The start of the season has been less than ideal for the A-10 so far, full of damaging, inexplicable losses so far (see Mason, GW, etc.). On the surface, SLU has avoided such pitfalls, racking up a 3-0 record thus far.
However, the wins have been far dicier than they should have been. In their first game against Southeast Missouri State, SLU nearly collapsed thanks to atrocious free throw shooting down the stretch, before pulling out a 75-65 win. The Billikens squeaked out a 62-58 win against Troy. Through 2 games, SLU shot 53 percent from the free throw line. After their win last night against North Alabama, I thought “wow they shot a lot better from the line tonight”. Turns out they shot only 63% on free throws.
Travis Ford warned before the season that SLU had a long way to go. Multiple players on the team have only been practicing for a few weeks and so we’re watching these players figure each other out in real time. With that context, SLU’s rocky start makes sense (minus the free throw shooting). The team returns only 4 players and has 7 newcomers. Freshman Carte’Are Gordon has shown flashes of why he was such a highly touted recruit, but also is adjusting from the high school to the college game. Senior Tramaine Isabell is adjusting to having more offensive weapons around him and having to become more of a distributor. Jordan Goodwin and Hasahn French are still adjusting to their new teammates. There’s going to be growing pains with the squad, but SLU fans (myself included) were so excited to have a team with so much talent (OK, really just a team with more than 8 scholarship players) that it was easy to overlook it.
With Saturday’s game against Seton Hall, it’s imperative that the Billikens make great strides, and soon. There have been glimmers of hope. SLU’s defense is still stifling, and Gordon and fellow freshman Fred Thatch Jr. have played strong games on defense. Thatch is immediately one of the best perimeter defenders, and Gordon has shown impressive lateral quickness and hands defending guards on the perimeter, and good rim protection skills in the post. Isabell gives the Bills a shot-creator they haven’t had since the Majerus years. Javon Bess has improved both his jumpshot and his confidence in it, remaining SLU’s most consistent offensive player and its best defender. Against Troy, Jordan Goodwin was a menace on the boards, and added a couple of really nice catch and shoot threes in addition to his usual contributions. The Billikens have all the pieces. They just need to put it together.
Today is the start of the signing period, so here’s a quick recap of SLU’s 3 commits for the class of 2019
Terrence Hargrove Jr, F, 6’8—The East St. Louis native is an oversized wing with top tier athleticism and the motor to match. He can play above the rim and is a tough defender who can make an immediate impact. Out of anyone committed to an A-10 school so far, Hargrove might have the highest upside.
Yuri Collins, G, 6’—Like Hargrove, Collins is a St. Louis product who played on the Brad Beal Elite AAU team. The St. Mary’s Dragon is one of the best passers in the class of 2019, full stop. He’s a traditional, old-school point guard who will bring a lot of toughness and leadership to the Billikens.
Gibson Jimerson, G, 6’6—The impeccably named Jimerson is a big guard with a sweet shooting stroke. He has deceptive athleticism and has good defensive potential with his size. However, his shot is his bread and butter. He’ll immediately become one of SLU’s best jumpshooters, and combined with his all-around game, should compete for playing time right out the gate.