The Billikens start a definitive six game stretch against Power 5 talents and top 100 mid-majors to end the 2021 non-conference schedule.

To this point in the 2021-22 season, the Billikens have been largely impressive in their showings. A 6-1 record, a Multi-Team-Event tournament win in Cancun, and decisive wins against everyone they should have had wins against.

If you factor out the one loss to an elite Memphis team, the Billikens may be the most impressive team in the Atlantic 10. Definitely the most consistent.

But now seven games in, it’s too late to say it’s early and too early to say we know anything for sure. Winning Division One games by an average of 22-points is impressive and worth noting. It’s also worth noting that the average KenPom ranking of these opponents has been 255.

And while yes, they have been playing progressively better opponents (their last win over Stephen F Austin was their best ranked win, beating the 144th ranked team), and you can only play the teams in front of you. But it would be absolutely fair to say we don’t know much about just how good SLU is. Or how good they can be.

Memphis Tigers guard Alex Lomax battles for a loose ball with Saint Louis Billikens guard Yuri Collins during their game at FedExForum on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021.

We’ve learned the Billikens are solid, they can beat teams they should and do so in capable fashion. Even in games where junk is thrown at them, they overcome less talented teams with depth and skill. The only real test so far has come on the road, and sure they lost by double-digits, but we also learned some valuable things from that game against a legitimate national title hopeful.

But without Javonte Perkins, how great can they be? Not solid. Great.

Francis Okoro would rather not ponder the what ifs and focus on the people who can play and finding a solution. “I wish Javonte was here, but right now we’re not thinking about that” Okoro said after the game in Memphis, “Who you saw out there is who we’ve got, and we’ve got a lot of good pieces.”

SLU still goes on extended runs of dry offense, despite the fact that they are scoring at some of the highest rates in the Travis Ford era. Against Memphis they lacked the pound for pound confident scorer to keep them in that game, and against Illinois State they showed a potential weakness in solving the 2-3 zone that Dan Muller’s team sat back in.

The likes of Jordan Nesbitt, Gibson Jimerson, and even Terrence Hargrove are expected to fill in and be those offensive generators. And yes, they have the skill sets to be those game-and-defense breakers. But it takes time to mature into becoming “that guy”. Javonte had the luxury of having Jordan Goodwin and Hasahn French to take that attention away while he learned. Using nearly an entire non-conference schedule to get things sorted out before exploding and showing us his fullest potential.

However, in the college basketball world where a team on the bubble like Saint Louis–– needs every morsel of data, every piece of evidence they can reach for, just to stay in the conversation come March and not be put aside for a .500 Big 10 school. Time is not on their side, and patience is a luxury of the power conferences.

All of this is to say, in the next month, we will know exactly what this team is, and what their outlook in March is.

Starting this week is a string of games where the Billikens will play just one non top 100 team, and that team is the ACC’s Boston College. They play at Boise State (58), they host UAB (51), Belmont (68), Boston College (131), Auburn (19), and go to Vegas to play Drake (57). Each of these games is a proving ground for why exactly you should respect (or ignore) the Bills.

Winning games against UAB and Belmont prove you’re the superior team despite the analytics (SLU right now sits at 91 in the KenPom), and your conference pedigree is more valuable. Add Drake and Boise State to the equation and you’re looking at four teams who may be with you on the bubble come March.

Beat them all and prove you’re the most deserving…fail and be on the outside looking in.

Beating Boston College is an important statement that you beat the lower P5 teams, and Auburn gives you another crack at a top-25 victory…but this time on your home hardwood.

Now you may be asking, “why not just dominate the A10 and get in without question?” That would, in fact, be nice.

But the ideal situation for this program, considering its goals and vision for the program, is to be a program who doesn’t need to run the table in early March to make its way to the big dance. Don’t rely on the randomness that is playing at the very least three games in three nights. Punch your ticket before you even arrive at the A10 tournament. (Wouldn’t the Oakland A’s love to avoid playoff baseball and get to the World Series on regular season outcomes alone?)

Will this happen every year? Certainly not. But that should be the way point.

Are the Billikens great? Or are they just solid. We will find out soon enough.

The Billikens take on the Boise State Broncos before returning home for a season long four-game homestand. Tip-off Tuesday night is at 8PM central time and can be watched live on Stadium and WatchStadium.Com.