SLU Billikens Basketball Preview


As SLU’s campus undergoes renovations that will bring two new residence halls by 2017, Billiken basketball has a one year head start on theirs. But will the two projects keep pace? If it’s up to Coach Crews, they’ll win the race.

“We’ve got kids that are eager to learn and ready to work. When you have that, you’ve got a chance,” said Crews at A-10 media day.

But to understand the reconstruction, we have to understand the demolition and clearing of the rubble. Last year’s campaign ended with an 11-21 record, including only 3-15 in conference and 1-10 on the road (that one road win came against Indiana State in the second game of the season). Within the season, SLU had four separate four-game losing streaks, counting the five-game skid that ended the year.

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Add to the lack of winning, the program saw the departure of four players due to transfer, dismissal, or a combination of both. Among those included “faces of the team” Austin McBroom and Grandy Glaze, and reserves Tanner Lancona and Grant Hollander. The former both had undeniable talent: McBroom, who stepped up big early in the season, and against VCU in the second half of the year, transferred to Eastern Washington after a reported riff with the coaching staff, while Glaze, who missed the season due to injury, heads to Grand Canyon for his graduate year, also after reported riffs with the coaching staff.

It was the trimming of the fat this team needed. McBroom and Glaze were too show-time for Crews, the remnants of another era who had looked bright from playing in the shadows of stars. They never grew to be the upper-classmen leaders that a team with nine freshmen needed. If Crews was going to rebuild, he wasn’t going to use leftover parts that weren’t weight bearing.

Fast forward through the wins, losses, and departures to find the bright spots. Milik Yarbrough was one of five freshmen in the NCAA to lead his team in both points and rebounding a year ago. “Milik’s worked on his ball handling…and his outside shooting. Also giving a persistent effort throughout a possession. He can be a complete player, not just a scorer.” He’ll be the glue for the Bills this season, and it’s expected that the offense will run through him. His touches need to be maximized, along with his minutes, for the Bills to have a good chance.

Along with Milik, Davell Roby, Reggie Agbeko, Ash Yacoubou, and Mike Crawford come off solid 2014-2015 campaigns. Roby showed an ability to score consistently in a multitude of ways. On Roby, Jim Crews said, “Davell could be a surprise. He needs to become a better off-the-ball defender”. Down low, Reggie was the closest thing to a true, tough big man SLU had last year. A tenacious rebounder, he brings an edge SLU lacked last year, especially in the lane. But coming off offseason surgery, his recovery may not be complete.

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“Cash” Yacoubou became the other option outside of Milik a year ago, and in his final NCAA season, he’ll be set to go out with a bang. Although he is the only senior on the team, Yacoubou holds himself quietly on the court, something that may need to change for this still-young Bills team to compete. Finally, Crawford’s a knockdown shooter who can put the ball on the floor and get to the rack when needed. One of the vets on the team, his leadership remains a priority for a young back court. Crawford missed significant time last year due to personal obligations, and has a lot to prove coming back as the elder statesman for the Bills.

As for the rest of the roster, a lot of question marks remain. As mentioned earlier with big men, sophomores Austin Gillmann and Brett Jolly still require a lot of growth and beefing up. Recruiting-wise, it seems like Crews recruited carbon copies of the two, with a little more talent than Jolly and Gillmann had at the start. Unfortunately, Elliott Welmer had surgery on his foot to correct a stress fracture and will be redshirted this season, making SLU that much thinner at an already thin spot. The other big man recruit, Matt Neufeld, intrigues me. Much longer than the other recruits they’ve brought in at 6’11”, he has the potential to flourish as a dynamic player. But he’ll be thrown into difficult situations early on, which could slow his early production.

Even in the backcourt, there’s a lot of issues to settle. There wasn’t a consistent ball handler at the 1 for SLU in the 2014-2015 campaign. It switched between Austin McBroom, Marcus Bartley, and Miles Reynolds. With McBroom out, Jermaine Bishop fills his gap, and from the tape I’ve seen, could be competing for a starting position by the end of the year due to his great vision and quickness.

Overall, there’s only one thing Jim Crews needs to do this year. It’s not beat Louisville and Wichita State (the two best games on the SLU schedule this year), or win the conference, or make the NCAA tournament. It’s simply to compete. If they can compete, they can bring a city that loves basketball back into the stands, and bring SLU basketball back into the fans’ hearts. Dropping from back-to-back NCAA tournaments to winning three games in conference last year, and then losing out on potential hometown hero Jayson Tatum, hurt a lot of fans. This is definitely an improved team–not one that can win the conference or make the big dance–but an improved team nonetheless. They have a new logo, but will they have a new look? SLU opens up the season on Sunday at home vs. Hartford.

Next: St. Louis Sports Fans: You Could be Sports Fan of the Year!

Head to our Billikens page for plenty of news and opinions as the season gets underway!