St. Louis University basketball fans woke up on Tuesday with some heart-wrenching news.
The team's best player, fifth-year senior Kwamain Mitchell, broke a bone in his left foot during practice last week.
The report from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Mitchell will be in a cast for 5-6 weeks and out of game action until the beginning of 2013.
Find me a basketball team (or any team really) that loses its best player, and I'll show you a team that has mediocrity written all over it.
Mitchell leads all returning players from last year's Billikens squad in minutes played, points, assists and steals.
Mitchell's assist-to-turnover ratio, 2.1, was tied for the best among all Atlantic 10 players last season.
For a team that prides itself on smothering defense and protecting the basketball, the Billikens can ill afford to lose the best ballhandler and one of their best defenders.
The question for all Billikens fans is how will the team replace Mitchell's 31 minutes, 12 points and four assists per game?
The immediate responsibilities will fall on junior guards Mike McCall Jr. and Jordair Jett.
Both McCall and Jett will see increased playing time from their 22 minutes per game last season. Their scoring averages (7.0 and 6.5 points per game, respectively) must also increase.
Instead of relying on Mitchell to be the playmaker, McCall and Jett must initiate the offensive attack.
Mitchell is well-known among the Billiken faithful for being a fearless attacker of the basket. McCall and Jett, both taller than Mitchell, must mimic Mitchell's aggression on the floor.
Freshman guard Keith Carter will probably also see increased minutes in the first couple months of the season.
There should not be any falloff on the defensive end of the floor, as both McCall and Jett were second and third on the team in steals last year, while playing far fewer minutes than Mitchell.
McCall is a solid free-throw shooter (.755 last season) and Jett is a solid rebounder as a guard (nearly three rebounds per game, fourth among returning players).
If Mitchell can return by the New Mexico home game Dec. 31, that would be wonderful for SLU. If not, the next benchmark is the start of conference play, Jan.10 at home against Massachusetts.
Billiken radio broadcaster Bob Ramsey seems to think Mitchell will return ahead of schedule, saying this on Tuesday:
"1 day post surgery K. Mitchell back at practice...offering leadership &encouragement. 1 tough Billiken. Back on court by Xmas, I predict."
The Billikens need Mitchell if they are going to seriously contend in the A-10 this season. Seeing that SLU has aspirations beyond conference contention this season, Mitchell's return can't come any sooner.
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