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Saint Louis-Xavier Preview

AP - Sports

It's been 42 seasons since Saint Louis last earned a share of a conference title.

The No. 16 Billikens can clinch at least a piece of the Atlantic 10 crown with a 12th straight victory Wednesday night at similarly defensive-minded Xavier.

Saint Louis (23-5, 12-2) leads No 21 Virginia Commonwealth by one game and can also gain the top seed in the conference tournament with a victory Wednesday. This is its longest win streak since a 14-game run in 1993-94.

The Billikens last earned at least a share of a league title when they tied for first in the Missouri Valley Conference in 1970-71.

"It's an exciting time in college basketball, and we're in the midst of that in terms of playing for a lot of things," interim coach Jim Crews said.

Saint Louis is limiting opponents to a conference-low 57.9 points per game, with Xavier (16-12, 8-6) second in that department at 62.3. The Musketeers have the Atlantic 10's best mark in defensive field-goal percentage at 40.8.

"We've got a really good opponent in Xavier," Crews said. "They're a really good team. Chris (coach Chris Mack) does a good job over the years, they're well set up."

If there's a reason for the similarity in style, it could be that Mack played for Crews at Evansville for two seasons before transferring to Xavier for his final two.

"I see a big challenge," Mack said. "I see a veteran ballclub that understands each other's strengths as teammates. They're obviously incredibly well-coached."

The Billikens won 66-58 at George Washington last Saturday. Dwayne Evans had 22 points and 12 rebounds and Kwamain Mitchell added 18 points.

Evans notched his second straight double-double after collecting 21 points and 12 boards Wednesday against Saint Joseph's.

Mitchell is the lone senior starter for Saint Louis, which has five players averaging at least 9.3 points and is led by Evans at 12.6.

"It's been interesting to watch their development over the course of their careers," Mack said. "Seeing Kwamain Mitchell come in as a freshman and seeing the growth of the entire program and those kids and how they've bonded together and become one of the toughest teams in all of college basketball."

Saint Louis had dropped seven straight meetings to Xavier before sweeping two in the 2011-12 regular season. The Musketeers gained revenge by winning 71-64 in the A-10 tournament semifinals in the teams' most recent matchup.

Xavier's top five scorers from that team are gone, and its streak of seven straight NCAA appearances is in jeopardy.

There is hope for the future behind Semaj Christon, who leads all conference freshmen by averaging 15.0 points and is second among them in assists by averaging 4.6. His 6.1 free-throw attempts per game are second in the A-10.

"He's got a lot of God-given ability in terms of his length, his quickness, his vision is extraordinary," Crews said. "So he certainly presents a lot of problems to every team and ours also."

Xavier split two home games last week, winning 64-62 over then-No. 19 Memphis on Tuesday and falling 77-72 to Massachusetts on Saturday. Christon was true to form with 30 total points.

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