By Carter Chapley
St. Louis, MO
The Billikens have struggled as of late, surviving what was supposed to be an easy victory in their last game against UMass, continuing a string of underwhelming performances dating back to the Christmas break. Fortunately for the Billikens though, they have another opponent who, hopefully, provides a little relief for their struggles. Based on how the Bills have been playing of late, they really cannot afford to be underestimating any of their opponents anymore.
The George Washington Colonials are not expected to be a very successful team in the A-10 this year. The KenPom has them winning just 4 games and finishing third last in the conference. The Colonials are certainly in the bottom tier of teams in the conference, but as we’ve seen through just two games into the conference season, anything can happen. In GW’s lone A-10 game thus far, they stuck with St. Bonaventure and gave them a scare of their own, only losing by 5 in a 71-66 game. The A-10 is a relatively good conference top-to-bottom and it’s becoming clear that anything can happen any time a game tip’s off.
The matchup Wednesday night offers a unique trial for the Billikens as they head off on a difficult stretch of games. The Bills have a lot to get sorted out after a their so-so outing against UMass. Their reckless and one-dimensional play is indicative of a team in flux, trying to find their identity having lost two key rotation pieces, but it is also the sign of a team who has too often proved that they play up or down to their opponents. The Billikens have an opportunity to not only get a clean win at home, but to solve some of their identity problems and prove they are a team to be respected.
The Bills need to show the ability to be more than just Hasahn French and Jordan Goodwin on a consistent basis. Coach Travis Ford believes that they can win any game they are in with those two guys but, they “need someone else to step up. It doesn’t always have to be the same guy, but it needs to be someone”. In the right moments against UMass, those guys were Yuri Collins and Demarius Jacobs, but the game was so close because for extended periods of time, they along with the rest of their teammates were not able to be the impact difference. What I am hoping to see is that someone, Yuri, Demarius, Javonte, Tay, Terrence, Jimmy, or any combination of them, are able to combine for a complete game.
George Washington enters Wednesday nights matchup with a 6-8 record, with the aforementioned 0-1 in A-10 play. While the Colonials did not play a particularly grueling Non-Conference schedule, their 6-7 mark was respectable all things considered. A win over Delaware is likely their best performance thus far, but they had a respectable 74-65 loss to South Carolina that, again all things considered, casts a favorable light on them.
On the floor the Colonials have one of the more bizarre rotations the Bills have come across. Through 14 games, just 3 of the 13 GW players who play notable minutes have played in every game. Only 3 have played more than 10 games and 10 different players have been used in the starting lineup. Not a single Colonial has started every game they have played. This is in stark contrast to the exactly two variations of starting lineup Travis Ford has gone with, his last change coming 10 games ago. Part of this ongoing roster shuffling is that injuries have hampered the roster, but another major factor has come from Head Coach Jamion Christianson, who has been trying to find the right combination of pieces to work with in his first season at the helm.
The most problematic aspect of the GW struggles is that they are not a particularly young team. Fortunately, though, their stars are clearly their freshmen and they have a base of talent to build with in coming years. Jamison Battle and Jameer Nelson Jr. are a very talented duo of young players who have already made an impact on the team. Battle is a small forward with a plus jump shot and physicality on defense, whereas Nelson (son of 14-year NBA vet and A-10 legend Jameer Nelson Sr.) is a point guard who uses his quickness and handle to leave his mark on the game. The pair are still very much freshmen though, as their games thus far have had peaks and valleys. Sometimes they are invisible or neutralized, and in others they are elite rookies.
The third of the GW big three, is Armel Potter. The Senior guard is a true 6th man, so while he rarely starts games, he usually finishes them. Using a combination of passing and understanding of spacing, Potter leads his team in scoring and assists. He along with Nelson will be a key matchup for guys like Jordan Goodwin and Yuri Collin in order to slow down their central points of attack.
The GW lineup and utilization are such that it is hard to get a handle on what exactly this team is conceptually. Those three are clearly the team’s core, but so many other stats pop out and even after watching a handful of games, scouting them, it’s hard to gauge how this team might play against SLU. The leading rebounder has only played ten games, the player third in assists (behind Nelson and Potter) has just 14 and has only played 8 games. The lack of consistency makes it hard to foresee just what this team is, and how they want to play basketball.
Regardless of how confusing the Colonials are, SLU’s objectives should be clear. They are unchanging no matter what lineup comes out of the opposing locker room. Play up to your own abilities, and not the standard set before you. Start to prove what kind of team you are, and that that team is not the one we’ve seen since the Christmas break.
The Billikens tip-off at 7pm Wednesday night, broadcasted live by Fox Sports Midwest with our very own Dan McLaughlin on the call with former Billiken Troy Robertson by his side. The game will also be available for stream on ESPN+ and the Fox Sports Go app. On the radio, Bob Ramsey and Earl Austin Jr will be courtside on the call at 101.1 ESPN.