Yeah, it’s a long shot, but this is the same Saint Louis team that made the Big Dance 3 years in a row from 2012-14. Sure, losing 5 starting seniors after 2014 hurt this Billiken team a ton and sent it back into rebuilding mode, but after a couple of tough seasons, it seems Saint Louis is ready to reassert itself in the Atlantic 10 Conference. Under the management of new head coach Travis Ford, things are already looking up for the Billikens. Here are 5 reasons they could make the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
1. Senior leaders can get the job done
Even though Travis Ford is freshening up this Saint Louis roster with incoming transfers, there is still a lot of talent in its returning seniors. Mike Crawford and Reggie Agbeko will be the two veterans expected to take this team to new heights in the 2016-17 season. Crawford averaged 10.3 points and 3.5 rebounds per game last season and was second on the team in three point shooting percentage at 33.7%. Reggie Agbeko was a key force on the interior for the Billikens last season as he scored 6.3 points and grabbed 6.2 boards per game. His 24.3 minutes per game should go up drastically, allowing him to flaunt his inside game more frequently next season. Under new management, it will be interesting to see just how dynamic these two seniors can be in their last years as Billikens.
2. Incoming Transfers
Travis Ford has done a great job bringing in transfers and re-booting this Saint Louis roster for the next couple years. Unfortunately for the Billikens, they won’t be able to utilize the newcomers until the 2017-18 season. Adonys Henriquez, Javon Bess, and D.J. Foreman will all sit out a year before taking the court under Travis Ford. Though they won’t be able to make immediate impacts on this 2016-17 team, having them around can never hurt. These players can have a positive influence on the current team in practice and really begin to prepare themselves for the 2017-18 season. Some of the most improved players in college basketball are the ones who have to sit out a year because it really gives them time to work on their games. Watch out, because Saint Louis could be dangerous in a couple seasons.
3. Jermaine Bishop is a key underclassmen
Despite Saint Louis not having a good 2015-16 season, freshman Jermaine Bishop asserted himself as one of the better underclassmen in the A-10; he’ll be back for the Billikens. Bishop had 8.9 points, 2.0 rebounds, and 2.3 assists on just 20.8 minutes per game last season. As the likely starting point guard next year, Bishop will inherit an enormous role as a sophomore and will be expected to increase his productivity all over the floor. Perhaps the most promising part of Bishop’s game is his free throw shooting; the freshman shot 86.4% from the charity stripe last season, and if he can learn to get there with more regularity, it will pay dividends to this Saint Louis team.
4. Don’t sleep on Travis Ford
Jim Crews had some great seasons with the Billikens, but most fans will agree that it was time to move on. As mentioned above, Travis Ford is already doing a great job bringing in guys to the program and really boosting this roster for years to come. He’s already made a huge impact on this team, and his players haven’t even taken the floor for the first time yet. If his work off the court is any indication on how the Billikens will perform on the court, then I’ll take them to win the A-10 title this year. Ford has had some success at Oklahoma St. the past couple years, and there is no doubt that he’s the kind of high-caliber coach that can get Saint Louis competing at the top of the A-10 conference yet again.
5. Favorable conference schedule
The Billikens got one of the more favorable conference schedules in the league if you ask me. Saint Louis will play Dayton, Duquesne, George Mason, La Salle, and St. Bonaventure twice. They’ll only have to play Davidson, Saint Joseph’s, Rhode Island, and UMass once, and they’ll get those teams at home. Having that home court advantage in crucial games could give this team the extra boost it needs to come out on top. don’t be surprised to see the Billikens climb their way up the A-10 standings this season.
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