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Billiken report card: nerves, rust, and poor shooting makes things too close for comfort in the Billikens exhibition opener

In the lone official exhibition on the calendar for the Saint Louis University Billikens, things were less than optimal. The Kentucky Wesleyan College Panthers and their band of scrappy undersized shooters made the Billikens battle for every inch they got.

For a team that appeared to be physically superior, the Billikens never truly dominated. While the Billiken press was productive when it got the opportunity when the team got into the half-court things looked less organized.

The Panthers abused the Billikens on the perimeter, outscoring them 33-12 and it wasn’t until the 9-minute mark of the second half when Tay Weaver hit the first three for the Bills.

The Billikens eventually pulled away midway through the second half, but for close to 30 minutes things looked pretty dire.

Part of that is nerves, part of that is rust, and most of that is inexperience.

The Billikens are a young team, there are bound to be growing pains. Hesitant shooting, over-aggressive defense, and forced offense were the story of the first half of the game. Some ugly shots went up in that first half and even while Hasahn French, Jordan Goodwin, and Fred Thatch were the only ones to look comfortable, they still seemed out of sync at times.

The preseason is meant to get that rust off and get the team prepared for bigger things. The final score was ultimately what you wanted to see out of this scrimmage, the path to it was not. In the preseason that’s ok. Travis Ford, Yuri Collins, and Hasahn French all recognized that this team needs to play better when the regular season starts if they want to make any noise, and they got better as the game went on. So, while they were dreadful in the first half, all is not lost

SHOT CHART

The shot chart basically tells the story of the game tonight. The Panthers hit a ton of threes in the first half, the Billikens did not. Ford and his crew made an adjustment and the Bills took over.

The Billikens are not the best shooting team in the country, or probably not the A-10 this season. But they are nowhere near this bad. Starting 0 of 15 from behind the arc is horrendously bad, statistical outlier bad. That will inevitably regress to the mean.

REPORT CARDS

5 Stars

Hasahn French

Has was the man of the match tonight. The only player to truly dominate on the floor tonight, Hasahn pulled in his first double-double of what will surely be many. But more importantly, he looked like the type of player who can create a look for himself at will. Hasahn stepped up and delivered

The Press

No not the media. The defensive press Travis Ford had been talking about all offseason was put on full display all night long. Travis was effectively able to use the press with a variety of lineups, indicating that at the very least the new players understand the concepts and can execute them.

The Billikens were able to get 13 steals tonight and force and additional 21 turnovers leading to 30 points. Unsurprisingly the press was at its peak when Jordan Goodwin, Hasahn French, and Fred Thatch were in the lineup, but its effectiveness and viability were proven tonight.

4 Stars

Jordan Goodwin

The leader of this team emotionally is always noticeable on the floor. In lineups without Yuri Collins, Jordan was the floor general. Initiating the offense while also being the primary initial pressure on the press.

Jordan ‘only’ played 30 minutes tonight, which I imagine will be on the low end this season. He was a part of the group who would regularly dominate in those trying 30 minutes and that ultimately pulled away at the end. I’d like to see Jordan get more assertive in terms of scoring, only 10 points on the night, but he deserves credit as it seemed his goal all night was to play tight D (4 steals) and get his teammates involved (6 assists).

Fred Thatch

There is no question Fred Thatch can play defense for the Billikens this year. 4 steals in 19 minutes and unrelenting pressure on the press proves that. There is some question as to if Fred can provide enough offensive input to help put this team over the top. Tonight, he showed that he just might.

12 points on 5-13 shooting is not spectacular by any means, but he did show an aptitude for creating for himself in space and stealing easy buckets from unprepared defenses. Additionally, most of his misses were on contested put backs, which can make the stats seem worse than they truly were.

0-4 from behind the arc is concerning, but I will add those to early-season rust/nerves pile, though that “improved jumper” will be something to keep an eye out/be worried about moving forward now.

3 Stars

Yuri Collins

Yurimania supports had a big night tonight. The lone freshmen standout looked completely relaxed in his opportunities tonight, even earning a promotion to the second half starters. He didn’t blow up the stat sheet tonight, get just 3 points and 3 assists in 23 minutes of play, but the potential was on display.

Yuri’s impact on the offense is hard to quantify on the stat sheet but was clearly there. As a ball-handler, he was responsible and confident in the face of pressure defense. A stat that stood out at halftime was Yuri’s 100% “Floor%”. Floor% is calculated as “the percentage of a player’s possessions on which at least one point is scored”. So, on every offensive possession in the first half that Yuri touched the ball on, the Billikens got a point.

In hockey, he would be a second assist king.

The biggest problem in Yuri’s performance is the most easily fixed one. In the second half, Yuri tried to force a pair of passes down low that were low probability from the get-go. If the situation is different, he may never try that kind of pass, but it’s worth noting that Yuri has a taste for fancy passes and that may be problematic if he doesn’t pick his spots.

2 Stars

Jimmy Bell Jr

Jimmy had a tough night, but a good night overall. Jimmy played 13 minutes tonight, short of the 18-19 I projected earlier in the offseason, but what he ultimately proved is that his conditioning is not the problem many (including myself) believed it would be.

Is Jimmy the most conditioned guy on the team? Probably not. But it’s not the problem that’s going to limit or restrict his minutes.

Bell looked perfectly average tonight with slight flashes of the potential the big man could bring to the table. He rebounded well, doing the little things, like boxing out for other players, that Travis Ford loves to see in young players. And he played effective defense, understanding his assignments and switching accordingly when necessary, even getting out and defending outside shots well on at least two occasions.

What might be Jimmy’s biggest problem is his (lack of) confidence. Jimmy only played four second-half minutes after playing nine-strong minutes in the first. Some of that is strong play from Yuri taking up minutes, but according to Travis Ford, at least a part of that was his mentality.

“Right now, Jimmy is his greatest critic, and he gets really down on himself in games. And we tell him it’s ok to get upset, but what do you do when you get upset? Do you buckle down? He tends to lower his shoulder. So, we gotta (sic) get that out of him…the reason I didn’t start him in the second half was more about Yuri, but also telling him ‘you gotta (sic) stay positive’, we need you in their fighting.”

Demarius Jacobs

Demarius did not play poorly. He also did not play well. He was essentially completely invisible out there. At no point was he exposed on defense, he was fine, but at no point did he really shine on offense.

Demarius was given an excellent opportunity as a starter but really couldn’t do anything with it to prove why he belongs there. That being said, the development he has made from last year to now is noticeable. Jacobs no longer looks like a lost puppy on the floor, he can handle the ball and looks like he belongs.

Everyone on this team is inevitably going to have quiet games this season, maybe this is his.

One Star

Three-Point Shooting

Oof. Rough night from behind the arc. As I mentioned previously, an 0-15 start is so bad it can alter data moving forward. The Billikens aren’t going to be a team that fundamentally relies on the three, but even this was horrendously bad.

Part of this may come from the fact the NCAA moved back three-point line about two feet from last season to now. But it’s not as if this is the first time the team has seen the new line, they have been practicing with it all summer.

Ultimately, it’s hard to pin down exactly what happened. A combination of issues including the aforementioned rust, nerves, and three-point line put the team in a major hole. All we can do is look forward to FGCU to see if the trend continues, and if we get another dreadful showing, then maybe it’s time to panic.

Gibson Jimerson

The highly touted sharpshooter had a rough night in his college debut. It happens. His shot didn’t look particularly good in any way, air balling two of his six three-point attempts. Sometimes shooters have a tough night, and nothing will go down.

The positive of all this is Gibson seems unafraid to take his shots. He never passed up a look and continued to let it fly. A “shooters shoot” mentality radiates off the 6’5” guard so I am not worried about him at all.

A shooter is only as good as his next shot. I expect him to come out firing all the same in the home opener. If he doesn’t, that may be a bigger problem than the missed shots.

Final grade

For an exhibition game, they got the result they wanted. A win by a large margin, everyone played, they learned some things, and the team got a wake-up call. The early path to reaching those goals looked dreadful, but the team was resilient enough to figure it out. It can be hard to be such a dramatic favorite, playing a team with nothing to lose. Heck, this isn’t even the most surprising, or closest, exhibition in the NCAA this week. Duke beat North West Missouri State this week 69-63 in Durham. Exhibitions are weird.

So. The Billikens earn a B- from me.

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