(4) Saint Louis vs. (13) New Mexico St.
(4) Saint Louis Billikens
This has been a tough season for the Billikens (27-6, 13-3) as they lost their head coach Rick Majerus, who passed away in December. Even while playing with heavy hearts, though, they have managed to play at an extremely high level. They won the Atlantic-10 regular season championship by winning 12 of 13 games to close out the regular season. The Billikens are an experienced group with a rotation compromised solely of upperclassmen. Anyone could lead them in scoring on any given night. They have six players who average seven or more, with Dwayne Evans’ 12 and Kwamain Mitchell’s 10 leading the way. They defend at a high level, limiting the opposition to 58 points a game. They were an impressive 11-4 against the RPI top 100, knocking off New Mexico, Virginia Commonwealth and Butler twice in their most notable victories. With such a deep roster and so much experience, the Billikens definitely have the potential to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history. They’ve played some of the best basketball in 2013 and have all the weapons necessary to set new team records.
(13) New Mexico State Aggies
The favorites in the Western Athletic Conference were upset in the conference tournament and the Aggies (24-10, 14-4) capitalized to earn their 20th invitation to the NCAA Tournament in school history. The Aggies are dancing for the third time in four seasons, but the last time they won a game was in 1993. This year’s team, which comes in on a five-game winning steak, comes in with size being one of their strengths. They have the 7’5 Sim Bhullar patrolling the paint along with the 6’8 Bandja Sy. As a team the Aggies are top 25 in rebounding margin (+6.4) and blocks (5.4). Sophomore guard Daniel Mullings has established himself as the team’s top offensive option, putting in 14 a night. The Aggies score 67 collectively, with the three point shot really being one of their weaknesses. They only made four a contest on 32 percent shooting. Teams that can force them into shooting the long ball will give them trouble, but that requires having the necessary size to match up with them on the frontline and being able to contain Mullings. Getting to the free throw line regularly is very important for the Aggies, who will be without their top playmaker in Tyrone Watson.
HOOPSWORLD’s Pick: Saint Louis. The Billikens will simply out-execute the Aggies.