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Game Day Preview: Billikens Open the 2020 Season with Bronze Boot Variant at the Billiken Classic

Billiken fans…we made it.

It’s been a long slog of pandemic related sadness since the Billikens shut down its season on March 13th, and it feels like a completely separate lifetime ago when the Billikens dominated the Bonnies for their last win of the 2019-2020 season.

But we made it. A dozen scheduling changes, rumors, stops, starts, and literally hundreds of COVID tests later. The Billikens will tip-off tonight at 6 pm local time.

It feels almost cruel and usual to have the Billikens’ team but to play behind closed doors. Teams like these don’t come around often for any mid-major team, let alone SLU’s history. These seasons usually take years and years of coordination and luck to combine this degree of a veteran presence, youth, and talent. But this is the trade we make to have them compete. At this point, it’s no fans or no games.

The SLU-SIUE game is one of the most historically relevant rivalry games in the NCAA. NCAA Soccer, that is. The Bronze Boot is responsible for some of NCAA Soccer’s largest attendance figures, most notably the largest attendance in history when, in 1980, the game filled Busch Stadium to the tune of 22,512 fans in the stands.

That being said, the rivalry has largely belonged to the Billikens, having owned the Bronze Boot since 1983, spanning 14 competitions. This doesn’t seem to be any different for the Basketball playing in the 2020 matchup.

SLU enters its season opener as a 25-point favorite against the Cougars. But truly, that doesn’t matter. The opportunity to get on the court is vital and exciting. The Billikens have talent and depth, but there are still many questions to be answered about this team.

Who starts? What are the rotations like? Is Gibson Jimerson and Fred Thatch ready to step back in after season-ending injuries? Who among the newcomers makes an impact quickest? Have the Billikens solved some of their Free Throw issues? Can the Bills improve their offensive consistency?

And the biggest question…Are the Bill’s Legit?

Most of these questions will take some time to answer in full. But after this weekend, we should have some significant data to analyze and understand. Last season the Bills had trouble separating themselves from weaker teams and getting significant wins over them…they have the opportunity to do that tonight. They will also face a high-end opponent over the weekend in a true measuring stick game.

Thoughts and Things to look for.

  • The reality of having no fans, bands, cheerleaders, or real fake crowd noise is that essentially, the Billikens will be playing neutral court games until further notice. Yes, there are some benefits to playing in your own arena…the backdrops are familiar, you sleep in your own bed, etc. Chaifetz Arena is one of the more prominent home-court advantages in the country (KenPom ranks it as the 15th best in the country); it will be interesting to see how the Bills respond at home and on the road to a lack of fans. It may not be significant or noticeable tonight, but it will be interesting to track over the long haul.
  • SIU-E is a hard team to scout for and research. While they aren’t expected to be an extremely winning or quality team this year, there is so much turnover from graduation and transfers that it’s hard to get a sense of what exactly they will do well. The Cougars roster has a variance of 8 players from this year to last, including their largest minutes contributors off graduating.
  • The two players I am most interested in from SIUE are Sydney Wilson and Cam Williams.
    • Wilson is a transfer from UConn, who left the Huskies after being suspended due to a team rules violation. Ignoring his potential off the court issues (I know nothing on the topic, and it isn’t particularly relevant to the game), He is likely the Cougars best player. He shows significant talent as a wing scorer and defender at UConn. If someone is going to harass the Billikens tonight, it’s likely Wilson in his SIUE debut.
    • Cam Williams is an STL local and a Hazelwood Central alum. The 6” 2’ guard is expected to leap in his role after being seen as a shooter off the bench last year. After having a sophomore slump in the 2019-20 season, Cam is a guy I am interested in moving forward.
  • The Billikens starting lineup has become a bit of a running joke at this point, with last year having exactly two starting lineups in all games against D-1 opponents and many fans wondering when 6th man of the year Javonte Perkins will get the starting nod. Well, I think this is the time. Travis Ford likes consistency and everyone understanding their role, now is the time to start fresh and have everyone locked in on that understanding. With that being said, here is my prediction of the Starting Lineup for your 2020 SLU Billikens.
    • Yuri Collins
    • Gibson Jimerson
    • Javonte Perkins
    • Jordan Goodwin
    • Hasahn French
  • Four of the five starters here are essentially no-brainers. That 5th spot is less certain. Gibson filing in as the 5th highest minutes getter is largely what this prediction predicated on. At 6’6 and a better defender than given credit for, he does too much not to warrant court time.
  • Last season, Jimmy Bell Jr started at the center position but was often the first man subbed out for Perkins. This was done mostly to protect Hasahn French from early foul trouble. I am expecting Transfer Marten Linssen to be the newcomer to make his presence known quickest this season. Marten is acclimatized to D1 ball and is a natural fit at the center position. With more depth at that position, protecting French early like this isn’t as crucial of a need. Between Bell and Linssen, we should expect less of a drop in skill and production from those two. Bell will obviously still play a vital role, and we will likely see some lineups with both Bell and French at some point, but it seems his starting is no longer fundamental to the team’s success.
  • The ideal scenario for Travis Ford’s Billikens is to jump out to a large lead early. Not only would this show an obvious improvement in team play, but it would give Coach Ford some time to rest his key players while the season is young while also trying out some of his new toys. There are lots of guys on the bench this season who could be X-Factors, but it’s hard to say what they are now without seeing them against real competition. In addition to finding minutes for guys like Fred Thatch to get back into the swing of things, I’d imagine the Bills want to see what they have in the shape of Markhi Strickland, Andre Lorentsson, and Phillip Russell. If the game is even remotely close, I can’t imagine them getting much time, but the ideal combination of events I think would involve having them see the floor tonight.

The Long and the Short of it

           Let’s be happy we are here. College basketball is back in midtown, and the Billikens are set for a one-of-a-kind season one way or another. The line for tonight’s game is the Billikens -24.5, which is an interesting line. While I think the Bills are capable and on paper should cover that… it’s straightforward to imagine a world in which SLU *only* wins by 19-24 points. Especially if my prediction of seeing some younger players late in the game comes to fruition. If I had to bet on the game, I’d take SIUE plus the points and the over of 136 points.

The Bills are back! Rejoice and Be Glad!

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