By Carter Chapley
St. Louis, MO
It is the final hours of the A-10 season. The Billikens have four games remaining on the schedule, two on the road and two at home. All four of which are winnable games.
After having what can only be described as an up and down year to this point, SLU is still in a position to make some noise moving forward. They have been both good, and lucky up to this point. They have beaten good teams, and they have collapsed against weaker teams.
It seems at this time of year, for every two steps forward Travis Ford and his team take, they take a step backward. They have outperformed expectations to this point in the season…but only just barely. Not to say that is a bad thing, just underwhelming, considering all the good they have done.
And yet still the Billikens have another opportunity to improve themselves and continue down their path of growth and accomplishment.
Saint Louis hasn’t lost a truly bad game this season, but they’ve had some close calls. When they visited St. Josephs last time they escaped by the skin of their teeth and on the back of Javonte Perkins coming out performance. Conference leader and Hawks leading scorer Ryan Daly had himself a career night, scoring 35 points in the Billikens 78-73 victory.
Overlooking teams or not playing to their full potential has been a slight problem for the Bills this season. They win games, but not convincingly. By the tone coming from the program, in comments made by both Travis Ford and Jordan Goodwin, it seems that they diagnose the problem more as complacency than anything. This matchup hands them the chance to continue to turn the page.
Last time they faced a bottom four team in the A-10, they solidly blew out the La Salle Explorers. They can continue to change the outlook of this team by extending that trend.
The Billikens though will not be facing a group that will simply roll over and die for them despite their abysmal record. St. Joes is a group that may lack overwhelming talent, but clearly has a system and a player in place that can cause a lot of havoc.
Nothing speaks more to the prowess of the system of basketball the Hawks have than their lone win of the season over Davidson. With leading scorer Ryan Daly out injured, they mounted a 19-point second half comeback. The system relies on movement and action plays that will attempt to out-maneuver and lose defenders. It excels when there is a certain amount of unpredictability to their actions.
For this reason, it makes sense that at least one Billiken staff member feels the Hawks may be better without Daly on the floor than with him. With the transfer point-guard in action, all the offense must go through him. If he is not scoring, they are not scoring. There is a certain amount of predictability to the fact that Daly’s skill demands the ball in his hands a certain amount of the time.
When he is off the floor, more options open up for their offence and the ball begins to flow more. It becomes less sticky on him and more of a collective effort, which most coaches would agree is a more efficient and ‘mysterious’ style of play.
Regardless of this conundrum, the team’s leading scorer will play. After sitting out two games Daly came back against George Mason and scored his standard 20 points. It will be the responsibility of Jordan Goodwin to guard him. At practice Tuesday afternoon Goodwin indicated he has taken the challenge personally after allowing Daly to score 35 against him last time the two teams met.
Should the Billikens bring defensive intensity right from the tip-off, they should have no problem putting this game away early. St. Joes has one of the worst defensive efficiencies in the country, so weak that even if the Bills are having a slow night on offense, they have enough fire power to make a separation and go from there.
But talent is not the question, when the Bills show up to play, they can beat anyone in the nation. The problem rests in their consistency. They have been better as of late, but the margin for error now is razor thin. It is important for this group to grab a statement win now to better solidify their post season opportunities.
A game like this doesn’t earn you a ton of brownie points, but it kills you if you don’t get the result. The Bills can prove a lot to themselves, the fans, and the nation if they can execute like they’ve shown they can.
If not? It’s a disaster.