It will be a hard week of waiting for all those invested in SLU Men’s Basketball.
Fans sit, wait, and perhaps pray for their team to get one more shot to prove themselves as worthy of playing in the big dance, or maybe even the slim possibility of an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament without playing again after the disappointing exit in the A-10 tournament to St. Bonaventure.
Coaches and Players, on the other hand, are back in the gym practicing. Behaving as if a tournament bid is coming their way, and they need to be ready to play as early as Tuesday or Wednesday of next week. Some program members are watching the ongoing conference championship events with a fervent eye, others more casually. But everyone is still working.
In most seasons, the loss in the A10 semi-finals would have left the Billikens waiting less than 24 hours before they found out their eventual fate. But with the Atlantic 10 moving the early parts of the tournament up a week to accommodate potential stoppages or hazards, the Bills will wait a full eight days before discovering their fate.
It’s hard to say where precisely the Billikens stand in the selection committees’ eyes. While Bracketologist like ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the Bills in their “First Four Out” category, the nooks and crannies of the nuisance to this season make it very difficult to project how the committee will behave.
Sources have told me that the program is receiving mixed signals as to if they are considered in or out at this moment in time.
At the moment, SLU is still very interested in adding another non-conference game…should the right opportunity arise. That being said, there is a chance a game simply doesn’t happen due to timing. At some point in the coming weekend, I’ve been told the selection committee will move on in terms of teams still being considered, so adding a game Saturday or Sunday morning may not be enough to move the needle.
Coaches and Administrators are still trying to understand when that cut-off point will come, if there is a game impactful enough to make a difference and drastically change where they are currently, and if that team even wants to play a game.
While it now appears that Xavier is looking for a potential opponent this week, it’s hard to know if anything will happen. But for the first time this week, the optimism among program leaders seems to have shifted.
This is all just a long way of saying, nobody—and I mean nobody—has a full grasp of exactly what will happen between now and Selection Sunday.
Should nothing change at all—Saint Louis doesn’t play an additional game, and they don’t get particularly lucky in the remaining conference tournaments—they are set up to be a very high seed, if not the highest seed in the NIT (which will be played in Frisco, Texas) and will have a small prayer and being ether selected into the NCAA Tournament, or being named a potential replacement team for said tournament.
In SLU’s favor at the moment, three teams from the same conference, the Mountain West, sit in their way, so eventually, two if not all of those teams will lose games. But that ‘solution’ is tantamount to placing a Band-Aid on a bullet hole. SLU needs Utah State, Boise State, and Colorado State to all lose in upset games. They also need San Diego State to do its job and win the conference championship.
Xavier did SLU a favor by losing to Butler, Drake not winning the MVC helped in a minor way, and Louisville could be looking at a freefall with their loss to Duke. Though, Syracuse beating up on NC State (who SLU has a win over) didn’t help.
***The Duke Blue Devils have withdrawn from the ACC tournament due to a positive covid case. See here for my take on how this impacts SLU***
But with A-10 Commissioner Bernadette McGlade on the selection committee this year, the Billikens may have someone in their corner to advocate for them when the time comes. And while yes, she will have to recuse herself when A-10 teams are discussed, it stands to reason it’s better to have someone in the room…than not.
NIT or Bust?
SLU Basketball will see the court again this season. That much is clear, though. The NIT or the NCAA tournament is coming, and the Billikens are preparing for it. Seniors Jordan Goodwin and Hasahn French will have one more kick at the cat to try and finish their careers on a high note.
Billiken nation’s opinion seems split, though on what potential success could look like moving forward. I ran an informal poll on Twitter asking if NIT success would satisfy Billiken fans; the results were surprising.
Is SLU Men’s Basketball Winning the NIT a failed season?
— Carter Chapley (@ChapleyMedia) March 9, 2021
It isn’t precisely unreasonable to see where fans are coming from. With a generational pair of recruits ending their time in the Lou with one of the deepest rosters in program history, not making the tournament is a significant blow to the program’s prestige in the long run. This was the time to really begin the rise above their station.
But instead, they sit and pray for the opportunity just to smell the tournament.
The mitigating factors, though, are hard to argue. A decimated non-conference schedule that had it lived to fruition would have been more than enough to solidify their candidacy as an at-large candidate. Eleven Billikens tested positive for an illness with varying degrees of impact both in the short and long term, all the while not working as a team for over a month. It cannot be understated that at this moment, we simply do not know how impacted some players are by the virus. NBA Players still lament that 3-4 months later, they are hampered.
The story has been told enough but will bear repeating when future generations of fans look back at Goodwin and French’s final season.
But going out and winning the NIT, adding one final banner to Chaifetz Arena’s rafters, one last act of defiance to the virus that ravaged the team and season, proving they were able to overcome would be a special way to close their era and cement their legacy. It will also certainly be better for the program’s profile rather than opting out and not having a postseason at all.
The NIT often comes down to who wants it most…who wants to keep playing and winning, despite the lower profile. That sounds like a mindset this Billiken group could get behind. Especially considering how the lost last.
This offseason is going to be bonkers and is going to be incredibly challenging to track. With over 300 players already entering the transfer portal and only more to come later this month as more season’s end, spring and summer recruitment will be a mad dash. It could be the closest thing NCAA basketball (in its current standing) could ever see to Free Agency, all things considered.
This development has been something Travis Ford and Co. have predicted/strategized for, for well over a year now. Going back to early last summer, in the weeks after Lockdown in March, there was chatter about how to prepare for the future and what types of players would be most beneficial to the short- and long-term success of SLU Men’s Basketball.
The overwhelming consensus– both explicitly stated to me and implied by action– Transfers.
Saint Louis has been incredibly quiet on the recruiting front in preparation for this summer. After pumping the breaks on local high school recruits Jordan Nesbitt and Nicholas Kern, the direction became obvious.
Marten Linssen is the proof-of-concept Billiken fans need to see as to why the transfer direction is preferable to the high school recruiting scene right now. The German big man has come in and dominated in his role, providing both the offensive punch, energy, and depth the Billikens have needed.
Most importantly, he has done so immediately.
Even in a pandemic season. Where the offseason was shortened, and teachable moments were…different. Linssen has been a rock from tip to the final horn. He has made the times without French far more barrable and allowed Jimmy Bell Jr the time to find his way back into his game without it being a cataclysmic drop-off in forward depth.
With all the young talent the Billikens will be returning to the roster next season, Javonte Perkins included now, finding impactful veterans will be more valuable to keep a high degree of competitiveness going season after season.
Barring any changes, with three scholarships left to play with next season, Travis Ford will have some work to find replacements for his superstars. He’s put himself position to have his pick of the liter, not tied down to anything at the moment, and has the opportunity for players to come in and make an impact for an already talented team.