The Saint Louis University men’s basketball team will begin its 100th official season Sunday afternoon at Chaifetz Arena, when the Billikens will host their 2015-2016 season opener against the University of Hartford. Tipoff is set for 4 p.m.
Saint Louis, which returns nine scholarship players from last year’s 11-21 team, will once again be a team that features many underclassmen, including sophomore forward Milik Yarbrough, who was an Atlantic 10 Conference All-Rookie team selection a year ago. Yarbrough led the Billikens in scoring (10.0 ppg) and rebounding (4.8 rpg) and was one of only five freshmen in the entire nation to lead their team’s in those categories.
Marcus Bartley and Davell Roby, another pair of top freshmen for SLU last year, were the team leaders in assists and steals last year. In fact, Saint Louis, which was one of the youngest teams in the country last year in terms of age and experience, was one of only two teams nationally to have freshmen lead their team all four major categories (points, rebounds, assists, and steals).
This year’s SLU club will bring back nine scholarship players, while also adding four newcomers to a group that hopes to improve on its 3-15 record in A-10 conference play. All that means the Billikens will count heavily on its lone senior, guard Ash Yacoubou, who finished second on the team in scoring (9.1 ppg) and total rebounds (83) last season.
Yacoubou got off to a good start and helped his team do the same by scoring a game-high 16 points in the Billikens’ 71-44 exhibition win Tuesday night against the University of Missouri-St. Louis. SLU got off to a sluggish start in that game and even trailed UMSL in the early going, but Yacoubou helped the Billikens find their rhythm by making several nifty plays that led to a 22-7 Saint Louis run to end the first half.
SLU head coach Jim Crews is entering his fourth season as the leader of the Billikens. The two-time A-10 Coach of the Year is 66-35 in the previous three seasons and has a 420-383 overall record in 27 years as a head basketball coach.
Hartford is coming off a 14-16 season last year. But like the Billikens, the Hawks are bringing back several key players from last year, including top shooter Taylor Dyson. The senior from Australia, nailed a team-high 60 three-pointers last year and led the team with an 87.2 shooting percentage from the free throw line.
The Hawks (1-0) will actually be playing their second game of the season on Sunday. They began their year Friday night, with a thrilling double overtime win over Central Connecticut. Five players scored in double figures for Hartford, including Dyson, who had a team-high 17 points.