Thursday night's biggest winner came in the Gateway to the West, and it's not even close.
Saint Louis tacked on another impressive victory, routing Butler 75-58 at home to add to a growing list of solid triumphs. They lead off the night's risers and decliners. ...
* Saint Louis. The Billikens have three top-50 wins (Butler, New Mexico, Massachusetts) and just one odd misstep (at home against Rhode Island) after last night's masterpiece, and are one of seven teams tied in the loss column atop the cluttered Atlantic 10.
Saint Louis will need to do something noteworthy away from home at some point, either qualitatively (the return game to Butler?) or quantitatively (going 6-2 or so in the league on the road). Thursday, though, goes quite a ways in validating the well-constructed Billikens this season.
* Alabama. The Crimson Tide (13-7) fended off Arkansas at home like they were supposed to. The Razorbacks fell to 1-17 away from Fayetteville in Mike Anderson's tenure.
* Arizona State. Credit to the Sun Devils for steering clear of forgettable defeats. Arizona State knocked off Washington State in Pullman to improve to 17-4 overall and 15-1 against teams outside the top 100. That doesn't look like much of a resume, but not doing anything dumb is more of an asset that it probably should be with a 68-team field.
* Brigham Young. The Cougars needed to come back from an 11-point halftime hole, but Matt Carlino's falling 3-pointer with 14 seconds to go helped lock up a 63-61 victory at Pepperdine. No harm done to BYU.
* Iowa. Did not lose at home to Penn State, which means the Hawkeyes won't hear about Thursday again. That's a good thing.
* Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders (19-4) rallied from 17 points down at the half to defeat Florida International and avoid damaging their at-large hopes. Middle Tennessee's best chance at a bid remains winning the perpetually chaotic Sun Belt tournament, of course, but every loss before then limits the chances of an at-large being available in case of a March misstep.
* Illinois. There's nothing inherently wrong with a five-point loss in East Lansing, but the Illini (15-7, 2-6 Big Ten) will remember Thursday as a massive lost opportunity.
Illinois wasted a 10-point halftime lead and fell for the fifth time in six games. Things don't get easier with Wisconsin, Indiana and Minnesota on the horizon. It's already starting to parallel last season, when the Illini's 15-3 start gave way to a 2-12 finish to the regular season.
* Washington. The Huskies lost their fourth straight (57-53 to Arizona) and have Arizona State coming to town this weekend. Washington sinks ever-deeper into the muddled middle of the Pac-12.
--- Patrick Stevens