Remember how beloved Saint Louis was last year? It was the chic team to put into your Elite Eight -- even Final Four for some.
That team wound up as a No. 4 seed, played absolutely terrific defense, and in general won by squeezing the life out of opponents. It also didn't have a true star, a go-to guy. It was an anonymous crew that bulldozed through the A-10 on the way to a league title.
What was that 2012-13 team's record through 17 games? It was 12-5. Not bad, but not worth writing home over.
This year's Billikens? They're now 15-2 following a road win against Dayton Saturday afternoon.
Its only losses? Against Wisconsin and Wichita State -- both undefeated teams. The pub doesn't seem nearly as abundant (yet) with this team this season, though. So let's give some credit to Jim Crews for getting this squad off to one of the best starts in school history. The Billikens won by staving off a Flyers club that tried to expand the final three minutes of the 67-59 final to a good 20 minutes due to all the fouls.
From watching them play, the Billikens look like a top-25 team, even if they're not currently in the rankings. Jordair Jett (12 points, five assists, four rebounds on Saturday) and Dwayne Evans (22 points) both have First Team Atlantic 10 capability. The defense entered the day No. 6 overall in points allowed per 100 possessions -- the same ranking it finished with last season. What's holding back SLU is a lack of wins over very good teams. Indiana State, Vanderbilt and now Dayton are the best Ws. I can't deny that's a tough sell in terms of accomplishments.
But the A-10 is a better league than a lot of people realize right now. Saint Louis is at the top with VCU and UMass. St. Bonaventure, Richmond, Dayton, George Washington and La Salle will factor in. So the Billikens will have their chances to pile up nice wins. And who knows, maybe entering Selection Sunday they'll have a shot at another No. 4 seed. It's a long way to go, but the team looks as stable as ever and the Atlantic 10 will do it plenty of favors to make a charge for the second straight year.