Scouting Report: Saint Louis

Rick Majerus is a legendary coach. The jolly fat man did excellent work with his St. Louis program last season as Blue Ribbon writes (ESPN Insider).

Majerus proved last year yet again that great coaches can turn teams with question marks into teams that win. The Billikens had every reason to fail, but didn’t thanks to stellar defense and an uncanny ability to raise their intensity level in conference games.

The former Utah coach has instituted his slow tempo half court game predicated on getting stops on the defensive end and being efficient on offense. Last season the Billikens were chosen to finish 12th in the Atlantic 10. Defying those expectations SLU finished 4th and earned a first round bye in the conference tournament. The Blue Ribbon write up points put that last year’s St. Louis club was a based around its defense as it always is. The Bills gave up a remarkable 0.908 points per possession to opponents which ranked 29th nationally.

Majerus’s teams generally play man but will throw in a triangle-and-two zone look every now and again. The SLU defense is based around forcing tough shots and not forcing turnovers. The primary goal for the Billikens is to prevent open looks from the perimeter. Most Majerus squads do well in three point percentage allowed, including last season.

This year’s club is more solid all around ranking in the top third of division I in Effective Field Goal percentage, Turnover rate and defensive rebounding percentage. Nevertheless, the Billikens are among the top defensive teams in the Atlantic 10 giving up only 0.954 points per possession ranking 61st nationally (Only Temple and Duquesne have a better defensive efficiency in the league).

On offense, Majerus runs a 4-1 motion offense, just like Duquesne, only much slower. Whereas, Duquesne averages nearly 72 possessions per game, SLU plays at nearly 65 possessions per game. These numbers are pretty common for Majerus and Duquesne coach Ron Everhart and they have been noticeable in previous matchups. The games between these two coaches reveal that Majerus has had more success in dictating the tempo.

Majerus vs. Everhart Tempo Battle

Year Pace W/L H/A
2008 72 W H
2009 65.78 L* A
2009 64 W H
2010 64.8 L** H
2010 65 L A
2011 60 W H
Average 65.26

(The games with Asterisks are prorated for 40 minutes because they went to overtime)

Over Everhart’s five seasons at Duquesne, his ballclubs have averaged 72.56 possessions per contest. Despite this, against Majerus’s Billikens the Dukes have averaged only 65.26 trips down the floor. Clearly, Majerus has been able to dictate the tempo. Such is the sign of an elite level coach. The fat guy, who according to SI’s S.L. Price enjoys being nude and calling his players “cunts”, has a winning percentage over .700. Majerus is one of the best college basketball coaches of all time and Everhart is merely a solid average one. Because of this tactical mismatch, Majerus has often been able to take inferior clubs and have success against Duquesne. The series between the two coaches is currently tied 3-3 including two overtime losses (sound familiar Dukes fans).

While Majerus’ SLU teams have been generally short on talent during his tenure they are especially thin this season. The Bills lost their two best players point guard Kawain Mitchell and power forward Willie Reed to sexual assault allegations and subsequent suspensions. There were hopes that prized recruits guard Jordair Jett and center Rob Loe would be able to contribute right away on offense. Such has not been the case. Jett has been used often this season for his slashing ability but his cumulative performance has led to an 80.9 offensive rating (stat that measures a player’s entire offensive contribution). Similarly, Loe has been an unexceptional rebounder and scorer culminating in an 85.4 offensive rating.

Making up for this deficiency against the run and gun Dukes will be tough as evidenced by this year’s previous matchup. Duquesne cruised to a 22 point victory even though the contest only had 60 possessions for each team. Can the defense make up for the offense. Probably not. Majerus will most likely put forth a game plan that will control the tempo but will also not be likely to have the horses to win this race. However, one would be misguided to count any team with an elite coach against a club with an average coach with problems managing games. Also, the game being played at St. Louis adds to the concern. Nevertheless, this is not the same team as last season and will come in large underdogs against a Duquesne club trying to hold on to 4th place in the A-10.

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