The Billikens took their first truly bad loss of the season, giving up 91 points to the UMass Minutemen. With a resume that now feels hard to overcome for an auto-bid into the Big Dance, it may be time to look at the rest of the season in the context of development and see success in more defined terms.

Here are my 10 Takeaways for the intermission of the UMass home-and-away series.

One – Big Gaps

The most critical part of this Billikens team is – still – its propensity to go on extended runs with no scoring. Against the conference’s worst defense… that’s back-breaking. It’s easier said than done to fix that problem; you can’t just wave your hand at it or magically heal Javonte Perkins, so finding a solution to that problem feels paramount.

Two – Missing That Guy

Part of that problem is that this team lacks any individual player who can create their own shot dependably. Yuri kind of can… in the right situation against the right defender. Gibson Jimerson kind of can… if given the advantage of the first step from a passer, but he lacks the 1-on-1 move to create his own separation. Francis Okoro absolutely can but really struggles to finish after making that look. Jordan Nesbitt feels like the guy closest to having that tool in the box but hasn’t quite put it together yet.

If someone on this team can find that specific skill set, breaking up those scoring droughts is a lot easier.

Three – Missing Intensity

On the one hand, it’s nice to hear that the Billikens players are aware of the “not bringing their own energy” issue. Fred Thatch acknowledged it post-game and lamented the lack of crowd in Amhurst kind of lulled them to sleep. So, it’s interesting to hear that crowd energy fuels this team, good or bad…if you can’t bring your own energy into a dead opponent gym? That’s concerning.

Four – Leaving it to Stripes?

Live by the whistle, die by the whistle. If a core identity is getting to the free-throw line, you are putting a lot of faith in the Stripes to ensure you have an even and balanced whistle for both teams. You also may place yourself in positions where you’re hunting a whistle rather than a good shot.

It feels like this team wants the whistle to come and is willing to double down on bad situations to get that whistle rather than create new ones. The most glaring example is SLU’s reluctance to kick the ball out of the post once it’s there. While yes, it is a talent difference – Hasahn French was one of the best passing big men in the country in his time – it’s also clear they aren’t looking for those opportunities either.

Five – Good Idea, Wrong Spot

Unleashing the rabid dog that is Rashad Williams wasn’t a terrible idea in a vacuum. Travis Ford knew exactly what he was getting into when he pointed that man in the direction he did…and that kind of trigger can break up the monotony of several slow possessions, that confidence can be infectious. But I do question the timing of the move, and I’d venture a guess the coaching staff adjusts and tries it in a new situation. Maybe late in the first half, perhaps?

Six – Standouts

Gibson Jimerson and Fred Thatch are the best at what they do in the conference and maybe the country. Fred’s pure strength is unguardable, and Gibson’s ability to score at multiple levels is impressive. Add in both their defensive skills; you have two really exciting players!

Francis Okoro being largely the lone big man, has also been impressive and will only get better when he can tag team with Marten. TJ Hargrove’s shooting is also very much worth a conversation.

All these guys deserve shouts.

Seven – Killer Instinct

Three times the Billikens built leads of as many as seven points. That was the moment to put away this pesky team and make them force their offense while you feast on the defense. Just couldn’t find the punch.

You could argue that this is actually part of that drought problem, but it felt like its own point worth making.

Eight – Late Game Awareness

On way too many occasions – six by my notes, but it could be more – the Billikens allowed UMass to switch Lassina Traore or Francis Okoro onto Noah Fernandes in 1-on-1 situations. If Fernandes missed, it was more luck than anything because he was cooking them. Meanwhile, he was far more successfully defended by Jimerson, Thatch, and Nesbitt in those switches.

Sometimes these bad mismatches happen; that’s what UMass is designing itself to do. If it happens once or twice, you just shake it off. But that often just can’t happen, and the players on the floor need the instinct to make a change to avoid that. Because I’m positive that’s not the plan Travis Ford send them out there

Nine – Welcome Back

Fred was awesome in his first game back since COVID protocols, but it was great to see Marten back for the first time since the Auburn game. If only to get Francis more depth in the center spot, they really need him.

Ten – Restraint

Yuri Collin’s learned at the altar of Jordan Goodwin. That’s not a bad thing. It is inarguably a NET positive.

But sometimes, when you have three fouls with seven minutes to play, you just physically resist the urge to defend so tight, knowing they need you to stay in the game. Or not fouling with three seconds left in the first.

Yuri is one of if not the most trustworthy guys on this team. But in this specific instance, he needs to show he knows that an easy two is not worth giving the foul-up. His 5 fouls are more valuable than just about anyone else’s on this team.