The Saint Louis University Billikens begin their season today against Florida Gulf Coast and as it stands, the reigning A-10 Tournament Champions are an unknown quantity. Javon Bess and Tramaine Isabell Jr. have moved onto the professional ranks, and the Billikens have seven newcomers this season. The Travis Ford era has been nothing if not eventful, but on the surface, they’re in the position a lot of fans were hoping for when Ford was first hired: coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance and gearing up for a season built around the core of juniors Jordan Goodwin and Hasahn French.
Of course, it’s not that simple. In fans’ hopes, I suspect they weren’t envisioning SLU being picked 7th in the A-10 after making the NCAA Tournament. In a season where the A-10 returns a ridiculous amount of talent and SLU loses its best player and the A-10 Tournament MVP, 7th place makes sense. I think it’s likely the Billikens wind up higher than 7th and I think it’s possible they can establish themselves as one of the top teams in an extremely stacked A-10. For them to do the latter, however, it all comes down to one person: Jordan Goodwin.
Goodwin is in an interesting spot heading into junior year. Considering he was named preseason All-A-10 Third Team, no one is going to tab him as a major “breakout” candidate, yet I think he has the potential to step up his game significantly from last year. Sophomore year frequently felt like a sophomore slump for Goodwin, as he struggled to gel with backcourt mate Isabell for much of the season, and he struggled with shooting and efficiency. Goodwin also was burdened with perhaps unrealistic expectations coming into sophomore year (We named him the 3rd best player in the A-10 in our preseason rankings last year) that also colored views of his season.
This was warranted though. Goodwin was an absolutely dynamic presence his freshman year. The Centreville, Ill. native played the role of hometown hero with aplomb. Goodwin averaged 11.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4 assists per game and notched the first triple double in SLU history. After the dire days of the Jim Crews era, Goodwin was the first major signing for Travis Ford, the highest-ranking local recruit since Larry Hughes, and he played with a fire and intensity that wiped away memories of many a Malik Yarbrough coast-to-coast misadventure. While not particularly efficient, Goodwin affected every area of the game and oftentimes it felt the entire game ran through him, as the Billikens finished with a 17-16 record, despite Goodwin’s absence the last few games.
What the Billikens need this year is a more efficient version of freshman year Goodwin. Sophomore year, Goodwin often didn’t have the same impact on the game during freshman year and he didn’t have the ball in his hands to the same extent since Isabell and Bess served as the offensive focal points. Throw in that Goodwin’s numbers (outside of rebounding) don’t communicate his true effectiveness, and I think he is likely one of the more underrated players in the conference. Goodwin has the potential to be a top five player in this league, and if he is, SLU will be one of the best teams in the conference.
Goodwin is the focal point of the team and will run the show. He already has a very complete game, but his one of his biggest weaknesses is one of the most important parts of basketball: scoring. For SLU to reach their full potential, Goodwin is going to have to become at least a 15 ppg player, while continuing to do all the things that make him so special in all other facets of the game. That means he’s going to have to be a more efficient jump-shooter, miss far less point-blank layups and, most importantly, make his free-throws at a rate far closer to his 69% freshman year than his 51% sophomore year. It’s a tall order, but Goodwin is an extremely hard worker, a strong leader, and an incredible talented player. He’s ready.
He’s most comfortable with everything going through himself, and Travis Ford has built a roster full of complementary guards. Fred Thatch can serve as a secondary scorer, a strong defender and together with Goodwin, forms the Most Likely Backcourt To Be Mistaken For Linebackers. DeMarius Jacobs is an explosive athlete and can serve as a steady presence on or off-ball. Tay Weaver is basicially an undersized 2 guard and a tough defender. Gibson Jimerson is a lights-out shooter who can feast on kick-outs from Goodwin’s penetration. Yuri Collins is an incredible passer who doesn’t need to be ball-dominant, which should allow him to have strong chemistry with Goodwin from the get-go. All the parts are in place for Jordan Goodwin to breakout year.
In short, if Goodwin has a similar season to last year, expect the Billikens to finish around 7th as predicted. French is an incredibly talented player, but he tends to struggle when he’s the focal point of a defensive strategy and it’s hard to see where else the offense would come from. There’s no proven shot creator on this team other than those two. If Goodwin averages 15+ points, SLU is probably a top-4 team in the conference and maybe gets an NCAA bid. Goodwin as a major scoring threat will open up the offense and help him create shots for others more effectively. Also, it likely means that SLU is both getting out in transition more, and doing it effectively (which was an issue at times last season). If he’s averaging 20+ a game, which is likely a pipe dream, SLU has an NCAA Tournament bid for sure.
Like any team with a lot of turnover, SLU is a tough team to predict. I would not be surprised if they finished anywhere from 1 to 10 in the conference. There is an extremely high variance of outcome for this team. However, the primary indicator of that success is clear.
(It’s Jordan Goodwin)
*please note: All this is contingent on the team hitting free throws. The start of the season is for excitement and joy, so this article only mentions free throws once, but as always, free throws are the specter hanging over any season of Billikens basketball. Thanks for reading all this!