A transition year under first year head coach Travis Ford was imminent, as a number of former players left the team. Travis Ford hit the recruiting trail hard though, securing commitments from a number of transfers as well as uncharacteristically high ranked recruits. This year, the Billikens get to see Ford’s new guys in action.
Despite the transition year, the Billikens were able to win some impressive conference games (two over GMU, notably), in order to finish a respectable 11th in the league. The way some of the younger guys started playing towards the end of the season (Elliott Welmer and Jalen Johnson), it became clear SLU is on the road to improvement.
SLU’s leading scorer in 2016-17 looks to come back with a bang in what should me a much-improved season for the Billikens. Look for Roby to remain one of the best three point shooters in the conference; he cashed in at a 41.2% clip from deep in A-10 play last season. He remains one of the better guys in the league at getting to the line, and Roby improved his free throw shooting as well, firing at 77.3% from the stripe in A-10 play last season. All in all, Roby is one of Saint Louis’ best players on a very balanced team in terms of individual talent.
As a junior, Hines’ contributions didn’t always show up on the stat sheet. While he wasn’t the most lethal scorer for Saint Louis, he came up clutch on defense, notching a top 20 steal percentage in the A-10 conference. Not to mention, he played 91.9% of available minutes in conference play; needless to say, Hines has been an important role player in his time at Saint Louis, and even with new faces, he should see some court time.
Anthony’s a Seton hall transfer who hasn’t gotten a ton of attention yet, but he’s another big body that adds depth down low. Rarely playing with the Pirates, it’s tough to get a read on his potential. I like his size, and I think he’ll be a solid rebounder and scorer in the post, but we’ll have to see just how Ford allocates minutes.
Before suffering a season-ending ankle injury, Jermaine Bishop was leading the Billikens in points and assists. With good health, Bishop will emerge as SLU’s key distributor in his final two seasons as a Billiken. Look at Bishop’s 27 point scoring night against BYU last season, and it’s easy to see why he may be the most slept-on player on this Saint Louis roster. If he comes back healthy, he could easily be Saint Louis’ best player.
Here’s a name you should get in your head. Adonys Henriquez has a chance to be one of the biggest surprises in the league this year; he was the 2nd leading scorer and 2nd best three point shooter for UCF two seasons ago. His defense is impeccable as well. Henriquez committed just 0.9 fouls per 40 minutes in 2015-16 AAC play. His ability to defend without racking up fouls will be huge for a SLU team that wasn’t great at keeping teams off the line last season.
Bess played a limited role his sophomore season with Michigan State, but there’s reason to believe he’ll be much more effective under Travis Ford. The Billikens can utilize Bess on the wing with Jalen Johnson and move him inside to get boards. He’s most effective inside the three point arc where he dropped 16 points on 6/7 shooting in 2015-16 against Arkansas Pine Bluff. Bess was nearly a top 100 recruit for his class according to Rivals, and there’s reason to believe that the talent Tom Izzo recruited will stand out immensely in the Atlantic 10.
One of 4 transfers to sit out last season, Foreman is yet another reason why I love Saint Louis in the paint. 2 seasons ago with Rutgers, Foreman averaged 6.0 rebounds in just 26.2 minutes per contest. Having sat out a season, you have to think the 6-8 junior’s ready to take the floor. Foreman’s great at absorbing contact as well, as he had the 2nd best free throw rate in the Big Ten in 2015-16. I love the way this frontcourt is shaping up.
Jalen Johnson is easily one of my favorite sophomores in the league this season. As a freshman, Johnson emerged onto the scene late in conference play with some serious performances; he’d drop 17 points on George Mason and VCU, both games on the road. Johnson’s shown the ability to be a force on the boards as well as an effective three point shooter, so Ford will revel in his pick-and-pop forward heading into 2017-18.
In a league full of guards this year, expect the inside-out abilities of Elliott Welmer to be key for SLU. The freshman emerged late in the season, dropping consecutive 17 point, 8 rebound performances in the Billikens’ final few games. Welmer shot nearly 40% from deep in conference play and buried 4 against George Washington in Foggy Bottom. Not to mention, he was top 25 in the A-10 in offensive and defensive rebounding percentages, turnover rate, and block percentage. Welmer could be Saint Louis’ most complete player this coming season.
It’s easy to lose sight of freshmen in this league, especially with all of the incoming transfers: SLU’s a prime example of that. Bottom line: Goodwin shouldn’t be slept on heading into the season, as he has a chance to be the best first-year in the league. Rivals ranks Goodwin 61st nationally: the highest A-10 recruit in the class of 2017. He’ll immediately contribute to what’ll be a dangerous SLU backcourt this year with Roby, Bishop, and Henriquez.
The 6-7, 220 lb. Massachusetts native brings size and finesse to the Billikens post; bonus round: Travis Ford scooped the talented newcomer right off UMass’ front porch. A 3 star according to Rivals, French should immediately augment a SLU frontcourt that was poor on the boards last season (318th in offensive rebound %). When you combine the talents of French with 2018 commit Gordon and Welmer in the 2018-19 season, it’s easy to see why the Billikens should be a pick to make it back to the NCAA Tournament.
Home– Seattle, Rockhurst, Detroit Mercy, Western Michigan, Southern Illinois, Houston, Murray St., Campbell, Southeastern Missouri St.
Away– Butler, Oregon St.
Neutral– Virginia Tech, Providence/Washington
The Billikens will face some non-conference challenges, no doubt, but they should have good control over home contests. The only opponent that I could really see beating the Billikens at Chaifetz is Houston. On the road and in New York for the 2k Classic will prove much more difficult for the Billikens, though. Virginia Tech and Providence/Washington will be favorites over Saint Louis; the same likely goes for road games against Butler and Oregon St. The good news: SLU will have its fair share of quality non-conference tests before league play.
Home – Fordham, George Washington, Rhode Island, VCU, Dayton, Duquesne, La Salle, Richmond, St. Bonaventure
Away – Davidson, George Mason, Massachusetts, Saint Joseph’s, Dayton, Duquesne, La Salle, Richmond, St. Bonaventure
Playing Dayton and St. Bonaventure twice will be tough, yes, but the Billikens get VCU and Rhode Island at home, two great opportunities. On the road, Saint Louis has a great shot of taking down Davidson, George Mason, Massachusetts, Duquesne, La Salle and Richmond. I really like this team heading into the 2017-18 season, and it definitely helps that the Billikens’ conference schedule is working in their favor.
Non-Conference Record: 9-4
Conference Finish: 5th in the A-10
Starting Lineup: Jordan Goodwin, Davell Roby, Adonys Henriquez, Jalen Johnson, Hasahn French
X-Factor: Jermaine Bishop
Biggest Sleeper: Jalen Johnson
Most Improved: Javon Bess
MVP: Jordan Goodwin
I think Saint Louis is a year away from REALLY doing some damage in the A-10 (I’m talking a 1st place finish and a trip to the NCAA Tournament). While we could see the Billikens take the league by surprise, I think they’ll finish around 5th or 6th and be in great standing heading into the 2018-19 season. We know that Travis Ford can recruit, but now he’s going to need to show he can coach. Making a jump from 11th to 5th is never an easy movement in college basketball, even though the league seems to be wide open in the middle.