If the 28-6 Saint Louis Billikens have not looked like a team with a first-year head coach it's because they aren't. Crews has 25 years of head coaching experience, including 17 years at Evansville and seven at Army. Under his stead, his teams have reached the NCAA tournament five times, winning just two games--one of those Thursday over New Mexico State. After a 3-3 start with losses to Santa Clara and Washington this season, the Billikens have won 25 of 28 games, including regular season and conference tournament Atlantic-10 championships.
As of Friday, Crews retains the interim title, with his future next year still up-in-the-balance.
Crews also isn't an unfamiliar adversary for Dana Altman. While at Creighton, Altman and Crews faced off 16 times, with Altman winning ten of them. With 16 meetings, few coaches know what Crews likes to do and how he does it more than Altman.
"Jim is a good coach, does a great job," Altman said. "We're going to have to play as well as we have all year to put ourselves in a position to win, there's no doubt about that."
But this team looks different to the Oregon coach, most notably on the offensive end where they rely on pick-and-pop basketball rather than the motion Crews had used in the past.
"They're doing all of things that coach Majerus had them do. Coach Majerus has his fingerprints all over this team. Jim has just continued to do what they were doing," Altman said.
That style is what has Altman most concerned. All five Billiken starters have made at least five three point shots this season and five players have made 24 or more. Those five include 6-foot-11 center Rob Loe and his 6-foot-8 reserve Cody Ellis, who are two of the three most prolific deep shooters on the team.
"It creates all kinds of mismatches. You hate to get Tony [Woods] and Wave [Waverly Austin] that far out there, but we're going to have to some tomorrow," Altman said.
Altman will be left with a pivotal decision, play his less agile post players with an inherent defensive disadvantage, but potential offensive advantage, or go small, relying on his team's perimeter players for much of the offensive attack.
"I think we can take advantage of Tony getting the ball inside and scoring inside," he said. "We'll see how the game progresses, but I don't anticipate us going small tomorrow."
One Oregon defender capable of guarding the Saint Louis pick-and-pop forwards is Arsalan Kazemi. Kazemi is an excellent perimeter defender and has played a similar style in the past.
"Some of the stuff that they run was like the stuff that I was running back at Rice. So I think I know what to expect a lot of the stuff that they're doing," he said.
Defensively he's likely to pair with the Billikens least accurate three-point shooter, Dwayne Evans. But that doesn't mean life will be easier for Kazemi, Evans is the team's leading scorer and has scored 20 or more points three of the last four games.
"Well, they handed me a sheet this morning with four game stats… 73 percent from the field hit me right away. That's 22 points a game," Altman said. "He's a match-up nightmare."
Kazemi will also spearhead an Oregon rebounding attack that stymied Oklahoma State Thursday, giving the Ducks multiple free possessions and leading to 12 second chance points. Saint Louis is an even worse rebounding team, holding an even mark for the season on the glass.
"We're going to have to [dominate the glass]," Altman said. "We need to do some damage there no doubt."
"The way Arsalan has been playing on the boards, we're definitely looking to exploit that advantage we have," Woods said.
The 17 rebounds Kazemi grabbed Thursday were a school-record in an NCAA tournament game.
"I think they're [his teammates] still mad though, because they think I stole their rebounds," he said.