After what can only be described as an “up-and-down” season for the Saint Louis University Billikens, Travis Ford’s group has reached the crescendo with the opportunity for success.

They will need to win their A 10 tournament to find their way into the NCAA tournament. Having seemingly lost the opportunity to earn an at-large bid with some untimely and frustrating losses, but the Billikens control their own destiny and have the talent to win the tournament outright.

SLU has shown peaks and the valleys of their potential in the 2021-22 season. They won games against potential tournament teams like Boise State, Dayton, and most recently VCU. They won a mid-season tournament in Cancun and won six straight in A-10 play. However, they also blew double-digit leads against NCAA tournament teams like the nationally ranked Auburn, the perennial Ohio Valley powerhouse Belmont, likely CUSA champion in UAB, and A-10 rival Richmond.

On the one hand those blown leads are extremely concerning. Especially when coupled with the near blown leads in the VCU and Rhode Island wins (where they let double-digit leads evaporate in the final minutes). But the other side of that coin, the more optimistic side, suggests that the quality of game the Billikens can play is clearly there…they just need to figure out how to put it together for a complete game.

For this reason, it makes sense as to why Saint Louis is considered a dark horse favorite to win the tournament outright. While few outside the faithful ‘SLUnatics’ are putting their name to a prediction for a SLU net cutting, they are constantly talked about as a team with the quality to achieve that height.

It doesn’t hurt that the Atlantic 10 is considered one of the more wide-open tournaments of all the top end conference championships. So, competition parity and “March Madness” may lead to favorable conditions and outcomes for SLU to make a run.

While we don’t know who the Billikens will play first until the results of the Wednesday nights “Pillow Fight” (the fan given name for the 11/14 seed and 12/13 seed first round matchups) games are completed, we do know what waits for them in the quarterfinals.

The Billikens await the winner of the matchup between La Salle and Saint Joseph’s as their first opponent. The St. Joes Hawks would be considered the favorite however star guard Taylor Funk season has ended early due to a hand injury. It will be far more of a toss-up now with the Billiken coaching staff on hand to scout the game in person on Wednesday.
Waiting for the winner of the Billikens first game (Thursday at 2:30 on USA Network) is 4-seed St. Bonaventure. The Billikens lost both games against the Bonnies this season, playing them back-to-back in the span of just three days. Early season covid cancelations led to the odd scheduling.

The combined margin of defeat of both games was only 11 points. The Billikens struggled to find the answer to Mark Schmidt’s team but will now get the opportunity to bounce back when it matters. The Bonnies are in prime position though as they will be playing their first game of the tournament in that quarter-final due to being in the top 4 seeds, a marker the Billikens missed by just one game.

The Bonnies play with one of the shortest benches in college basketball history, trusting essentially only the starters with all minutes. Playing the Bonnies after multiple days would have been ideal compared to seeing them fresh, but the Billikens depth is a strength they hope to leverage.

Following the rest of the Billikens side of the bracket, the likely semifinal matchup would come against conference regular season champion Davidson, who the Bills dropped their lone game to on the road in South Carolina. Davidson would have to beat Fordham or George Mason to advance but is the favorite in either case.

The Billikens are not in prime position having to win four games in four days to punch their ticket to the Big Dance. However, they are the team with experience in doing just that. Since the Atlantic 10’s expansion only the Billikens have gone on to win the tournament in that position. Current Billiken Fred Thatch Jr is the only remaining piece from that tournament winning team.

It is also worth noting just how rare it is for the top seeded team to win the tournament, only twice in the last 12 years has the 1-seed cut down the nets, last season, and the 2013 champion Saint Louis Billikens.

SLU has had a volatile season. Their young assistant coach passes away in the offseason. They lose their best player in an exhibition game, go through another major covid pause right before conference season, having their young core step into completely new roles after graduating two of the all-time greats. And yet, they are still very much in the thick of things headed into the conference tournament.

No Small Task.

Many wrote this team off after the loss of preseason first-teamer Javonte Perkins, but the Billikens have earned their chance to reach glory this year and have done it along a harder path than just about any school in the conference. They have fought through catastrophe and are still here.

Credit to them.