Massachusetts (10-3) at Saint Louis (11-3)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, January 10, 9 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Chaifetz Arena (10,600) -- Saint Louis, Missouri. Television: None. Home Record: UMass 4-1, Saint Louis 10-1. Away Record: UMass 4-0, Saint Louis 0-1. Neutral Record: UMass 1-1, Saint Louis 1-1. Conference Record: UMass 0-0, Saint Louis 0-0. Series Record: Saint Louis leads, 7-4.
GAMES NOTES: The final game of a eight-game homestand for Saint Louis takes place on Thursday as the Billikens begin their Atlantic 10 schedule against the Massachusetts Minutemen at Chaifetz Arena.
UMass has been blazing hot of late with wins in seven straight games entering play. The Minutemen have not lost in more than a month and are now 10-3 this season, including a perfect 4-0 mark in true road contests. This is also the conference opener for the Minutemen who finished in a four-way tie for fifth in the conference at 9-7 last year.
It has also been more than a month since Saint Louis dropped a decision after the Billikens knocked off Savannah State, 67-59, last Friday to earn its seventh straight victory as well. All seven of those wins came at home for the Billikens who are 10-1 at Chaifetz Arena this season and now 11-3 overall. Saint Louis surprised a lot of people last season when it won the A-10 Tournament after finishing the season 12-4 against conference opponents.
Since these teams first met during the 1995 season Saint Louis has a 7-4 edge in 11 meetings. Last year the Minutemen bested the Billikens in their only matchup to snap a three-game winning streak in the series by Saint Louis.
UMass looked comfortable against Eastern Michigan this past Saturday in posting a 75-61 win. The Minutemen had four players in double figures and connected on 11 shots from beyond the arc to win by double digits for the first time this season.
The fact that UMass has not been able to earn a win by a more comfortable margin before isn't because the Minutemen are not scoring well (72.8 ppg) but largely due to inefficient shooting and porous defense. The Minutemen are just 13th in the A-10 in field goal percentage (.409), despite being fourth in scoring. A-10 assists-leader Chaz Williams (15.5 ppg, 7.3 apg) has been scoring and distributing well for the Minutemen. Jesse Morgan (14.5 ppg) has also been putting up big numbers out of the backcourt, despite shooting poorly (.359 FG percentage), while Terrell Vinson (11.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg) has been the anchor inside.
Saint Louis hounded Savannah State on the defensive end and forced 19 turnovers which it traded in for 19 points in the Billikens' win last Friday. The Billikens also outscored Savannah State 24-3 from beyond the arc and 25-10 to overcome a 35-20 deficit on the boards.
Last season's success for Saint Louis was powered by its defense and that hasn't changed this year. The Billikens have held seven of the last eight opponents to less than 60 points, including five to less than 50. Overall the Billikens rank ninth nationally in points allowed per game (55) while holding teams to 41.5 percent shooting overall. The Billikens aren't a very strong team on the interior though, ranking second to last in the A-10 in rebounding (30.8 pg). Mike McCall Jr. (12.1 ppg) is the lead scorer on the team, while Dwayne Evans (11.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg) provides scoring from the frontcourt. Cody Ellis (11.1 ppg) can also contribute offensively.
A win in this game could be crucial for both of these teams as the look to contend at the top of what looks like a talented pool in the A-10. Although Williams' scoring ability will keep the Minutemen from falling behind too far, the Billikens defend too well to drop a game on their home floor.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Saint Louis 73, Massachusetts 67
01/10 10:35:52 ET