ST. LOUIS — The vibe around town regarding the Saint Louis Billikens this year isn’t the most optimistic. That’s understandable given they lost a heck of a lot and SLU isn’t exactly a program that’s shown an ability to reload instead of rebuild over the last decade.
There’s talent left over no doubt, but the general consensus is it’s going to take a year or two for all of it to come together on the floor.
Forgive the current players if they aren’t impressed with the general consensus.
“Oh man we talk about that every day. We just want to prove everybody wrong and (show that) this year is going to be just as good as last year or even better,” junior guard Austin McBrook said. “We can’t wait to prove people wrong.”
Mimicking last season would be quite an accomplishment. The Bills started the year 25-2 before finishing at 27-7. They made it to the third round of the NCAA Tournament before falling to 4 seed Louisville.
Gone are all five starters: guards Jordair Jett, Mike McCall Jr and Jake Barnett along with forwards Rob Loe and Dwayne Evans.
John Manning, Grandy Glaze and Austin McBroom step into lead roles following apprenticeships last season off the bench. Villanova transfer Achraf Yacoubou will help with the inexperience as well.
Even with the optimism and talent heading into the season, it won’t be easy to maintain the high level of play from 2013-14. Points will be tougher when there isn’t a man-child like Jordair Jett bullying his way into the paint and scoring virtually at will. There isn’t the steady Dwayne Evans to wreak havoc on the wing. There isn’t Roe Loe to knock down outside shots from the power forward position.
It’s a new crop, and sometimes new crops take a while to grow. The good programs find a way to make it work on the fly while not losing too many games. The steady ones don’t skip a beat.
This year will be a bellwether moment in SLU’s quest to be a perennial tourney team. A good season means they can be consistent regardless of who they lose. A sub-par season means they still have some work to do.