We are less than 100 days away from the beginning of "Midnight Madness" and the opening of NCAA college basketball. The NBA and NHL seasons are finished. The dog days of the MLB season are upon us.
It's the end of June. What better topic to discuss than college basketball?
The St. Louis University Billikens are in uncharted waters. They are looking to improve upon the team's best season ever.
Last year's team won the most games in a season in its history (28). Last year's team won a conference title for the first time in 56 years, and for the first time in 65 years, won both the conference regular season and tournament titles.
It was a banner year for SLU in more ways than one.
After losing only one starter (PG Kwamain Mitchell) along with sixth-man Cody Ellis, the Billikens are primed for a repeat run in the Atlantic 10 and NCAA tournament.
Here's a mid-offseason check-up for your reigning A-10 champions:
SLU did the obvious by removing the "interim" tag from Crews and making him the team's head coach for the foreseeable future.
After dragging its feet for nearly a month, SLU signed Crews to a five-year deal in April. While the terms of the deal have not yet been made public, the expectations surely are. The Billikens will have five seniors on next year's roster. Anything short of an NCAA tournament berth, and near first-place conference finish, will be a failure.
The roster is still mostly made up of the late Rick Majerus' recruits. Crews understands and executes the system perfectly. There should be no hiccups on (or off) the court that Crews' staff cannot handle.
The Billikens have added three commitments over the offseason. All are powerful players ready to make an immediate impact.
SLU first added a low-post presence by signing Reggie Agbeko, a 6'8" power forward from Buffalo, New York. Originally from Ghana, Agbeko will potentially fill the PF slot left by Dwayne Evans after this coming season.
Agbeko is a solid rebounder and defender, which fits the Billiken mold perfectly.
Yacoubou (6'4") is a former New York State Player of the Year, where he shot nearly 40 percent on three-point attempts. As a transfer, Yacoubou will not be eligible to play until the 2014-15 season. That means he will be asked to replace the soon-to-depart Jordair Jett and Mike McCall, Jr., in the Billikens' backcourt.
Lancona is the obvious replacement for the recently graduated Cody Ellis. Like Ellis, according to Crews, Lancona will serve as a "stretch-four who can shoot from the outside." Unlike Ellis, Lancona can reportedly handle the ball and rebound, averaging eight rebounds per game in high school.
Losing Mitchell and Ellis are tough enough for the Billikens. Their points, assists and leadership will surely be missed.
However, for the first time in maybe forever, the Billikens have no rising sophomores on the team who played last year. Both of Majerus' last two recruits, Keith Carter and Jared Drew, have left the team.
Carter went AWOL during the early portion of the season last year and has transferred to Valparaiso. Drew announced his intention to leave SLU in May.
Drew took a shot at Crews on the way out, claiming he was blindsided when the coaching staff informed him he was not a part of the team's plans moving forward.
That being said, Carter played minimally for SLU before suffering an ankle injury early last season. Drew did not play at all last year. So, it's not like they will leave big shoes to fill for this coming season.
The Billikens will, however, be graduating five players after this season, including four starters. Two more will graduate after the 2014-15 season.
Looking down the line, there are no SLU scholarship players who played last season for the Billikens that will be on the team in two seasons. There will be a complete turnover of the Billikens' roster in less than two years.
If expectations are not met by more than one from the group of Agbeko, Lancona, Yacoubou or the team's fourth recruit, Mike Crawford, there will be serious holes on the Billikens roster in the very near future.
That also assumes current Billikens Grandy Glaze, John Manning, as well as last year's redshirt guard Austin McBroom, continue to improve and make an impact in the box score.
Call me a pessimist, but something does not sit right with me on the "new" Big East and SLU's place in college basketball's ever-shifting conference realignment.
We all know the story: the schools making up the so called "Catholic 7" split from the rest of the Big East and added Creighton, Butler and Xavier to form a 10-team basketball super conference.
Reports are that the Billikens are on the short list for one of two additional spots in the Big East for 2014-15. But right now, SLU is on the outside looking in.
I do not like that position for SLU. The team has too much recent and future success coming its way to be sitting on the outside waiting for an invitation to the "cool kids" table. St. Louis is too big a television market (21st in nation) for conference and media executives to ignore.
Yet, things change too quickly in the mishmash that makes up conference loyalty in today's world of college basketball.
One minute, Butler joins the A-10 to help make the conference the largest and deepest in the nation. The next, they cash in their chips for a trip to the VIP room that is the Big East.
Maybe SLU will be a part of the Big East this time next year. Maybe SLU leaves the A-10 after this season, along with Dayton or Richmond, to join the Big East. If that happens, then this discussion and any worry about the future of Billiken basketball is forgotten.
As we sit here today, that is, however, not the case. SLU went from dominating a very challenging A-10 conference to being one of the only legitimate teams left (along with VCU).
Temple is gone back to the now "old" Big East, otherwise known as the American Athletic Conference. Charlotte left the A-10 to rejoin their old rivals in Conference USA. Butler and Xavier are gone. New members George Mason and Davidson are set to join in 2013 and 2014, respectively.
Like I said, it's ugly. Who knows what the A-10 will look like in six, 12 or 18 months? SLU deserves a place among college basketball's elite. They can't get that sitting on the outside.
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