Looking Back At The Billikens' Season

Kwamain Mitchell (Don Adams Jr. photo)

Even the most optimistic Saint Louis fan could have not expected the Billikens to still be playing on the last day of March, certainly not with the youngest roster in the nation.

Yet Saint Louis stretched its season all the way to March 31 before getting swept by Virginia Commonwealth in the CBI's best-of-three championship series. The Billikens finished 23-13 in a season in which they were picked by the conference coaches to finish 12th among the 14 teams in the Atlantic 10 in the preseason poll.

Instead, Saint Louis finished fourth in the conference behind three teams that went to the NCAA Tournament: Temple, Xavier and Richmond. The Billikens even harbored at least some hope of getting to the NCAAs until losing to Xavier and Temple during the final two weeks of the regular season.

Stung after getting snubbed by the NIT selection committee, Saint Louis wanted to use the CBI to prove it had been overlooked. The Billikens made their point by winning three games before losing twice to VCU.

Saint Louis won 23 games despite having all sophomores and freshmen on its active roster, as Rick Majerus continued to build the program in his image during his third season on the job.

A pair of sophomores, guard Kwamain Mitchell and forward Willie Reed, blossomed into stars in their second collegiate seasons. Mitchell averaged 15.9 points and 3.0 assists, and Reed averaged 12.4 points and 7.9 rebounds. Freshman forward Cody Ellis had to sit out the first 12 games while waiting for the NCAA to rule him eligible but then scored 10.0 points a game and made the Atlantic 10's all-rookie team.

NOTES, QUOTES

FINAL RECORD: 23-13, 11-5, fourth in the Atlantic 10.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Saint Louis finished a surprising fourth in the Atlantic 10 despite not having any seniors or juniors on its roster. The Billikens then finished second in the CBI. Sophomore guard Kwamain Mitchell scored a team-high 15.9 points a game and also averaged 3.0 assists. Sophomore forward Willie Reed averaged 12.4 points and 7.9 rebounds. Saint Louis led the Atlantic 10 in 3-point field goal defense, limiting opponents to 27.1 percent shooting from behind the arc.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Freshman forward Cody Ellis missed the first 12 games of the season, waiting at home in Australia until the NCAA ruled him eligible to play. He went on to make the Atlantic 10 all-rookie team and likely would have had an even better season if the NCAA would have acted sooner. The Billikens lacked depth and often used an eight-man rotation. They were last in the conference in scoring with a 63.8 average.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We didn't have a good season. We had a great season." -- Saint Louis coach Rick Majerus.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THE GOOD NEWS: Saint Louis will have its entire roster back in 2010-11, and none will be seniors, as the Billikens had the youngest team in the nation this season. Saint Louis will have an experienced and deep club with two proven scorers in junior guard Kwamain Mitchell and junior forward Willie Reed. Cody Ellis made an impact as a freshman despite sitting out the first 12 games while waiting to be ruled eligible by the NCAA and should only get better as a sophomore. Rick Majerus remains one of the top coaches in the country, and he did a masterful job in 2009-10.

THE BAD NEWS: It's hard to find many negatives on a team that returns every player from a 23-win team. Saint Louis is erratic on offense at times, but that's the only real weakness going forward.

KEY RETURNEES: Mitchell will lead the way after averaging 15.9 points and 3.0 assists. He will be joined in the backcourt by junior Kyle Cassity (6.0 ppg, 3.3 apg) and sophomore Christian Salecich (6.4 ppg). Reed shows flashes of brilliance as evidenced by his averages of 12.4 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.1 blocked shots this season but will look to find more consistency as a junior. Ellis will be available for a full season in 2010-11 after averaging 10.0 points and making the Atlantic 10's all-rookie team despite not playing during the first semester. Junior forward Brian Conklin (6.2 ppg) and sophomore guard Justin Jordan (4.9 ppg) should again provide quality minutes off the bench.

ROSTER REPORT:

- G Justin Jordan missed the final three games of the CBI with a dislocated right thumb. He is expected to be 100 percent when practice beings in November.

- Walk-on G Darrin Young got a chance to play a combined 15 minutes during Saint Louis' two games, both losses, to Virginia Commonwealth in the CBI championship series. Young had played just eight minutes all season and had not appeared in the previous 17 games until getting an opportunity after Jordan was injured.

- G Femi John missed the last 19 games of the season after suffering a knee injury.

- G Paul Eckerle sat out this season as a redshirt after last summer's reconstructive knee surgery.

- SG Mike McCall from Foreman High School in Chicago has committed for the 2010-11 season. McCall also had scholarship offers from Indiana State, Illinois State and Southern Illinois.

- SF Dwayne Evans of Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, Ill., has committed for the 2010-11 season. Evans also considered Northwestern.

- PF Rob Loe committed to the Billikens on Thursday. The 7-footer from New Zealand picked Saint Louis over Colorado and Georgia Tech and also considered Pittsburgh and Saint Mary's.

- G Jeff Reid missed some of the season after suffering a concussion against Notre Dame. On Thursday the school announced that Reid will transfer to a school closer to home.

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