Billikens battle Tigers in West Regional tussle

Meeting as non-conference foes for the first 89 campaign, the Memphis Tigers and the Saint Louis round action of the 74th annual NCAA Tournament.

Saint Louis, the ninth seed in the West Region, was a member of Conference USA along with the Tigers before making the move to the Atlantic 10 Conference. But the relationship between the programs goes back even further than that as the squads shared an affiliation as early as 1967 in the Missouri Valley Conference. After that the teams moved to the Metro Conference and then the Great Midwest for a few years before battling in C-USA.

This year, the Billikens posted an overall record of 25-7 and were 12-4 in league action, numbers that were good enough to earn the squad at an-large bid to the tourney for the seventh time, and the first since the conclusion of the 1999-2000 campaign. Saint Louis, which defeated La Salle in the quarterfinals of the A-10 Tournament (78-71) but then bowed to Xavier (71-64) in the semifinals over the weekend, has a record of just 3-7 in this event dating back to 1951-52.

A lot was expected of the eighth-seeded Tigers this season, and even though they were just 6-5 after 11 games to kick off the year, all five of those defeats came against opponents that were ranked at one point or another during the season. Since falling to Georgetown for a second time on Dec. 22, Memphis has experienced just three setbacks as the team not only won the Conference USA regular season title but also captured the C-USA Tournament with an 83-57 thrashing of Marshall last Saturday.

Riding a seven-game win streak into this event the Tigers, winners of seven of eight all-time postseason meetings against SLU, own a 32-25 edge in the all- time series. With respect to playing in the NCAA Tournament, first appearing in 1955, Memphis has a record of 32-23, playing in the title game in both 1973 and 2008 when it fell to UCLA and Kansas, respectively.

The winner of this matchup will be back in action on Sunday to take on the survivor of the Long Island/Michigan State meeting in third-round action.

For much of the season the Billikens were billed as one of the top defensive programs in the nation and after 32 outings the team was first in the Atlantic 10 Conference and eighth in the nation with just 57.5 ppg allowed. A total of 10 opponents were held below 50 points by SLU, three of those under 40 which is an incredible feat. At the offensive end of the floor the Billikens leaned on Brian COnklin who was named All-A10 First Team as he shot 53.3 percent from the field to arrive at a team-best 13.9 ppg. Kwamain Mitchell, an all- conference third team choice, was responsible for not only 12.1 ppg, but also team-highs with 122 assists and 42 steals. Cody Ellis (10.5 ppg) came off the bench in all but one game and averaged less than 22 minutes per contest, so it is understandable that he delivered a mere 22 assists this season. Instead, Ellis and Mitchell supplied the Billikens with the bulk of their three-point shooting, combining to make 127 triples, the rest of the team just 99 shots from long range.

With a lot of homegrown talent in the starting lineup, Memphis is primed to continue with its positive play of late when it hits the floor this evening in Ohio. During this current seven-game win streak for the Tigers, the defense has been front and center for the group, allowing opponents to shoot just 36.4 percent from the floor and 24.5 percent behind the three-point line, all while forcing foes into nearly 16 turnovers per contest as Memphis registers nine steals per game. Over the course of the entire season Will Barton has been one of the most successful thieves with 49, to go along with team-highs of 18.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per contest as well. Tarik Black (10.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg), an incredible 68.6 percent shooter from the floor who is just 60.3 percent accurate at the free-throw line, contributed with 51 blocked shots. Joe Jackson (11.1 ppg) and Chris Crawford (9.3 ppg) combined for not only 102 steals but also 261 assists over 34 games for a team that has been outscoring opponents by more than 12 ppg.