The 2021-22 SLU Basketball Preview Manifesto Part 4: Bold (& not so Bold) Predictions

This is the fourth installment in a multipart series serving as a preseason primer to all things Saint Louis University Men’s Basketball for the 2021-22 season. Part Three can be found here.

Bold (and Not-So-Bold) Predictions

This is the fun part of the preseason. Hope is abundant, expectations run wild, and there is no real problem with speculation as to all things possible. No amount of speculating is too wild or out of place…until proven otherwise.

SLU has plenty of stars waiting to breakout, with as many players with talent that they have, and a vacuum of power demanding to be filled, the opportunity for a rapid ascent is ripe. I’d like to address five (mostly) positive outcomes I can envision happening:

Jordan Nesbitt is more of a Perkins than a Hargrove

Before we get too far, latter in this article you’re going to see exactly how much I like TJ Hargrove and what I think he’s capable of. Terrence deserves a ton of credit for all he’s done already at SLU and the attitude he’s had about his role. Coming out of High School he was a highly rated recruit who very well could have gone power 5. He was a four-star player by ESPN and had a ton of hype. But when he arrived at SLU, things just weren’t right.

It’s taken TJ two years to become the impact star we though he may be freshman year, and he’s done so without complaining. He put his head down, worked hard, and represented the city and school that clearly means a lot to him. In an era of transferring when things don’t work, TJ has been a model of loyalty and a testament to this coaching staffs commitment to its players.

Now, Javonte Perkins came into SLU rather unheralded. He was a JUCO transfer who those in the know really loved but the larger landscape really knew nothing about. He started slow, showed glimpses of brilliance, but it wasn’t until January and the conference season when we really saw his true potential.

Now enter Jordan Nesbitt, he is both extremely heralded in that he was a top 100 prospect from the STL area, but now transfers in as a “unknown commodity” to most. He had a tough time at Memphis which has tainted him, but the gloss is very much still there for those willing to look just a little be closer.

The sense I get is that Jordan Nesbitt is going to be a highly important player to this team and will eventually be an impactful one in a major way. It may just take some time for him to reach his full potential this season. We may not see all we of Nesbitt until the Conference Season starts…we may see flashes, moments of brilliance much like Perkins…but it may take time.

Jordan is going to be very good this year but give him time to get there

But speaking of Javonte…

Javonte Perkins is the A-10 Player of the Year

This one is rather pedestrian all things considered.

After winning 6th man of the year in his first season at SLU and making all-conference teams in both of his years, Javonte Perkins is now poised to make the leap and be recognized as the Atlantic 10’s top talent.

Playing alongside players like Jordan Goodwin and Hasahn French were always going to make it difficult to get the recognition necessary to be seen as the top player. You were always going to “split votes” with your teammates when your teammates are of that caliber.

But now, Javonte is the clear star and center piece of this Billiken team. While others may make major additions to join him as a star, this is very much his team this season and can define himself as one of the Billiken greats should he live up to that star potential. He will almost certainly score his 1000th point at SLU sometime this season, probably before the New Year breaks, and will be looked to take over in the tough moments and be the slump breaker for the Billikens.

It appears Javonte has taken this challenge and leadership role seriously, having made major strides with his body in the offseason. He’s bulked up, adding muscle to his formerly slender frame, and now looks more the part of dominant slasher and scorer.

Travis Ford mentioned on the Midtown Madness Podcast that the coaching staff had to force Javonte to sit out of basketball training for the first couple of weeks in order to rehab and rebuild his body. It seems to have paid off as early whispers out of practice say Javonte’s newfound strength has added a new dimension to his slashing game, even adding post moves to his repertoire…as if Javonte Perkins needed more ways to beat you.

There is little to indicate that Javonte won’t excel as the team’s leading senior, especially in what he does well. He spent all of last season and much of the latter half of his first year at SLU as a well-known offensive threat, and he is still dominant in that aspect. If his new physique adds more offensive features… and perhaps improve defensive upside…Javonte Perkins will be the favorite to take home the A10’s top honors.

Yuri Collins Surprises with Scoring

Before the formal summer break, I was able to stop in and see the Billikens practice in small groups in the Pavilion at Chaifetz Arena. The player that stood out to me most was point guard Yuri Collins, who was schooling his peers in their 2-on-2 and 3-on-3 games.

Yuri leading an effective offense is not exactly new, his vision and passing makes it difficult to stop him. But what impressed me most was not his passing this time, it was his shot making. Yuri Collins has developed himself a legitimate jump shot. But moreover, he’s worked to gain the confidence to use that jump shot in any situation.

The seeds of that were there and from time-to-time Yuri would find himself at the top of the key wide open where he takes a three to make the defense more honest. In his career, he’s been a 30.5% shooter on 59 attempts from behind the arc. But in this practice, and the subsequent ones since I’m told, Yuri displayed far more confidence in his jump shot. Taking and making jumpers from deep with far less space than he needed before.

In this sequence where he dominated in a 3-on-3 half court drill, Yuri’s group stayed on the court for 10 straight possessions. In 4 of the those, Yuri passed the ball to an open player cutting to the basket. In 1, a full half court sequence was run, and in 5 of them Yuri took and made a three pointer from the top of the key when his defender lagged off of him to open the drill.

When I asked Head Coach Travis Ford about Yuri’s newfound confidence from the three, he told me “He’s really worked on that a lot, he was tired of guys not defending him”.

According to Three-Man-Weave SLU nearly doubled its offensive outcomes when Yuri Collins was able to be the passer, getting 1.111 points per possession. But when he was forced to be the scorer, SLU’s outcomes dropped to 0.553 points per possession. If Yuri is able to be even just slightly more efficient when forced into being the scoring option by the defense, the Billiken offence becomes outrageously more dangerous.

Yuri Collins is already one of the league’s top offensive weapons, he led the A-10 in assists and did so without being a real scoring threat of his own. Now, in a season where you may have more weapons than ever, it wouldn’t immediately scream that now is the time that Collins bucks his status quo and becomes a scoring guard. Which, I don’t think he will, but I do think we are going to see a breakout from Yuri in 2021 especially on the offensive end.

He is going to make teams pay for not guarding him…he’s worked all off season to be sure of it. Expect to see more assertiveness from Yuri.

The New Mr. Double-Double Breaks Out

It may be heresy to suggest that somehow Jordan Goodwin and Hasahn French somehow paused Fred Thatch’s development into his best self. They certainly set the standard for Fred, established a culture, mentored him into the man he is today in many senses. But I think it’s possible having them in the games forced Fred into a tough spot with his game, and now that they are gone, Fred is more prepared with this team to become a more dominating force.

Sometimes, having too much of a good thing can hurt some of the ingredients. A giant chocolate chip cookie tastes great, but makes your stomach hurt. In Fred’s time at SLU, he has been surrounded by talent that in many ways does not help him out by being too much like him. For example, Jordan Goodwin and Hasahn French are a lot of things…floor spacers they are not.

Fred is truly at his best when he is given the ability to his crazy strength and vertical leaping ability to create opportunities. He slashes to the basket, gets through traffic, and can finish at the rim. Or using those same skills to crash the boards and create second chance opportunities. Fred had 36 offensive rebounds last season, trailing only behind Goodwin and French…he is a legitimate threat when given the opportunity to create second chance points. All of this to say, having an outside touch is a bonus, but it isn’t the focal point of his game in an ideal world.

In the past, Fred had to ether fight for the space inside with his own teammates, against teams that knew to pack it inside and make the Billikens fight for paint touches, or he had to operate as that outside shooter. Neither of which is ideal for him. He’s far better than his 26% career 3-point shooting percentage, but when asked to play a role not ideal for him, he won’t excel.

With French and more so Goodwin now moved on, Thatch can be “The Guy” who slashes to the basket, wins offensive rebounds, and causes havoc off the wing as a ludicrously strong guard.

Will Fred get a double-double every night? Probably not. But I could very easily see a world where Mr. Sikeston himself picks up the mantle Jordan Goodwin left behind.

6th Man of the Year: Terrence Hargrove Jr

I really can’t express how differently TJ Hargrove would win a 6th man of the year vs how Javonte Perkins won his. Javonte won his by being a defacto starter who came off the bench and set a school record for scoring average in conference games.

Hargrove’s approach would be far more…intangible based.

To Javonte’s credit, not many ever have had a season like his so it really shouldn’t be held up as an example to measure others against. In fact, when looking at the award winners stat lines in the three years since the award had been issued, Perkins doubles the two other winners in points, rebounds, and blocks.

*The other two winners are Tavian Dunn-Martin from Duquesne and Sherif Kenney from La Salle*

The average 6th man of the year not named Javonte Perkins scores 8.7 points, 1.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1 steal and 0.1 blocks per game.

Statistically not overwhelming, and when you look at the type of player who could achieve this, Terrence Hargrove jumps off the page. A highly athletic wing who is the quintessential energy guy off the bench has both the ability and personality to be a candidate to win the award. Especially when you consider the developments he showed towards the end of last season.

The biggest development in Terrence Hargrove’s game last year was the introduction of a consistent and threatening three-point shot. He shot 42.4% from deep on just under two attempts per game. But when you look at his game logs, in the final six games he took just over three attempts from deep per game and shot 47.3%.  TJ’s adding a shot that allows him to spread the floor and create space for himself and everyone else gives you yet another reason to play him on top of that peak athleticism.

If he puts it all together and comes off the bench as your offensive cannonball who runs the floor, harasses the opponent on D, and bangs open looks from the outside. That’s an elite level 6th man right there.

The biggest thing holding him back is the fact that it’s possible he’s not the first guy off the bench every night. In fact, it’s probable. As mentioned in previous editions of this preseason preview, you have as many as five other guys who very well could be off the bench first situationally. The simple solution to that for TJ is to simply outplay everyone and make it impossible for Travis not to see him as the 6th man–or heck even a starter–and take that open spot. That’s something I can very easily imagine happening.