With first place in the Atlantic 10 Conference on the line, the Saint Louis Billikens and the 15th-ranked Butler Bulldogs meet up at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Friday night.
Saint Louis is in the midst of an outstanding 20-5 season overall, and it has been especially hot in recent weeks with eight consecutive wins, one victory shy of its season-high winning streak of nine pieced together in December and January. The Billikens challenged VCU on Tuesday night and came away with a 76-62 triumph to move into soul possession of first place in the A-10 at 9-2.
Butler may be a half-game behind Saint Louis in the league standings (9-3), but it has registered two more wins overall (22-5) and has earned a spot in the national rankings with signature non-conference wins over Marquette, North Carolina, Gonzaga and even top-ranked Indiana. The Bulldogs most recently made easy work of Duquesne at home on Tuesday, 68-49, to improve to 13-1 at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
These programs met a little more than three weeks ago, with Saint Louis claiming a 75-58 triumph at Chaifetz Arena on Jan. 31. It was the first matchup between the teams since the 2003-04 season, and the Billikens now lead the all-time series, 17-11
The Billikens success this season has come largely thanks to the top-ranked scoring defense in the A-10 (57.9 ppg), and the defensive pressure was evident in their 14-point win over VCU, as they held the Rams to just 21 first-half points. The offensive attack was stellar as well, as Saint Louis shot greater than 55 percent from the field, paced by a 16-point effort from Jordair Jett off the bench. Mike McCall, Jr. (15 points), Dwayne Evans (14 points, eight rebounds) and Cody Ellis (10 points) were also impressive in the victory. The team's offensive approach has complemented its defensive effort this season, as it nets nearly 69 ppg and has four players averaging in double figures. Evans is solid in the frontcourt with 11.8 ppg and 6.9 rpg, while Ellis (11.4 ppg) shoots 37.4 percent from 3-pont range (49-of-131) in a reserve role. Jett (10.0 ppg, 3.6 apg, 1.4 spg) and McCall, Jr. (10.0 ppg, 1.4 spg) are also crucial backcourt components.
Butler has certainly had better shooting days than it did on Tuesday night (.436), but it knocked down 10-of-21 from 3-point range and held Duquesne to just 37.3 percent field goal efficiency as it rolled to an easy 19-point win. Rotnei Clarke (16 points) and Kellen Dunham (11 points) combined to shoot 7- of-13 from beyond the arc, while Khyle Marshall (14 points) and Andrew Smith (eight points, 10 rebounds) turned in solid efforts in the low post. Efficiency at both ends of the floor is nothing new for Butler this season, as it scores 70.5 ppg on 45.6 percent field goal shooting while allowing its opponents to net just 63.1 ppg. Clarke is one of the nation's top guards, scoring 17.1 ppg while ranking among the Division I leaders in 3-pointers made (88) and free-throw percentage (.881). Butler is far from a one-man team however, as Smith (11.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg), Roosevelt Jones (10.6 ppg, 3.4 apg), Dunham (10.5 ppg), and Marshall (9.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg) are also consistent contributors.