Exhausted but delighted to be on a flight bound for Florida in the wee hours of the morning, N.C. State settled into its Orlando hotel around 4:30 a.m. after beating Xavier 74-59 in a first round game in Dayton, Ohio, the previous night.
Saint Louis won 19 straight after an early December loss to Wichita State, but the Atlantic 10 regular season champions have lost four of five heading into Thursday night’s game.
N.C. State won four of five down the stretch to get into the tournament. Now, the Wolfpack are determined to make some noise.
”I feel good about what’s happened because of where we started,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said.
”Even after the tough games we had and losses we had that were really emotionally tough, our guys seemed to always bounce back and have a good spirit about themselves,” Gottfried added. ”That’s made it a lot of fun. Hopefully, we can keep on going with this for a while.”
Five things to know about the second-round matchup between the Billikens, appearing in the tournament for the third straight season, and Wolfpack.
SENIORS RULE: Saint Louis starts five seniors, which is rare in college basketball these days. The Billikens have a balanced lineup, with Dwayne Evans (14 points per game) and Jordair Jett (13.7) the only players averaging in double figures. They also play stingy defense, allowing 61.2 points per game and ranking second nationally in 3-point field goal percentage defense (.284).
”I don’t know that I’ve seen very many teams that start five seniors anymore in college basketball,” Gottfried said. ”That’s going to be an interesting challenge for our young, inexperienced team.”
DEFENDING T.J.: ACC player of the year T.J. Warren is averaging just under 25 points per game for N.C. State. The 6-foot-8 sophomore forward was the star of Tuesday night’s win over Xavier, scoring 25 points.
”The Warren kid is off the charts good and playing unbelievable. He’s fun to watch,” Crews said. ”He does things in a variety of ways and certainly will challenge us. The problem is he’s got a lot of good comrades around him that are very good players as well.”
TRAVEL WOES: N.C. State didn’t get much rest after beating Xavier, however Gottfried is confident fatigue won’t be a factor against Saint Louis.
Still, having to travel through the night to get to Florida and having one day to prepare for Saint Louis will be a challenge.
”It’s not going to be an excuse for us. … It does make it hard, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Gottfried said. ”I told our guys we could be back at Reynolds Coliseum playing in the NIT, so we’re not going to (complain) about travel or how hard it may be or a quick turnaround.”
LET’S GET STARTED AGAIN: St. Louis didn’t finish the regular season the way it wanted, and losing to St. Bonaventure in the A-10 tournament has made the Billikens even hungrier headed into Thursday night.
”We didn’t end conference play the way we wanted to, but we had fire. We’ve had fire in practices,” Rob Loe said. ”I think we want to prove we’re still a great team.”
BEWARE THE 12 SEEDS: Last season three 12 seeds advanced out of the first round.