With a senior-laden squad, St. Louis put together a 19-game winning streak earlier this season before losing four of its last five games, including a first round exit from the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament at the hands of St. Bonaventure. Despite the Billikens’ recent struggles, they remain a profitable 14-3 ATS in competitively-priced games (+3 to -3) and 44-26 ATS versus elite opposition with a win percentage between .600 and .800. Let’s also note that No. 5 seeds are 58-20 SU versus No. 12 seeds who were not in the NCAA tournament the previous season, while St. Louis is a perfect 5-0 ATS in its last five NCAA tournament openers.
The Billikens’ success is predicated upon an outstanding defense that is allowing 61.2 points per game to teams that would combine to average 70.4 points per game. I also like the fact that the Billikens are 12-3 on the road this season where they are limiting opponents to a mere 62.7 points per game. Teams are shooting a woeful 39.9% from the field and 28.4% from beyond the arc against St. Louis this season, and I don’t expect the Wolfpack to have much success from the perimeter tonight.
Overall, St. Louis is 9.2 points per game better than average defensively, which gives the Billikens a 4.2 points per game advantage over a North Carolina attack that is 5.0 points per game better than average (70.9 points per game to teams that would combine to allow 65.9 points per game). However, the Billikens’ advantage at the defensive end of the floor is enhanced by the fact that North Carolina State is averaging just 65.7 points per game on the road this season, including shooting 29.1% from three-point territory. Meanwhile, St. Louis possesses the best three-point defense of all the teams in the NCAA tournament (.284) so the Wolfpack will have to look elsewhere to score.
St. Louis also possesses a nominal 0.5 points per game advantage offensively over the Wolfpack’s defense so the teams matchup fairly evenly when the Billikens have the ball. The most significant disparity between these two teams involves their respective head coaches as St. Louis head coach Jim Crews is a much better bench coach than North Carolina State’s Mark Gottfried. Finally, my power ratings grade the teams as follows:
St. Louis: 28th best team in the nation at 94.6 points
North Carolina State: 68th best team in the nation at 88.6 points
Based on math alone, St. Louis, who should have been a No. 7 seed, should be favored by 6.0 points over the Wolfpack. Finally, the fact that St. Louis lost its opening round game in the Atlantic 10 tournament is a blessing in disguise as NCAA tournament teams that lose their first game in the conference tournament are an 89% winning proposition in the opening round of the NCAA tournament versus teams off a SU and ATS win. Take St. Louis and invest with confidence.