Travis Ford returns to the Saint Louis Billikens with a different group of players looking to secure their first Atlantic 10 title since 2019.
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Head Coach Travis Ford is at an interesting cross roads at Saint Louis. He has been winning enough to secure his job, but the program has fallen a bit since about a decade ago, much like the rest of the conference.
Going into 2023-24, the program should be striving for an NCAA Tournament appearance to build off of consecutive seasons of 20+ wins. There are a couple of things to look at to determine whether that goal can be achieved.
Of course, it starts with the roster make-up. The Billikens will lose three of four double digit scorers from last season, most notably, Yuri Collins, who managed to compile 10.1 assists per game, an Atlantic 10 record. Now, Gibson Jimerson will lead the way, supported by a cast of incoming transfers.
Saint Louis will also need more help from the rest of the conference. Last year, the A-10 received just one NCAA Tournament bid for the first time since 2005. Part of the problem is the lack of interest in high-major programs scheduling the Atlantic 10 in non-conference games. This leaves the conference with little margin for error when it comes to early season losses. Since Saint Louis projects second in CBB Rank among A-10 teams, a repeat of 2022-23 would be detrimental to their postseason hopes.
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Head coach: Travis Ford (16th season, 7th at Saint Louis)
2022-23 record: 21-12 (12-6)
2023 postseason finish: Lost in A-10 semi-finals to VCU
Notable departures: Yuri Collins (NBA Draft), Javon Pickett (graduated), Javonte Perkins (graduated)
Notable non-conference games: at NC State (Dec. 20)
PG: Mike Meadows (6-2, 175, Gr.-Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 11.0 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 2.2 APG (Transfer from Portland)
SG: Terrence Hargrove Jr. (6-4, 215, Gr.-Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 5.9 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 0.5 APG
SF: Gibson Jimerson (6-5, 195, Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 13.0 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 1.2 APG
PF: Tim Dalger (6-7, 218, Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 10.2 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 0.9 APG (Transfer from Tulsa)
C: Bradley Ezewiro (6-8, 246, Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 4.3 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 0.1 APG (Transfer from Georgetown)
6: Sincere Parker (6-3, 195, Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 5.9 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 0.2 APG
7: Larry Hughes Jr. (6-4, 175, Jr.)
2022-23 stats: 2.5 PPG, 1.1 RPG, 0.5 APG
8: Phil Jones (6-1, 175, Fr.)
2022-23 stats: Redshirted
9: Bruce Zhang (7-0, 275, Fr.)
247Composite Unranked 2023 recruit
Saint Louis Billikens MVP: Gibson Jimerson
Jimerson will be tasked with producing at a high level without Collins as his distributor. It may not surprise you to learn that 84.7% of Jimerson’s field goals last year were assisted, a conference high. He needs to produce more opportunities for himself this season.
Keep in mind that Jimerson is also one of the best pure shooters in the conference. His 59.0% true shooting percentage was first among A-10 wings. The fact that Jimerson frequently utilizes the midrange jumper makes it even more impressive. Even with less space on average, he will inevitably put the ball in the basket.
Saint Louis Billikens make-or-break player: Mike Meadows
Going from somebody who posted historic numbers running the point, to one who finished third on Portland in assist rate last season is quite a change. Needless to say, the dynamic of the offense will change, but at the same time, so must Meadows’ playing style. He will have to be a facilitator first and an off-the-dribble scorer second. If Meadows successfully takes this step forward, Jimerson can be in the running for A-10 Player of the Year.
Key analytic: 83rd nationally in defensive rebounding rate
At a glance, this statistic may not stand out either way but we must consider the context. Saint Louis was held back by poor defensive play and their ability to clear the boards saved it from disaster.
The problem is that the Billikens are drastically undersized, even compared to last year. The tallest player that is expected to play meaningful minutes is 6’8″ center Bradley Ezewiro. Furthermore, the front court depth is thin. 7-foot, 275 pound true freshman Bruce Zhang can help in that department but it is doubtful that he is ready to play a significant role. Because the Saint Louis Billikens are unlikely to be a good rebounding team, it is critical that they improve in other areas defensively to compensate.
Projected conference finish: 2nd in Atlantic 10
Projected postseason ceiling: NCAA Tournament – Round of 32