Saint Louis host the St. Bonaventure Bonnies for each team’s final game of the season and the Billikens’ senior night this Saturday at 7pm. The Billikens – 22-8 and 11-6 in conference – and the Bonnies – 19-11 overall and 11-6 conference – are tied for 4th place in the conference and can still finish anywhere from 3rd to 5th place in the Atlantic 10 before the conference tournament in Brooklyn next Wednesday. The top 4 seeds in the tournament receive double-byes and will not play until Friday, providing great advantages to said teams with more rest and only a 3-game road to the championship.
The Billikens swept their two-game road-trip to extend their winning streak to four games and have now won five of their last six. The Bonnies defeated Saint Joseph’s earlier this week but have lost 3 of their last five; Momentum, and of course the home-court advantage, are very much in favor of Saint Louis. After Wednesday’s game at George Mason the Billikens, Bonnies, and Duquesne Dukes were all tied at 11-6 until Duquesne lost at home to Richmond tonight to fall to fifth place – half a game behind Saturday night’s contestants at 11-7. With a win tomorrow night the Billikens will improve to 12-6, one game above both St. Bonaventure and Duquesne, and place between 3rd and 4th dependent on the result of the matchup between Rhode Island at UMass. Rhode Island is currently 12-5, but if they were to lose Saturday and fall to 12-6 the head-to-head tiebreaker is held by Saint Louis who beat Rhode Island by double-digits on their home court last Sunday.
Vegas lists Saint Louis as 5 and a half point favorites and ESPN gives them a 74.1% win-probability over St. Bonaventure, but statistics show a much closer matchup. Below is a comparison of team statistics:
SLU outranks St. Bonaventure in each of the above statistics but by slim margins. St. Bonaventure, much like George Mason, is a diverse offensive team. Four Bonnies average double-digit scoring figures – Lofton (G), Welch (G), English (G), and Osunniyi (C) – yet none average double-digit rebounding figures, which bides well for the Billikens. Sophomores Kyle Lofton and Osun Osunniyi lead the team in assists and blocks, 6.1 APG and 2.6 BPG, and matchup interestingly against Billiken freshman Yuri Collins (5.5 APG) and junior Hasahn French (2.6 BPG). An increased amount of turnovers has been an issue for Saint Louis, averaging nearly 15 per game, and I expect that to be a point of focus in Coach Ford’s game plan, and on the contrary I believe St. Bonaventure will implement a full-court press that recent opponents have seen such success with against the Billikens.
My three points of focus for tomorrow night’s game plan are as follows:
- Continue with the trend of offensive output and efficiency. The Billikens have averaged 75.6 PPG in their last 10 games and have shot greater than 50% from the field for their last 6. That scoring average is between 9 and 10 points greater than the last two seasons’ averages.
- Limit turnovers, especially during full-court presses. Forced passes and rash decisions have resulted in many 2nd half turnovers as of late, and those 2nd half turnovers have resulted in many Billiken leads cut short or even forfeited entirely. At George Mason a 16-point lead was cut to just 4 after 3 Yuri Collins’ turnovers and a 14 to 2 George Mason scoring run – momentum swings can do great damage to this young team’s composure and ability to close out a game.
- Hasahn French. Hasahn averages over 12 PPG and 10 RPG yet has only recorded one double-double in the last 7 games. In that stretch of games his scoring and rebounding lows were a mere 5 and 2, both in the loss at UMass. Hasahn French is as valuable on defense as he is on offense but it is much easier for the Billikens to build and maintain leads when he is contributing on both ends of the court. I predict Hasahn French to remind the rest of the league of his prowess with a 15 point, 11 rebound, and 4 block performance tomorrow night while also holding Osunniyi to fewer than 10 points and 8 rebounds.
You do not want to miss this game, as it is #TeamBlue’s last chance to play in Chaifetz Arena and the final game for seniors Tay Weaver and Jack Raboin. A four-game winning streak, a chance to improve conference tournament seeding, and a potential NCAA Tournament bid are all at stake in tomorrow night’s contest so purchase your tickets while you still can – they are available for as little as $10 here! If you choose to support from home you can watch on Fox Sports Midwest or listen on 101.1 ESPN; tip-off is at 7PM. Follow me on Twitter (Billiken Basketball Beat) for game day news, live updates, and commentary throughout the game and as always #BillsBy40.