Three years into his job as head coach at Saint Louis University, it's clear that this gig might be the toughest of the five coaching jobs
The Billikens brought 10 scholarship players to the University of Illinois-Chicago's quaint little Pavilion for last weekend's Chicagoland Invitational: six freshmen and four sophomores. Physically, they resembled a JV squad scrimmaging the varsity in last Friday night's 65-54 loss to an Iowa State team of grown men who were bigger, stronger and deeper at every position.
"We knew they'd be tough -- they've got a lottery pick (6-foot-10
Majerus couldn't fault his team's effort: The Billikens are tough, overachieving kids who defend, hit the boards, share the ball and compete for 40 minutes. But their physical limitations leave them almost no margin for error, especially on a night when they miss 15 of 16 three-point shots and commit 15 turnovers.
It was more of the same on Saturday: Saint Louis shot 33.9 percent from the floor and missed 14 of 17 three-pointers in taking a 64-52 spanking from a veteran Notre Dame team that was in no mood for frivolity after losing to Northwestern on Friday.
"We missed 41 shots, and I'd say 21 of them were good, makeable shots," Majerus said. "You run your sets, you get good shots and then you don't make them, you get worn down psychologically, not to mention physically going against older, stronger guys. But that's no excuse. We've got to learn how to play these games."
To that end, Majerus never stopped teaching over three days in Chicago, laying atypically low in one of his favorite cities. The Billikens practiced twice on Thanksgiving Day. Former NBA All-Star
"What's the hurry? Were they double-parked?" he wondered.
Majerus has some flinty pieces in his starter kit. Sophomore
Not that it's easy. Saint Louis' academic standards limit the recruiting pool, and its odd Atlantic-10 membership is a geographic mismatch and a logistical nightmare -- the Missouri Valley makes a lot more sense. But Majerus is as committed as ever. He'll never be described as trim, but he looks pretty good and says he feels fine, primarily because he's doing what he loves to do, what he was put on this Earth to do: coach.
"I like these guys, I really do," he said as he wound down after an 0-2 tournament showing. "They're good kids, they work hard, and they really want to learn and get better. You can't teach them to be bigger or stronger or older, but that will come. And when it does, we've got a chance to be pretty good."
So, surprisingly, does tournament winner Northwestern, which subdued Notre Dame with an active zone defense, then beat Iowa State with an ever-changing defensive scheme and the hot hand of MVP
The Wildcats are like the only team in the world that has never been to the NCAA tournament, and realistic hopes of getting there this year seemed dashed when star senior
That's good news for coach
Even without Coble, there might be enough talent and toughness on the Northwestern roster for a breakthrough season.