By Carter Chapley
St. Louis, MO
Heading into Fairfax, Virginia, everything is rolling the Billikens way. They are playing arguably their best basketball of the year, and have had things go their way for the most part down the stretch. They still sit comfortably in a position to get a double-bye in the Atlantic 10 tournament should they win out, and if not, they have been playing in such a way that gives fans confidence of the team having success in Brooklyn when the time comes.
But all of that is in the past. The razor’s edge is still where the Billikens live. If they continue to play well, then everything is fine. But even a minor slip up is lethal to the Billikens chances at a hypothetical NCAA bid or even an NIT home game.
Which is what is making this game against George Mason nerve-wracking.
Everyone is aware of the looming Senior Night battle against the St. Bonaventure Bonnies. The pair are tied in the standing and are looking down the barrel at a winner take all rematch of last year’s A-10 championship game.
But for that game to mean anything, you need to take business Wednesday.
George Mason sits in the bottom tier of the A-10 standings but is in no way a team who will roll over for anyone. Their problems lie far more in the category of a lack of depth in talent than a lack of spirit. They have had critical upset victories over VCU and UMass in addition to going 11-2 in the non-conference schedule. Any win on the road is difficult in the A-10, and this will be no different.
The George Mason Patriots are a three-man crew of talented players. Javone Green, Jordan Miller, and AJ Wilson lead this group in all major categories and are the clear-cut core of this team. The issue becomes that after that, there is an apparent fall off.
One of the slower teams in the country, playing at a 66.8 adjusted tempo (255th slowest in the nation), the Patriots want to grind out wins by playing low event basketball and keep things tight late into the game. This strategy plays into SLU’s wheelhouse to an extent, and their half-court D is the best part of its defensive scheme, but the Bills have had a ton of success as of late running and gunning on offense behind Yuri Collins. Mason will be hard-pressed to allow the Bills to get out and move in transition.
The biggest battle of the midweek affair will be on the glass, though, especially in the offensive end. SLU is the 22nd best team in the nation in offensive rebound percentage, and first in the A-10. The only team that can hold a candle to the Bills ability on the glass is George Mason, who is 30th in the nation in the same stat category. Hashan French is likely the best tradition rebounder in the game, but Jimmy Bell Jr, who is coming off career performance at Rhode Island, will be vital to assisting him and winning that battle on the glass.
This is a game where leadership will be vital to keeping the Billikens on track. Jordan Goodwin’s performance will set the tone for the team. It will be easy to see early what this Billiken team is made of early based on how they come out and take care of their business.
One way to look at this game from a mindset perspective is that it’s hard to look past an opponent when you’re already up against the wall. It’s easier to overlook a challenge when you have breathing room and confidence. Saint Louis is rolling and building confidence, but it seems they know the margin is thin. Jordan Goodwin has said he believes this team can and should beat anyone, but understands they need to perform to do that. They aren’t good enough to not show up and still win.
The mentality is there, but the Billikens have faltered on the road against lower-tier opponents before. The Bills have had plenty of opportunities to exercise their demons this season, and they have been granted another one in the penultimate game of the season.
Scoreboard watching and the outcomes of other games won’t matter if the Bills don’t take care of their own business.
Win and the dream stays alive. It’s as simple as that.