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Preview: New Mexico State at Saint Louis

Preview: New Mexico State at Saint Louis

Saint Louis will have its hands full with red-hot New Mexico State freshman Sim Bhullar when the teams meet Thursday in the second round of the Midwest Region at San Jose, Calif. The fourth-seeded Billikens learned their fate at a Best Buy store in Secaucus, N.J., mere hours after winning their first Atlantic 10 tournament title in Brooklyn. Saint Louis is 24-3 since coach Rick Majerus passed away in December. The veteran Billikens used a balanced offense and disciplined defense to run through the A-10 and earn the program's highest NCAA Tournament seed. Junior forward Dwayne Evans gives Saint Louis its own strong presence under the basket.

New Mexico State is the No. 13 seed after winning the Western Athletic Conference tournament for the second straight year. The Aggies have won 18 of their past 20 games and have four players averaging in double figures. New Mexico State has been without senior forward Tyrone Watson, who missed four games with an injured ankle after returning from a 30-day suspension stemming from an arrest. Thursday's winner faces either No. 5 Oklahoma State or No. 12 Oregon.

ABOUT NEW MEXICO STATE (24-10): Bhullar had back-to-back double-doubles and was named the WAC tournament MVP after averaging 12.3 points and 10.7 rebounds. The 7-5 center is shooting 62.3 percent and has a school-record 82 blocks. Bhullar, who moved into the starting lineup in December when junior Tshilidzi Nephawe was lost to an injury, has the ability to change games on either end of the court. "I think I can be that player," Bhullar told the Las Cruces Sun-News before the WAC tournament. "I'm just going to play my role. I'm not going to go outside my box. Just do what I can to help the team win." The Aggies, who lost to Indiana in the second round of last year's NCAA Tournament, have a balanced offense behind sophomore guard Daniel Mullings (14 points) and senior forward Bandja Sy (11.7).

ABOUT SAINT LOUIS (27-6): Evans is averaging 13.6 points on 53.3 percent shooting and reeling in 7.7 rebounds for the Billikens, who beat Memphis in last year's NCAA Tournament opener before losing to Michigan State. St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bryan Burwell called the 6-5 Evans a "below-the-rim workaholic" this week. "(People) tell me I have an old-school game," Evans told Burwell. "I don't really know what (that) means, but it's kind of cool. I don't really know where it comes from. I just take what comes." The Billikens' relentless defense led the Atlantic 10 in scoring defense (58.1 points) and was second in turnover margin (plus-3.8). "Rick's footprint and fingerprints, his lessons, are embedded into those guys," interim coach Jim Crews said after they won the title. "His wisdom is embedded into those guys, which is pretty cool."

TIPS-INS

  1. The Aggies are making their 20th trip to the NCAA Tournament. It's the eighth for the Billikens.

  2. Saint Louis senior G Kwamain Mitchell, who is averaging 10 points, broke his foot in a preseason practice and missed the first 11 games.

  3. New Mexico State led the WAC in blocked shots (5.5) and has three active players who stand at least 6-10.

PREDICTION: Saint Louis 68, New Mexico State 59