There was some really good news coming out of the Atlantic Ten office yesterday, the league, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to (a) move up the timing of the conference tournament in Richmond to March 3-6, (b) cancel Dayton’s game against VCU that was scheduled for March 3rd, and (c) change the setting for the league final, placing it in the Gem City on March 14th (yes, that’s EIGHT days between the semi-finals and final, just go with it).
First and foremost, very, very pleased to see that UD’s third matchup with VCU was eliminated. In short, there was nothing to be gain for the conference if that game was played — it would only serve as a landmine for the Richmond Rams, who, unlike Dayton, are still battling for an NCAA tournament berth. Obviously shifting the location of the tournament final to UD Arena is an interesting wrinkle, certainly one that fires up the cockles along Brown Street, but so (so so so) much would have to happen before anyone had a legitimate need to get excited about it (the Flyers winning another Asterisk Tournament is the odd ending to a story you didn’t want to hear in the first place).
So, we got two regular season games left on the regular season schedule, tonight’s Arch Baron Sock Hop and a visit to the sticks somewhere in Western New York on the 28th. While the nine-day break is an odd one, especially coming at the end of the season, I think I speak for us all when I say we could use some distance from UD basketball for a while. A nice little vacation from Grant and Co. will do you good, trust me.
Before the respite, there’s a rare Friday night ABC to be played.
I don’t know how you evaluate Saint Louis if you are the NCAA Tournament committee. The Billikens had a huge chunk of their schedule taken out thanks to the Wuhan, got off to back-to-back losing start in the A10 (defeats to the lowly Flyers and La Salle!), and haven’t received an inkling of notoriety on the national stage. Travis Ford’s team has, in effect, been an afterthought. A year in which SLU seemed to have all the pieces in place to have a very meaningful season has instead been a roller-coaster of shifting expectations.
But, just like there’s always money in the banana stand (five of you might get this), there’s always Jordan Goodwin on the court for Saint Louis. Goodwin, the most complete player in the Atlantic Ten, has turned in a fine senior campaign and will be the key cog in SLU’s possible journey to the postseason. In SLU’s last game, against the Explorers, Goodwin almost messed around and got a triple double — 16 points, 15 rebounds and 8 assists in a 78-57 Billiken triumph. Travis Ford has shifted Goodwin over to the point the past few games, the results are in and they are good. On the season the 6’3″ guard is averaging fifteen points and an astounding eleven points per game (Shoutout to Goodwin for making the final ten for the Jerry West Award, given to the nation’s top shooting guard).
Goodwin is not flying solo, no sir. Javonte Perkins, the league’s best shot maker, paces the Bills with a team-leading eighteen points per game. Perkins also leads the league in “how the fuck did he….?” plays this season. Perkins was a handful for the Flyers earlier in the year, dropping twenty points on the night and getting buckets when SLU needed one. You could make the argument that Perkins & Goodwin make up the most talented tandem in the conference, I’d be right there in the background nodding along slowly.
Hasahn French is having a season to forget: his minutes have been cut precipitously, his scoring and rebounding averages are at a career low, and my guy is shooting 25% from the free-throw line. Just an absolutely dreadful year for a guy who has been synonymous with Saint Louis hoops since we all can remember. French’s best game this year came against, you guessed it, Dayton. French tallied 16 points in the first Arch Baron Cup, only the third time he has scored in double figures this season. The fact of the matter is that SLU plays better, quicker and more efficiently when French isn’t clogging up the middle of the floor. As a fan, I didn’t want to see Hasahn go out like this, but go out like this he shall.
Matt, put a bow on this fucker.
Losing two games to mediocre Atlantic 10 opposition can certainly rain on a parade, but after a long COVID pause and looking flat against Dayton and La Salle, Saint Louis is back to looking like an A10 Championship contender. Since those two opening A10 losses, Travis Ford’s squad has gotten important contributions from their senior leaders as well as underclassmen chipping in as well. The best players on the Billikens have been able to make a jump from being all-conference candidates last year to player of the year candidates this year. This jump is why the Billikens could be a threat to make some noise in March.
Jordan Goodwin and Javonte Perkins are the two clear best players in this edition of the Saint Louis Billikens. Goodwin has long been one of the main cogs for SLU, but the JUCO transfer Perkins started his Saint Louis career coming off the bench before it became apparent to anyone with eyes that he is a walking bucket from anywhere on the court. Last season it took Travis Ford 7 games to realize he needed to get Perkins on the court as much as possible and he hasn’t looked back since.
Perkins usage rate has increased from 26.5% to 27.5% this season while his efficiency remains impressive, averaging 1.12 points per possession. The 6’6” forward has become a more potent scorer in his second season in Saint Louis, improving his true shooting % from 55.6% last season to 60.3% this season. This is largely due to his improved shooting at both the rim and from the perimeter. In his first season as a Billiken, Perkins was rather poor at finishing at the rim, only averaging a below average 1.10 PPP on these attempts. This season, that metric has risen to an eye-popping 1.33 PPP. His improvement from beyond the three-point line is just as impressive, going from 1.05 to 1.31 PPP on three-point attempts while increasing the share of shots he takes from deep by 2%. His ability to score effectively at the rim and from deep makes Perkins a tough defensive assignment. Your best bet is to try and force him into mid-range jumpers, where he is averaging 0.88 PPP this season. That is an average number for those shots, but he has increased the number of midrange jumpers he takes by 5% compared to last year.
Jordan Goodwin has been a contributor to the Billikens for his four-year stint in Saint Louis, averaging over 34 minutes a game for his career. He has always been a lockdown defender and rebounder, averaging a 3.4% steal rate, a 10.1% offensive rebound rate and 18.8% defensive rebound rate over time in Saint Louis. Goodwin has been an adequate scorer over his career as well, but it is his jump in scoring efficiency this season that has him as a conference player of the year candidate. The senior guard has gone from a putrid three-point shooter to a simply poor one, seeing his 3-point % jump from 28.2% last year to 30.4% this year. An increase in attempts from the perimeter means Goodwin’s PPP from three-point range improved from 0.56 to 0.91.
Goodwin had always been a good finisher at the rim, averaging 1.25 PPP last season on those shots. He has improved even those efficient numbers this year, seeing his PPP on shots at the rim increase to 1.40. Not only is the senior SLU guard gotten better scoring at the rim, he has also seen his free throw shooting improve from embarrassing to simply just below average. Increasing his free throw shooting percentage by 10% to 65% has been one of the key factors in seeing his offensive rating increase by 8 points and sees him as a possible A10 player of the year.
Saint Louis have emphasized physical play, defense and rebounding in Travis Ford’s time in the land of fried ravioli. That remains the case, with the Billikens only trailing VCU in points conceded in 100 possessions in the A10 at 91.6 and pulling in the most offensive rebounds per game at 11.7. However, the emergence of Perkins and Goodwin as potent offensive threats this season has seen SLU’s offensive rating jump this season to 113.2 points per 100 possessions, tops in the Atlantic 10. Not only are Perkins and Goodwin lighting up the scoreboard, secondary role players like Gibson Jimerson and Yuri Collins have helped contribute to the offensive powerhouse SLU has transformed into this season. Jimerson is a sharpshooter from deep, taking over 61% of field goal attempts from the perimeter where he is hitting 41.6% of them.
Collins has always been the distributor for the Billikens in his two seasons so far, averaging a 29% and 36% assist rate in each respective season. Like his two senior teammates in Perkins and Goodwin, Collins has seen his contributions to scoring improve this season. His offensive rating has improved by nearly 40 points this season while his true shooting % has jumped up by nearly 6%. Collins has certainly emerged as another quality point guard in the A10, but the Flyers might miss the emerging sophomore. The guard has missed the last two games for SLU with an injury. If he doesn’t play against the Flyers, that will be one less threat for the Flyers to worry about. Even without Collins though, SLU will still have plenty of offensive firepower for Dayton fans to be concerned about.
My mind, heart and soul are telling me Saint Louis cannot, absolutely can’t, afford a loss to Dayton. The Bills are trying their damnedest to hold onto an invite to the Dance, and a defeat to the lowly Flyers would punch a huge hole in the face of those dreams.
Saint Louis posted its lowest offensive efficiency rating of the year in its earlier tilt with the Flyers, and shot a season low 13% from three in that contest. Even with their worst offensive performance of the year, the Billikens almost clawed out a victory in overtime. I’d expect Saint Louis to progress to the mean tonight. SLU 77, UD 68. #LOWD