The St. Louis University Billikens took care of business in Friday's home opener, defeating a very underrated USC-Upstate squad 76-59.
The main storylines coming out of the team's first regular season game included Dwayne Evans carrying the load left by Brian Conklin's graduation. Evans led with a game high 21 points. He also grabbed eight rebounds, including five offensive boards, both team and game highs.
Evans' strong presence down low is crucial to the Billikens' long-term success this season, particularly in Atlantic-10 conference play.
The Billikens also shot tremendously well from the foul line, sinking 19 of 22 free throws (86.4 percent). The team shot relatively well from the foul line last year, converting 72 percent of their foul shouts, good for fifth-best in the A-10.
However, after losing the team's best foul shooter (Conklin), there was fair reason to think the free-throw line would become a toxin for the team this season in close-and-late situations.
The Billikens are 1-0 and look to continue their winning ways against the Santa Clara University Broncos Wednesday night in a 7 p.m. (CT) tipoff in St. Louis. The game will be televised on Fox Sports Midwest.
This matchup marks the second for the Billikens in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic. After Wednesday's action, the Billikens are off for four days before traveling to Kansas City, Mo., for the conclusion of the tournament on November 19 and 20.
Scouting St. Louis U.
All signs point to Cory Remekun returning to game action, and the starting lineup, against Santa Clara. Remekun suffered a minor knee strain in practice before the USC-Upstate game, and could have played, if necessary. However, rather than risk further injury, the coaching staff decided to give Remekun the day off.
Furthermore on the injury front, Kwamain Mitchell was on the Billikens sideline for the first game, but he was still using crutches and wearing what appeared to be a soft cast. The cast should be coming off soon.
Story Update (Nov. 13, 6:30PM)
Tom Timmerman reported via STLToday.com that Remekun will be a game-time decision for the Santa Clara game, and that the team is in no rush to bring him back.
Mitchell's cast was officially removed on Monday, and he immediately went into the pool for rehabilitation. The break reportedly healed properly, and Mitchell remains on track for a mid- to late-December return to the court.
The JordairJett-Mike McCall backcourt was working very nice against USC-Upstate. Both played heavy minutes (Jett 35; McCall 36) and both scored in double figures (Jett 14; McCall 12).
More importantly, both Jett and McCall were extremely aggressive with the ball and rarely hesitated in attacking the basket.
If this aggressive mindset continues throughout the season, it will force defenses to play the Billiken guards tight, especially when Mitchell returns. Forcing the opponent to play SLU's ballhandlers close will give the team's frontcourt players (Evans, Cody Ellis and Rob Loe) more space near the basket and on the wing for open looks.
Scouting Santa Clara
The Broncos (1-0) come into Wednesday's game on the heels of a massive offensive explosion, scoring 106 points in a 40-point victory over Simpson.
Simpson, as a member of the NAIA, won't be the same caliber of opponent that SLU will be for Santa Clara, as evidenced by Santa Clara winning the turnover battle 20-2. But it's still eye-catching anytime a team can score that many points in a 40-minute game.
Santa Clara struggled mightily last year, finishing with an overall record of 8-22 (0-16 in West Coast Conference play). The Broncos lost all 11 of their road games last year. Such is the fall from grace on a senior-laden 2010-11 team that won 24 games, including the CollegeInsider.com postseason tournament championship.
The Broncos, however, should be a much better team this season, as they return their top eight scorers, including their entire starting lineup from last season.
They also are getting a little love from the Coaches Poll, earning just two less votes than SLU.
The highlight of Santa Clara's season last year was their 79-76 overtime victory against New Mexico. That came during the 76 Classic tournament in Anaheim, which SLU ultimately won. Just a few weeks later, the Lobos would defeat SLU on New Year's Eve in Albuquerque.
Santa Clara is led by senior guard Kevin Foster (6'2", 211 pounds). Foster led the team and WCC last year in scoring average (17.8 points per game). He also led the Broncos in steals and three-pointers (3.5 per game).
Foster played in only 18 games last year, as he missed much of the season due to suspension over disciplinary issues.
Foster was named by coaches to the All-WCC preseason team. He led the Broncos attack against Simpson, sinking seven three-pointers on his way to a 27-point effort. He also added nine assists, four rebounds and three steals.
Foster will likely be joined in the backcourt starting lineup by senior guard Raymond Cowels (6'4", 206 pounds) and junior guard Evan Roquemore (6'3", 180 pounds).
Roquemore took over as the primary ball-handler in Foster's absence last year, and he led the team in minutes played and assists (5.3 per game), while averaging nearly 14 points.
Roquemore's assist-to-turnover ratio last year was an impressive 1.88. Roquemore also shoots a sizzling 80 percent from the foul line.
Cowels started every game for Santa Clara last season, and at his size, he will be a matchup problem for SLU.
It will be interesting to see if SLU tries to match Jett on Cowels, risking the three-inch height disadvantage, or if they try to go bigger with Evans (6'5") or Remekun (6'8"). Putting Jett on Cowels will force McCall to match up against Foster, causing another size disadvantage for the Billikens.
Cowels can shoot the three (2.1 per game last season), so the Billikens will have to account for him both inside and out.
The Broncos frontcourt starts two healthy-sized forwards in Marc Trasolini (6'9", 240 pounds) and John McArthur (6'9", 228 pounds).
Trasolini is a redshirt senior, as he missed all of last year with a torn ACL. As a junior in 2010-11, he averaged 12.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, along with a block per game.
McArthur is a work in progress for Santa Clara. He started 26 games last year, as the primary fill-in for Trasolini. For a big man, he is an outstanding free-throw shooter (81 percent). But he doesn't appear to have much of a scoring touch around the basket (40 percent on field goals).
The Broncos will also rely on heavy minutes from senior forward Niyi Harrison (6'8", 220 pounds) this season. Harrison averaged nearly 11 points with a team high 6.3 rebounds per game.
Harrison should be starting over McArthur this season, however, Harrison missed the Simpson game with back spasms and is day-to-day heading into this week's game in St. Louis.
Santa Clara needs Harrison on the court for the team to have any chance on the road against SLU.
Look for Santa Clara to want to run the court with SLU, while St. Louis will try to slow the game down. USC-Upstate tried to go with a similar gameplan, and SLU ultimately was able to pull away in the end.
Look for the same result here, although the Billikens should be able to start pulling away very early in the second half.