Saint Louis Basketball: Billikens quietly poised for a big year

You might not find SLU basketball on preseason Top 25 lists, but the program could be poised for a big year. Why should you watch out for the Billikens?

With the 2020 NCAA basketball offseason progressing, way-too-early Top 25 rankings for the coming campaign are being released left and right. For the Atlantic 10, Richmond is the team garnering the most attention considering its great run to end last season and the massive amount of talent returning to the program. While the Spiders rightfully deserve credit and hype, SLU Basketball is quietly also in the mix to warrant notice heading into next year.

Saint Louis is fresh off an under-the-radar season in which it finished 23-8 (12-6 A10) and won its last five games prior to the cancelation of the postseason. While the Billikens were never deemed a major threat to receive an at-large bid by bracketologists, they consistently hung around the outskirts of the bubble and could have made a big run in the Atlantic 10 Tournament. They were impressively stout on the defensive end of the floor and tenaciously attacked inside offensively.

When the season concluded, SLU ranked 62nd in the nation on KenPom. While that might not jump off the computer screen as an elite ranking, it was a solid campaign and sets the program up well for a big leap heading into 2020-21. Not only is the vast majority of the roster returning, but their three-headed monster of Jordan Goodwin, Hasahn French, and Javonte Perkins will likely be back and they are all in their senior years.

These three all bring a little something different to the table with their ability to impact the court in a variety of ways. Goodwin (even at 6-foot-3) and French both averaged impressive double-doubles last season and wreaked havoc on the defensive end as well, with the former averaging 2.1 steals per game and the latter posting 2.6 blocks.

Perkins was perhaps the team’s best scorer as he posted 15.0 points per game. He was particularly effective in conference play as well, when he stepped it up to drop in 18.2 per contest on 41.2 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

That trio alone makes SLU a dangerous contender in the Atlantic 10 but they are far from alone in the group of returners. (Goodwin and French have entered the NBA Draft process, but are leaving open the option to return to school. Bringing both back is necessary to live up to being a potential Top 25 team.)

Watch out for SLU’s rising sophomore class…

Perhaps most importantly, though, Saint Louis has a returning sophomore class with a bright future. The three aforementioned seniors already set the Billikens with a high floor if they return to school but these rising second-year players are what can take the team to the top of the A10. Sophomore breakouts are among the most common in college hoops and SLU has a few players poised for that kind of jump.

At the forefront of this group is returning starter Yuri Collins. The 6-foot-0 lead guard finished tops on the team in assists last season as he dished out 5.5 per game. He struggled a bit as a scorer with shooting splits of just .373/.367/.564 but still put together a solid all-around opening campaign and is capable of taking another jump. Collins started 27 of 31 contests as a freshman.

This group of second-years also includes Terrence Hargrove Jr. and Jimmy Bell Jr. These two both averaged double-figure minutes per game as freshmen while filling valuable spots in the rotation. Hargrove was a back-up on the wing with great athleticism while Bell functioned as the primary reserve at center.

Gibson Jimerson, though, is the returning sophomore that might be the most important to mention. The 6-foot-5 guard was limited to just 10 contests last season due to injury but fills arguably the most important role on the roster. When healthy, he averaged 10.8 points per game while shooting 24-for-56 (42.9 percent) from 3-point range. He lets shots fly from beyond the arc at high volumes and is quite efficient on those attempts.

Considering SLU ranked near the bottom of the nation in perimeter shooting last year, Jimerson can be the difference-maker to take their offense to the next level.

On the whole, Saint Louis should definitely be on every “teams to watch” list heading into this coming season. Not only do the Billikens boast experienced talent with their excellent senior trio but they also have a rising sophomore class that could take them over the top.

Internal upperclassmen development is an overrated reason for a potential breakout. Watching second-year college players taking big leaps, though, is a legit path for pushing the Billikens into the national spotlight.

There are obviously some weaknesses that they still need to fix – mainly free throw shooting – but it’s hard to argue with their defensive potential. Richmond will likely be the preseason favorite to win the A10, but don’t be too surprised if SLU is only just behind them.

Next: Way-too-early preseason Top 25

SLU basketball has only reached the NCAA Tournament once in the last six years but this season is definitely one to watch. The program has a great mix of veteran and young talent – it’s just a matter of putting it all together to soar toward the top of the A10.