By Carter Chapley
St. Louis, MO
Narratives in college basketball live on the razors edge. In just 5 seconds the Billikens went from grabbing their biggest home win possibly ever, to being a footnote in the nation’s well-earned respect for the Dayton Flyers.
They went from proving they are a legit force, to just not quite good enough. That is, according to the public discord seen on twitter, television, and all the other channels of media we have in 2020. But given how close that line between glory and failure is, it’s hard not to see all the silver linings there are for the Billikens despite the disappointing outcome Friday night.
On the national stage, prime time TV, the Billikens proved once again that they can keep step with the best teams in college basketball. For 35 minutes the Bills controlled play and forced the Flyers to play their kind of basketball. Despite their atrocious free throw performance, the Billikens were right there.
It was not a miracle shot that gave Dayton the win but simply one of, if not the most, talented teams in the nation turning it into high gear when the moment mattered most. Truly elite teams have that extra little bit, a feel for the big moment, they have a knack for winning basketball games. Down 11 with 6 minutes to play, the Flyers found what they needed and took over. The Billikens response in matching them down the stretch was encouraging, but the difference in experience, and talent ultimately gave Dayton the upper hand.
There’s a lot to unpack in a game like this but it’s hard not to start at the charity stripe. The Billikens are clearly a talented basketball team full of athletes who are also very talented. But they will never cross the threshold into “elite” so long as they leave upwards of 15-16 points or more at the line. Billikens style basketball requires them to play far too physically to be a team where defenders feel comfortable guarding by fouling ad nauseam. Especially down the stretch in close games.
The only truly troubling parts of this game (beyond the aforementioned foul shooting of course) were the final 6 minutes of defense, which, are admittedly the most important moments of the game. And the time they went without Jordan Goodwin in the overtime period. Even then, in those periods of time there were silver linings.
The final 6 minutes were a combination of the Dayton Flyers being extremely talented, and the Billikens losing track of the perimeter. SLU allowed far too many wide-open perimeter looks off in transition and odd man rushes. Dayton wanted to put shots up from outside and the Bills allowed them to despite successfully dominating the paint.
The silver lining there was the emergence of individuals like Javonte Perkins and Yuri Collins. The Billikens need more players than Jordan Goodwin and Hasahn French to step up to play impact minutes. Javonte’s scoring along with Yuri’s game management was what the Billikens needed to mount a comeback of their own, sending the game to overtime.
The larger concern about Jordan fouling out is the trend that is starting to emerge out of it. In 5 conference games Jordan has had 4 fouls or more in four of them. He had 4 at Auburn and 4 against Belmont. So, the question must be asked, can Jordan play elite defense against top tier opponents without fouling? The answer for now is yes, but he needs to learn to better use his fouls. Taking a charge with 4 fouls in overtime is painfully disappointing, but the fouls taken 30 feet from the basket are harder to swallow. Jordan plays with an intensity possessed by very few, but that can get him into trouble. Clearly Jordan needs to see his fouls more as a resource and better utilize them.
This is the first time the Billikens have had to finish a game without him, and it showed. Maybe they build a lead in overtime rather than going 2 full minutes with a single point lead. Maybe Jordan guards Jalen Crutcher better than Demarius Jacobs did. It is an ultimate shoulda/coulda/woulda situation. Moving forward the Bills will need him more and more and can’t afford to lose him. Picking and choosing his spots will be incredibly important.
Are the Billikens an NCAA tournament team? Anyone watching carefully Friday night would firmly say ‘possibly’. They clearly have the talent and personnel to compete at an extremely high level despite the injuries to key players. But in order to actually be put into the tournament, they need to put away a few more key wins or be forced to win the conference outright. They have had and will have opportunities to put themselves solidly into that conversation but this loss to Dayton was their best shot thus far.
The Billikens displayed what they could be this season, the second-best team in the conference and an NCAA tournament team. They fell just short of proving that that is what they are. They have time and opportunities to live up to that potential this season but now have an even smaller margin for error.
Narratives are going to give the Billikens no help this season, so they will need to go out and earn their spot the old fashion way. By winning.