Young Colonials facing battle-tested group
If Saint Louis coach Jim Crews wanted, he could take most of his team out to the Froggy Bottom Pub after Saturday's game at George Washington. The top eight players in the rotation range in age from 21 to 23. All are old enough to have a beer, which might make them a good bet to make a long run in the NCAA tournament.
In a season in which so much attention has been paid to Atlantic 10 newcomers Virginia Commonwealth (22-6, 10-3) and Butler (22-6, 9-4) -- and with those teams living up to it -- holdover Saint Louis (22-5, 11-2) has a 3-0 mark against the Rams and Bulldogs and quietly has surged to first place in the league with a 10-game winning streak.
When No. 18 Saint Louis visits George Washington (12-14, 6-7) on Saturday, the Colonials will try to slow down a team to which they bear little resemblance. While Saint Louis employs eight players with a combined 26 years of experience in the rotation, GW starts four freshmen and a transfer.
|No. 18 Saint Louis at G. Washington|
|When » Saturday, 4 p.m.|
|Where » Smith Center|
|TV » CSN|
"I definitely wish we had more experience, and our experienced guys, I wish we were getting more out of them," GW coach Mike Lonergan said. "[Saint Louis] is a team with a bunch of veteran guys, and just about all of them have been leading scorers [in a game]."
In their last 15 games, seven different Billikens have led the team in scoring. Identifying the top threats for a team that has six players who average between 7.3 and 12.3 points is difficult. When asked where he expects points to come from on a particular night, Crews is stumped.
"We don't have any idea, so I know the opposing team doesn't have any idea," Crews said. "In terms of point production, we'll have guys score 16 points. Then the next night they'll score four."
Crews says that the Billikens' experience keys their unselfishness. When a player doesn't score, he doesn't force things. Crews pointed to a player who went scoreless in the first half of a recent game but finished with 16 points.
Dwayne Evans, a 6-foot-5 junior, leads the team in points (12.3 pg) and rebounds (7.0 pg). But on a given night, seniors Cody Ellis (10.7 ppg) or Kwamain Mitchell (8.8 ppg) or juniors Mike McCall (10.3 ppg), Jordair Jett (9.8 ppg) or Rob Loe (7.3 ppg) can take over.
It's a group that looks familiar to GW senior Isaiah Armwood. In his freshman year at Villanova, the Wildcats' top five players had a combined 17 years of experience in the rotation. Saint Louis also has a similarly rugged style.
"They remind me of Villanova," Armwood said. "Just the way coach [Jay] Wright coached -- be physical on the defense."
From an experience standpoint, Saturday will be a tough matchup for GW, especially for players such as freshman Kevin Larsen, the reigning A-10 rookie of the week, who scored a career-high 16 points in a 73-64 loss Wednesday night at Richmond. The 19-year-old Larsen said he's not going to think about the age difference.
"I've been playing against older guys my whole life," Larsen said. "It really doesn't bother me."