“We’ll be a top 10 team in about three years.” – Rick Majerus
This quote went viral earlier in the week as the Saint Louis Billikens broke into the top 10 in the AP poll for first time in almost half a century. It just so happened to be on the same day that late coach Rick Majerus would’ve turned 66.
Majerus took over the Billikens in 2007, after Brad Soderberg was dismissed. The Bills actually won four fewer games in Majerus debut season than they did under Soderberg in his final year. However, as Majerus was able to recruit his own players to St. Louis, the Billikens improved their record every year (aside from 2010-2011 when the team was stricken by controversy and the dismissal of its’ two best players).
Majerus left the team at the beginning of the 2012 season, and not long after, passed away. The Bills finished that season out with current coach Jim Crews leading the way, and did not disappoint, finishing 28-7 and losing in the 2nd round of the NCAA’s. It was an emotional departure for senior and team leader Kwamain Mitchell, who was a part of Majerus’ first recruiting class at SLU.
The rise to the top has not stopped though. The Bills continue to play the type of basketball Majerus taught them, fundamental, defensive basketball. This year’s team has made a prophet out of their former coach, finally reaching the top 10 Majerus spoke of.
Featured in their intro video before every home game is the phrase “Rise of the Billikens,” who knew how far that rise would take them? SLU hasn’t lost a game since December 1st, the one year anniversary of Majerus’ death. Since then, they have won 17 straight. The Bills have risen to a school best 23-2 start, losing only to undefeated Wichita St, and Big 10 power Wisconsin. A huge home victory last Saturday over VCU practically made it official the Billikens will repeat as Atlantic 10 Conference Champions. ESPN bracketology expert Joe Lunardi has them as a four seed in the rapidly approaching NCAA tournament. This season has indeed been the “Rise of the Billikens,” and its happened due to two things.
Defense – SLU has the 9th ranked scoring defense in the nation, leading the nation with a .854 defensive efficiency rating. They allow the fewest amounts of points from three point range in the country, while holding opponents to a measly 39.4% from the field. There is nothing fancy about it, they don’t press, they don’t play zone, it is basic man to man defense, but no one does it better than the Billikens. Want to teach a team to play defense? SLU is the team to watch.
A leader on offense – The only thing slowing SLU down the past few years has been the lack of offense. Kwamain Mitchell looked like he could emerge as that guy, but was dismissed from the team and upon returning suffered a foot injury that held him back. The Billikens finally have their man. Dwayne Evans is great underneath, no player in the nation makes more out of their size and talent than Evans, but Jordair Jett has emerged to be everything the team needs. Over his last 10 games, Jett is averaging 17.4 points/game, 5.1 rebounds/game, 4.7 assists/game, all while shooting 51% from the field. Pair this with Dwayne Evans who has dominated A10 competition for two years now, and the Bills may finally have the offense to advance deep into March.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of watching the Bills play, it might be time to, they after all, a top 10 team. At least tune into a game on 101.1 ESPN radio, Earl Austin (@earlaustinjr) and Bob Ramsey (@RammerSTL) are a great listen.
So here is to you Coach Majerus, your Bills have made it.
This year is The Rise of the Billikens.
It’s not crazy, it’s sports
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