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SLU-UMass Preview: Billikens Need to Play Their Game

This week started with a SLU-UMass matchup on Monday, and now the Billikens and Minutemen will ring in the end of week when they face off today at 1pm in the A10 Tournament quarterfinals in a 4 seed vs. 5 seed matchup in the Robins Center. In the first showdown between these teams, SLU delivered an emphatic 78-57 win over UMass on its senior night, securing the double-bye to finish the regular season with a 13-5 record, 6-4 in conference play. 

However, UMass is coming off an absolute beatdown of St. Joseph’s, dropping 100 points on the Hawks in a game that was practically over within the first ten minutes. Additionally, the only game SLU has won away from the Chaifetz Arena this season is against Fordham. Today will likely be a much closer game than Monday. 

SLU might be the most talented team in the conference. I know I say this in practically every article, but it’s that important. This is a team that can go 10 deep, has three of the best seniors in the conference, and boasts a varied bench that gives Travis Ford a lot of options at his disposal. SLU is also a team that has frequently just stood around and forced shots on offense and failed to defend the three point shot on defense. It can’t afford to do either against UMass. 

Tre Mitchell is clearly UMass’ best player, but the Woodstock Prep Minutemen have a lot of talent around him. SLU can’t afford to focus too much on Mitchell, but it also can’t allow him to take over the game. Though Hasahn French, Jimmy Bell Jr. and Marten Linssen will have their hands full, SLU’s perimeter defenders need to be selective on when to help and when to stick to UMass’ shooters. Carl Pierre, TJ Weeks and Noah Fernandes are all threats from the arc and can hurt the Billikens if they key in on Mitchell too much. 

UMass is going to try to force the pace of the game with their press. SLU is a veteran team and can’t let that happen. SLU has the physicality and experience to impose their type of game on UMass. If SLU does this, it becomes a much easier road for the Billikens. SLU has struggled when they are trying to fight their way back into games. In many of their losses, the Billikens have come close to mounting comebacks, but would always fall back. SLU’s wins, meanwhile, have come when the team plays its game and asserts its control early. It needs to start both halves strong and wear down UMass.

In the first game, UMass shot 20-50 from the field and 8-23 from three. The Billikens were able to make Tre Mitchell into a non-factor and UMass looked flat for most of the game. Yesterday, however, they shot 40-72 from the field and 15-38 from three, with a lot of those misses coming when the game was well in hand. If UMass is shooting like they did yesterday, it’ll be game over. 

On offense, the Billikens should look to stick to a similar game plan to what worked on Monday. Ford should start with the two-big offense, establish French instead, and use it to get the rest of the team going. SLU also needs to continue running a lot of pick-and-roll, as the Minutemen struggled to defend it. If SLU is moving the ball, it should open up opportunities for Javonte Perkins, who always has the potential to take over a game with his scoring. 

Lastly, the senior trio of Goodwin, French and Perkins will need help from the bench. Last game, Fred Thatch and Terrence Hargrove combined for 23 points, with only one missed shot between them. If they can continue to contribute, and Demarius Jacobs can get going, SLU has a solid chance to move on to the semifinals over Travis Ford’s old team.

Jack Godar covers Saint Louis University for A10Talk. He is a St. Louis native who grew up rooting for SLU, but is a graduate of College of the Holy C...