Coming off an impressive performance in Birmingham, where the Bills took an incredibly talented Auburn team down to the wire before losing their second game of the season. The Billikens will make a pitstop of sorts before mounting their next attempt at a statement win.
Before Saint Louis hops on I-70 to play Kansas State, SLU hosts a local…rival? I guess? The Division Two Maryville Saints get a crack at the Billikens, the first time the two STL schools will have ever met in an ‘official’ game. They last played each other in an exhibition game in 2005.
The details of the game are a tad complicated. For the Billikens, the game is fully official and countable. The result of the game will be reflected in their overall record, but it will not be used by the selection committee at the end of the year when deciding on postseason placement. For the Saints, on the other hand, Tuesday’s game will be an exhibition. This is the second Division 1 exhibition Maryville has played this season. They traveled to Peoria, Illinois, to play Bradley a week ago, where they lost 91-58.
The very existence of this game on the SLU schedule is curious. This late in the non-conference schedule, with an array of more talented opponents, many Billikens fans are rightly confused about this type of game shows up on the schedule. Especially of a program who self-proclaims themselves as a “High-Major” program.
The answer to those questions ultimately comes down to “contingency.” Sources have told me that SLU had a different game with a Division 1 opponent penciled in deep into the process of schedule making. However, very late in that process, something interrupted that plan. The opposing team backed out of the game, and the Bills were left in the cold.
Given how much of the schedule was already confirmed, and how specific a date range the Bills had to replace said game, the options on new opponents were extremely limited.
When SLU came calling, Maryville jumped at the chance to play a D1 opponent. Scheduling the game despite already having a game scheduled for the day before. It is extremely rare for any college team to play back-to-back games, let alone back-to-backs against teams outside their own division. The first end of that back-to-back was ultimately canceled yesterday due to the snowfall in the St. Louis area. But the uniqueness in its original context remains.
The game is not ideal. A program like SLU should not have to (and really can’t afford to) schedule games that do nothing to add to their chances of postseason play. But it comes at a fortunate time. With players in the middle of finals and pair of games remaining on the schedule that ranges from good to ok. The situation could be far worse.
But that does not make the game useless and could, in fact, make the Tuesday night affair one of the more entertaining evenings of Billiken basketball this season.
SLU outclasses the Saints from top to bottom on the basketball court. Any result other than pure domination is devastating for the Billikens. What that may lead to is some fun scenarios and a combination of players. The opportunity to see some names or combinations that the Billiken fans don’t typically see makes this a must-see game.
What I am hoping to see most is a period where the Billikens play a lineup of Yuri Collins, Gibson Jimerson, Terrence Hargrove Jr, Madani Diarra, and Jimmy Bell Jr. The chance to see the future of Billiken basketball play out earlier than expected is one that teams don’t often get to see actualized. Even if you can’t get to the stadium to watch live, the stream on ESPN+ is worth tuning into if not solely for the curiosity of the evening as a whole.
In addition to that, the matchup will have more local appeal than almost any other game the Billikens will have. Maryville is packed full of local talent, starting with their head coach. Marc Stricker is a St. Louis native and a CBC graduate, who returns to coach in St. Louis after a stint at Oral Roberts. The roster is comprised of mostly “local” talent as well. Of the 13 men on the roster, three come from St. Louis proper, a pair from Sikeston Missouri, another three from Kansas City, and three more from the Chicago area.
The game serves as a suitable pause for the Billikens before they get their next shot at a resume-building win. Is it ideal? No. But it offers some unique benefits. The Bills gain some confidence and try some new things, so even if the basketball isn’t the most competitive in Midtown tonight. It will, at the very least, be entertaining.