Kwamain Mitchell

College Hoops Team of the Week: St. Louis Billikens

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Team of the Week: St. Louis Billikens

The Billikens have not exactly had a smooth ride this season. At the start of practices, their star point guard Kwamain Mitchell broke his foot, which almost certainly made things more difficult for new head coach Jim Crews. Then, in early December, the man that had put this team together and built it into an Atlantic 10 favorite, Rick Majerus, passed away.

But since the death of Majerus, the Billikens have turned their season around. They haven’t lost since, winning all eight games they’ve played. That includes a 60-46 win over then-No. 20 New Mexico that wasn’t even that close. All of a sudden, the team that started out the year 3-3 and looked a long way from some of the powerhouses at the top of the A-10 is round into form. And while they have Mitchell back in the mix, he’s still a ways from being “Kwamain Mitchell”; through three games, he’s averaging just 7.3 points, shooting 25.0% from the floor and 9.1% from three and averaging a career-high 3.0 turnovers.

What happens when he finally gets healthy? If you take anything out of the win over the Lobos on New Year’s Eve, it’s that the A-10 needs to be forewarned.

Seven Teams Deserving a Shoutout

  • Gonzaga: We’ve written plenty on the Zags over the last few days, but it is worth noting here that this group not only went into Gallagher-Iba and knocked off a good Oklahoma State team, they did the same to a Santa Clara team that was leading Duke midway through the second half in Cameron. And it’s only now that Kevin Pangos is starting to find his perimeter stroke. If this team ever figures out how to defend, watch out.
  • Minnesota: I think it may be time to officially designate the Gophers as ‘for real’. I had my doubts heading into Big Ten play, as some of their big non-conference wins have gotten less and less impressive as the season has gone on. But with Trevor Mbakwe starting to look like pre-ACL Trevor Mbakwe and with the two Hollinses starting to play like all-Big Ten candidates, Tubby Smith has a team that will make quite a bit of noise in the Big Ten. Ask Michigan State, who watched the Gophers use a 22-4 Fatality (Finish him!) in their Big Ten opener.
  • Marquette: For all the question marks that we had about the Golden Eagles after a less-than-stellar non-conference season, Buzz Williams’ crew has jumped out to 2-0 in the Big East with a pair of nail-biting wins over UConn and Georgetown. Marquette got a game-tying, buzzer-beating three from Junior Cadougan to force over time — where they benefited from an official brain-fart — against the Huskies, and survived when Greg Whittington missed a free throw with 2.3 seconds left against the Hoyas.
  • Creighton: Not a bad start to league play for the Bluejays, as they knocked off Illinois State on the road on Wednesday and followed that up by beating Indiana State at home on Saturday. It looks like the MVC is going to once against be Creighton, Wichita State, and everybody else.
  • Weber State: Damian Lillard may be gone, but that doesn’t mean that Weber State is finished as a program. Thanks to a 2-0 week, the Wildcats are 11-3 on the season and 4-0 in Big Sky play.
  • Arizona State: It’s time to start paying attention to the Sun Devils. DePaul loss aside, this team is 13-2 on the season after defending their home court in the Pac-12’s first weekend with wins over Utah and Colorado.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Louisville backcourt struggles in first scrimmage

Quentin Snider, Jerian Grant
Associated Press
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While a few teams did manage to hold special events for the official start of practice this weekend, most simply went about their business with drills and conditioning. One team that was the exception to all of this was Louisville, which held the first of its two intersquad scrimmages on Saturday. The Cardinals had a head start of sorts on the season, as they played six exhibition games in Puerto Rico this summer.

One hope heading into Saturday’s scrimmage was that guards Trey Lewis and Quentin Snider would have better chemistry than they did in Puerto Rico. But according to Jeff Greer of the Louisville Courier-Journal, that remains a work in progress for the Cleveland State transfer (Lewis) and rising sophomore (Snider).

They struggled in Puerto Rico, and they struggled again in Saturday’s Red-White scrimmage, the first public intrasquad practice since August. They played one half of the game together, paired with the presumed starting lineup with Mangok Mathiang out with an eye injury, a group that also included Damion Lee, Jaylen Johnson and Chinanu Onuaku.

That team lost the first half by 13 points to a younger group of Louisville players, and Lewis and Snider combined for eight points on 3-of-12 shooting, five turnovers, five steals, four assists and three rebounds.

“I thought (Snider) and (Lewis) did not play well together,” U of L coach Rick Pitino said. “They’ve got to get used to that. Neither guy made other guys better. That’s what they need to learn to do.”

As Greer also noted in his story the Cardinals have in recent years employed backcourt tandems in which both guards are capable of making plays for themselves and others. On the 2013 national champion team Peyton Siva and Russ Smith led the way, with Smith being joined by Terry Rozier or Chris Jones the following season and Rozier/Jones being the grouping last season before the latter was dismissed from the team.

Once Jones was dismissed Snider saw more time on the court, and his development was one of the keys for a Louisville team that fell one win short of the Final Four. Louisville needs him to take another step forward heading into the 2015-16 season, because even with Lewis’ experience at the Division I level Snider has more experience playing in Pitino’s system.

But while Saturday’s scrimmage didn’t go as well as anyone involved hoped, there’s still plenty of time for Louisville to work out the kinks before they open the season November 13 against Samford.

Knee injury sidelines Memphis assistant

Toronto Raptors vs Charlotte Hornets
Associated Press
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With practices beginning this weekend, not only are players looking to avoid the injury bug but their coaches are as well. And in the case of Memphis, the Tigers won’t have one of their assistants on the court for a little while due to a knee injury.

Assistant coach Damon Stoudamire, who returned to Josh Pastner’s staff this summer after a two-year stint at Arizona, suffered the injury during a recent workout according to L. Jason Smith of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. And Stoudamire will require surgery, which will put him on the shelf for a little bit.

“He was working out himself and I think he thought he was in his rookie year,” Pastner said. “We think he’s got a torn meniscus, which will require surgery and put him out for a couple of days.”

Stoudamire isn’t the only assistant coach working through pain either. Syracuse’s Mike Hopkins, who is also Jim Boeheim’s heir apparent as head coach, suffered a neck injury body surfing during a family vacation last month. Hopkins spent some time in a neck brace while putting players through workouts as a result of the injury.

As for the Tigers, they’ll have a mixture of experience on the perimeter and youth in the front court as they look to get back to the NCAA tournament after missing out last season. Among the newcomers are talented forwards Dedric and K.J. Lawson, with experienced guards such as Kedren Johnson, Trahson Burrell and Ricky Tarrant (grad transfer from Alabama) expected to be key contributors on the perimeter.