Saint Louis advanced to the NCAA tournament for the first time in a dozen years and despite losing its leading scorer, this group could be more formidable than the one that won 26 games last season. There is, however, one caveat -- the Billikens must forge ahead without coach Rick Majerus, who took a leave because of medical issues. Jim Crews, who joined the staff prior to the '11-12 season, will take over for Majerus on an interim basis. The Billikens must also replace big man Brian Conklin who averaged 13.9 points on a squad that wasn't exactly known for its high-octane offense.
Senior forward Cody Ellis averaged double figures while coming off the bench last season and is a skilled forward who can step out and make shots from the perimeter. Dwayne Evans, a 6-foot-5 junior who led the team in rebounding, came on strong the last part of the season and could also be an impact scorer.
New Zealander Rob Loe should also retain a starting spot in the middle. Loe didn't provide much in terms of scoring a year ago (5.2 ppg), but the 6-11 junior has range and is a terrific positional defender. Forward John Manning and part-time starter Cory Remekun could challenge for more playing time, while Grandy Glaze and Jake Barnett will fill roles coming off the bench.
Kwamain Mitchell is one of the best guards in the league and could challenge for Atlantic 10 Player of the Year honors. Mitchell, who missed the 2010-11 season due to off-court issues, was sensational down the stretch last season. He was second on the team in scoring and led the team in assists. He'll likely play alongside Mike McCall Jr., one of the team's top perimeter shooters, in the backcourt.
Keith Carter is a pass-first point guard who likely will be the Billikens' first perimeter player off the bench. Jared Drew is a lanky swingman from Indianapolis who chose Saint Louis over a host of offers from solid mid-major programs. He will have to fight for minutes as a freshman.
The Billikens suffered a blow in late August when Majerus was forced to step down. But this is still a talented team with six of the top seven scorers back from a group that nearly went to the Sweet 16. That's certainly enough to compete for the league title, but the key will be who steps forward to replace the leadership and intangibles that are gone with the departure of Conklin and Kyle Cassity.