- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 26, 2014

ST. LOUIS (AP) - It’ll be lineup shock next season for Saint Louis. After meeting with holdover players, coach Jim Crews is energized about the challenge ahead.

“I’m really excited,” Crews said Wednesday. “I knew I was going to get excited eventually but I thought I would have to be tired for a little bit.

“But really, they gave me a little hop in my step.”

The Billikens (27-7) had one of the most experienced teams in the nation with five senior starters doing the heavy lifting for a team that had a school-record 19-game winning streak, appeared in the Top 10 for the first time since the 1960s and won the Atlantic 10 title for the second straight season.

Three-quarters of the scoring must be replaced and Crews will do his best to avoid a transition season without a reliable, seasoned quintet led by A-10 player of the year Jordair Jett and fellow A-10 first-team forward Dwayne Evans.

Together, Jett (13.9 points), Evans (14.0), Rob Loe (10.3), Mike McCall Jr. (9.8) and Jake Barnett (4.7) accounted for about 52 points per game of Saint Louis’ 70-point average. Jett also averaged four assists and led the team in steals, and Evans and Loe combined for more than 12 rebounds per game.

Saint Louis erased a 16-point deficit late in regulation to beat North Carolina State in overtime in its first NCAA tournament game. “It sounded like it was more exciting than what I was observing,” Crews said.

The Billikens were brought down by sloppy execution and 0-for-15 3-point shooting in their season-ending 66-51 loss to Louisville on Saturday.

Crews said he told players “I thought they got the most out of their careers.” He described the locker room disappointed rather than distraught.

“Our guys are not a real emotional group,” Crews said. “Probably more emotional for me than them. They’re pretty stout.”

That fivesome came together despite turmoil. All were recruited by coach Rick Majerus, who died during the 2012-13 season after stepping down, and there have been assistant coaching changes, too.

“When you go through a lot of different things and stay together, it really builds strong relationships,” Crews said. “When it’s all said and done, no matter what vocation you’re in, if the journey is not about relationships you’re probably missing the boat, because no one really gives a rip about how many trophies you get or what kind of car you drive or if you were first team or third team.”

Sophomore guard Austin McBroom was one of the top reserves and two juniors, forward Grandy Glaze and center John Manning, also got plenty of playing time. Ash Yacoubou, a transfer from Villanova who sat out last season and has two seasons of eligibility remaining.

Yacoubou led Villanova with 39 percent 3-point shooting as a sophomore in 2012-13 and figures prominently in the mix along with freshmen Mike Crawford.

Crews can’t recall ever having to replace all five starters as a head coach, but did not seem at all worried about it.

“You miss seniors, but I don’t miss seniors that much to tell you the truth,” the coach said. “College and the basketball experience is supposed to prepare them for a bigger and better future.”

Saint Louis has one scholarship remaining and Crews said he’s open to all avenues - high school, junior college or transfer - and doesn’t necessarily need immediate help.

Among the opponents for next season, Saint Louis will play at Wichita State. Asked to pick a favorite to win the NCAA tournament, Crews stumped for the previously unbeaten Shockers, who he said were a very deserving No. 1 seed in the Midwest Regional.

“I’ll tell you what: I watched Wichita State and Wichita State’s the best team in the country,” Crews said. “That’s what I think and they’re not in the tournament.

“That’s how the tournament works. I’ll tell you what: They’re flat-out really good, really good.”

Crews said he’d be hard-pressed to name all the schools that are still alive, and pointed out it’s tough for most recruits to remember who else was in the Final Four last year besides Louisville and Wichita State.

“That’s why you shouldn’t sell your soul to try and get there,” Crews said. “I’m dead serious.”

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