Atlantic 10 power rankings: SLU is pulling away from the pack

Jordair Jett is averaging 17.8 ppg in conference play, which is tied for third in the league.

Howard Smith/Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

ST. LOUIS — With another long break between games, the 12th-ranked Saint Louis Billikens have plenty of time to rest, relax and prepare for this weekend’s showdown against VCU.

There’s one thing you can count on the Billikens not doing before Saturday afternoon: Getting ahead of themselves.

It would be easy to do, too. Riding a school-record 16-game winning streak and creeping up in the national polls, the 22-2 Billikens would not be the first team on such a roll to allow thoughts about an undefeated conference season enter their thinking.

But with five senior starters, this team has been around too long to lift its collective nose off the grindstone.

"I hardly know who we play after the next game," leading scorer Dwayne Evans said before the Billikens practiced Monday afternoon. "I know we play VCU on Saturday. I could not tell you who we play after that."

If Evans took a gander at the rest of the schedule, he would see that the toughest part is still to come. Besides a home and home with VCU, the Billikens also face tough tests against George Washington and Massachusetts among their remaining eight games. As for their next game after this weekend, that would be at George Mason on Feb. 19.

First things first, of course.

"We don’t get ahead of ourselves," Evans said. "We have senior leaders out here that keep guys grounded. We don’t get caught in the hype or in games that are coming in weeks to come. It’s something that helps this team out."

Their approach indeed is paying off, as you can also see in their spot in our Atlantic 10 power rankings.

1. Saint Louis (22-2, 9-0)

This week: VCU on Saturday

Last week: Won at Saint Joseph’s 65-49, won at La Salle 65-63

Evans has upped his scoring by half a point, to 14.5 a game, from last season and he still leads the team but there’s little doubt Jett has moved past him in the unofficial race for Atlantic 10 Player of the Year. On Monday, Jett was named conference player of the week for the second straight time and third time this season after scoring 25 points and making the game-winner at La Salle on Saturday.

Jett gained at least one new fan with his explosive drives to the basket against the Explorers. Said coach Dr. John Giannini after Saturday’s game: "If he doesn’t have a career in the NBA, I think he could in the NFL, if his 40 time is good enough. I’m not joking about that. His strength and his mental toughness and his physicality are at the highest level you can find on a basketball court."

The football idea has crossed Jett’s mind, too. "I may look into that. Right now, I’m focusing on this season," said Jett, who added he ran a 4.5 40 in high school. "I’ve thought about (football) a lot. I still love football but basketball is my first love."

2. George Washington (19-4, 7-2)

This week: At VCU on Wednesday, Massachusetts on Saturday

Last week: Beat Duquesne 71-57, beat Fordham 93-67

The Colonials made 16 straight field-goal attempts in one stretch of their blowout victory over Fordham. Their schedule turns tougher, though, with three of next four games on the road, including at Saint Louis on Feb. 22.

3. VCU (19-5, 7-2)

This week: George Washington on Wednesday, at Saint Louis on Saturday

Last week: Beat Rhode Island 68-52, lost at Saint Joseph’s 69-62

Rams said they came out flat at Saint Joe’s, possibly a result of inflated egos after reeling off six straight wins. Forward Juvonte Reddic told reporters: "This is a reality check for us, that we’re not as good as we think we are.  A lot of guys weren’t on the same page. We had guys thinking about themselves and not bought in." Looking at their schedule this week, they better find the same page soon.

4. Massachusetts (19-4, 6-3)

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This week: George Mason on Wednesday, at George Washington on Saturday

Last week: Beat La Salle 79-67, won at Rhode Island 73-68

Chaz Williams, all of 5-foot-9, continues to carry the Minutemen on his shoulders. He scored 38 points and had 15 assists in their two wins last week.

5. Saint Joseph’s (16-7, 6-3)

This week: At La Salle on Saturday

Last week: Lost to Saint Louis 65-49, beat VCU 69-62

Hawks emerged from home stand with victories over VCU and Massachusetts but proved no match for Billikens. Saint Joe’s shot season-low 31.9 percent and had 17 turnovers against SLU but they had only 12 against VCU, the nation’s leader in forcing turnovers.

6. Richmond (15-8, 5-3)

This week: at Duquesne on Wednesday, Fordham on Saturday

Last week: Beat St. Bonaventure 64-62

With senior leader Cedrick Lindsay out for the season, junior guard Kendall Anthony will need to step up. He did last week, with 28 points and the game-winner in Spiders’ first game without Lindsay.

7. Dayton (16-8, 4-5)

This week: Rhode Island on Wednesday

Last week: Won at George Mason 84-67, won at St. Bonaventure 72-69

Flyers have bounced back from a four-game losing streak by winning three in a row. One key has been taking care of the ball. Dayton averaged only 9.7 turnovers over past three games after averaging 15.5 during losing streak.

8. La Salle (12-11, 4-5)

This week: Saint Joseph’s on Saturday

Last week: Lost at Massachusetts 79-67, lost to Saint Louis 65-63

"I’ve done this for so long and I’m still shocked at how infinitesimally small the difference between winning and losing is," the La Salle coach said. "One play."

9. St. Bonaventure (13-10, 3-6)

This week: At Fordham on Wednesday, at George Mason on Saturday

Last week: Lost at Richmond 64-62, lost to Dayton 72-69

Bonnies led Dayton by five with less than five minutes to go Saturday but couldn’t finish the deal and suffered just their second home loss. This week, Bonnies get two chances to break through for their first conference road victory of the season.

10. Fordham (9-13, 2-7)

This week: St. Bonaventure on Wednesday, at Richmond on Saturday

Last week: Lost at George Washington 93-67

When Rams struggle, they struggle. Last four losses have been by 26, 16, 38 and 22 and they did not shoot over 37.3 percent in any of them.

11. Rhode Island (11-13, 2-7)

This week: At Dayton on Wednesday, Duquesne on Saturday

Last week: Lost at VCU 68-52, lost to Massachusetts 73-68

If Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley had any hair to lose, this is the kind of play that would do it: Rams had 15 assists to 30 turnovers against the hectic pace of VCU and Massachusetts.

12. George Mason (8-15, 1-8)

This week: At Massachusetts on Wednesday, St. Bonaventure on Saturday

Last week: Lost to Dayton 84-67, won at Duquesne 74-68

Patriots, who earlier lost by one to Massachusetts and in OT to SLU and to Rhode Island, finally score first victory as member of the Atlantic 10 with first road win since Nov. 12.

13. Duquesne (10-12, 2-7)

This week: Richmond on Wednesday, at Rhode Island on Saturday

Last week: Lost at George Washington 71-57, lost to George Mason 74-68

Sophomore guard Micah Mason, who hit 5 of 7 3-pointers against SLU last month, is now shooting 59.7 percent from long range, a mark that would lead the country if he qualified for leaders. Rest of team combined: 30.1 percent.

You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at stanmcneal@gmail.com.