By Carter Chapley
St. Louis, MO
After getting back into the win column with a much-needed victory over Fordham, the Billikens head to the city of Brotherly Love for back-to-back games in Philadelphia. The first of which is against the LaSalle Explorers. This game is a part of a stretch of three must-win matchups against teams expected to sit at the bottom of the A-10 standings.
Fordham, LaSalle, and St. Joes, in that order, makeup that string of games that allow the Billikens to improve their A-10 record and figure some things out regarding their struggling play. They have already taken care of Fordham and got a convincing win. Anything short of something similar in the next two will be disappointments.
LaSalle sits at a very misleading 10-9 in their overall record. They do, in fact, have 10 wins this season. However, they have not played a ton of fierce competition, and against the stronger teams they have faced, they haven’t fared well. In A-10 play, the Explorers come into this game having lost their last five and only having one win since turning over the new year beating Fordham.
Saint Louis can expect a team that will live and die from the perimeter, similar to most teams which are significantly outmatched in terms of overall talent. LaSalle’s greatest strength is its ability to keep itself in and around games by defending and shooting the three. They shoot 34.1% as a team and limiting opposing teams to just under 30%. These statistics are not overwhelming because the group as a whole is as such, the Billikens should have every opportunity to handily win this game despite being on the road.
Within the game, the Bills have some unique opportunities to make history for themselves on an individual level. Yuri Collins, who sits at 113 assists going into tonight’s game, needs just one more assist to take sole possession of the school record for assists as a freshman. He currently sits tied with Kwamain Mitchell. Jordan Goodwin needs only 12 points to become the 32nd player in school history to reach 1,000 points for his career. In addition to the very attainable numbers, LaSalle’s lack of interior defense and ability to cause turnovers at the guard position make it unlikely that neither of these players would be unable to reach their respective milestones.
LaSalle is led on the court by their Senior Guard, Isiah Deas. However, they have one of the most balanced rotations of players in the conference. No player averages over 29 minutes per game and eight average over 20 per game, with an additional three players who sneak in and grab playing time regularly. The Explorers will be able to roll waves of players at SLU who are both experienced and fresh.
The Bills, on the other hand, will look to use their core of Goodwin and French to force through those defenders. Just like the previous two games at Davidson and against Fordham, it is likely we will see another version of the “Pack the Paint” or “Triple-Team French” defense employed by the Rams and Wildcats. It will be essential to see just how the Billikens are adapting to that scheme and improving their ability to counter it. If teams like LaSalle can effectively neutralize Hasahn French with that strategy and not be punished in other ways for it, certainly, the rest of the league will take note. Hasahn and the rest of the unit need to find creative ways to force teams away from that strategy and create space for the big man to work down low.
The Billikens have the opportunity to improve themselves in competition and attain significant wins all at the same time in this rare stretch of games. A schedule rarely affords you such a kindness as to lineup three consecutive games against teams who will, in all likelihood, finish bottom three of the conference. It has been fortunate that in the wake of their poorest play of the season, this reprieve of high-end competition comes at a time in which they can work out some of those underlying issues to the subpar performances.
The Billikens need to rack up ways any which way they can. They have the opportunity and schedule to earn themselves a double-bye in the conference tournament but need to clean up these ‘easy wins’ to make that a possibility. Additionally, the bubble for the NCAA tournament this season is weak enough that winning enough games will give the Bills a shot to make the big dance. It is unlikely, but they can still keep themselves in the running.
SLU cannot afford a letdown game of any kind. A win is likely, but they must be sure that in the process of working out their kinks, they don’t let this one get close.