By now, I’ve had some time to digest the Billikens’ first game of the season, in which SLU scored 72 points in the second half to defeat Division III opponent Greenville College 124-85. Don’t let that score confuse you, we will be terrible.
If you knew anything about Greenville College, it’s that they ranked highest in College Basketball in both points scored (112/game) and points given up (110/game) across all divisions. They don’t play anyone over 6’5 and they press the ball handlers relentlessly; hoping to force a turnover before the ball gets played inside for a remarkably uncontested lay-in. It’s chaos, obviously ineffective, and frustratingly repetitive.
Although this structure of play is unlikely to be seen again this year, the Billikens struggled mightily against a Division III press. By the time the final whistle blew, SLU had accumulated a whopping 27 turnovers on what ended to be 25% of their possessions. SLU already ranked in the bottom 50 of the NCAA in turnover percentage. Let’s hope that a faster paced game does not equate to more ball handling sloppiness. When the Billikens beat the press and got on the fast break (which was often), points came easy. Like, Mike Crawford and Gillman both had dunks, easy. 109 of SLU’s 124 points came from a mixture of layups, dunks, or free throws. SLU only made 6 actual jump shots the entire game. They shot 3-17 from three, with Crawford himself going 0-6 and Roby tossing an airball.
Now, I don’t think SLU will actually go 0-32. I have them pegged anywhere from 11 to 14 wins and going 3-15 in conference play. But make no mistake, this year will be tough. Ford will hold his players to a standard that most of them can’t athletically meet, a refreshing strategy but hardly realistic. Ford is establishing a program, and the current roster will be an example of play, not a model for success.
So we have to review this season through a different lens. Is SLU bad because of the game plan? Or because of the talent? Both the responsibility of the coach, but only one that we can realistically assess him on this year. Now, before we read too much into the first exhibition game of the year, let’s amplify it with some hot takes:
Reggie will lose his starting job to literally anyone
No one enjoys Reggie fumbling around a basketball court more than I do; it’s provided comedic relief over the past two terrible seasons and I thank him for that. But it’s clear to me that Ford’s focus this season will be individual development and Reggie has reached his peak. When Reggie plays, that means that a combo of Neufeld, Gillman, Welmer, and probably Jalen Johnson are sitting on the bench. And Reggie’s court presence steals some much needed in-game exposure for some of our younger talent. Look, if SLU is competitive, Reggie will play. He takes high percentage shots and his hustle on the boards add value that bench players can’t duplicate. But SLU probably won’t be competitive, so it’s not worth benching small potential over fully developed shit. Then again, the term “potential” associated with Neufeld and Gillman makes me giggle.
Aaron Hines will be the primary point guard
There was absolutely zero indication of what the Coach Ford offense would look like when the Billikens took down Greenville. Thinking back, I can’t even think of a time when the Billikens had to set something up on offense? It was mostly all chaos followed by easy buckets. That being said, I think Aaron Hines will be leveraged as the primary point guard because of two reasons:
- He’s one of the most athletic guys on the team
- He can’t play any other position
Don’t get me wrong, both Jermaine Bishop and Davell Roby are plenty able, but they can also play the 2 and 3 position when required. With the inability of our bigs to play fast (jury is still out on Welmer), I think that SLU will be playing with a smaller line-up this year and running like hell. Look for a line-up consisting of Bishop, Roby, & Moore rotating among the 2 and 3 spots, with Bishop owning point when Hines is on the bench.*
*I know nothing about basketball.
Jalen Johnson will shoot so so so much
Jalen Johnson is the only product that Travis Ford can trot out on the court as his own. Signing on as a late recruit last Spring, Jalen Johnson is a guy that can play just about any position on the court. Seeing as SLU has been terrible at offense, I expect Johnson to shoot a TON this year. And while our good pal, Chris, has already tagged him as his main squeeze because of his ability to walk and be a lefty, I will hold out judgment until probably the first real game of the year. It’s not my style to over-commit on my opinions.
Even more so, Jalen Johnson will be needed a lot this year. Mike Crawford is fragile and honestly, not a particularly great three-point shooter when he is healthy. Did you know that Milik Yarbrough, the defected man baby, had a higher 3pt percentage last year than our designated 3pt shooter? What if I said that two of the three categories in which Crawford ranked in the top 2,000 NCAA D1 basketball players were Turnover Pct and Fouls Committed per 40 minutes. His value add (free throws, the other ranked category) is not worth keeping him on the court logging significant minutes. I have no doubt that Johnson will be given the freedom to become the team’s top scorer, but that feat alone won’t impress the dejected Billiken fanbase. Our other freshman, Zeke Moore also deserves a shoutout for going 10-10 from free throw, hitting a rare SLU 3 pointer, and throwing down the most athletic home-team dunk in Chaifetz memory.
It will be a long year, but remember what recruits are coming in. All is not lost. Only 364 more days until next year’s basketball season, gotta toughen up.