SLU is 3-0 and continuing to gain national attention. They crossed the century mark for the first time in 25 years in their last game out and are looking nothing like the Billiken teams of the past.
In previous years, the Billikens have sometimes had a hard time putting away teams in lower tiers than them early in the year. They struggle to find their offense, the new players get lost on defense, and ultimately the Billikens win…but the game is a lot closer than maybe some fans are comfortable with.
Those close wins make the Bills seem weaker than they actually are; they look like they are struggling and not just working out the kinks like most programs are. The Travis Ford experience isn’t always easy to adapt to, but thus far, it seems to have worked, year-after-year.
This year, no such problem has plagued the Billikens. They dominated in the games they are supposed to dominate in and competed in the game that was supposed to be a tough battle. The Bills have a deep enough understanding of who they are and how they want to win games that by the time the second half comes around against weaker teams…they are already subbing in deep bench players and getting them experience opportunities.
Hasahn French highlighted this kind of mindset in his post-game remarks after the win over Arkansas Pine-Bluff when he said that when he knows he can get buckets a certain kind of way in games like these, he tries something new just to get the practice doing it. I highlighted in my weekly column for ScoopswithDannyMac.com that Jordan Goodwin felt confident taking more threes in the low-risk environment, so he will feel more comfortable taking those shots in more competitive matchups.
Ultimately for the Billikens, these games need to have some sort of positive outcomes. And winning is kind of granted, so what’s the next level?
For me, there are some key performances I highlight looking into this game against Central Arkansas.
Gibson Jimerson on defense and shots not from the three-point line
Gibson has proven his value as a starter and core member of the success of the Bills. That being said, there are many places he can continue to grow into and become a complete player who can ultimately become not just a good player but a great player. Gibson has done an excellent job creating looks off the dribble and not just being an outside shooter. Teams will close out on him hard, and being able to make easy scoring opportunities because of that aggressiveness will make him essentially unstoppable.
Demarius Jacobs continuing to be an impact role player
The Phantom last year has been an impact scorer and defender in all three games this season. When he was good last season, he was outstanding. But when he was bad, he wasn’t even bad; he was just invisible. If the Billikens can get consistent impacts from Demarius off the bench, this team's depth is astronomical. Look for Demarius to play lots of on-ball defense and shoot the ball well in the half-court.
Can Terrence Hargrove get his own shot?
Terrance Hargrove Jr is an absolute beast of an athlete, but in his short career at SLU thus far, he has mostly been an off-ball role player who fills in well when called upon. No, discredit to him; he has improved drastically on both ends of the floor. In the later moments of the game, when there aren’t other key scorers on the roster, I would love to see Terrence work more as a ball-handler and a creator. I think he has that in him, and for his future development as a player, unlocking that early will do wonders for him and Team Blue.
Who steps up after the starters are done for the day?
The biggest advantage of having these games and opportunities is to see the deep bench and what the future holds in the now. The biggest “problem” perse with the group that has come on late is that they clearly don’t know how to operate yet and need to find a comfort that can only come with time and experience.
It’s a lot to ask a group of rookies or sophomores to just play without the five experienced starters or key bench guys, but now is the time to let growing pains happen. The group has no direction, and no one has stepped up to push the issue on the floor. It looks like no one wants to make a mistake, so no one moves or activates when in the half-court.
No sweat though, these are why the opportunities are important. Let Markhi Strickland, or Phillip Russell, or Andre Lorentsson, or Jimmy Bell Jr (unfair to lump him in like that, but he’s played the late minutes) take over and be “the guy” that things go through. One day, they will need to be that.
SLU can grab another important win and keep the momentum rolling. As always, we should feel lucky with games being played at all. With the women’s team shutting down for a second time this young season…it’s a reminder that this can all be paused at any time.
The tip-off for the Billikens will come at 7 pm central time. The game will be televised on FOX Sports Midwest, with ESPN+ streaming the game outside the FSMW blackout area. Dan McLaughlin and Billiken Hall of Famer Scott Highmark will call the action. The Billikens' radio broadcast can be heard on the new Voice of the Billikens, KMOX 1120 AM, and radio.com. As always, Billiken Hall of Famers Bob Ramsey and Earl Austin Jr. will be on the call.