This Sunday, Saint Louis faces its toughest task yet, facing the 24th ranked Houston Cougars in Houston, and the Billikens aren’t quite at full strength. Senior guard Dion Wiley is out with an ankle injury, and while its looking increasingly likely that Tramaine Isabell has recovered enough from his hamstring injury to play, it’s unknown if he’ll be at full strength. If SLU is going to take down one of the nine remaining undefeated teams in the NCAA, their freshmen guards, Fred Thatch and Demarius Jacobs, are going to have to play well.
Thatch is coming off a breakout performance against Oregon State and is the true X-Factor for SLU. Starting in place of the injured Isabell, Thatch played 37 minutes, shot 4-5 from the arc and scored 16 points while playing his usual shutdown defense. At 6’3, 210, Thatch is one of the most physically developed freshmen in the country and an elite athlete. Outside of the Oregon State game, most of his impact has come on the defensive end, where he might be the best defensive freshman guard in the country. When Javon Bess isn’t in, Thatch takes the toughest assignment, and has been almost as good as Bess in shutting star players down.
However, offensively, it remains to be seen if the Oregon State game was a fluke or not. Thatch was a 2500 point scorer in high school, so he has clearly has the ability to put the ball in the basket. However, he has an inconsistent outside shot, and is still adjusting to the speed of the game on offense. If Thatch can put his elite athleticism to use on the offensive end and have another strong game on offense, it could be tough for the Cougars to hold off the Billikens.
If Jacobs can have a strong game, that would be huge for SLU as well. Jacobs is adjusting to the speed of the college game and has struggled in limited minutes so far. At 6’2, 175, Jacobs fouled like a man twice his size, racking up 4 fouls in 12 minutes in the first half against Oregon State. However, he’s got gobs of talent, and could provide the Billikens with some much needed scoring. Like Thatch, Jacobs is an elite athlete, incredibly quick and able to jump out of the gym(check out one of his high school mixtapes if you haven’t yet, they’re incredible). He can run the point a little bit, though the whole “adjusting to the speed of the game” thing has been a bit of a problem in that regard. Also, he’s a reliable free throw shooter, which SLU sorely(so sorely) needs. Jacobs won’t play as big of a role that Thatch will, but if he can provide quality minutes and depth, SLU’s chances of winning are greatly improved. There’s a big difference between a 7-man and 8-man rotation, and Jacobs is the 8th man in the rotation with Wiley out. Getting a burst of scoring and playmaking from Jacobs would be huge for SLU.
It’s going to be a tough fight in a hostile environment on Sunday, but if Thatch and Jacobs can turn in good games, SLU will have a very good chance of toppling Houston.