With their holiday tournaments done, Wichita State and Saint Louis get set for about another month of regular season basketball before beginning conference play. Each’s biggest out-of-conference test remaining is their matchup Sunday, as the Billikens host the Shockers in a matchup of two powerful mid-major programs in the middle of the country. Saint Louis opens as two point favorites in the friendly confines of Chaifetz Arena against the 12th-ranked team in the nation.
Plain and simple, I don’t see a whole lot of offensive options for Wichita State in this ballgame. The Shockers are much more perimeter-oriented than last year’s team with a collection of talented swingmen. Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker are names everybody associated with Wichita State basketball knows. They have similar styles as versatile forwards that handle, shoot and get to the basket with relative ease. The duo combines for nearly 30 a game, as teams have struggled to matchup with their size and ability. But both have tough matchups against the forwards of Saint Louis – Dwayne Evans and Grandy Glaze. Both Evans and Glaze are terrific defenders that can match Early and Baker’s size, strength and basketball IQ. Saint Louis’ best defender – Jordair Jett – will hustle Fred VanVleet all afternoon at the point. VanVleet is an impressive sophomore that has stepped up in a huge way for the graduated Malcolm Armstead. More often that not, he’s the key to this Wichita State offense, which does not bode well in this one. Jett is an extremely experienced senior guard that can play defense with the best of them in the game. With their three best offensive pieces facing brutally tough spots and having to overcome the overall team defense of the Billikens, Wichita State has its work cut out for itself and will really struggle to score with Saint Louis.
Prior to redeeming itself against Old Dominion, Saint Louis put up a bit of a stinker on the offensive end against Wisconsin. The Badgers are – as always – very tough defensively but SLU was lethargic on the offensive end. Returning home should remedy this a bit. Rob Loe immediately sticks out as a potential matchup nightmare for Wichita as neither Lufile or Coleby have the footwork or quickness to protect the basket and recover in time to close out the seven-footer that stretches defenses out to the three-point spot. For as much trouble as Dwayne Evans hopes to give either Early or Baker, he should prove to be just as much trouble on the other end of the floor against two guys that really don’t like playing defense. Evans is as rough as they come in college basketball this year and combines a rugged mentality with great footwork and touch within 18 feet. Neither Early nor Baker have what it takes to ultimately keep Evans at bay.
With four senior starters and one junior, Saint Louis has great personnel to matchup with Wichita State. The Shockers will be very hard-pressed to win this one in the Billikens’ territory against such a veteran team that – quite frankly – is probably just a little bit better, too. Two points is far too few and I fully expect SLU to win and cover. Lay the points.
Free Pick: Saint Louis -2