Heat Check: How good are the Billikens?

Assessing the early success of the Billikens.

Following a blow out win for the Billikens against Tulane, a win that was powered by a 17 for 27 shooting effort from three, it can be easy to feel really good about this team.

For the first time in the Travis Ford era, we are seeing what a team built from the ground up by our fearless leader can look like. And it hasn't disappointed yet.

While a tough loss to Seton Hall might have hurt our chances of seeing Chaifetz full for a little while, the 8-1 start for the Bills is a sight for sore eyes to those of us who labored through the days of Jim Crews and the early days of Ford.

We are winning games that we should, and we are winning tight games against SIU and Belmont. Even last year there where times early where that didn't happen.

But looming on the horizon is the Billikens' greatest challenge yet this year maybe.

Seton Hall was a great team when they came to St. Louis, but even then at their peak they were not better than Auburn.

The Billikens need to find a way to show they can at the very least compete with a team as high caliber as Auburn.

The Billikens' are going up against their second top-15 opponent and will need to find a way to be competitive in those games for at large bids or end of year consideration.

While I don't believe this is the end all be all, or completely eliminates our chances of an NCAA tournament bid, I would much rather see us building up our resumé as early as possible.

Plus, let's also not forget the now fourteenth ranked Dayton Flyers who have been impressing all over the country with a potential top ten draft pick in Obi Toppin and the VCU Rams who have been flirting with the top 25.

Now you also have the Duqeunse Dukes who have begun receiving votes for the top 25 as well and you know Rhode Island will find their way into the conversation. You also can't forget George Mason who has had a nice start to their season.

The A10 is going to be a very competitive conference this year.

Since the Bills first and only loss of the year thus far against Seton Hall, they have gone through a very nice five-game win streak.

During that run, the Billikens had decisive victories over High Point and Boston College, a way too close win over SIU, a nail biter over a pretty good Belmont team, and finally the complete dismantling of Tulane on Sunday.

With High Point, we saw just how good Gibson Jimerson can be. On this team the questions marks so far have been the new guys, not the returners. As a metter of fact, Demarius Jacobs performance this year has only done more to solidfy that the returners know what needs to be done and can make it happen.

With Belmont, we saw French find another gear and explode for a record 24 rebounds that paired nicely with his 21 points and seven blocks while Goodwin quietly pumped in another 13 showing just how talented this junior core is.

Boston College gave the Billikens' a nice road win over an ACC opponent in a game where Jordan Goodwin willed the team to victory with French watching from the bench for almost the enitre first half.

SIU was an above average team that came in with a record that didn't match up to their 45 percent shooting from the floor, a number that ended up making this game more of a nailbiter than one would have thought.

Tulane, God Bless Tulane. Poor guys never saw it coming. I mean 55% shooting from the floor, 60% shooting from three for SLU. Dismantling is the kindest way to say that one team was just locked in and was going to win no matter what. Luckily, that team was the Billikens.

In this five game stretch, the Bills are shooting 44% from the field while also shooting 33% from three and averaging 13.8 turnovers a game which has cost them on average 16.2 points per game.

While turnovers have been hurting the Bills, they are holding opponents to 38% shooting from the floor and have not given up more than sixty-five points in this stretch.

As a team, SLU has averaged 12.4 second chance points per game on 14.4 offensive rebounds per game, a pretty efficient clip for offensive rebounds to become points.

This may be another reason why SLU has averaged 34 points in the paint per game during this stretch.

SLU has also received hugely consistent production from their bench which is chipping in 26.2 points per game in large part thanks to Javonte Perkins and Gibson Jimerson, two names that very well may force themselves into the starting lineup in the future.

But look, we are not full strength by any means. We have not had our full compliment of weapons available and that's not hard to tell.

We have seen Yuri Collins' minutes dip as the turnover rate rises for the freshman point guard.

Where the hell is Fred Thatch and is he okay/alive?

I have the stongest sense of "Dejá Vu" watching Tay Weaver try to find his groove knowing just how good his shooting can be, similar to what we saw with Tremaine Isabell last year.

And Terrence Hargrove is essentially playing walk on minutes.

And yet we are still 8-1.

Not dissimilar to last year where SLU was dealing with injuries left and right, this year we actually have the depth to handle such injuries or bad games.

Yuri Collins has shown that at the very least he can spell Jordan from running the point all game long. Javonte Perkins can offer a nice mix of scoring, length, and rebounding that is similar to Javon Bess, all be it not as talented nor as aggressive.

Gibson Jimerson is the sixth best freshman shooter in the country from three at 45% which only confirms what Billikens fans already know: this kid is the real deal. While you aren't looking for him to be a complete player right out of the box, he has shown that he quite honestly might be just that.

He moves well without the ball fnding open shot opportunities, he can defend well enough to make him a viable option in crunch time minutes, and he plays with a sense of poise and confidence that makes him fit right in with the likes of Goodwin and French.

With our upperclass core of Goodwin and French, coupled with the young talent of Collins', Jimmy Bell Jr., Jacobs, etc., and shooting from Jimerson and Weaver, this team has beaten everyone they need to.

Now let's see if they can beat a team they aren't supposed to, a team that is averaging over 80 points per game. Will the Billikens be over whelmed as they were with Seton Hall?

Will the be punched in the mouth early and forced to stumble through the game blindly?

Not likely as the size matchup with Auburn shouldn't be as overwhelming as it was with Seton Hall.

Auburn is an atheltic team that likes to score. The Billikens are a gritty-blue collar team that likes the game to slow down more and lives on points in the paint.

As we saw against Boston College, when the game gets ugly, the Billikens thrive.

They create chaos on the offensive end, moving around so much in their criss crossing offense it acts like the bats swarming batman in the Christopher Nolan movies.

Only the man hopping out of the middle is Jordan Goodwin for a 2-foot lay in not a masked vigilante fighting crime.

All jokes aside, if the Billikens are going to be successful against Auburn, look to see how many kick out buckets we get.

We have some shooters but save for Tay Weaver, we don't have any that can create and hit shots off the dribble with consistency, and Tay still lacks either confidence or comfort in the offense to shoot at a high volume.

Our shot creators that we do have, I lack any real confidence in their ability to shoot from anywhere outside of 10-feet.

So when our shot creators are causing the defense to bite on them and getting kick out oppurtunities for guys like Jimerson, Weaver, and Perkins, you know our offense is firing on all cylinders.

I feel like I have bemoaned this for sometime myself because I didn't like the idea of not having any real set offense, but it does seem like there is method in the madness.

So it remains to be seen if the Bills can beat Auburn, but Saturday's game is a real test of whether we are a bubble/NIT type team, or a repeat tournament team.

Past that, the Billikens wrap up non-conference play with a game against Maryville, a la Rick Majerus scheduling, and then a tough road test against Kansas State before going up against Bethune-Cookman.

I would expect SLU to finish their non-conference schedule 11-2, which is not at all a bad record for the first half, but lacks the fire power in terms of notable wins to garner any national recognition.

Hopefully it at least prepared this team for January.

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