Saint Louis has been making a huge splash on the recruiting trail recently, and even though most fans may be more excited about future seasons, opportunity looms for these Billikens in just a few weeks. Travis Ford just landed Carte’Are Gordon, a top 10 prospect in ESPN’s 100 for the class of 2018. In addition, the Billikens have landed a 4 star 2017 recruit in Jordan Goodwin and have a number of solid transfers that will be eligible in 2017-18. Though Saint Louis will likely reside at the bottom of the conference this season, things are going to be changing in the next couple of years. Last season was no fun for Saint Louis; the Billikens went 11-21 overall and failed to do much in conference play. Head coach Jim Crews was fired immediately following the A-10 Tournament, and Saint Louis hired former Oklahoma State head coach Travis Ford. Ford has this team moving in the right direction, and if you’re a fan, be patient, because this is certainly going to be a transition year.
Saint Louis says goodbye to a lot of talent from its 2015-16 roster. Leading scorer Ash Yacoubou has graduated after averaging 10.9 points and 5.7 rebounds per game last season. Yacoubou came up short towards the end of the season but did have a few massive performances his senior year, including 27 points in a win over Davidson.
With the coaching change occurring during the offseason, a lot of players decided to transfer away from Saint Louis. Miles Reynolds and Milik Yarbrough have both left the team and opted to play elsewhere for their remaining collegiate careers. Both provided solid minutes and point productivity (8.2 and 7.7 PPG), but neither was an integral piece to this program. In addition, Saint Louis suffers minor transfer losses in Marcus Bartley and Brett Jolly, but again, Saint Louis is going to be just fine rebuilding without these pieces.
Really start paying attention to this section when we do next year’s previews. When all of Saint Louis’ highly-touted incoming talent becomes eligible, this team is going to be a contender for the A-10 title. Regardless, Saint Louis is going to be bringing in some very talented freshmen that could get some serious playing time in what’s going to be a transition year. 3 star recruit Jalen Johnson will be a valuable asset at the 3 where Michigan State transfer Javon Bess will have to sit out this season. At 6-7, Johnson has ridiculous length and is a deadly shooter from all over the floor. He should help alleviate a team that shot 32.8% from deep last season. Check out our earlier piece on Johnson here.
The other incoming freshman that will be playing this season is shooting guard Zeke Moore. While he’ll likely be playing off the bench behind Davell Roby and Aaron Hines, he has a chance to get solid playing time as a freshman. Moore is known for his explosive plays and burning defenders left and right. Not to mention that he’s got a lot of size at 6-6 for a guard. He’ll be a guy that can emerge as a key contributor in Ford’s system.
Despite suffering the transfer bug and having a lot of guys leave the program, the Billikens have a lot of returning talent to work with. Mike Crawford will be back after averaging 10.3 points per game last season. He’ll likely be Saint Louis’ go-to-guy this season, as he’s the highest-scoring returning player. Key backcourt pieces in Jermaine Bishop, Davell Roby, and Aaron Hines will all be back for Saint Louis. Bishop, who’s only a sophomore this season, really has a chance to emerge as one of Saint Louis’ rocks within the next couple of seasons. He’s beginning to prove that he can be a reliable player at the top of the key. I also think Reggie Agbeko is one of the most undervalued players on this roster. He’s returning for his senior season after grabbing 6.2 boards per game and shooting 57.0% from the field last year. Though they weren’t huge contributors last season, don’t be surprised to see frontcourt pieces Austin Gillmann and Matt Neufeld get some more playing time this year.
Saint Louis will have a manageable non-conference schedule, but I’d expect them to struggle against superior opponents. The Billikens will play in the MGM Grand Main Event where they’ll face BYU, a team that should be in the 2017 NCAA Tournament, and then either Alabama or Valparaiso. Anything better than an 0-2 finish in this tournament would be a huge victory for the Billikens. Saint Louis will also likely suffer losses to both Kansas State and Wichita St. Weber’s Wildcats are on the rise this season, and the Shockers will once again be the favorites to win the MVC. The Billikens have some easy games on their schedule as well, but games against the talented teams listed above will be nice tune-ups before A-10 conference play.
The Billikens have a brutal start to the conference season where they’ll face Rhode Island, La Salle, and Davidson. Luckily for Saint Louis, it will only have to face VCU and Rhody once, and they’ll get two conference games against George Mason and Duquesne. Saint Louis has one of the nicer conference slates in my opinion, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. There will be a lot of solid teams ranking 5-9 in the conference standings, and Saint Louis is going to have to face all of those teams just like everyone else. The Billikens also have to play Dayton twice this season.
I’m going to be honest; Saint Louis is probably going to be 13th or 14th in the conference this season. It’s not likely going to be a great year for these Billikens, but there is plenty to look forward to if you’re a fan. We’ll get to see just how well Travis Ford fits the system and how the newcomers begin to play. This is a transition year if I’ve ever seen one, and with all of the talent that this team is managing to land, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Billikens back in the NCAA Tournament in 2 seasons. They could be that good.