Coach: Rick Majerus (34-29 at Saint Louis, 456-176 overall)
Saint Louis may lose their top two scorers from a team that struggled to an 8-10 conference record and few teams in the nation will be as young as the Billikens, but Coach Rick Majerus is bringing in his players and the recruiting should start paying off right now. There will certainly be growing pains, but this group has the potential to be a very deep and talented team. Now they just have to find a leader.
Key Losses: F Barry Eberhardt, G Tommie Liddell, G Kevin Lisch, C Brett Thompson
Despite all the newcomers, it is not like the Billikens have no players returning. Kwamain Mitchell had a great freshman campaign, averaging 11.0 points, 3.6 assists and 1.2 steals. Understandably his turnover numbers were a little high, but with a year in the system he should be better. The bigger question is if he is ready to emerge as a leader of this team despite being just a sophomore? Kyle Cassity and Paul Eckerle, if he can stay healthy, are also back. Cassity earned four starts as a freshman, but rarely showed off his stuff on the offensive end of the floor. With Kevin Lisch and Tommie Liddell gone, he could be in for a big season if he can hold off the freshmen.
The frontcourt returns both starters in Willie Reed and Brian Conklin. Reed tallied 7.7 points and 4.6 rebounds as a freshman. He is a decent scorer, but he still needs to add some bulk to his 6-9 frame if he expects to turn into a dominating force under the basket. Working on his free-throw shooting would not be a bad idea either. Conklin is not as explosive as Reed, but he is a tough 6-6 forward who has some leadership skills. After starting 29 games as a freshman, Conklin should be ready to become more aggressive offensively and in the rebounding department.
Who’s In for St. Louis :
Seven freshmen will be suiting up for the Billikens this year and all of them will get an opportunity to contribute and most of them have the talent to do just that. Redshirt freshman Femi John and Christian Salecich, who comes from the famed Australian Institute of Sport, could be starters and provide the outside shooting threat that this team needs. Fellow guards Justin Jordan and Jeff Reid will be in the mix as well. Cory Remekun and Jon Smith may need some time to adjust to life in the Atlantic 10, but Cody Ellis, another product of the Australian Institute of Sport, could be starting from day one.
Obviously the newcomers are going to play a huge role on this team. Cassity may start at first, but his job is not safe, especially if Coach Rick Majerus wants to play big and have Ellis play the small forward position. That would certainly be an option, but it would leave little depth in the paint if Ellis does spend a lot of time at the three spot. It is more likely that somebody like John or Salecich will play a bigger role and the team runs three guards with Conklin, Reed and Ellis rotating under the basket.
Final 2009-2010 St. Louis Projection:
Eckerle is the only junior on the roster and he may miss some time with an injury. That leaves four sophomores, six incoming freshmen and one redshirt freshman. Eventually this will be a good team and that could happen by the time conference play begins in the 2009-2010 season. Last year’s recruiting class did a great job and there is no reason to expect anything less from this class. If somebody, preferably Mitchell, steps up and turns into a clutch leader, Saint Louis will be the surprise team in the A-10.
Projected Post-season Tournament: CBI/CIT
2009-2010 St. Louis Basketball Projected Starting Five:
Kwamain Mitchell, Sophomore, Guard, 11.0 points per game
Femi John, Freshman, Guard, DNP last season
Kyle Cassity, Sophomore, Guard, 1.6 points per game
Brian Conklin, Sophomore, Forward, 6.1 points per game
Willie Reed, Sophomore, Forward, 7.7 points per game
By Joel Welser
CollegeSports-fans.com Senior Basketball Writer