Travis Ford vehemently doesn’t believe that any metric is possible to measure non-conference success in any sensible or reasonable way. Simply too much has happened to put those kinds of things out of coaches’ control. So, he doesn’t fret when people question him on the type of games his team is playing in 2020.
At multiple points in the offseason, SLU had built a schedule that would be competitive on a national level and give them challenges to overcome. Now the challenges or goals are going to be more esoteric. Last week, the Bills took down LSU in a nationally recognized and appraised game…today Arkansas Pine-Bluff.
A game against Pine-Bluff isn’t going to draw many eyes. It’s not going to get much acclaim or help the Billikens prove their case to the nation. But it is an opportunity to get better, improve on places where you don’t feel comfortable, and continue to mesh as a team.
In a specific way, the game is an opportunity for at least one key Billiken to make his 2020 debut and another to continue their rehab. Hasahn French will be on the court for the first time after clearing concussion protocol, and Fred Thatch is hopeful of getting some limited time after spraining his knee in the season opener. So, the Billiken faithful will get their first true opportunity to see this team at “full force.”
In many ways, this game against Arkansas Pine-Bluff is much like the season opener just over a week ago. The Billikens are well-favored to win, and anything short of a clear and decisive victory is going to leave a bad taste in your mouth after the game.
On the other hand, the AKP Golden Lions are a battle-tested group. They’ve played four games already against some of the nation’s top competition and have done so entirely on the road. One could very easily make the argument that they’ve played the most challenging non-conference schedule in the nation, all things considered. They will not come into Chaifetz Arena scared or nervous. They won’t be intimated… they’ve done this before, and they clearly aren’t afraid to get the doors blown open on them, given their average score margin is -35 this season.
The point being, the Bills are clearly playing with loaded die going into this one…but if you roll them often, enough Snake Eyes are sure to come up eventually. It is important for the Billikens not to take their eye off the ball and let this kind of game slip away…especially after what they accomplished last week.
On the court, the Billikens are expecting to see a lot of zone defense thrown at them. Whereas the Bills are more so expecting to show more man coverages and work to improve themselves on both sides of the floor in that sense. The Golden Lions also allow one of the shortest defensive possession averages in the nation. APB often tries to play at an up-tempo pace on offense and try to press on defense in the full court. This leads to them oftentimes giving up quick buckets on the break. Given SLU’s rebounding and their wealth of players comfortable playing with the ball, they have an opportunity to really work out their preferred press breaks and transition offenses.
Given the time off between games, it’s hard to say if Travis Ford and his staff will want to continue building up his bench’s minutes (and therefore experience and confidence) in games like these… or if it’s more important to give his starters time to get more in rhythm overall. Given the Billikens will play at least two games a week from now till Christmas…it may be more of the former, but for some players, it’s an opportunity to improve their standing. I am particularly looking for Jimmy Bell and Demarius Jacobs to continue to make strides and become more consistent role players.
SLU is going to have a long slog of games similar to these. Barring any unforeseen additions to the schedule (which is possible), the Bills will play exactly one more game in 2020 where they won’t be the overwhelming favorites. It’s going to take some genuine mental discipline to play these games and continue to bring the energy night in and night out.