There was a not a pretty game among them…but, 5-1 is 5-1. Your St. Louis Billikens have laid the foundation for a season that is primed for a dance with madness. There’s only a couple issues standing between SLU and an A-10 title, and they are as familiar as the roads home we travelled this past weekend. Let’s look back at November, and look forward at the cold midwestern winter to come.
Old Habits are Dying Hard
No matter the level of hoops being played, from 6th grade to Game 7 of the NBA Finals, there are 3 magic things that can cost every team a game, and int turn, a season. Free throw shooting, offensive rebounds given up, and turnovers. SLU suffers terribly from two of these afflictions. As a team they are averaging 15 turnovers a game and shooting 62% from the stripe. Those numbers may fly against the SEMO’s and Central Arkansas’ of the NCAA, but not in drag ‘em out A-10 games. I could have copied and pasted this paragraph from a story last November. There’s a point when it isn’t on the players anymore, it’s on the prep, scheming, and coaching.
As far as the free throws goes, the work Coach Ford put in with Hasahn French has changed his stroke into one that can turn him into a C free throw shooter. That kind of jump in his game would change the end of games this year and could seal a contest or two.
Turnovers on the other hand…The issue from my eyes on the games is that this team has yet to truly understand how much you must value possessions in order to control and dominate basketball games. Poor passes, bad decisions, and not knowing when to back it out and start over again have nearly cost this team 3 of their wins…and the aforementioned free throw issues lost them the Pitt game.
The Kids Are Growing Up so Fast
Travis Ford has not coached with true team depth since he was at Oklahoma State, until now. The cupboard at Chaifetz is overflowing with legit top level D-1 talent. The three true freshman Fred Thatch, Demarius Jacobs, and Cart’Are Gordon mark a second straight stellar recruiting class after French and Goodwin made their way to midtown last fall. These 5 will make up the starting lineup next season with the silky smooth southpaw jumper of KC Hankton filling that 6th man role. Good now, good again next season. Ford is building, but if success comes, will he stay to enjoy it?
The Old Dog and his New Trick
I have a soft spot for Javon Bess. The man has a motor that never shuts off, a defensive intensity that Scottie Pippen would appreciate, and a college career that could break lesser players. He was recruited by the great Tom Izzo to be a part of a Michigan State program that more than likely guarantees a run to at least the Elite 8 in your college career. Then, his clock waned, and he knew in order to see the floor more than a dozen minutes a night he would have to transfer.
He came to the STL and did not mope or complain. He worked his tail off. Last season he gained All A-10 Defensive team honors and was the steady and consistent hand on a 17-16 team. He logged 36 minutes a game and didn’t slow. He had one obvious flaw in his game, an outside jump shot. Last season he didn’t look comfortable shooting anything outside of 15 feet. He finished the year shooting 27% from three. So, over the summer he worked and worked and worked. The early returns have been impressive. He’s shooting 39.3% from deep dropping 11 of 28 attempts. Good on ya JB.
December gets tougher for the Billikens. Things start on Saturday when the Butler Bulldogs come to town. The month also features tilts against Oregon State, Houston, and the 14th ranked Florida State Seminoles. And as a reward for that….the A-10 schedule kicks off the new year. Pay attention in December and we’ll all see exactly who these Billikens are, and what they’re made of.
Until then, long live summer work.