Both the Louisville Cardinals (30-5) and the Saint Louis Billikens (27-8) now officially bear the badge of March Madness survivors after outlasting upstart opponents in their NCAA tournament openers.
The fourth and fifth seeds of the Midwest Region will now square off against each other for the chance to advance to the Sweet 16.
For Louisville, the momentum carried through the end of the regular season and the American Athletic Conference tournament is all gone now in the wake of the grueling win over a Manhattan Jaspers team that was more than up to the challenge to upset the defending national champions.
For Saint Louis, the Billikens have to hope that the overtime win over North Carolina State marks the return to the mid-seasons success the team had while winning 19 straight games rather than the end of the regular season in which the Billikens dropped four of five games heading into the NCAA tourney.
Saint Louis had to grind out their overtime win over N.C. State with leading scorer and rebounder Dwayne Evans on the bench fouled out. Guard Jordair Jett took control of the Billikens offense in leading Saint Louis all the way back from a 14-point deficit with 5:03 left in regulation. Senior forward Rob Loe (6-11, 245) from New Zealand erupted for 22 points and harnessed 15 boards in a statement game that may carry over against Louisville.
Saint Louis ultimately won their game by forcing N.C. State to the foul line, where the Wolfpack shot 20-for-37. That desperation strategy isn’t likely to work again against Louisville, but Saint Louis coach Jim Crews will have his team ready. Crews coached for 17 years down the Ohio River from Louisville at the University of Evansville. This game against Louisville may be the last, best chance that Crews has to emerge fully from that downriver shadow with an upset of a Louisville team that has to regain its tournament form if the Cardinals hope to have a deep run in defense of last year’s title.