Crews, Saint Louis keep it simple

Evans, Jett, McCall, Loe and Barnett are five seniors -- none of them an obvious star -- who smother opponents in the nation's most glorious, symphonic and frustrating man-to-man defense. Saint Louis hedges ball screens out to the half-court line. It denies and overplays every wing. It holds teams to 28.4 percent from 3-point range, the fifth-lowest mark in the country. It rebounds 72 percent of opponents' misses. Through Friday, the Billikens ranked third in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency. They've reduced Atlantic-10 opponents to a meager .88 points per possession.

And they need that defense, too: Their offense ranks just eighth in the A-10 in points per possession. It has sputtered in fits and starts. Saint Louis games are low-scoring by design.

It is not an ethos predisposed to lengthy highlight packages on "SportsCenter." Even the wonkiest screen-hedge fetishist enjoys some made baskets here and there. It can also be difficult to describe without lapsing into clichés: experience, togetherness, teamwork, trust and the importance of taking it one game at a time.

But where other teams cite these things as goals, Saint Louis lives them out, and makes it look easy while doing so.

"Sometimes I almost think the media thinks we're lying," Barnett said, "Or not lying, but what's the word? Just saying it for the media, you know? Just saying we're focusing on one thing at a time, just saying we're locked in on the next game. But our guys really are locked in."


Ask Saint Louis coach Jim Crews to break down the "national perception" of his team. Go ahead. It's funny. Tell him that there isn't a team both as good and as quiet as his. Float your theory that maybe people have just gotten used to the idea of Saint Louis being good. Watch Crews' face as he waits for the "question" to end.

"I have no clue," Crews said. "You'd probably be better -- it just -- I don't worry about it. It doesn't help us prepare, it doesn't help us get better or make us worse, so I just don't worry about it. I don't know what the Idaho paper or the Los Angeles Times says about us."

If you're looking for answers as to why Saint Louis' senior-led group has managed the best start and longest winning streak in school history in the matter of a season, Crews is the place to start. A year ago, he took over as the interim coach for Rick Majerus as his friend's health declined and eventually failed. Crews' caring, calm leadership saw Saint Louis through the real loss, and earned him the full-time job in the process.

A year later, Crews is intent on preserving Majerus' "lessons and memories," while putting his own stamp on a program that is having its best season ever.

The process for doing so is simple, broken into three recurring steps. After each game, Saint Louis focuses inward. Coaches and players watch film, find what they did wrong and work to "clean it up." After, Crews said, his staff moves on to "fundamentals" -- focusing on improving the basic things Saint Louis does on both ends of the floor, avoiding the temptation to get caught up in adjustments and prepping for upcoming games. Third is player development, which is pretty self-explanatory.

"And then," Crews said, "is the scout."

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