Jordan Goodwin says when the team was in lock down, he preferred to talk to his teammates over FaceTime rather than texts or messages. He explains (in not so many words) that when talking over the phone you can have more efficient conversations; you can convey more information in a shorter time and not have simple miscommunication events. “You can get a five-minute conversation on the phone done in what would take 15 minutes on text”.
Funny enough the sociology major is onto something SLU’s Communication department teaches rather fervently. Media Richness Theory is a core comm theory in mass media and interpersonal communication academia (I wrote my master’s completion exam on the subject). Essentially the theory supports that mediums with more context (video, voice, face to face) will eliminate miscommunication and reduce message uncertainty. Text Messaging doesn’t provide high levels of context so miscommunication and strength of message can be lost.
The Billikens senior captain spoke with his teammates every single day while they were isolated from each other. He facilitated conversations, checked in on everybody, made sure they were keeping healthy, and in a less direct or perhaps, intentional way, he helped manage, monitor, and maintained the team’s mental health.
Some within the team seem to feel they are closer as a group now than they ever have been. The shared experience is stressful, but ultimately iron sharpens iron, and the relationships grow.
But that doesn’t mean the team is fully together on the basketball court.
The Billikens are 1-2 since their return to play and with this team the highs have been high…and the lows have been brutally low. With losses to Dayton and La Salle before a win over the hot handed St. Bonaventure, all the Billikens goodwill from the start of the season as NCAA tournament dark horse favorites had dried up. Most networks have the Billikens as a bubble team, and they are no longer nationally ranked and are scarcely even receiving votes.
Despite the strengthened interpersonal relationships, SLU looks disjointed on the court. The defenses get lost often when opponents move well, and the offense doesn’t move well at all. SLU has allowed an average of 8.6 made three pointers in the three games since returning (a near 40% increase than the eight games prior) and allowed 10% more three-point opportunities than in the eight games in 2020, showing an obvious communication and/or coordination flaw within the club right now. They are not only allowing more shots but are allowing “better” shots that opponents are making. If the Billikens were forcing a ton of highly contested threes, that would but one thing. That would indicate strong cohesion and defense. But that’s not what is happening.
On the other end of the floor. Team Blue has had real trouble manufacturing offense and passing the eye test of being efficient and effective. When things are going poorly, the ball sticks and the players don’t move. Yuri Collins, Jordan Goodwin, Javonte Perkins, and Hasahn French rightfully feel the need to step up and be “the guy” when things get tough. So, they take poor shots just to get shots going.
While each of those guys getting looks isn’t, in a vacuum, a bad thing, when they play as individuals and not as a collection it just doesn’t work. The Billikens are at their best when they are a sum of their parts and not playing on an island. Hero ball rarely works in the NBA let alone college basketball, so it won’t really work for the Bills in a large way at all. There is a reason amazing individual performances are remembered in the NBA…it’s rare for even the best.
Its clear through three games back from their month-long pause, the Billikens aren’t communicating with each other. They are not meshing, and prior to their win against St. Bonaventure, they were not coming together when things got tough.
All in all, the Billikens are not communicating in a way conducive for success on the basketball court. Their transmissions aren’t rich enough to get through miscommunication events, leaving some members behind on game plans and in game actions. On defense everyone is a step behind, on offensive no one is talking at all, and the safety net of the well-formed habits that would otherwise exist by this time in the season just isn’t catching them.
Covid is a major reason for the challenges they are facing. The Billikens went not only a month not playing, but not practicing, and not being outside dorms or hotel rooms. In addition to the physical rust they face, the mental rust is just as important and damaging. Slow rotations, a lack of off-ball movement, a decreased pace in transition, confusion on inbounds plays etc. It all contributes.
Against Dayton in their first game back, the Billikens allow more uncontested threes than they had all season long combined. They also had a season and Travis Ford era low two offensive rebounds. Hasahn French sited the shocking and historically low offensive board count as due to the fact that he felt shooters were taking shots bigs and rebounders weren’t expecting. Another example of poor communication of intentions. Against La Salle, the trend continued but Fred Thatch Jr made his impact by grabbing four rebounds on the offensive glass.
In hindsight it will be easier to see, but the La Salle loss appears to be an example of a team in transition, and the win over the Bonnies was breaking through the self-made barrier. Their strong moments were longer, and the lapses were shorter. Jordan Goodwin was directing traffic on defense in a more vocal and assertive way. Marten Linssen continues to be a chatter box on offense and calling out every screen and move defenders in his vision make. Hasahn French and Fred Thatch looked passing options rather than forcing bad paint looks, letting the game come to them. And Javonte Perkins scored his 21 points without looking like he forced a bad shot, he played in rhythm.
So, while those loses to Dayton and La Salle certainly didn’t look great (no excuses), it’s hard to know just how much the time-off hangover hurt the Billikens. Beating an excellent Bonnies team will boost their confidence and may be the kickstart to getting back to the good habits that they need. It will be obvious in the coming days when they take on Rhode Island and Fordham.
There aren’t many games left in the 2020-21 season, and for the Billikens every one of them is must win if they want to guarantee their spot in NCAA Tournament. Jordan Goodwin shows us that the Billikens are a tight knit group, can trust each other, and communicate. If they are able to translate that from off the court success to their on the court game again, the Billikens will be on their way again to success in March.
The dream season is very much still possible for the school in midtown. But communication is the key for success down the stretch run.