10 Preseason Questions For The Billikens

With the Rick Majerus era at Saint Louis University beginning with the official start of preseason practice this weekend, BillikenReport.com is looking at 10 questions surrounding the Billikens going into the 2007-08 season.

1) Will Majerus bring magic?

This has to be the most anticipated season since Larry Hughes arrived on campus a decade ago as a McDonald's All-American. Probably even longer.

The hiring of Majerus brings the Billikens a big presence in the college basketball community, one with strong connections to both the NBA and ESPN, two acronyms that resonate with players, recruits, boosters and school officials. Simply put, he brings instant credibility.

But this also brings other questions. How fast will the players buy into and adjust to his system? Can the Billikens compete for a top spot in the improved A-10 this season? If not, how soon?

With the recruiting class Majerus has lined up for the 2008-09 season, which presently includes five high school players, it looks like the coach is trying to build the program for the long haul and not the quick fix where coaches try to grab as many junior college players as they can.

Majerus has won at every stop during his coaching career, and has missed the postseason just twice in 17 seasons, so you can be sure that he's not getting back into coaching after three years at ESPN as an analyst in a position where he couldn't be successful.

2) How good can Tommie be?

Tommie Liddell has been exciting basketball fans in the St. Louis area for many years now and his breakout sophomore campaign showed the rest of the country what he's capable of.

Liddell was a second-team all-conference selection as a sophomore when he averaged 15.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game and made a remarkable 45 percent of his 3-point attempts.

At 6-4, he has the size and ability to play almost anywhere on the floor and be a very productive player. He can score, shoot from the perimeter, rebound, pass, defend and generally make everyone around him better.

This season Liddell will be counted on to do all that and more as he goes into his junior year as the leader of this team and also the target of opposing defenses. With the lack of an established post presence, Liddell will be counted on to do more than he ever has before — while also learning a new system under a new coach.

If Liddell can take his game to another level, he could be the best all-around player in the A-10 and position himself as an NBA draft pick in 2009.

3) How good can Kevin be?

If he's not already, Kevin Lisch is guaranteed to be one of Majerus's favorite players. He plays hard all the time and is a coach's dream in the way he approaches the game.

After averaging 11.1 points per game as a freshman, Lisch averaged 14.9 points per game as a sophomore, led the team in assists, made 82 percent of his free throws, 41 percent of his 3-point attempts and was an A-10 all-defensive team selection.

And he's still got two more years of eligibility.

Lisch will benefit from a new coaching perspective with Majerus, and will not only soak up everything he learns from the new coach but also put it into action. You can expect Lisch to be one of the top players in the league, on both ends of the floor, for two more years.

4) Can Bryce be the man in the middle?

It is now or never for Bryce Husak as a college basketball player.

The fifth-year senior from Mt. Vernon, Iowa, could be the key to the Billikens' success this season. The 7-foot, 260-pound Husak and 6-9 sophomore Adam Knollmeyer are the only potential centers on SLU's roster and Husak's advantage in size, experience and leadership should help him earn major minutes in his final college campaign.

With Ian Vouyoukas as the primary post presence last season, Husak averaged 2.1 points and 2 rebounds while playing 10.2 minutes per game.

Husak has to improve on those numbers this season. If he can produce like he did in the A-10 quarterfinals against UMass — he tied his career highs with 10 points and six rebounds in a career-best 21 minutes — Husak could provide a solid post presence and maybe, with his shot-blocking ability, even establish himself as a difference-maker in the paint.

5) Will Dwayne Polk fulfill the promise he showed in high school?

Polk, the senior point guard out of Vashon High School, started 29 games as a freshman, 14 as a sophomore and then 32 as a junior. But with a new coach, it's not known whether Polk will be starting or coming off the bench when the Billikens open the regular season on Nov. 9.

Polk had an outstanding high school career in which he won three Missouri state championships and was named the St. Louis Post-Dispatch player of the year as a senior.

But the 5-9 guard has been up and down in his first three seasons at SLU. As a freshman, he averaged 5.8 points per game but made just 57 percent of his free throw attempts and 26 percent of his 3-point attempts. As a sophomore, he averaged 3.6 points per game, made 17 percent of his 3-point attempts and came off the bench in more than half of his games. As a junior he averaged 5 points per game, made 72 percent of his free throw attempts and 31 percent of his 3-point attempts while improving on his assist and turnover numbers and starting all but one game.

Like Husak, this is Polk's last chance as a college basketball player. He'll need to play hard on both ends of the floor, make good decisions with the basketball and knock down open shots from the perimeter when defenses collapse on Liddell and Lisch.

6) What will Luke Meyer's role be?

Meyer established himself as a major piece of the Billikens program last season, when he started 32 games and averaged 31.8 minutes per game.

As a sophomore, Meyer averaged 3.9 points and 2.4 rebounds per game. In his junior season, Meyer contributed 9.5 points (fourth on the team) and 5.1 rebounds (third on the team) per game.

Meyer was recruited to SLU to play small forward, but because the Billikens haven't have solid production from the power forward spot the last few years, he's been forced to play out of position at times and matched up with players much bigger and stronger than he is.

Depending on how Majerus wants to play matchups this winter, and also how much JUCO power forward transfer Barry Eberhardt contributes, Meyer will likely see time at both forward spots again during his senior season.

Wherever he plays, Meyer will provide an experienced and smart competitor who can handle the ball, knock down mid-range jumpers and basically just do whatever the Billikens need to be successful.

7) Is Barry Eberhardt the answer at power forward?

One of the biggest issues concerning SLU this season is the lack of experience and depth in the post. Eberhardt, a 6-7, 250-pounder from Coffeyville Community College, will be counted on for big contributions during his first season with the Billikens.

SLU had several options at power forward going into last season, but Justin Johnson used up his eligibility and freshmen Obi Ikeakor and Horace Dixon both left the school before contributing much to the basketball program.

Is Eberhardt the answer … or the next Vas'shun Newborne?

The early reports from the summer indicate Eberhardt is a strong forward who can rebound but also step out and knock down jumpers from the mid-range and beyond.

The strength of this Billikens squad will be the guards like Liddell and Lisch and then veterans like Meyer and Polk. But for this team to win 20-plus games again, SLU will need Eberhardt to provide a presence in the post.

And don't be surprised if Eberhardt lines up at center in some situations.

8) How much will Knollmeyer and Maguire contribute?

Even though they are both sophomores, this could be a make-or-break season for both Adam Knollmeyer and Dustin Maguire.

Knollmeyer, a 6-9, 235-pound post player, is the depth in the post behind Husak and Eberhardt. With three (and possibly four) post players coming in as freshmen for 2008-09 — verbal commitments Brett Thompson, Willie Reed and Brian Conklin — Knollmeyer will have to prove he can contribute this season to set himself up for playing time the following year.

If he has a strong season, Knollmeyer could be the starting center in his junior year while the freshmen big men are learning and adjusting to the college game. If he doesn't play well, Knollmeyer could be buried on the bench for the rest of his career.

It's too early to tell what Knollmeyer is capable of because he didn't get much of an opportunity to show what he could do as a freshman. He played just 83 minutes in 21 games and grabbed 17 rebounds, scored 10 points and blocked four shots.

Maguire, a 6-5 guard, was recruited to knock down shots from the perimeter, but struggled in that regard as a freshman. Maguire played just 70 minutes in 15 games, but made just four of 17 field-goal attempts and made only one of his eight 3-point attempts.

If Maguire can find his stroke, he could be the sniper to help stretch opposing defenses. If he can't, he could find minutes tough to come by when competing for playing time in a crowded backcourt that includes three freshmen.

9) Will the freshmen contribute?

The Billikens' three freshmen — Marcus Relphorde, Anthony Mitchell and Paul Eckerle — each bring skills that have been needed on past SLU squads.

At 6-7 and 220 pounds, Relphorde has outstanding size for a college swingman, especially as a freshman. He's also played with some outstanding players during his high school career. At Homewood-Flossmoor in Illinois, he was a teammate of NBA first-round draft pick Julian Wright. At American Christian School last year, he played with Tyreke Evans, one of the top prospects in the Class of 2008 who many think will be a first-round draft pick in the near future. Relphorde appears to be the most physically ready of the freshmen to contribute, but he'll have to practice hard and play well to earn minutes.

Mitchell, a 6-4, 205-pound forward, burst onto the scene with a strong senior season at East St. Louis High School when he averaged 14.5 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. He brings the kind of tenacity, toughness and athleticism that has been lacking from past SLU squads. He'll have to use those attributes to fight for minutes because there won't be many to go around behind Liddell, Lisch and Meyer.

We know Eckerle, a 6-1 guard, is smart, because he was his class valedictorian at St. Francis Borgia High School in Washington, Mo. But will Eckerle be able to continue to shoot the ball as well as he did in high school? Eckerle made 46.6 percent of his 3-point attempts as a junior, when he helped his Knights win a state championship, and then made 44.2 percent as a senior when he averaged 24.7 points per game. If he's able to knock down shots, Eckerle could add another dimension to this team off the bench.

10) Will the Billikens be dancing in March?

SLU returns four primary starters (Liddell, Lisch, Meyer and Polk) and six of its top seven scorers (Liddell, Lisch, Meyer, Polk, Brown and Husak) from last year's 20-13 team.

This is a team with potential and promise, but also some big questions.

There are plenty of winnable games on the schedule, so an NIT bid is possible, but with what some predict to be a stronger A-10 field this season, the Billikens will probably have to wait another year before getting back to the NCAA Tournament.

Whatever the case, this figures to be one of the most interesting seasons of Billikens basketball in several years. Be sure to visit BillikenReport.com regularly for game stories, features, notebooks, photo galleries, recruiting updates and more.

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