Updated: Nov 14, 2019
Drama. The word for the A10 offseason as much as it was for the A10 post season. Coaches being removed, players leaving, lots of movement happening in the Atlantic 10.
For as long as I can remember, it has been somewhat of a coaching carousel in St. Louis. Since I can remember following Billikens basketball, we have had Soderberg/Majerus/Crews/Ford. Obviously, the unfortunate passing of coaching legend and now hall of fame inductee Rick Majerus was an uncontrollable change, SLU has not had a long term face of the program since I can remember.
Don't forget, I'm twenty. My memory is not as long as some Billikens fans.
But here's the big things to look at, as the off season officially kicks in for me following the Billikens banquet. A number of teams across the conference are watching top of the line players jump ship right now. Eric Williams Jr. and Brandon Wade for Duquesne. Sean Mobley for VCU. Nick Honor for Fordham. Probably plenty more I missed just scrolling through twitter.
We also continue with the same head coach, an issue facing Saint Joes and George Washington, and an issue that befell VCU last off season. We look like a program with direction. You could even throw Dayton into that category, to a much lesser degree.
As my cohost Zac summed it up:
"Saint Joeseph's unceremoniously fires a legend out of nowhere angering a large sentiment of fans, Richmond fans start a fire Mooney twitter account and put up billboards which is answered by the university bringing him back for another year. You also have George Washington firing their coach after three seasons and Dayton fans seemingly split down the middle concerning the direction of the program under Grant."
Apart from Cart'ere Gordon, SLU has kept their group in tact and under the same leadership. Moreover, they have continued adding fresh and exciting talent, as we already watch the highlights from Hargrove and Collins pile up. With three remaining scholarships, it might even be possible to see more additions, specifically in the transfer market at this point in the year.
We are also talking about the future of someone like Javonte Perkins, while we expect general improvement from Goodwin/French/Thatch/Hankton/Jacobs.
The Billikens look poised from that stand point to be one of the top competitors in the league next year. Now the Billikens will be young. There is no getting around that. We have had a huge exodus of talent in the senior class, as it relates to importance to the team, and so Travis Ford will be looking to fill that hole with some less experienced guys, albeit talented players.
We will have frustration next year, there is no doubt about that. We will have learning curves to get past, as every team does. But under the leadership of Travis Ford, we hopefully won't have a problem buying in to the program and the university, but most importantly the team.
Once again, we are looking at a Billiken team and saying, "we should be deeper". Or at least I am. And I definitely believe we should be a much deeper team. As we talked about on our season recap show, and as I have already alluded to here, the influx of talent coming in will be nice, it will just be young and underdeveloped.
We will have options on defense, we won't be backed into a certain lineup based on any of these three reasons:
1) Best players have to play.
2) Injury limiting bench.
3) Foul trouble.
While injury and foul trouble can always hamstring any team no matter how deep, we look, very early on, like a team that should have some roster depth and flexibility. But again, I reiterate, we are young. We look like a team of high school all stars with a sprinkling of veteran presence, if you want to place that tag on any of the Billikens' returning class.
As was touched on by Zac Miller via our "House Rick Built" twitter account, Coach Ford has high hopes for this group, and I cautiously put myself into that boat. In his tenor at SLU, Ford has amassed a 52-50 record, but I don't think that tells the true story of what Travis Ford has done for this program in only three years.
Lest we forget, that prior to Travis Ford, the Billikens were an apathetic team who lived at the bottom of the conference and could not recruit in the St. Louis area to save its life. Missed out on a lot of great players, including the likes of Jason Tatum, which was a much more likely signing than I think anyone truly realized in Billiken nation, myself definitely included.
But enough looking in the past. Since coming to SLU, Ford has brought in guys like Goodwin, Hargrove, Yuri Collins, yes, even Cart'ere Gordon. Big local talents, guys who maybe weren't commanding huge offers elsewhere, but who offered a lot of upside for the program.
It took Travis Ford only two years to give us a program with a winning record, and only three years to get us into the NCAA tournament, even if it did take some spectacular late play from the Billikens that I think more than a few fans were shocked by.
And Ford has his sights set still further. As Zac reported from the awards banquet, "Ford just laid down that his goal is to make the final four with this program."
I do not believe this is a lofty goal. Billikens fans, this is well within Ford and company's grasp. We return next year to a conference that saw a fair amount of turnover. It will be safe to pencil the likes of VCU, Dayton, and Davidson back near the top of the conference, but with the departure of seniors Kaputo/Stockard/Griffin, it will be interesting to see how the young guns at St. Bonaventure can fill the holes.
It is probably safe to assume George Mason won't get off to the same kind of start they did this year. I have already detailed some of the problems plaguing teams like Saint Joes and Duquesne.
Travis Ford has this team prepped for a competitive trip through the conference and into Brooklyn next year. For the first time since Coach Majerus, I feel like this team has the opportunity year in and year out to compete for a conference championship and a possible berth to the NCAA tournament. Final four is another story, but someone gets to be Cinderella almost every year. Why not us.
Build your name enough and you can just build a Final Four team, but that takes a lot of program development.
Again, this is more of a feel thing than a know thing. I say it once again, we will be a young team. No guarantees on how this team will play.
But there seems to be an identity with this team that hasn't been there in a little while: tough, hard nose, blue collar basketball. Bring your lunch pail and hard hat to work. We are going after you all game long, no quit. This was as evident as ever against Virginia Tech at the end of the year.
Down by as many as twenty points, the Billikens never gave up, and outscored tech in the second half. This team doesn't quit, and that is as much a testament to Travis Ford and his leadership since coming to SLU.
He also has a lot of guys bought into this team. As Zac reported from the banquet, "To reiterate: Hasahn, Javon, DJ, Goodwin, and Fred all have Team Blue inked on them. Commitment at another level."
These guys are truly a team under Coach Ford. This upcoming year seems like a statement year.
If you call last year the coming out party for Travis Ford at SLU, this year is a statement year without a question. And I thought last year was that coming out party, even if it was a late starting party. Making another deep run in the conference tournament, along with compiling a record that gives us a good chance for an at-large bid would prove that the Billikens are here to stay.
No, this isn't do or die. I don't know if any Billikens fans are calling for Travis Ford's job after this year. I couldn't see how they would after next year. This isn't Richmond after all.
It's not just about on the court either. Prior to the Billikens' game in San Jose, Coach Ford made sure SLU student reporter Carter Chapley was able to make the flight out to cover the team, offering to personally pay for Carter to get there.
This is a Coach who has bought into the program, and who has bought in to what it means to be a Billiken: a hard working, blue collar coach, who does the little things to win, both on and off the court.
I think my cohost put it best when he said, " We're going to be good next season. We're going to be very good in two seasons."
Lots to look forward to next November if you are a Billiken fan.
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In the meantime, enjoy this Old Town Road clip we posted on twitter.