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The Billikens Basketball #ChatWithChaps mailbag: Part 2

*This article can be originally found on ScoopswithDannyMac.com*

Last Friday I had the opportunity to bring my Mom to her first-ever Billiken game. She and my Dad typically watch streams (of which the legality will not be stated), or the radio. It was a pretty good game for which to have her in town. She especially liked meeting Bob Ramsey after the game.

With a couple minutes left in the first half, she asked me, “why doesn’t that #3 just play from the very beginning?” Good question Mom, but I’ve already answered that one. Time to answer some new questions.

Have you heard of college basketball programs or SLU use sports psychologists? Just curious if SLU has tried using it to help with their free throws. -Alex

Plenty of college basketball programs, and professional teams, use the services of a sports psychologist in order to improve themselves as both individuals and groups. As a specific anecdotal example, last season the University of Michigan used the services of a sports psychologist to increase their free throw shooting as much as 26% from the 2017-2018 season to the 2018-2019 campaign.

While I can’t speak to whether or not individuals independently have sought out the assistance of a professional, the team as a whole does not use a sports psychologist as part of its training. Saint Louis University does have, however, a well-regarded Sports Psychology Department led by Dr. Michael J Ross that is accessible to all SLU student-athletes.

It seems, at this point it can’t possibly hurt to try something new in regard to the free throw struggles. The team has actively tried to find new and different solutions to the way they practice with the goal always being to improve their free throw percentages. It is not to say that those in charge are above thinking outside the box and trying new strategies, but for their players whose numbers seem to suffer, nothing has really seems to help.

How do you view the lack of success in closing out teams this year? UMass was one of several opponents this year that SLU could not finish despite large leads. Is it a lack of late game coaching/sets? A lack of killer instinct? Inexperience? -Patrick

The UMass loss is one that cuts deep because of how well they had performed in the first half. It exacerbates a problem that in hindsight has been there all year.

The lack of closeout has become a running issue prevalent in this team. Even in games they have won, it seems that in the final moments of the second half the Bills have allowed opposing teams to close gaps and make close games out of ones that should never have been so. In the worst cases they have blown leads, but in each case, they have made life more difficult for themselves.

Part of the issue is inexperience. Yes, this team has been through a lot. They like to remind you of just how many minutes and experiences this group has received this season and certainly that is a valid observation, but it takes time to develop and to learn how to win.

That being said, the strategy the Billikens take on how to win games late is confusing. With a lead, late in the game, SLU wants to slow the pace down to a crawl and play half-court basketball. They want to milk the clock. The time this usually starts is with about 6 minutes to play give-or-take, and once they cross the timeline, they slow it down for an isolation play.

Now, I should say, I don’t know whether or not this is exactly what they want…but it’s certainly what they do.

It happened again against VCU and that was the perfect example of why it is confusing. With 6:24 to play, after dominating the Rams in transition all night long, SLU just slammed on the brakes. Over the following span, they took just 15 shots total, from the field and the free-throw line. VCU cut the lead from 23 points to 13 points before the Bills made some free throws in the final minute.

In this case it worked out and they went on to win the game. But for a team who shoots the ball so poorly from the charity stripe, slowing it down and letting the Rams (or any opponent for that matter) control where you score from, that late in the game, seems like a poor strategy.

We’ve seen what this team can be when they want it. Losing only a role player (Tay Weaver) and gaining another slasher who can step out (Markhi Strickland) and another year of experience, what is the feeling on what this Bills team can be next year? -Mike

This is something I think about quite a bit actually. There are no promises of current potential resulting in future success but there is a lot to be excited about moving forward.

Continuity is a valuable thing in college basketball. Having mature and familiar plays in a program allows you do to more complicated and complex things with both your offense and your defense. We can already see small steps in the competency of this group executing more difficult defensive and offensive sets.

What is most variable is individual progression. Just because players are X good now, does not mean they are Y good next season. That being said, this coaching staff has a strong track record of player development and skill development over time.

Jordan Goodwin has improved his scoring and on-court leadership year after year. Hasahn French has improved his defense every off-season since he’s been on campus. Javon Bess was not the star he became when he first got to SLU. There has been visible development of each rookie thus far as well. Hargrove, Collins, Perkins, Jimerson (while he was healthy) are all better now than when the season tipped off. There is a personal responsibility to development. Those three guys, Bess, French, and Goodwin have paved the way and set the tone for what the rest of the roster can become in the future. So, development is not the thing I’m most concerned with.

There is a very good chance SLU is once again voted to win the conference and very well could be a ranked team next season. Even allowing for the hypothetical that Fred Thatch never fully returns to action at a full capacity, they have all the tools, personnel, and resources to win the conference, so barring any serious complications that kind of expectation is warranted.

The ceiling for this team next year is a ranked team and a high seed at-large bid. They won’t start the year that way but neither did Dayton. Much like this year’s Flyers, they will have the opportunity to prove themselves and enter the rankings by Thanksgiving.

The way I see it, that team will be telling of Travis Ford’s grand plan for SLU. It would be such a waste of Jordan Goodwin and Hasahn French’s tenure as Billikens to not make a March run in their senior seasons. It is shaping up that they will have the supporting group also have such aspirations. Should they fall short, with all the factors going in their favor this will be a problem.

In short, if I had to say right now what next year’s team could be, I’m saying their ceiling is a second weekend NCAA team, and their floor would be a first weekend NCAA team.

The big dance is obviously a Brooklyn win or nada situation – but does this team still have a shot at the NIT? Or are we looking CBI at this point…? -Patrick

SLU absolutely has a shot at the NIT and will… worst case scenario, end up in the CBI. I would say as of right now they are an NIT team and have the opportunity to play their way into a home game for themselves. Different bracketology sites have them seeded anywhere from a 4 to 7 seed, which would put them on the bubble for a game at Chaifetz Arena and the chance to move up.

They are certainly deserving and would take the opportunity to improve late into the season with the chance to get familiar with a stretch run next season.

The CBI is an entirely separate animal. That really comes down to whether or not the team wants to participate in the event. Based on the projections to be a NIT team, something outrageous would have to happen in the final games of the season to fall out of that field.

In the hypothetical world in which they do fall flat and lose out, it’s possible and believable, that the team may opt to just shut the season down and cut their losses. But I still get the feeling that this group wants to play deep into March. To get the experience necessary to make a deep run next season.

The Billikens will be playing basketball after Brooklyn. Where, I am not quite sure. But they will play somewhere.

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