The time has finally come for the Saint Louis Billikens. After an offseason filled with a lot of hopeful talk and 1st place predictions, the Billikens are poised for a big season and a return to glory. Buckle up for a fun ride in Midtown St. Louis. Here is what is what we can expect in each non-conference game this season for the white and blue.
Southeast Missouri State
The season kicks off with a predictable cakewalk opponent in Southeast Missouri State. Ledarrius Brewer returns for his sophomore season as the second leading scorer last season. As a quality three point shooter, top defender and all-around weapon, the Hawks will have to rely heavily on him to even stay in this contest. Freshman Alex Caldwell also enters the season as an ESPN Top 30 point guard bringing a sliver of excitement to this squad. This will be a good game for the new-look Billikens to adjust and shake off any rust after Coach Travis Ford said they “still have a long way to go.” Still, this will be an easy win and feel more like an extension of the exhibition docket.
Point guard, BJ Miller lead Troy team in assists last season. Small forward, Jordon Varnado brings a high level offensive game, averaging 18ppg last season and earning All-Sun Belt Conference second team honors. This is a young, sneaky Troy team that can be entertaining to watch. However, their lack of depth will haunt them during this contest with SLU. There just aren’t enough pieces to contain the explosiveness of the Billikens.
New coach Tony Pujol steps in as a former member of the A-10 at VCU from 2006-09. He’ll bring experience into this contest after a successful assistant coaching career at Wyoming. But, North Alabama is making the transition to the Division 1 game this season from the ASUN Conference. Being their first D1 year, their roster consists of 8 freshman and 5 players from community college. Again, not a recipe that will bode well for them in this one. The Billikens should remain undefeated.
@ Seton Hall
Here we have the first real challenge of the season for the Bills, and to make matters worse, it’s the first road game. The Billikens lost 9 times when outside the friendly confines of Chaifetz Arena, but both teams have new looks. Myles Powell returns for Seton Hall along with Seton Hall receiving Quincy McKnight from Sacred Heart and Taurean Thompson from Syracuse who are new impact transfers that bring both high powered scoring and quality defense to the table. Luckily for the Billikens, most of Seton Hall’s starters from last season have graduated and the team is in the middle of a transition and finding their identity. For what it’s worth, Seton Hall did beat Boston College in a “secret scrimmage” recently where Powell scored 25 points. This game will be closer, but the Billikens should be able to fight them off on the road if Goodwin, Bess and company play to their ability.
Pittsburgh (@Barclays Center)
New head coach Jeff Capel, takes over after learning from the best of the bench, Coach K at Duke. Although this is considered a neutral site it is more of a home game for Pitt due to the proximity of Brooklyn. However, the Panthers are coming off a dreadful 8-24 season going 0-18 in their conference. Sophomore offensive juggernaut, Shamiel Stevenson is an athletic freak with a 40 inch vertical and a 6’11” wingspan who will give the Billikens problems all good. The Billikens will need to be on top of their defensive game for this one, but if they can quarantine Stevenson, they should come out on top. Once again.
Central Arkansas bring big man, Hayden Koval to the contest, a towering 7 footer who averaged 8.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per night. However, no Bears really shine as a true star on the roster. UCA is excited about Eddy Kayouloud, who is a three-star recruit coming from the powerhouse that is Oak Hill Academy. He is versatile scorer, but SLU shouldn’t have any trouble containing him whether he plays the 2 or 3 this game, especially with Javon Bess keeping him on his toes.
Former A-10 foe Butler returns to Chaifetz Arena in what still feels like a rivalry despite their move to the Big East. Butler carries a very deep team with plenty of star power. Those returning include all-around star Point Guard, Kamar Baldwin, who averaged 15.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game last season. In line for improvement and a big year Butler has the roster to ware down Saint Louis. Sean McDerrmott looks to be a quality secondary scorer and is poised for a breakout season as well. The Bulldogs are returning 7 players who averaged 15 plus minutes, despite the loss of stars Tyler Wideman and Kelan Martin so chemistry shoudn’t be an issue for them. Quality backcourt defense with Aaron Thompson with Baldwin also give Butler an edge on the other end of the floor. This will be a heated game for both teams. Unfortunately for SLU, Butler might trip the Billikens up in this one.
@ Southern Illinois
Armon Fletcher brings plenty of star power into this contest, averaging 14.1ppg last season, and was second in rebounding for his team, averaging 5.1 rebounds. Newcomer Sekou Dembele brings a high energy game to the Salukis this season as well. Playing previously with Gateway AAU and a member of the FIBA U19 World Cup in 2017, he has a huge wingspan of 7’0” at 6’8” and 230 lbs. He is a good back to the basket player that French and Gordon will need to be aware of. Former teammate of Jordan Goodwin at Althoff Catholic. Scottie Pippen’s nephew, Kavion Pippen also provides a spark as he earned all MVC Third team last season, averaging 12.1 points and led team in field goal percentage, rebounds and blocks. Thik Bol also provides support on the defensive end as a high-powered defender, great shot blocker. However, the talent on SIU just doesn’t match up with SLU’s depth, making the Salukis a longshot to keep this one competitive.
The Billikens will have to bring their A-game again for this one. The beavers are a deep team this season with plenty of scoring and a lineup that will be a challenge for SLU to match up with top to bottom. Returning star Tres Tinkle can score at will and has a knack for rebounding that will keep the Billikens on their toes throughout the contest. Stephen Thompson Jr. also makes up for the loss of Drew Eubanks after he left to turn pro. Freshman Jordan Campbell also provides another spark for this strong OSU squad as he has proven he can do it all. The young, three-star recruit averaged 29.1 points, 7.4 assists, 6.3 rebounds and 4.1 steals during his senior campaign at Adelonto High School in California. Javon Bess will most likely be matched up with him and will have to pull out all his defensive tricks out of his bag in this one to keep the Beavers from running up the score.
After not only losing to Michigan in the NCAA Tournament last season, but coming within a buzzer beater of going to the Sweet 16 Houston is hungry and prepared for redemption in their new confines on campus, the $60 million on-campus Fertitta Center will host a competitive battle with the Billikens. Although they lost Rob Gray who averaged 19.3 points last season, they get back returning star Corey Davis Jr. who is dangerous from deep. Houston is another deep team that SLU will need to have all hands on deck to contain. The reigning AAC Sixth Man of the Year, Armoni Brooks, good source of offense along with Galen Robinson Jr. who sets the pace for this fast paced team and is the top defender on the roster. Dejon Jarreau who is a former A-10 star from UMass as a 4 star recruit provides more of the same as a lockdown defense and capable scorer. He is a good all around player that could cause problems if matched up with Goodwin. Overall this will be one of the toughest if not the toughst battles SLU will face this season. It will do wonders in the rankings if SLU can pull out a win in this one, but on the road facing a Houston team of this caliber will be a touch task.
North Carolina Central
Although this UNC-Central made the NCAA Tournamen last season, this game will be a much needed rest for the Billikens. SLU transfer Ty Graves is now on the roster which will make it a fun game for Bills fans to watch to see a player who would have otherwise been in white and blue. The Eagles lost four players due to transferring who would have been seniors causing a big loss in veteran leadership. This should be an easy win and a nice break in their friendly confines sandwiched between two tough matchups. Seniors Raasean Davis and Pablo Rivas should provide more high level scoring and leadership but this team lacks talent beyond them. Don’t let last season’s tournament appearance fool you. UNC Central won’t provide the Billikens with much trouble, especially in St. Louis.
@ Florida State
This is the time of year that the Seminoles got hot last season on their way to an exciting run into the NCAA Tournament. With the return of star Phil Cofer, their leading scorer and rebounder gaining an additional year of eligibility, FSU looks to be dominant once again. Point guard Trent Forrest causes a touch task to guard as he is a versatile, oversized guard who can score and provide lockdown defense. Sophomore guard MJ Walker is set for a breakout season after a disappointing freshman campaign after coming into FSU as a 5 star recruit. PJ Savoy and David Nichols are also key reserves who are dangerous from deep. The Seminoles are a deep, versatile and dangerous team who will require any opponent to match them punch for punch to avoid a scoring onslaught. The Billikens can make a statement if they are able to steal a win on the road, but Travis Ford will need to have his men ready for war. Luckily for the Billikens, the lineup should be settled and chemistry should be at an all time high at this point in the season.
To close out non-conference play, SLU will face an Appalachian State team that has promise. Forward Issac Johnson is a capable scorer and tenacious rebounder. He has a history of terrorizing A10 competition, going a perfect 5 for 5 from the field against VCU last season. They also have the one-two punch of Guards Ronshad Shabazz and Justin Forrest. Forrest is a fantastic defender and shooter and proved it by being second on the team in scoring and first in steals last season. Shabazz has been one of the best players in the Sun Belt Conference, leading his team in points and assists and finishing second in steals. Very versatile on both ends of the floor. Freshman Adrian Delph could also be a dangerous scorer and one to keep an eye on as he was an explosive scorer averaging 22.4 points and 10.4 rebounds his senior season of high school. However, the lack of depth overall hinders App State. If their stars are contained SLU should have no trouble capping off their non-conference play with a win.
Overall, SLU faces a touch test most of the season and will come out of non-conference play proving if the hype was warranted. Travis Ford and his Billikens will be prepared going into conference play and have the opportunity to show the committee what they are made of should they be in the position to have to rely on them at the end of the year. It will be one of the most exciting times to watch the Billikens in a while and will give fans the excitement they’ve been waiting for. The talk and predictions are over. Now it’s time to show what Saint Louis is made of.