Saint Louis Billikens: 23-12, 10-8 in the Atlantic 10 Conference
Head coach: Travis Ford (3rd season)
Key players: Javon Bess (15.4 PPG, 6.6 RPG); Tramaine Isabell Jr. (13.9 PPG); Hasahn French (9.4 PPG, 8.4 RPG)
Season recap: After losing homegrown top recruit Carte’Are Gordon, who transferred to DePaul in mid-January, the Billikens looked done for the season. Then, the team that had garnered national attention early in the year came back to play in the Atlantic 10 tournament. Sixth-seeded Saint Louis pulled off three straight upsets to take home its second conference championship in school history. Its 55-53 win against St. Bonaventure on Selection Sunday secured its first NCAA tournament appearance in the Travis Ford era.
On offense, the Billikens are led by guard trio Jordan Goodwin, Javon Bess and Tramaine Isabell Jr. However, Saint Louis wins games by forcing opponents into difficult shots. The roster isn’t particularly tall—the tallest player who plays regular minutes, D.J. Foreman, stands just 6-foot-8. Perimeter ball pressure and help in the paint constrict opposing offenses, even as the Billikens’ own often faces adversity.
Saint Louis has only broken into the Round of 32 in the past half century, so a national title seems a couple of horizons away. A healthy helping of luck propelled the Billikens to the big dance this year, and they can thank their auspicious mascot for that. But Saint Louis starts three seniors, and the Billikens' frustrating defense lends them real Cinderella potential.
How they make a run: Constant ball pressure never lets higher-seeded offenses find their rhythm, Saint Louis take a pair of low-scoring matchups to advance to the second weekend.
How they falter: The Billikens are outmatched by the athleticism and size of top teams and characteristically falter beyond the arc.