Growing pains were a cooked aspect of Billikens’ season that many had predicted before this season started. I predicted this team would lose games it shouldn’t and win games it shouldn’t. Highs highs and lows lows. While that hasn’t technically happened yet, it certainly looks like the Billikens are at a tipping point.
The growing pains are now here, and Bills are now facing challenges that they must overcome.
Seemingly devoid of context, the Billikens occupy a decent place. 7-3, with a good road win and only losses to teams above you in the national standings. They still have a decent place in the NET, and the scans aren’t cataclysmic. They played, on paper, much of their expected results with all things considered the loss of Javonte Perkins.
However, with the context taken into account (as it should be), SLU is now on a two-game losing streak, with losses to middle majors Belmont and UAB, in which both games should have ended in victories. It is not the result that is disappointing, it is the process. Losing back-to-back games in which you led in double digits is a killer. Especially when you consider the ramifications of resuming NCAA tournaments. But more on that later.
In this stretch, the most pressing issue facing the Billikens seems to be that they have collapsed in times of crisis. For example, most Billikens have good stats. They rebound well on the mass; they have a good shooting percentage. They go through legitimate and provable high quality basketball footage.
But they are susceptible to some really horrible stretching. The offensive stagnates, the ball sticks, the defensive schemes fail. It seems that in this Travis Ford weaving system some are on the same wavelength of stock options and others are not so certain. Sloppy passes and mental lapses leading to turnovers, without grabbing the defensive boards, giving opponents multiple chances to square off.
All kinds of things that thirty minutes ago weren’t a problem. But in those moments of clutch, in the times when victory is over. Things just don’t seem to be getting started.
Part of this is because the Billikens suffer from these growing pains. Experienced teams, players and coaches will tell you that learning * how * to win is a lesson you learn the hard way on occasion.
Both learn the leadership necessary to persevere as a teammate, and the skills and creativity on the basketball court to win on the scoreboard.
From a leadership standpoint, it’s clear the Billikens have candidates and locker room presences to get through this rut. Yuri Collins, the clearest leader of the field so far, threw himself on the sword after Tuesday night’s game.
Controversially calm, Yuri said Travis Ford told him and his teammates the loss was on him, stating, âAt this point I have to take responsibility for everything. The last loss is for me and this one is for me. I am the leader. It’s been on me since day one.
Yuri Collins took responsibility for the loss of SLU with a few strong words about himself: âAt this point I have to take responsibility for everything. The last loss is for me and this one is for me. I am the leader. It’s been on me since day one.
– stu durando (@studurando) December 8, 2021
It’s easy to read this as borderline abuse of Travis Ford. The idea of ââa coach breaking into a locker room and seeing a player at fault, doing so in front of the player and his teammates isâ¦ traumatic. But given the context of the Yuri-Travis relationship, it’s much more likely that a.) This comment would be a bit more hyperbolic or dramatic than literal or b.) Yuri carrying heat for his team uninvited and not considering not the exact verb
A10 media day is the most recent example, but Travis had frequently described the Billikens as Yuri’s team since this team was formed. Time and time again, Yuri has made the dressing rooms and performances his own, and has done it in good times and bad. When you have a general on the ground like Yuri, a lot of expectations can turn into successes and losses are placed at your feet.
Jordan Goodwin has explained in the past that the relationship between Travis Ford and his playmakers is unique. As a former PG himself, Ford expects a lot from this position and this player and recruits him specifically for his talents and personality. Yuri is the core of this Billiken team and is ready to be that guy, but that also means he’s going to take the losses harderâ¦ whether it’s external or internal pressure.
Yuri isn’t the only guy there though. In the same way that this team still gets over the loss of basketball production from Jordan Goodwin, Hasahn French and Javonte Perkins, losing so many leaders on the court and in the locker room is hard to replace. It takes repetition to build this muscle and right now Yuri is being asked (or volunteered) to carry all that load while others learn to step up.
With the leadership issue discussed, the real growth of basketball remains. With the landscape, Saint Louis is at an identity crossroads and expectations will not be long in coming.
Is this team an At-Large team in the NCAA tournament that thinks they’re good enough to compete without the drama of a conference championship? Or is it a beautiful and young team, which continues to grow towards future success, but the hope of beating the best teams is still not there every night.
Deciding who you are can be very helpful in terms of tolerance or what performance expectations might be. For example, if you are a nice young team looking for future success, you would want to see more players like Jordan Nesbitt, Terrence Hargrove and to a different extent Francis Okoro show up more on offense. Have them look to attack more, become more comfortable in the system, and see different appearances / situations to develop your attacking skills.
Unfortunately, that means you can see more mistakes from these guys and give less opportunities to veteran talent who may be low risk players, players with more consistent results. DeAndre Jones, for example, would be the kind of player who could be a collateral damage in the situation and given how good he has been for this teamâ¦ that doesn’t feel right. But in the pursuit of the ultimate potential of this team, this is how you maximize your minutes and your talent.
Context helps inform expectations and what to look for. If you grow up, let the children grow up. If you win and it doesn’t matter How? ‘Or’ What you win, the leash being shorter makes sense.
The Billikens learn to win on the fly, and their early-season successes made that context stronger than it perhaps really was. The Bills can still have a great season, but it may take longer to realize that many, especially those on the schedule, are comfortable. The goal of the NCAA tournament will likely rest on a DC tournament in March.
But that doesn’t mean the milestones can’t be hit, and major wins won’t show. Every game Saint Louis plays now is a test in one way or another, whether against very talented teams or conference rivals.
The only waste of a game at this point is a game in which you don’t learn anything, and whether it’s basketball or leadership, we’ll learn something very soon.
Carter Chapley burst onto the scene becoming one of Billikens Athletics’ most trusted voices and beyond for Scoops with Danny Mac.
From University News, Carter joined Scoops in 2019 and has primarily covered athletics at the University of Saint Louis, including basketball, football, and baseball. He has also written on major events such as the NCAA Tournament, Arch Madness, the NHL All-Star Game, the founding of STL City FC, and the NCAA’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
You can find out more about Carter on Twitter at @ChapleyMedia where he will always be talking about Billikens, Sports and more!