Crews, Saint Louis keep it simple

The scout is the hidden engine driving Saint Louis' success, the grimy coal-powered furnaces below the cruise ship's serene deck. The Billikens don't change their offense much. They run their stuff. But on defense, the scout is crucial. It allows Crews to apply tiny, game-to-game tweaks to his team's experienced, adaptable defense. It lets him plug and play with a group of players who eagerly absorb new wrinkles. It gives him a chance to congeal game-changing strategies.

So, were you to walk into the Saint Louis offices on a quiet Sunday off, you would find assistant coaches hovered over Synergy windows, breaking down film of teams two and three games ahead on the schedule. (The film room may be the one place Saint Louis can be said to look past its opponents.) By the time Crews needs to prepare his team for a game, whole mounds of data have been refined and condensed into one or two insights -- visual bullet points, presented on film. And then the Billikens watch.

In the summer, team captains Evans, Jett, McCall, Loe and Barnett had a series of senior meetings. They were informal, more like conversations -- big productions aren't really these guys' style. There was plenty to discuss: After last season's success, the Billikens were losing then-seniors Kwamain Mitchell, Cody Ellis and Cory Remekun, and new leadership was needed. But by the time October rolled around, they had honed their own concerns to one succinct phrase: "slippage."

"As you get older, it's really easy to bypass the little stuff and say, 'Oh, we've been doing this for years,'" Barnett said. "V-backing, denying, boxing out, details -- all of these little things that we take for granted are the things which make us really good.

"So that's what we're always saying to each other, reminding each other: Don't slip. Don't try and think we're too good to do it. If you have slippage, if you forget those things, then you're not who you are."

Evans, who averages 14.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game on 49.4 percent shooting, is the most likely NBA prospect of the bunch. (Though if Jett keeps up his sudden scoring pace, he may join those ranks, too.) Which means he didn't entirely avoid the high-end AAU circuit, which means he knows what it's like to play basketball with people you barely know, who have different goals than your own.

Saint Louis is the inverse of that. The Billikens have the experience that comes with time, yes, but also the trust. No one plays outside the offense, or outside what his teammates need. No one doubts for a second that if your man beats you, help is on the way. No one needs to even call "help," because it's usually already there.

"We like each other," Evans said. "It really helps to play with people you like."

"We've played together so long, we know where we're going to be all the time," Loe said. "We're just really in tune."

You can hear that in the way Crews talks about his team's "wisdom." You can tell from the way Barnett describes "the people on my left side and my right." You can see it in the balanced box scores, or in the variety of ways Saint Louis has extended its 16-game winning streak -- a streak that began after its last loss, to still-unbeaten Wichita State.

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