(WARNING: This article probably gets way overdramatic at times)
Woof. Well, this really stinks, doesn’t it? After riding a wave of preseason hype, the Saint Louis Billikens have thoroughly crashed. Once thought of as a virtual at-large lock, the Billikens now sit at 9-6, with no hope of an at-large bid. A team once thought to be replete with offensive weapons is shooting around 30% from behind the arc (I don’t have the energy to look up the actual number post-UMass, my apologies).
The numbers are bad, but the eye test has been even worse. Despite having two of the A10’s best wins, against Providence and Memphis, the Billikens haven’t looked good all year. They don’t make shots, they don’t get stops, they don’t force turnovers. The offense often looks stagnant, as everyone stands around and waits for Yuri Collins to create some magic. In short, SLU is not a good basketball team right now.
This was supposed to be the year that washed away all the bad luck of the prior Travis Ford years. The injuries, the long COVID breaks, the bad timing would all be redeemed with a triumphant season this year. Instead, this has been the least enjoyable team of the Travis Ford era. They seem unable to adjust or address the problems that have plagued them all season. At times, they don’t really look like they care if they do or not. For whatever reason, the Billikens seem to be lacking pride and fire and toughness this year as their season falls apart.
A common theme is “Will the Billikens bounce back from (insert devastating collapse here)?”. So far, every time the answer has been a resounding “no”. Not even blowing a 17 point lead and losing to SIUE (SIUE!!) at home has been enough to wake this team up. It’s hard to imagine they ever will at this point. It’s really draining for fans to go from feeling like a NCAAT lock to losing all hope in the season before the New Year but that’s what happened this year. Every game is a white-knuckler and every loss is occasion for a mini-meltdown.
How could everyone have been so wrong about this team? Even if Travis Ford has a “ceiling”, this team is far below that “close-but-no-cigar” level his teams so often top out at. This is a different kind of season. This is the kind of season that makes Billiken fans feel like rooting for SLU is a doomed enterprise that will only result in pain and disappointment. This is the kind of season that sucks the optimism and hope for future years right out of you.
Perhaps this team will turn it around. There’s 16 more conference games and then there is Brooklyn. At this point, Brooklyn is all that matters. If the Billikens win all their games there, they go dancing and anything can happen in the tournament. However, even in a weak A10, you need to be a good basketball team to win the conference tournament. It’s been a long time since SLU showed indications that this team is a good basketball team.
I feel bad for the players and coaches, who are a great group of people and really are likable. They’ve done a great job of being a part of the community and I’m sure they want to win more than anyone. I’m rooting for them. I cannot stress enough that I am rooting for them to turn this around! But the results aren’t there and right now it doesn’t look like the process is there. Travis Ford really deserved to have a great year after all he’s been through. Instead, he should be on the hot seat right now if SLU AD Chris May has any sense (having faith in the SLU athletic department to have the ambition and money required to want to take SLU to that next level is a question for another article).
Ford’s been to one NCAA tournament in 6 years, and it’s looking like it’ll be one in 7. He’s never led SLU to an at-large bid and he certainly won’t this year. Travis Ford has put SLU on the precipice of being a consistent contender, but it’s getting harder and harder to believe in him as the guy who can take that next step with SLU. The way this season has collapsed, and the frustration he’s shown certainly calls into consideration if parting ways would be best for both SLU and Ford. 7 years is a long time in college basketball and this season makes one wonder if the culture at Chaifetz has gone stale.
This is one of the most disappointing seasons I’ve experienced as a Billikens fan. I hope it turns around and I look dumb for writing this in a few months, but it feels like SLU is at a crossroads. I’ll still be watching every game and rooting for SLU and desperately hoping this team can turn things around and salvage a dream season that turned all too quickly into a nightmare. It’s a long time until March and thus there’s still hope. Look at Richmond last year, after all. However, thus far in the season, disappointment is seemingly the one thing this SLU team has been elite at.