By Carter Chapley
St. Louis, MO
Luckily, with the nature of the college basketball schedule the Billikens won’t have to wait long to get back on the court and redeem themselves.
After dropping their first game of the season in a blowout loss to Seton Hall, the Bills only had to wait three more nights until they get back on the floor. The team that awaits them is one that provides an opportunity to gain some of the confidence they may have lost.
The Billikens host the High Point Panthers tonight in their 5th home game of the young season, and the second of three matches which are a part of the Gotham Classic to be hosted at Chaifetz Arena. The Panthers enter the night with a grim 0-4 record, including two losses at future Billiken opponents Belmont and Boston College.
It is not a stretch to say that High Point is one of the worst college basketball teams in the country. The KenPom rankings have them as the twentieth worst in the nation, whereas CBS has them as 281st. The Panthers are an extremely young group, with 12 of its 15 roster players being freshmen or sophomores. Their inexperience has been a notable factor through their first four games.
But the one factor that is hard to account for in rankings is good coaching and the Panthers are flush with that.
High Point is led by the legendary Tubby Smith, who has served as a head coach for 28 years at 7 institutions with his career highlighted by winning the 1998 NCAA Championship with the Kentucky Wildcats, a title in which to get to, he defeated SLU in the second round that year. This will be the first time the Billikens have played a coach at Chaifetz Arena who has won a national championship. Tubby is also a graduate of High Point University, having now returned to his alma matter for his second season as Head Coach.
It is also worth noting that Tubby Smith was the coach of SLU head coach Travis Ford once upon a time. In the 1990-1991 season, the year in which Ford redshirted at Kentucky after his transfer from Mizzou, Coach Smith was the associate coach of the Wildcats. Tubby moved on to Tulsa for his first head coaching position the following year, so Travis never “played” under Tubby, but he certainly spent time with him.
Last year, the Panthers played to a 16-15 record including a 9-7 record in the Big South Conference. This was all before losing their best player in Jahaad Proctor to the Grad transfer market. In addition to the losses at Boston College and Belmont, the Panthers have dropped games this season to William and Mary, and Woffard.
The Billikens should be able to pounce on this team, dominate them and get some of their mojo back. In a sense this is sort of a scheduling gift to the Billikens having come off the loss to Seton Hall. The Billikens will have a very talented Belmont team coming to town on Saturday and having the opportunity to tune-up and get the flow of the game back before that tough match is valuable.
The guards for Saint Louis may be in for a big night as to this point the Panthers have allowed career high points to the starting guards in 2 of the 4 games they’ve played. If the Billikens want to take full advantage of the team in front of them and put the game away early, the play of Jordan Goodwin, Yuri Collins, Fred Thatch, and Demarius Jacobs may be what establishes the precedent and ultimately separates them from the visiting Panthers.
High Point is led on the court by a freshman, John-Michael Wright who leads the team in usage and is the only player on the team to have scored in double digits in three of its four games. The Fayetteville, North Carolina native tops his team in scoring and is the focal point of the offense.
The honest expectation heading into Wednesday night’s match is that the Billikens need to dominate, anything less than that is disappointment. Travis Ford should be able to give playing time to guys who need the development, or at the very least be able to do some experimentation in the latter part of the game.
After the disappointment Sunday night, the Bills & Bills fans need a win. This is the spot where they should get one.