By Carter Chapley
St. Louis, MO
I waited an extra day to finish this Report Card in an effort to really come to the most rational, and measured response to what happened at Chaifetz Arena on Sunday afternoon.
The Billikens got a reality check as the result of one of the most anticipated games in recent SLU history, was the Bills got beaten down from the very get go, dropping their first game of the season 83-66. After going down 10-0 to start the first half the Bills never recovered. The defense looked porous; the offense looked lost.
Meanwhile on the other bench, the Pirates could do no wrong. National Player of the Year candidate Myles Powell coasted to 26 points, looking like he hardly broke a sweat, and the Seton Hall forward depth was unbothered, even having two forwards foul out and still looking just as dominant.
It’s easy to overreact to the shelling that took place, and plenty did. The Billikens were outmatched in every single way, and rarely looked like the team we’ve come to know over the previous three games of the season. While they did show signs of life late in the first half and in garbage time, it was clear Seton Hall wasn’t putting forward its best efforts when the Bills went on those runs.
That all being said, the long term ramifications of the loss are far less apocalyptic than some have implied.
What happened was the result of a handful of things. For starters, undoubtedly Seton Hall is one of the best teams in the country, with one of the best offensive players in college basketball. The Pirates are one of the most physically dominating teams in the country and very few can match their presence. And finally, the Billikens ran into a team far more experienced than they are, and far more mature.
It is a well-known fact that the Billikens have 7 new players in their rotation, including 5 freshmen. Travis Ford reminds everyone of this regularly, in both practice and post-game comments. Seton Hall on the other had returned 88% of its scoring from last season. The Billikens were simply outmatched by a stronger, older, and more cohesive unit of players.
The Billikens made their game plan clear in the early part of the game and confirmed what their plan was in the post-game presser. The Billikens plan was to get the ball into the paint, specifically to Hasahn French, and then either have Hasahn go to work there, or to use his passing skills to create shot opportunities.
The Seton Hall Pirates were having none of that.
The Pirates dominated the inside game and allowed absolutely nothing to take place, and the Billikens had no response. Mike Tyson once said, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth” and that’s exactly what happened Sunday. When the game plan failed, the Bills lack of experience truly showed itself. The Pirates beat them in the first 5 minutes of the game. Last year’s Billikens squad for example, which was far more experienced, didn’t melt like this.
It is also true that the Bills shot themselves in the foot all night long and will continue to lose games against good teams if they don’t figure out their issues. The most obvious of which is their free throw shooting. You cannot miss 18 free throws in any game and expect to win.
The Billikens season will be defined by this game one way or another. They either learn from this develop and grow or they will lose all confidence and crumble. The Billikens are a very young team, who need time to find their sea legs so to speak. This loss shows us just where they need to develop and can set the standard for what a truly dominant national power looks like. The Billikens may not even beat the other nationally recognized or major brand name schools the rest of the way, but we now know what to measure those performances against. If we see improvement, that’s a positive, but the panic button shouldn’t be hit until they show what kind of progression they can make throughout the year.
The season is not over, far from it, this squad will get better. Post-Game Colin Kessler of the House that Rick Built podcast made an excellent point about the value of these kinds of losses against top level teams. The same team that won four games in four days in Brooklyn to go to the big dance, also got blown out by Florida State, lost to Houston and Pitt, and lost four in a row in A-10 play. And while yes, that certainly doesn’t mean you can rely on a miracle run every March, it hardly means all is lost.
The Billikens have more opportunities to prove themselves before conference games begin. They got dominated by one of the best teams in the country. Part of the disappointment may come from heightened expectations coming into the game, the legitimate potential to shock the nation. But now the reality of this team is clear, and we all can collectively move forward realistically and know what to expect. A young team, needing to grow.
Hasahn French- 2 Stars
Hasahn is in a tough spot. He is absolutely the focal point of the offense, so he bears the burden on a night where the offense failed. Late in the game he showed why he is one of the best players in the A-10 and looked dominant on both ends. But on the flip side, there is a major problem with the way Hasahn plays and it is only a matter of time before opposing teams specifically key in on it and punish him.
Hasahn needs to be able to hit free throws.
His play-style is physical, and he is one of the most dominating players on the court in all situations. He is a dangerous scorer, and a shutdown defender. But his play style is going to get him to the line a half dozen times or more a game. Eastern Washington keyed into this in the first half and told their players “any foul on 11 is a good foul” and the Pirates certainly didn’t mind defending him by sending him to the line twelve times.
Conference opponents are going to exploit this, and if Hasahn doesn’t get this in check, Hack-a-French is going to be something the SLU faithful need to get used to.
Yuri Collins- 3 Stars
Yuri is expected to be the Billiken leader of the future, and to this point in his short career, he has shown why he deserves that praise. The Seton Hall game was Yuri’s first real hesitation of the season.
The freshmen point guard has been instant offense for the Bills and was trusted by his coach late in games for his defensive intensity, but Yuri’s long-term development needed a game like this. Yuri looked out of place for the first time and that mostly comes from the fact that he, and the offense as a whole, genuinely looked lost after their game plan broke down.
In the future, Yuri is going to be looked to when things go sideways. Having this experience to know what it is like when those moments come is a valuable learning lesson for the young point guard.
Gibson Jimerson- 4 Stars
Billiken fans got a taste of the kind of player Jimerson can be for them going forward. Gibson made three 3’s and showed an ability to do more offensively than just hit spot up perimeter shots. He also hit all three of his free throws.
What is most encouraging from the shooters performance though was his game on the other end of the floor. Gibson played very well on defense in extended minutes against some of the Pirates best offensive threats. He earned his 22 minutes (5th most of any Billiken) and was the lone Billiken with a non-negative plus-minus in extended minute’s.
Gibson is expected to be a sharpshooter, and he did that. If he can add “plus defender” or even just “reliable defender” to his resume, Travis Ford is going to have a hard time taking him out. He showed that kind of potential tonight, where, on many occasions Gibson was the Billiken responsible for relaying defensive schemes from the bench to his teammates.
A good night from the Virginian.
Jordan Goodwin and Fred Thatch- 2 Stars
I graded Jordan and Fred together in my previous report card and I’ll do so again tonight. The two simply didn’t do enough tonight and that got them into a hole. The Billikens rely on their big three to lead them both on and off the court, and the on-court performance just wasn’t encouraging. Jordan showed promise in spurts but couldn’t sustain it, and Fred was essentially invisible not making a field goal all night. Part of that stems from being the key focus of the Seton Hall defensive scheme, while also spending extended periods of time guarding one of the best players in the country.
Regardless, the Billikens need more from their stars.
Javonte Perkins- 4 Stars
Four games into the season, Javonte is starting to show flashes of the guy he could be, or of the guy he was in junior college. The transfer is looking more and more comfortable with the speed of the game and is taking more initiative when the ball is in his hands.
Javonte is primed for a breakout game and for a moment in the first half it looked like Sunday afternoon was that game. If he can roll his first half performance into extended periods of time, the Billikens will have another dominant threat in the offensive end for two more years.
Terrence Hargrove Jr and the Development Staff- 4 Stars
Terrence’s grade and performance comes in context. Considering after the first two games Terrence was yet to get meaningful playing time and the public questions of his future started to arise, Terrence (and by extension the development staff) have showed there is nothing to worry about.
TJ, as he likes to be called, has shown measurable improvements in positioning and understanding scheme through the last two games. He has gotten extended minutes and has shown he is absolutely improving in practice and will one day be a major contributor to this team. I don’t know when his time will come but based on the short sample size of improvement, I won’t rule out this year.
The Billikens earn a D from me, but ultimately the grade of this game will only be relevant in future performances. If the game serves as a learning opportunity and humbling experience to encourage the group to work hard and play differently, then it’s a good looking and valuable D. But if things swing the other way, this loss will simply be the first example of what this team is.