Friday, October 15, 2010

St. Louis Loses Its Two Best Players To Mysterious Circumstances

The news out of Saint Louis continues to be very vague, with internet rumors ruling the day, but whatever has happened it's definitely bad for what looked to be the best Saint Louis team in over a decade.

The story busted into the mainstream two days ago when St. Louis offhandedly mentioned that Kwamain Mitchell and Willie Reed, their top two scorers (and arguably their two best overall players) from last season were not enrolled in the school. ESPN printed a very vague story that didn't give any information at all about what happened. A much better take on the story is here, with additional quotes from Willie Reed's father about what happened in another publication.

What's known is that the two players were accused of sexually assaulting a girl back in the spring. The police ended up not filing charges, but the school has decided to suspend both players for two months. According to the quotes in the stories, it sounds as if Mitchell hopes to be back in January, but Reed will be gone for good.

Saint Louis is a team that entered this season with a very promising future. Rick Majerus is in his third year at the helm, and he completely blew up the team when he showed up in town. Last year's team had zero juniors or seniors on the roster, yet Majerus took them to 11-5 in a very strong Atlantic Ten, and if it wasn't for a poor out-of-conference performance they would have been a really plausible at-large team. They went to the CBI instead, and finished runner up.

With everybody back, along with a couple of very good recruits, this was expected to be a big year for them. I said in my A-10 preview that "I don't think there's any question that at the very least Saint Louis will be a bubble team next season." If neither Mitchell or Reed comes back they could still be an at-large team, but it also wouldn't be too shocking to see them not improve over last season.

That said, they do have options to fill the gaps. Kyle Cassity and Christian Salecich both started last year in the backcourt along with Mitchell, and can both score and handle the ball (though neither is a strong outside shooter, which will leave the team starving for somebody who can stretch the floor offensively). Without Mitchell, a lot of ball handling pressure will fall on Jordair Jett, a very good recruit who is going to have to hit the ground running. But if Mitchell does keep his word and comes back, they should be fine in the backcourt. The frontcourt is more of an issue because Reed was the team's top rebounder in addition to being a very good scorer. The team doesn't have a lot of size coming back if he really is gone for good, but they do have a very good recruit in Rob Loe, a 6'11" center out of New Zealand. While many players that tall need a year or two to adjust to high level NCAA basketball (since players that tall often don't have to handle the ball well or shoot well in order to dominate in high school), the scouting report on Loe is that he already has a nice all-around game and should be ready to play a big role immediately.

If we trust the word of the players, and Kwamain Mitchell does come back, I do think Saint Louis is still more likely than not going to make the NCAA Tournament. The only way they will miss out will be if Rob Loe is more of a developmental project than expected and the team is too small to bang with the best teams in the Atlantic Ten. But the conference should be very strong this season, and even a fourth or fifth place conference finish should still be enough to earn a Tournament bid. I do still think that they'll be at least a bubble team.

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