2014 Arch Awards: Best St. Louis Team Nominees

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David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

2013-14 Saint Louis Billikens basketball: Everyone close to the Saint Louis Billikens basketball program knew that 2013-14 was going to be their chance to create something special, and for the most part, they didn’t disappoint.

The Bills only lost three players (Cody Ellis, Kwamain Mitchell, and Cory Remukun) following the 2012-13 season, and with Mitchell effectively being replaced by Central Michigan transfer Austin McBroom, the team was in a perfect position to succeed, putting together a starting lineup comprised of all five of their seniors (Jordair Jett, Mike McCall Jr., Jake Barnett, Dwayne Evans, and Rob Loe).

SLU was extremely effective during the non-conference portion of the season, going 13-2, with their only losses being a six-point loss to #10 Wisconsin and a five-point loss to 12th-ranked Wichita State. The Bills really got rolling during the latter part of their non-conference schedule and carried that success over into the conference season, taking advantage of their momentum in order to win 19 straight games between December 3 and February 22, including an eight-point win over eventual Elite 8 participant Dayton and victories over both of the participants in the A10 Championship Game, VCU and St. Joseph’s.

Unfortunately, things began to fall apart for the Billikens as the season neared its end, and they lost three straight to Duqesne (who was 11-15 going into the game), VCU, and Dayton. The peak of the Billikens’ struggles seemed to come at the A10 tournament, when they suffered an embarrassing loss to St. Bonaventure. These late season struggles dropped SLU from being a projected 2 or 3 seed to a 4 when the NCAA tournament bracket was ultimately revealed.

It looked like things were going to take a similar turn for the Bills in their first tournament game against 12-seed NC State, as they fell behind by 16 with 8:13 left in the second half. Ultimately, though, the Billikens rallied and staged an incredible comeback which led to an overtime victory and made SLU the talk of the nation for the night.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the 2013-14 Billikens squad is that they didn’t have a bona fide star. While Jett had his strongest season and Loe finally put it together as a well-rounded big man, the strength of the Billikens was their spectacular chemistry as a unit, plenty of which could probably be attributed to the fact that the starters were so close and had been playing together for so long. In addition, there was an emotional element to the season, as all the seniors had been recruited and coached by Rick Majerus, who died during the 2012-13 season, and they had a strong desire to honor his memory.

While the Bills didn’t have a storybook ending—they lost 66-51 to Louisville in their second game—it was one of the best seasons in the history of the school, and it was very energizing for a St. Louis market that has not experienced an overwhelming amount of college basketball excitement from either SLU or Mizzou.