The state of the men’s basketball team

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The state of the men’s basketball team

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The Saint Louis University men’s basketball team has had another struggling season. With the team now consisting of almost solely head coach Jim Crews’ recruits, questions have arisen over Crews’ ability to coach this team and if the Billikens will ever have a successful season with this group and coaching staff. In the Jan. 17 matchup against George Mason, it was announced that sophomore forward Brett Jolly was suspended on the grounds of “internal business.” What is the team hiding? Is what Jolly said so embarrassing to the program that they cannot release the details of the situation? These curious whispers add fuel to the fire, and more doubts arise about Crews’ control over his team.
Even the lineup was a reflection of Billiken basketball flailing, as former walk-on Aaron Hines, freshman guard Jermaine Bishop and freshman center Matt Neufeld were all among the five starters. This drastic deviation from the usual lineup is especially concerning given that there is so little experience between these three players. Although Hines and Bishop posted impressive numbers, Neufeld looked gassed by the first media timeout and basically just served as a tall body on the court with little to no purpose. In 16 minutes of playing time, he shot 0-5 from the free throw line and was 0-3 for field goal attempts. Although he did have three rebounds, his impact was not even close to the performances from some of the other “bigs” on the team, like sophomore forward Milik Yarbrough and sophomore center Austin Gillmann, who did not see the court at all. Coach Crews has been known to tweak the lineup from game to game and is a big fan of testing different combinations throughout the game, but there are consequences to this game plan. Instead of developing a strong starting five, Crews now has a bunch of average players and does not seem to want to put in the effort and time that it would take to refine the skills of some of his players.
There is also the dual question of why sophomore guard Davell Roby was also among the players who did not receive playing time against George Mason and has recently been a rare sight on the court at all. Roby has shown his work ethic on the court and is a dynamic player, but continuously finds himself on the bench. Crews is being rather disrespectful to his talent by starting players with far less experience.
Not only is Crews’ player choice questionable, but so is the offense he is attempting to execute. Crews worked under Indiana coach Bob Knight and is a big fan of the ball screen offense, but his plan isn’t coming together with the talent that he currently has with this younger group of players. At times, the offense appears to be in a frenzy, storming up the court and taking quick and bad shots without even attempting to run the offense. The other scenario seems to be that the players are running the offense too quickly and are unable to get set, which would allow for open shot attempts. Even when the Billikens do get good looks at the basket, they don’t fall, and the team experiences long periods of offensive droughts. This was evident in the game against VCU, when the Billikens only had two field goals in the first half. The inability to run the rapid fire offense has led to turnovers, which have been  plaguing the Billikens as of late. Although SLU had only two turnovers against George Mason, they gave the ball up 21 times in their previous game against VCU.
The offense is not the only issue hindering the Billikens. Rebounds have been a problem since last season. Against George Mason, SLU was outrebounded 43-34 overall, 34-20 defensively, and gave up 9 offensive rebounds. The Billikens cannot continue to give opponents extra scoring opportunities if they want to be successful in the Atlantic 10. Although SLU put up a good fight with boards in the first half, they were dominated in the second, 22-11. Whether or not this was due to the fatigue of the players is debatable, but this connects back to the question of why Crews did not utilize his other big players.
The Billiken defense under Crews is very different then it was under Majerus. Once known as a program rooted in defense, SLU just let the worst shooting team in George Mason, who usually averages 63 points per game, score 92 points. The only time that SLU was able to stop the Patriots was when they reverted back to the man-to-man defense that Majerus implemented throughout his coaching career, which, for Crews, included a full court press that resulted in two turnovers in the final two minutes. The Billikens still have some time left in their A-10 schedule to make some improvements, but these kinds of beatings take their toll on the players. The A-10 is not an easy conference, and many teams do not have to deal with the growing pains that SLU faces due to its young roster. Although the players say that the mood in the locker room is positive, frustrations are evident in post-game interviews. It is just a matter of time before the feeling of helplessness sets in.