Saint Louis entered Thursday a perfect 12-0 in the Atlantic 10, having lost to just Wisconsin and Wichita State this year overall. Duquesne, meanwhile, was 3-10 in conference, 11-15 overall, and had exactly one win over a top-100 RPI team, and that was against No. 97 St. Bonaventure. This was supposed to be another walkover for the Billikens before traveling to Richmond on Saturday to take on VCU.
All was going according to plan when Duquesne used a timeout trailing by seven with 13:23 left in the game. It may not have been the Billikens' best performance of the year, but this was Duquesne. Surely they'd keep the Dukes at arm's length, put a bow on things, and enjoy a few days rest in advance of what promises to be a fight with the Rams.
Something funny happened, though, after that Duquesne timeout. Micah Mason knocked down a three to cut the deficit to four. After a stop, Jerry Jones drilled a triple of his own, trimming the Saint Louis lead to 42-41. Another stop and a layup by Jones put the Dukes in front for the first time in the second half. Dwayne Evans made a layup on the Billikens' next possession, but then the floodgates opened. Duquesne scored the next 10 points, holding Saint Louis to 0-of-3 from the floor with two turnovers during that stretch. All told, the Dukes went on an 18-2 run after that timeout, a window that covered six minutes. In those short six minutes, the Billikens' unblemished A-10 record vanished. Duquesne went on to win, 71-64, with Mason's 22 leading the way.
This one loss could affect Saint Louis' seeding more than you might think. The Billikens have played just five games against top-50 RPI teams, going 3-2 in those contests. The two aforementioned losses, to Wisconsin and Wichita State, were against the best teams they have played this year. The three wins came against Saint Joseph's, VCU and George Washington, with just one of those coming on the road. Their strength of schedule ranks 80th in the country. The case for the Billikens earning a seed in the top-quarter of a region was built heavily on not having any bad losses. That's a trait that is no longer on their resume.
Let's game this out a bit. If the Billikens win out, including the A-10 tournament, they'll pick up road wins against VCU and Massachusetts, and likely get two more victories against the other A-10 teams likely to join them in the big dance. That would almost certainly mean four more top-50 wins. If that's the case, they could still get a No. 4 seed. Winning at VCU and at Massachusetts is much easier said than done, however. The Billikens only beat VCU by two in St. Louis, and the Rams have yet to lose at home this year. If they lose both of those games, they could easily slide to a No. 6 seed, putting them on a crash course with a No. 3 just to get to the Sweet 16. That's a fate that could have them heading home before the second weekend of the tournament. Make no mistake, this was a damaging loss for the Billikens. If it contributes to them meeting, say, Michigan State in the Round of 32 as opposed to a team like UCLA, it could be the different between a trip to the Sweet 16 and an early exit.