A few days before the world stopped spinning in March, I sat with my dad in the nosebleeds of Chaifetz Arena on Senior Night as the Billikens dismantled a strong St. Bonaventure side in dominant fashion. While Senior Night usually signifies a passing of the torch of leadership and experience to the team’s younger players, Travis Ford’s team has the luxury of returning nearly every player from their Bonnie-beating performance, and I wish I knew how many days were left in the countdown until their return.
Of course, I’ll likely be unable to see the Bills at Chaifetz this season, regardless of COVID restrictions. Unlike most college sports bloggers, I don’t attend the school I write about. Five hours south I draft this from the campus library at Ole Miss—not exactly A-10 territory. From the moment I sat with my back pressed against the wall of Chaifetz with my Boy Scout troop as a young Kwamain Mitchell and company triumphed over #25 Dayton, I was enamored with the Billikens. My father would reminisce about the wonders of Spoonball while we were privileged with the greatness of Rick Majerus. He told me about the sharpshooting of the Venice Menace, and didn’t hide his excitement when he had to sit down with Erwin Claggett himself at my freshman year Parent-Teacher conferences. When Dwayne Evans, Mitchell, and the indefatigable Jordair Jett were starring in the blue and white, I marked them to advance in my March Madness bracket in Sharpie. As Coach Ford has assembled a formidable squad in the past few seasons, I’ve had to improvise and find ways to stream games on my laptop while residing down south. I’ll never forget driving through southeast Missouri after my spring break during the 2019 A-10 Championship game, frantically switching from FM to AM to catch the radio call as I strayed further from St. Louis. I locked myself in my fraternity house room during a Friday night party to watch our season end against Virginia Tech a week later. My Chicagoan roommate has even hopped on the Billiken hype train, since I’ve streamed every Fox Sports Midwest game I can from our living room TV.
With all that being said, I love St. Louis. I love Billiken basketball. I love it enough to talk and write about nearly every single day, and enough to have some irrational expectations for this year’s squad. So again, as a disclaimer, I am quite biased in this department. Nonetheless, this team is GOOD. Like, REALLY GOOD. Jon Rothstein placed Saint Louis at #32 in his preseason rankings, but there is an inevitable feeling that they will climb much higher over the course of the season. I fully anticipate them being a 5 or 6 seed come March, and I wouldn’t be shocked if they grabbed a 3 seed. This is a team that can carry near 30 wins into postseason play. Jordan Goodwin and Hasahn French have been receiving national recognition and preseason award consideration. Javonte Perkins might be the best under the radar player in the nation, and when he averages 20 PPG this season everyone will know his name. The Billikens boast a suffocating combination of length, intelligence, and athleticism on the defensive end as well. Nearly the entirety of their offensive production is returning, with an added boost of three-point shooting coming from a healthy Gibson Jimerson, who shot well north of 40% from deep in his freshman campaign. Additonally, Fred Thatch’s tenacious defense and athleticism will be a welcome sight to see following his injury plagued 2019, and youngsters Yuri Collins and Terrance Hargrove will provide an electricity to the SLU offense that few other teams will be able to match. Guys like Jimmy Bell Jr. and Demarius Jacobs will find ways to contribute as well, and it will be interesting to see which lineups Ford employs to optimize his team’s production and efficiency.
Obi Toppin and Dayton were able to dominate both A-10 and nonconference opponents last year, and the Billikens are going to pick up where the Flyers left off. SLU and Dayton were on a collision course for another meeting in Brooklyn before sports were cancelled in March, and it’s unfortunate we didn’t get to see the third installment of the Arch Baron Cup on such a stage. Jalen Crutcher isn’t going to simply let go of the mantle of the A-10’s top team and the nation’s mid-major darling, but I cannot wait to see Hasahn and JGood take it from him.