Originally posted on Fox Sports Midwest  |  Last updated 3/19/12
Saint Louis didn't make it past the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. But in beating Memphis in their first game and playing Michigan State down to the final seconds, the Billikens showed they aren't likely to go 12 years between appearances again. Of the nine players who played in the 65-61 loss to the Spartans, who were seeded first in the West Region, all but two will be back for 2012-13. One loss is starting forward Brian Conklin, who led the team in scoring for the season. The other is guard Kyle Cassity, who had 32 starts but played just one minute against the Spartans. The returnees include guard Kwamain Michell, who averaged over 12 points and nearly four assists a game in his first season back from a university-imposed one-year suspension. Forward Cody Ellis, who hit nearly 39 percent from 3-point range, and forward Dwayne Evans, who averaged over seven rebounds a game, also are among the returnees. And guard Jordair Jett, who earned all Defensive Team recognition in the Atlantic 10 despite not starting a game, showed some flashes of offensive potential in the loss to the Spartans and could play a bigger role. In all, six of the seven top scorers are back from a team that won 26 games and got the Billikens into the NCAA tourney for the first time since the 2000 season. NOTES, QUOTES --With 26 victories, Saint Louis came within one win of tying the school record for wins in a season set by the 1988-89 Billikens. That team finished 27-10, ending its season with a loss to St. John's in the NIT final. --The 61-54 victory over Memphis in their opener was the Billikens' first NCAA tourney win since 1998, when they beat Massachusetts 51-46. Saint Louis' other NCAA wins came over Minnesota, 64-61 in overtime in 1995, and New Mexico State, 62-53 in 1952. The Billikens have never won two NCAA tourney games in the same season. FINAL RECORD: 26-8, 12-4, second place in the Atlantic 10 201-12 SEASON RECAP: The Billikens had an extremely successful non-conference season and went into conference play with a 12-2 record with both of the defeats coming on the road (Loyola-Marymount and New Mexico). They then won five of their first six A-10 games with the only loss coming at home to Temple. They spent most of February and early March chasing the Owls for the regular-season championship. They blew an opportunity to make up their one-game deficit when they lost at lowly Rhode Island the same night Temple was losing to Saint Joseph's and ended up in second place. The Billikens lost to Xavier in the semifinals of the A-10 tourney, then beat Memphis and lost to Michigan State in the NCAA tourney. QUOTE TO NOTE: "Being in his first recruiting class, he told me we were going to help him build something special here. I felt like this year we really came together." -- Senior F Brian Conklin, on winding up his collegiate career after the loss to Michigan State in the NCAA tourney. THE GOOD NEWS: Six of the top seven scorers are scheduled to return for Saint Louis in 2012-13 along with the top rebounder, F Dwayne Evans. The emphasis on defense and consistent play throughout the season was evidence that coach Rick Majerus has built a solid foundation for his team. THE BAD NEWS: F Brian Conklin will be missed. Despite his problems with getting over the effects of an ankle injury in February, he was a steady leader and was the team's leading scorer (13.9 points). The Billikens need to find more rebounding help and bulk inside. As good as the defense was, it couldn't handle the physicalness of Michigan State. KEY RETURNEES: G Kwamain Mitchell averaged 12.4 points and had 126 assists against only 61 turnovers. He also shot 36.5 percent from behind the 3-point arc. F Cody Ellis is another 3-point threat (38.1 percent) and double-figure scorer (10.1), and F Dwayne Evans led the team on the boards with his 7.3 average. PLAYER NOTES: --F Brian Conklin finished his senior season with 473 points and his career with 1,161. He boosted his average from 8.7 as a junior to 13.9 as a senior. --F Dwayne Evans recorded seven double-doubles for the season with two of them coming in the last five games. He had season highs of 20 points and 14 rebounds in the win over Duquesne in the regular-season finale that clinched second place for the Billikens in the A-10. --G Jordair Jett was considered a defensive specialist but he picked up his scoring in the A-10 and NCAA tourneys. He was in double figures in three of the four games with a high of 13 in the win over La Salle in the conference tourney quarterfinals. --G Kwamain Mitchell finished his comeback season by scoring in double figures in the last 13 games. He averaged 14.2 over that span.
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