Game Day Preview: Saint Louis Billikens


Saint Louis University (Private – Roman Catholic)
Mascot: Billikens
Location: Saint Louis, MO
Enrollment: 13,300

2010-2011 Record: 11-19 (6-10 in Atlantic 10 Conference)
RPI: 175
Coach: Rick Majerus (5th year)

First Thought: What the heck is a billiken? Wikipedia says “The Billiken was a charm doll created by Ms. Florence Pretz of St. Louis, Missouri, who is said to have seen the mysterious figure in a dream.[1] In 1908 she patented the Billiken who was elf-like with pointed ears, a mischievous smile and a tuft of hair on his pointed head. His arms were short and he was generally sitting with his legs stretched out in front of him.” Anyways…

Best Win: 69-51 at Dayton (RPI 70)
Worst Loss: 61-61 to Bowling Green (RPI 245)
Last Game: 70-61 loss to Rhode Island in the 1st round of the A-10 tournament

Second Thought: This will be the homecoming game for senior Scott Suggs, who came to UW from Washington, MO. Romar first met him as a middle schooler when Lorenzo was the coach of St. Louis. Romar, like many coaches, has a policy of trying to make sure every player on the team gets the opportunity to play in front of friends and family at least once in their career. That indicates to me we should expect a game at Tulane or at least LSU at some point in the future for J.J.

Average Scoring: 63.0 ppg (#299)
Average for Opponents: 62.4 ppg

Synopsis: Under Rick Majerus, St. Louis has seen a steady rise in recent years. They went from 16-15 in Majerus’ first season to 23 wins in 2010. But, last year saw a major collapse after the loss of numerous seniors. That team last year was very young and did not have a single senior on the roster. They struggled with just about aspect of the game last year. They were near the bottom of the Atlantic 10 in scoring, 3-point shooting, turnovers, rebounds, and even getting to the free throw line. Despite all of these issues, there is a lot of confidence brewing in St. Louis for this upcoming season. Many are even thinking the Billikens may be able to challenge for the A-10 title this year.

Why the optimism?

First of all, where St. Louis did excel was on the defensive side, as they were near the top of the conference in almost every defensive category. Secondly, everyone is back and they have a year under their belt. They were very impressed with freshman point guard Mike McCall. He led the team in scoring at 10.4 ppg and loves to run out in transition. He was one of the nation’s leaders in scoring efficiency and loves isolation plays where he crosses-over and then drives to the basket. While he has a scorer’s mentality, he is also a good ball distributor and St. Louis uses him on pick-and-roll scenarios quite often (25% of his plays) so he can dish off to big men down low when he takes it to the hole.

McCall will be teamed up with senior guard Kyle Cassidy, who led the team in assists and was 4th in scoring at 8.4 ppg. Cassidy has a solid jumper, but also likes to attack the rim and drive inside into contact. Cassidy is considered a strong lead with a high basketball IQ and loves to drive and dish.

Senior forward Brian Conklin was 2nd on the team in scoring at 8.7 ppg while hitting 52.6% of his field goals. He is considered to have good fundamentals in the low post and a solid frame. However, at only 6’6″ he struggles against long, athletic forwards that play him tight. However, it is another forward, 6’5″ Dwayne Evans, that has a lot of folks excited. As a freshman, he was 3rd in scoring at 8.5 ppg, led the team in rebounding, and showed a nice inside/outside game with a solid jumper.

The tallest man from last year was 6’11” sophomore-to-be Rob Loe from New Zealand. However, while he likes to step outside and drop 3-pointers (33.7%), he is ineffective inside and not much of a rebounder.  Think another Joe Wolfinger. But, they are bringing in a raw 7′ freshman center named John Manning who is considered to be very strong and athletic, but has an undeveloped offensive game at this stage.

The Billikens also have a deep and experienced bench. Almost every player last year played 15 minutes or more per game and they are all returning. It is possible one of these guys will step up and really blossom more than their previous stats may reveal. This team had 5 freshmen who played significant minutes last year and all come back a year older.

My analysis: It is always difficult to predict how a group of players returning largely intact will perform before the season starts when they did not do well in the previous season. Is that a function of their lack of talent or just inexperience? Folks in St. Louis seem to be very optimistic that this will be a comeback season for them. If that is true, that is a good thing for the Huskies and our RPI.

But, remember that this is a true road game! That is not something UW typically schedules during the non-conference (unless forced to by the Big 12/Pac-10 challenge). The RPI awards teams 1.4x the value for a road game compared to a neutral site game (home games are worth 0.6x the value). There is a reason for that. Even when you should beat an opponent on paper, road games have a way of not turning out the way you hoped (see Portland in 2008, Oregon State/Oregon last year, Stanford in 2010, etc.)

On paper, I am not convinced St. Louis will be all that great this year. It seems like UW ought to be able to handle them, especially given their lack of height on the front line. Our guards are as tall as their forwards. Nonetheless, this could be a scrappy game and if UW does not get into an offensive rhythm and the 3’s do not drop early, it could be a long night. We certainly have seen those nights in recent years when the offense is in disarray and they rely too much on quick shots from beyond the arc, rather than being able to set up in the half court.

While St. Louis was strong defensively in general, their biggest weaknesses were defending the post and getting out from screens to defend 3-point shots. I am sure Majerus will have them working on that. So, if the 3’s don’t drop and the UW doesn’t get the ball down low to a big man, it might be a tough night.

In the end it seems UW should be able to overpower St. Louis and win the game comfortably. But, if they are upset on the road in this one, don’t be shocked. You heard it here first…

My Prediction: UW 72 St. Louis 66