Updated: Mar 23
At the beginning of the year I wrote what was probably my most read Billikens blog, talking about what I expected to see this season.
With the help of Peter Hale, we put together our expectations for the season along with my slightly skewed projection numbers.
Since then, the Billikens went 23-8 in what I would describe as the most improbable season we will ever see, not beacuse of what happened on the court but because of what transpired over the last few weeks off the court.
A season cut short by the Corona Virus. We are living out the movie Contagion.
When I first started writing this two weeks ago, the Billikens had yet to finish their season.
We were staring down a mega-bowl matchup with the Bonnies and were hopeful to make another magical run through Brooklyn as this team continued to get hot at the right time.
Now it's all gone.
In the grand scheme of things there are a lot bigger issues in the world right now than Billikens' basketball - hell Billikens' athletics - being cut short, but it is nice to vent and talk about things like this while the world seemingly burns around us.
While I can only imagine what every Billikens' fan is going through on an individual level at the moment, I hope for the time being this can offer some reprieve from the craziness around us.
Now it is time for a reckoning on my numbers and recap of what we got from every player this year, while also looking (tentatively) at the future.
0 - Jordan Goodwin
It was an up, down, and all around year for Jordan.
At times, he was downright dominant showing the country that he is a nearly unstoppable force on the offensive and defensive glass, proving he is without a doubt the best rebounding guard in the country.
At other times, he was committing turnovers with the ball, and mental errors with fouls that was more becoming of a freshman.
In what was a year where I expected Jordan to take a jump, we saw half of that.
I said in the preview that Jordan might handle the ball primarily until Yuri got comfortable, but I stood immediately corrected.
From the jump, Travis Ford showed confidence in his freshman guard that allowed Jordan to operate with the ball in his hands less, though he still got his fair share of time running the offense.
Unfortunately, that doesn't say much.
As we have talked about on the podcast, there was still no real flow to the offense apart from Yuri Collins creating oppurtunities off the dribble for others and Javonte creating shots in conference.
This team worked around French early on, especially in light of key injuries to Jimerson and Thatch, which left Goodwin in more of a role that I would have felt favored him.
Still, we were left with games where it seemed like one of our team leaders was not that in charge of what was happening on the court.
But when it was all said and done, Jordan and Has were both averaging double doubles showing that these two will always lead by example, whether in performance or in pure effort.
Don't be surprised if Goodwin get's some serious national recognition next year.
P.S. and I don't intend to do refer back to this pandemic too much, but Jordan's reaction and response to the cancellation of the season was a leader's response through and through.
Did not complain, accepted it for what it is and kept it going because he was mature enough to realize that there are bigger things in life than a basketball game.
It is a small thing, but hats off to Jordan.
Collin's Projections: 12.5 ppg / 9.0 rpg / 2.0 apg
2019-2020 Actual: 15.5 peg / 10.4 rpg / 3.1 apg
A natural leader who has been the team's motor since the day he stepped on campus, we saw Goodwin mature and take his game up another notch this season.
Goodwin found an invaluable backcourt partner in Yuri Collins, and Collins' pure point guard mentality and skill set allowed Goodwin to play to his more natural strengths as a ball hawk and the best rebounding guard in college basketball.
His ability to create something out of nothing, grab offensive rebounds, come up with loose balls, and create steals led to a more potent offense than the often stagnant, ugly offensive team we saw the previous season.
His game has some flaws - primarily free throw shooting and unforced turnovers that seem to come in clusters - but his energy and "go get it" style proved infectious this season.
1 - Yuri Collins
Apart from my take on Javonte Perkins, Yuri may have been about as close to right as I came in the preview blog.
I feel I underestimated the confidence Ford had in Collins, but clearly we were in agreement when it came to saying Yuri and Goodwin had to be on the court at the same time.
Not really a hot take I know.
But when I set out the number of 6.5 assists per game, I wasn't too far off of what we actually saw.
Yuri is probably the best pure, pass first type point guard we have had at SLU.
He broke Kwamain's freshman year assists record early in conference play and then kept piling on.
We saw turnovers in bunches coming from a young guard not afraid to take risks, who made freshman mistakes being too aggressive.
Okay, it happens.
Coming from a guy who had to tape his wrist from an injury that left him with numbness in his hands, I would say we saw a pretty impressive freshman campiagn from a talented guard primed for success in his time at SLU. (and hopefully we get healthy over the summer too)
If there is a knock to be had on Yuri outside of turnovers, it would be that I want to see him finishing more at the rim.
As a smaller guard, I understand it is easy for him to have shots blocked or altered when attacks the rim.
And he certainly wasn't afraid to score at the rim or at least take the ball hard to the hole.
But he is going to have to position himself as a real threat to score in order to make his passing drives more effective as teams start to key in on that defensively.
Collin's Projections: 4.5 ppg / 2.0 rpg / 6.5 apg
2019-2020 Actual: 5.4 ppg / 2.8 rpg / 5.5 apg
Heading into the season I called Collins the "most natural PG we've brought in for quite some time" and I was wrong. He's the most natural point guard SLU has ever put on the floor as a freshman, period, and easily the best passer.
He proved to be the perfect running mate for Goodwin, the unselfish engine behind the offensive attack whose vision and passing ability made the Billikens an actually-pretty-efficient team this season.
He also showed that he was up for the challenge defensively, having packed on muscle between high school and college and displaying a knack for creating turnovers.
He shattered the all-time freshman assist record in a shortened season and if he stays all four seasons, he'll own the career record by large margin, too.
2 - Tay Weaver
Not quite the Isabell I had hoped for.
I obviously had my hopes way too high with Weaver, though we saw spurts of his shooting ability throughout the year, and as you will hear on our interview with Jack Raboin he was as talented a shooter as Tremaine was.
Inconsistency in playing time early obviously hurt, but even with the loss of Jimerson it never felt like Weaver really took charge of that opening in a way that forced Ford to play him.
At times it felt like we almost were just hoping - maybe even praying - to get a nice night from Tay, because, well, we were.
And we definitely needed the outside scoring without Jimerson.
Unfortunately, lighting didn't strike twice with grad transfer guards, and here's hoping we don't bank on that success on a yearly basis.
Collin's Projections: 6.5 ppg / 1.5 rpg / 1.5 apg
2019-2020 Actual: 4.5 ppg / 1.6 rpg / .87 apg
Weaver was the three-point shooter we expected this season - sometimes. When he hit early, he tended to hit often.
In other games, he never found his groove or wasn't given the minutes to find it.
He showed more comfort taking it to the basket as the season progressed but didn't show quite the playmaking or defensive abilities that could have earned him more consistent minutes. Still, his experience and shooting ability were welcome for a one-year player on a team that needed an offensive boost.
3 - Javonte Perkins
"But, if you are looking for someone to be standing tall at the end of the year, I would bet Javonte Perkins has a real chance at turning some major heads this year while helping the Billikens win some games."
The only person I can say I had picked perfectly, as you can tell from the quote above.
Javonte had a quiet start to the year, showing flashes of what we would eventually see during conference play.
One of the best scorers in JUCO last year, we saw just how talented Javonte is at getting to the rim and pulling up from midrange.
Add in a three point game that seemed to get a little more consistent as the year went on and now we have a very versatile threat that can score from almost anywhere on the court.
We saw in the Dayton game that Javonte can play defense against some of the best in the A10, doing a competent job guarding Obi Toppin, while also getting the job done on the offensive end.
And this is one of the few places in this blog where I will take the time to talk about next year, as much as next year could be completely up in the air right now with this pandemic.
Javonte Perkins is primed to have an amazing senior campaign, and provide a much needed "go-get-a-bucket" guy to this Billikens offense.
With another year of Jimerson and Collins, and the senior season for French and Goodwin, Javonte Perkins stands to be, in my humble opinion, the key to us being a top-25 team.
I may be assuming too much early when it comes to personnel given this years display of injuries, but when this team is healthy, they are scary to see.
A healthy Jimerson, which I expect to see at the start of next year, offers one of the best if not the best three point shooting threat in the conference.
Jordan Goodwin through the ups and downs is a gamer, and he will if nothing else outrebound any guard in this conference and provide real defensive matchup problems on the offensive glass.
French is one of the best shot blockers in the conference who had a tough year due in large part to a number of different factors which I will touch on shortly.
Yuri Collins is likely only going to get better.
And with Javonte Perkins, we have a legit threat to go off for 20+ every night, and do so pretty efficiently.
He's not an offense killer, he does well in isolation, but will also have more oppurtunities to create as teams key in on him.
With Javonte showing that he can score at will, teams will have to give every single guy on this team more space, which is deadly for a Collins, Goodwin, French, Jimerson.......dare I continue?
A lot to love about Javonte's game going forward, and a lot to love about this team going forward.
P.S. it stands to point out Javonte was a 1,000 point scorer at SWIC and likely could do the same at SLU.
Collin's Projections: 12 ppg / 5.5 rpg / 2.5 apg
2019-2020 Actual:15 ppg / 3.5 rpg / .7 apg
One of the leading scorers in NJCAA last season, SLU needed Perkins' bucket getting ability to translate quickly to help replace Javon Bess' scoring load.
Early on, Perkins looked shaky - too quick and too uncertain with his trigger, failing to find his spots offensively, and getting beaten at the other end.
But once he got the feel of the D-I game and Ford's system, things clicked in a major way. His very low shooting percentages climbed rapidly.
His mid-range clankers were falling more than half the time. He was getting to the hole with ease. He was staying in front of his man defensively. And he was taking and making more three-pointers than ever.
He finished conference play as SLU's all-time scoring average leader in the conference, and there's no reason to believe he can't do it again next season. His game was consistent above all else in conference play.
11 - Hasahn French
Talk about tough years, the first name on that list has to be Has.
While there were flashes of excellence, brilliant dunks, and a broken shots blocked record to boot, it felt like this was a more muted campaign than we have seen from the Billiken big man in his time at SLU.
And I also realize as I write this how blessed we have been to have a division one ready big come into SLU and have an immediate impact.
We have also seen some crazy year over year improvement as Has fine tuned his scoring ability on the inside.
Call it a hip injury, increased awareness from teams defensively, or the inability to shoot free throws, French probably underperformed what he could have been this year.
And he still had a pretty great year numbers wise.
And top of the list for correcting this next year begins at the free throw line.
This is where I start and stop my comments on Hasahn's free throw shooting: it just has to be better.
Teams know he can't shoot at the line, and they put him there killing any flow we have to the offense.
You have to be a threat to score at the line, or we will suffer for it once again next year.
And now that's over.
French is another guy, like Goodwin, where the maturity is just stunning.
Has and Jordan wear probably the lion's share of blame and finger pointing when it comes to things going wrong on this team, and yet they have never once created a dramtic situation about it.
I expect we are going to see something specil with Has next year, beginning with blocks per game being over 3-4, and bringing his assist numbers up to 5-6.
And the assist numbers in my head are more likely, assuming French continues looking for kick out threes and his team comes through for him.
Regardless, Has is another guy that makes me love what we have next year.
Collin's Projections: 11 ppg / 10 rpg / 2 apg
2019-2020 Actual: 12.4 ppg / 10.4 rpg / 2.26 apg
French solidified his legacy as the best shot blocker in SLU history through just three seasons, and it isn't particularly close.
He now owns the all-time record by a margin of 67, he owns the single-season blocks record, and he continues to be a nightmare matchup for opposing A10 frontcourts.
Heading into this season, I had three questions for French: Can he stay out of foul trouble? Can he make more FTs? Can he be a more efficient finisher? On the first count - eh, not really. He's still a marked man for A10 refs, and I'm pretty sure he gets punished for just being such a physically imposing presence.
On the second question - decidedly not. On the third - yes, he actually did manage to lift his FG percentage above .500 again, finishing at .521 on the year. He ran into a tough stretch in A10 play when Davidson and a few other teams in a row decided to collapse on him in the post double and triple team him, and foul aggressively.
The strategy worked and he looked like he'd been scouted and exposed. Then slowly but surely he started forcing his will again, assisted by the unsolvable problem of Javonte Perkins opening up things for him. Defend, Rebound. French's ability to do both helps him overcome the flaws in his game and he delivered yet another big season.
15 - Demarius Jacobs
Now let's talk about someone I was way wrong on.
Demarius Jacobs, this is my formal apology to you.
In a year where I expected very little, Demarius Jacobs showed me a whole lot including athleticism I had no clue he posessed.
Ignore his game altogether for a second, this year Demarius proved he can get up as well as anyone and finish at the rim with some pretty impressive dunks.
Add in a few hot games from behind the arc, and his length defensively on the perimeter, and you have another guy who gives you a lot to love for next year.
While the jury is likely still out on how effectiev Jacobs will be next year, it stands to reason that he will be a key factor next year if we want to be as good as we can be.
Collin's Projections: 1.0 ppg / .5 rpg / .5 apg
2019-2020 Actual: 6.6 ppg / 2.6 rpg / .96 apg
Heading into this season, I said Jacobs needed to show an outside shot, show more confidence, and take the next step. He delivered across the board - shot well on a much higher volume from outside, took over a few games, and showed clear development year-over-year.
And despite his progress, I'm left wanting more. Jacobs has a habit of disappearing for stretches, both within games and sometimes over a week or more. He averaged 6.6 PPG this season but only scored above his average 10 times - meaning that when he showed up, he showed up big, but more frequently he just didn't show up.
His career high against Valpo in the second game of the season primed us for a big breakout season, but his next big game didn't come until a month later against Tulane, which he lit up for 18 points on 6-7 shooting from 3. The promise continues to be there, but will he be able to put together a more consistent season as a junior?
20 - Fred Thatch
Just a tough year for Fred.
An unfortunate situation for a very talented player who could have done a lot to help this team.
It feels like Fred has a lot to offer next year if we go zone as well, something we saw often working well for young guys like Hargrove or Demarius who had lapses in man to man defense.
Fred is already a plus defender in man to man defense, which is another reason for me personally that I am excited to watch this team play zone defense next year maybe more than we did this year, maybe not.
Fred is also a plus scorer which we saw early on this year.
While he may not be the most deadly shooter from range, he certainly is capable of hitting his share of threes and finishes well around the basket making this team a deep threat wherever Fred plays next year.
I expect, if healthy, that Fred could find himself in a starting spot again next year contributing heavily all year long.
The third of the "big three" Ford promised along with Goodwin and French, a long-term health issue kept Thatch out for almost the entire season. I don't know enough about his condition to speculate on his future.
However, if he's back to 100% health or even close to it and able to play out his career, the team's potential - especially on the defensive end - is top-20 for an entire season.
21 - Madani Diarra
Not much to say here.
Ford is obviously being very patient with Diarra, but now it will be interesting to see if he factors in at all with Bell and French next season, or if he still has another year of waiting.
We knew heading into this season that Diarra's health history made him a long-term project, and we indeed saw very little of him this year. We might see very little of him next year. He has size and athleticism, though, which gives him the potential to form a formidable frontcourt alongside Bell down the road.
22 - Terrence Hargrove
In a year that didn't look so promising from the jump, Terrence Hargrove showed us a lot this year.
Most importantly, he showed that nothing is bigger than his heart.
Playing through personal loss and reduced minutes as he adjusted to the college game, Terrence had his fair share of growing pains.
We all knew from what Travis was saying that Terrence would struggle on defense, and that was obvious from the jump.
Yet, come the second half of the season, Terrence slowly saw his minutes grow.
A few key injuries and next thing you know Terrence is seeing 25+ minutes in a game looking more than just competent on the defensive end.
This also had something to do with the Billikens moving to zone heavy defenses at times this season, which made it easier on Hargrove who's length and explosiveness created real problems at the point of our defensive sets.
And through it all, TJ had crazy energy and didn't let minutes bother him.
He showed that he loves where he's from, loves the city, and loves this team.
He is a Billiken through and through.
Terrence is an exciting talent for the future who had a really nice year one.
Collin's Projections: 5.5 ppg / 3.5 rpg / 1.0 apg
2019-2020 Actual: 5.4 ppg / 2.2 rpg / .29 apg
I called him possibly the best leaper SLU ever signed and it very well might be true.
No player on SLU had a higher percentage of dunks-to-FGs than Hargrove, with most of them on the other end of a beautiful Yuri Collins assist (there's a reason Hargrove recruited Collins so aggressively after committing).
He's still raw physically and in terms of his feel but his potential is sky high and he demonstrated impressive improvement over the course of his freshman season. He plays with energy and positivity and I expect him to make a big leap his sophomore season.
23 - K.C. Hankton
Not much that I can really say here.
K.C. just didn't get much oppurtunity to do much this year.
And even when he was in games, I wasn't terribly confident in his ability.
With the list of possible and already confirmed incoming players, it may be possible that we don't see K.C. in a Billiken uniform.
And then, even if we do keep him after this year, does it really matter?
I can't imagine there is much room for K.C. in year three, meaning his only real chance to shine would be as a senior, and I'm not sure if that is enough to keep K.C. here.
I wouldn't blame him for thinking this way.
But I will argue the other side of this issue here for a second.
I said at the beginning of the year that I thought K.C. was good for a spot three or two here and there.
With Jimerson showing us just how talented he is, it would seem to be impossible for K.C. to find serious minutes.
But for 3-5 minutes a game, you may be able to still use Hankton to spell Jimerson and still give you competent shooting from deep.
That's depth that top 25 teams possess, but I'm not sure that's something K.C. would even want.
Plus, it is hard to say how good his shooting can be having not seen him play much at all in his sophomore year.
Certainly not wanting to run him off, but clearly Travis is showing that K.C. does not factor much in the future of this program based on his usage in year two.
Collin's Projections: 3.0 ppg / 1.0 rpg / 0.0 apg
2019-2020 Actual: 1.2 ppg / .7 rpg / Played in only 12 games
A second straight season of nagging injuries kept Hankton on the bench for all but 65 total minutes. He showed potential as a smart, savvy player, rebounder, and shooter as a freshman. Unfortunately, we just didn't see enough of him this season to know where he fits in next year.
24 - Gibson Jimerson
What a frustrating and exciting season.
The early part of this season showed us Gibson Jimerson is FOR REAL.
And I don't mean like, "yeah, Gibby is good but he won't be ready for another 2-3 years".
Nope. Jimerson is ready to go right now, and not a moment too soon.
As we have talked about on the podcast, there has become a far too apparent theme in the way Travus Ford fills his program, which is to say that he is filling out his roster was too few four year guys opting more for immediate impact transfers.
While that is nice and all when they pan out, too often those don't work out nor do they develop long term success.
They are bandaid fixes, many of which were desperately needed when Travis came to St. Louis.
Now it's time to really build a core of guys and see if you can make the jump from irregular cinderellas to regular top-25 team.
And that starts with guys like Jimerson.
Four years of someone who can put up 25 in a hurry every night is very, very exciting stuff.
P.S. 4.5 PPG average was just disrespectful by me.
Collin's Projections:4.5 ppg / 2.5 rpg / 0.5 apg
2019-2020 Actual: 10.8 ppg / 1.5 rpg / 42.9% shooting from 3
The best pure shooter SLU has ever signed, he proved to be exactly as advertised in his first 10 games - and then a broken foot shut him down for the season.
For a team that lacked shooters last year, Jimerson showed immediately what SLU was missing, and how much more effective everyone becomes when you have consistent shooting threats on the floor.
At full health next season and lined up with Javonte Perkins and Andre Lorentsson, this team has a much different scoring identity.
32 - Jimmy Bell Jr.
Speaking of building for the future, look no further than Jimmy Bell Jr.
Talk about a surprise, Jimmy came in and not only showed that he can compete, but that he can contribute at this level.
Doing so as a freshman is very encouraging.
We also know the intangibles this guy possess.
The work ethic, the dedication, I mean cutting as much weight as he did coming in as a freshmen is crazy.
To maintain that cut by consulting with nutritionists is even crazier for a freshmen.
This kid has one mode, and that's work mode.
We saw Jimmy get winded at times this year, looking like maybe the minutes he was getting were wearing him down.
But as a freshmen, that doesn't worry me in the least.
Jimmy has pretty good footwork around the basket, a body big enough to move people so he can score, and showed competent defense for a freshmen in his first real college action.
We have had the luxury of having Has for three years now and with only one year left before he graduates, we have to keep an eye to the future and admit that we will eventually have to fill the hole that graduation will leave.
With someone like Bell, it gets a whole lot easier to fill that hole.
Collin's Projections: 1.5 ppg / 2.5 rpg / .5 apg
2019-2020 Actual: 3.8 ppg / 3.1 rpg / .29 apg
Be honest: Who had Bell penciled in as a starter? No one did, that's who. And yet, there he was taking the tip on day one and never looking back.
Bell didn't play huge minutes for a starter - 14.5 per game - nor did he put up big numbers. But for the guy we all heard was in the process of transforming his body, losing weight, getting into playing shape, and learning the game, we ended up with a surprisingly developed freshman contributor on a top-50 team.
When he has yet another offseason of conditioning behind him, a lot of those missed layups become dunks and Bell looks like a dangerous big man in the A10 for a long time.
Head Coach - Travis Ford
Someone I didn't mention in the preseason blog was Coach Ford, but I do enjoy constantly assessing how he is doing turning things around at SLU.
Coach Ford was obviously tasked in 2016 with trying to turn around a program that at best just looked apathetic under Crews.
I don't have to rehash this.
But if you look at the progress of this team under Ford, it may be safe to say I have been a little harsh on our podcast.
After going 12-21 in his first season at the helm, Ford's Billikens made steady progress climbing to an above .500 record in the '17-'18 season going 17-16.
Then you have an explosive late season run in a 23-12 season which bested the previous win total by another six and got us to the tournament as I'm sure we all remember.
Then you have this season where you finished 23-8, knocking off four regular season losses and setting the Billikens up to grow their win total more with a win or three in Brooklyn.
Bottom line here for me is that Ford was put in a flailing program that put all it's eggs in the Jim Crews basket after his success helming the Majerus teams through tournament runs.
Since then, Travis has brought in exciting recruits and local talent, improved on our record, and built this team into something of a perennial contender.
How much of a contender we can't say at this point, seeing as this season was obviously cut short, but it stands to reason that we will be a nightmare to see year in and year out under Ford.
Not because we are that overly talented or because Ford is that great of a coach, but because of the way in which Travis recruits.
He will always put a team on the floor that fights.
Travis builds his team like he played: gritty and tough.
While thats a really crude summary of Travis' playing days, its obvious that as I've said before, we will likely never have an abysmal season assuming Ford stays on the same recruiting path that he has been on.
The only problem that comes up regularly seems to be continued tough breaks on the personnel side with injuries, transfers, or off the court issues.
One of the things that I don't think we have brought enough attention to is that Travis was dealing with a lessened roster right out of the gate with the loss of Mike Lewis, a loss that you can't really quantify because we never saw him play for SLU but someone who most definitely could have helped this team.
That was then worsened by the loss of Thatch and Jimerson, which are all three sitatuions pretty well out of Ford's control.
However, with those losses this year we improved on last year showing that if nothing else Travis Ford recruits competitors and knows how to make them win games whatever it takes.
Travis Ford had another Travis Ford season at SLU. On the whole, the team outperformed modest expectations, finishing 23-8 overall, 12-6 in conference for fourth place, and grabbing a number of all-conference honors. But there were individual games that were maddening, and not just in a "we got outplayed" kind of way.
Ford and SLU looked overmatched against Duquesne both times, with the Dukes cruising to wire-to-wire double-digit victories twice. Guarding the three-point line was a weakness for the Billikens all season, with Tavion Dunn-Martin torching SLU from downtown in Pittsburgh and Sincere Carry doing the honors in St. Louis. Meanwhile, SLU had no answer for Marcus Weathers in either game, as he posted a season-high 26 points twice.
SLU suffered another demoralizing loss at Davidson and still has yet to win a game at Belk Arena. The Wildcats collapsed all over Hasahn French, coaxed Jordan Goodwin into bad shots and foul trouble, and managed to hold SLU's starting lineup to a combined 17 points with suffocating defense all over the place. The loss felt like a death blow for SLU's at-large chances at the time, and also provided the game video that would serve as Exhibit A on how to defeat SLU down the stretch.
After escaping with an overtime win against UMass at home early in A10 play, SLU coughed up a double-digit lead to lose at the Mullins Center in mid-February. Tre Mitchell, the conference's best freshman, perplexed the Bills for the second time. Meanwhile, SLU's freshman starters looked like, well, freshmen and French all but disappeared as UMass put that Davidson film to good use.
It's hard to fault Ford for either Dayton loss, narrow misses against one of the nation's top teams. Certain vulnerabilities were on display, namely perimeter defense, but both games arguably displayed Dayton's shortcomings more than SLU's.
Looking back at the non-conference schedule, the Bills very simply beat the teams they should have and lost to two better teams. The Kansas State game in hindsight looks like an essential win, given K-State's last place Big XII finish, but at the time felt more momentous.
After the ups and downs of the season, Ford had the Bills firing on all cylinders down the stretch. Almost nothing came easy this season - wins were too close, most losses were winnable, and two key players went down to season-ending health issues - until the last five games. The closest game was a 10-point win at Rhode Island. Teams ahead of SLU in the standings - VCU and St. Bonaventure - were demolished. Teams way down in the standings - George Mason and St. Joe's - were finally treated as such. SLU stole the 4-seed, the last double bye of the A10 Tournament, and was lined up with St. Bonaventure or George Mason before a tantalizing final rematch against Dayton that no one in Dayton was looking forward to - and then it all ended for reasons beyond anyone's control.
For the fourth straight year, Ford suffered some unexpected tough blows at the helm. For the third straight year, he gave SLU fans a taste of what is possible with this program. For the second straight year, he had the Bills playing by far their best basketball down the final stretch. If you told any SLU fan heading into November 2019 that the Billikens would finish the regular season 23-8, 12-6 in conference, a 4-seed for the A10 Tournament, and 49th in the NET rankings, I have a hard time believing there's even one fan who wouldn't have taken it. Now Ford faces his biggest test yet heading into the 2020-2021 season - the burden of expectations.
I mean what can we really say about this year that hasn't already been said.
Something about not getting to watch this team compete in March really makes it hard for me to gauage this season as a whole.
We talked about it on the podcast but there was something to prove going into Brooklyn this year, after running through the tournament last year.
We needed to not only prove last year wasn't a fluke, we needed to prove that Travis Ford can make sure this team wins games when it matters.
As Peter pointed out, the Duquesne games were especially maddening losses, but at the end of the day they were regular season losses you can learn from even if it hurts your at-large chances.
In Brooklyn we would have had the Bonnies likely in our first game with a potential Dayton rematch on the horizon and now we have none of that and are left looking at what could have been.
And really, was this team just on a hot streak, or were they really that good?
And think about how much a win over Dayton could have helped our preseason rankings next year.
But that is all in the past.
Now we turn our attention hopefully to another year of Billikens basketball with the hopes that we can continue building on last years success by breaking into the top-25 for the first time under Ford.
We obviously won't go in preseason ranked top-25, and hell I haven't even seen people give SLU the preseason one seed in the A10, but if this team shows up like we know they can, then there is no reason they couldn't quickly get themselves into the top-25.
We will have some challenges in the A10 - a name that jumps out to me here is UMASS - but I woudln't count out some other programs like Dayton from being serious contenders next year as well.
I saw a tweet saying imagine what would happen if Dayton could secure a big name transfer to fill in with some of the existing talent on their roster.
While this is a long shot, with the way things are right now I think anything is on the table in terms of transfers or changes in scenary for some bigger names around the country so certainly something to keep an eye on.
I mean it's conference basketball. If you don't show up every night then you are in real danger of being run out of the gym.
There's also this thing called COVID-19 which at the time of writing this has now claimed the Olympics as well, which starts getting into cancellation of late sumer / early fall sporting events meaning there is some validity to the idea that next season could very well be up in the air still.
Now I know the Olympics are a world wide event, meaning the contamination factors are higher than an A10 conference game, but seeing the precaution being taken with this virus leads me to believe at the very best next season sees a slightly delayed start and there is no fan attendance at least until next January/Frebruary at the earliest.
And this is all just educated guessing based on what other teams or leagues are doing.
The real test will be to watch what Major League Baseball does this summer or the NBA who was a majority of the way through their season prior to this shut down.
We might really need Jordan and the Looney Tunes to come save us from this nightmare we are living.
Expectations for 2020-2021:
To recap 2019-2020:
12-6 Atlantic 10 (Fourth place)
49 NET Ranking
111 Offensive Efficiency Ranking
44 Defensive Efficiency Ranking
Departures: Tay Weaver, Jack Raboin
Arrivals: Markhi Strickland, Andre Lorentsson
In short, 2020-2021 expectations can be summed up as "high". SLU returns all five starters and boasts a bench that would also be competitive in the A10 in its own right - Javonte Perkins, Fred Thatch, Gibson Jimerson, Terrence Hargrove, K.C. Hankton, Madani Diarra, and newcomers Markhi Strickland and Andre Lorentsson.
Will Fred Thatch return, and will he be 100% going forward?
Thatch's condition remains a bit of a mystery. He's been diagnosed with isolated myopathy, which prevents blood cells from functioning properly and causes fatigue, cramping, and soreness.
The three potential outcomes moving forward for Thatch are: 1) he will play but be closely monitored by doctors, 2) he can play if he takes daily medication and steriod treatments, and 3) he will never play again. With such a wide range of possibilities, SLU fans should prepare for the worst but hope for the best.
Will there be any transfers?
As of this writing, no players from the 2019-2020 rosters have indicated an intention to transfer from SLU. However, SLU has extended at least one offer (Brandon Murray) since Lorentsson's commitment and is rumored to be looking at other 2020 players.
With a roster that appears fully booked on paper heading into next season, that signals the expectation of at least one transfer or an increased probability of Thatch not returning. Stay tuned.
Will the season be delayed?
Though not specific to SLU, the possibility that the season is delayed, shortened, or otherwise impacted by COVID-19 must be considered. The recruiting calendar has already been affected, with the NCAA extending a dead period and pushing back the National Letter of Intent signing dates and AAU organizers cancelling or postponing spring events.
Schools have gone to online classes for the remainder of the spring semester and summer terms are currently up in the air. The bottom line is that no one knows how severe the outbreak will be at its peak or long it will impact public spaces, events, and everyday life.
As part of the new Mountain West-Atlantic 10 challenge, SLU will host San Diego State, one of the top teams in the country this past season. Boston College plays at SLU in the return game of a home-and-home series.
SLU travels to Carbondale for the back end of a home-and-home with SIU. The only other known event for now is the Thanksgiving weekend Orlando Invitational, where no opponents are guaranteed yet but the field includes Michigan State, Gonzaga, Xavier, Auburn, Belmont, Siena, and Boise State. The schedule has a lot of holes to fill, but with those pieces in place, it has the potential to provide a very good strength of schedule.
Overall, SLU looks formidable heading into 2020-2021 and should be the favorite to win the A10, with Dayton losing Toppin to the NBA and several seniors to graduation, Davidson and VCU underperforming this past season, and no other team returning the amount or level of talent as the Bills.
The main question about the roster is Thatch's status moving forward, but after going 23-8 without him, fans will expect incremental improvement without him and a big jump if he returns. Anything short of a top-two finish in the A10 (and probably an outright regular season championship) and NCAA Tournament bid would be a big disappointment for a team that has the very real potential to lead SLU to its first ever Sweet Sixteen.
Don't forget to check out our interviews coming out for the House That Rick Built.
Here is our current interview schedule:
Wednesday 3/25 - Former Billiken Aaron Burg talks life as the mascot.
Friday 3/27 - Jack Raboin Part One
Wednesday 4/1 - Jack Raboin Part Two
We have a lot more on the way as well, but this is all we have fully edited at the moment, more announcements to come.
Want someone to come on the show? Let us know and more importantly let them know.
If the entire Billiken community tweets / Facebook posts / etc. at people to come on our show, it will probably be more likely they listen.
Thanks for reading and following our show, stay safe and hopefully enjoy some quality family time during this pandemic.