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College basketball countdown: No. 27 Saint Louis

9:50 AM, Oct 5, 2013   |    comments
Mar 16, 2013; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Saint Louis Billikens forward Dwayne Evans (21) chases a loose ball during the second half against the Butler Bulldogs in the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament at the Barclays Center. Saint Louis Billikens won 67-56. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
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(KSDK Sports) -- Saint Louis enters 2013-14 as one of the most veteran-laden teams in the country - returning four senior starters from last year's Atlantic 10 championship team.

But coach Jim Crews does't think his team's advantages can be described specifically by age or experience.

The unique "togetherness" in which Crews believes sets his team apart was born when the players united in the face of adversity - Rick Majerus was unable to coach at the beginning of the season for health reasons and died Dec. 1.

As interim head coach, Crews took over an inspired group that leaned on one another en route to a school-record 28 victories, along with the A-10 regular season and tournament titles.

The bad news for Atlantic 10 teams hoping to knock the Billikens off their perch: The close-knit group is just as inspired this season, Crews said. Versatile forward Dwayne Evans leads a cast of returnees that figure to make up one of the most balanced offenses and suffocating defenses in the country this season despite losing three seniors.

2012-13 in review: 28-7 overall (13-3, Atlantic 10 regular-season and tournament champion), lost in third round of NCAA tournament.

Tournament projection: At-large bid, No. 7 seed.

Coach's corner: "We bring back players with a lot of wisdom and who have a great understanding of what we want done. There's something about these kids that really makes the team special. There's no egos; they left their scrapbooks at high school. They come from all different backgrounds but lead by committee. Last year, we all came together. Rick was the common denominator. Some lost a coach, some lost a father figure, I lost a dear friend who I knew since I was a child. We all lost Rick. We all needed each other." - Crews, who officially became the Billikens' coach in April.

Star watch: Evans (14.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg) is a unique talent because of his quickness as a 6-5 forward. He averaged 21.7 points and 9.3 rebounds in the A-10 tournament. He'll be the best player in the conference in 2013-14. Mike McCall Jr. (9.3 ppg) will take over more the ball-handling duties to help fill the void for departing point guard Kwamain Mitchell, while Jordair Jett (9.0 ppg, 3.2 apg) returns as an aggressive and agile guard with great strength to fill out the backcourt. At 6-11, Rob Loe (7.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg) can stretch defenses with his long-range shooting. Junior interior player Grandy Glaze could see a boost in minutes.

X-Factor: Point guard position. Central Michigan transfer Austin McBroom could find himself in the starting lineup. The 5-9 speedy guard averaged 10.9 points as a freshman before transferring and could provide strong outside shooting.

Team strength/weakness: The Billikens are a versatile team thanks to a bevy of multidimensional players who can play inside and outside. Essentially, players aren't pigeonholed into certain positions. The depth might not be as strong as last season if the injury bug hits, but the experience factor is a big strength in terms of handling close-game situations. On top of a balanced offense, defense should again be a forte. Last season, Saint Louis allowed 58.2 points a game to rank 16th nationally.

Conference outlook: Last season the Atlantic 10 had a coming-out party - sending nine teams to the postseason and five to the NCAAs. Aside from the Big East, no conference had more top-100 teams in RPI. Despite the loss of Butler and Xavier to the revamped Big East, the A-10 should still be one of the deepest leagues in the country. Like last season, VCU and Saint Louis have top-25 potential and will be favorites to win the league. La Salle could certainly challenge both and will look to fend off strong Dayton and Massachusetts teams.

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