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The Other Top 25 preseason rankings: No. 15 Saint Louis Billikens

The Billikens will bounce back in a big way in 2018-19.

NCAA Basketball: 2K Classic-Providence vs Saint Louis Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

2017-18 Record: 17-16 (9-9 Atlantic 10)
Key Returning Players: Javon Bess (G Sr.), Jordan Goodwin (G, So.), Hasahn French (F, So.), D.J. Foreman (F, Sr.)
Key Losses: Davell Roby, Jalen Johnson
Key Newcomers: Tramaine Isabell (Grad, Drexel), Dion Wiley (Grad, Maryland), Carte’Are Gordon (No. 73 247 Composite)

If you look up what a .500 team in college basketball looks like, you will find the 2017-18 Saint Louis Billikens. Heading into Atlantic-10 play they sat at 7-6 and followed that up with a 9-9 record in conference. They then split their games in Washington, D.C.

However, there was more promise in this team than a mediocre record shows. Travis Ford started the year with a monumental win over Virginia Tech in the 2017 2K Classic. Javon Bess showed what the Michigan State transfer was brought in to do, scoring a team high 22 points, while freshman Jordan Goodwin burst onto the scene with 19 points and four steals.

After that game, they dropped their next four games including a 30 point loss at Hinkle Fieldhouse against Butler. They would finish 14-12 after that point and only had momentum during a three game stretch that featured wins against Dayton, on the road against Saint Joe’s, and last place Fordham.

Key Non-Conference Games

The Billikens are in play for an at-large bid, with the shuffle at the top of the A-10 Saint Louis should finish among the top two or three in the conference. Traditionally, the A-10 sends multiple teams to the dance every year, and this year should be no different. Travis Ford has put together a solid OOC that will have them ready for A-10 play, and gives plenty of opportunities for Q1 wins.

Nov. 17 at Seton Hall
Nov. 21 vs. Pittsburgh (in Brooklyn)
Dec. 1 vs. Butler
Dec. 16 at Houston
Dec. 22 vs. Florida State (in Sunrise, FL)

Three Things to Watch

Grad transfer impact

The season might come down to how the transfers gel with the existing roster from last season. In his only season at Drexel, Tramaine Isabell averaged 21 PPG, 7.5 RPG and 3.4 APG, which earned him second team All-CAA honors. His impact should not only boost a lackluster offense that ranked 328th nationally in PPG, but should also solidify an already strong rebounding team. Coach Ford will lean on Isabell as a leader who has been through hardships, including serving a five game suspension at Missouri his freshman year.

The other name to look out for is Maryland transfer Dion Wiley. The former top-60 prospect (247 Composite) never found his footing in College Park, only starting 18 games his entire time there. Wiley averaged a career high 5.8 ppg, a year ago, and he should be a quality contributor off the bench this season.

Offensive efficiency

As stated earlier, Saint Louis was No. 328 in scoring last season, but it is not the only problem on that side of the ball. In 11 major offensive categories, they finished in the bottom three in the Atlantic-10. Of those 11, they were dead last in assists, free throw percentage, three point attempts and two point shooting percentage.

This season, Javon Bess will get some help from not only in Tramaine Isabell, but also freshman Carte’Are Gordon. He will have a huge impact on the interior offense for this team. Couple that with another year of growth with Hasahn French and Jordan Goodwin, and the pieces are there to have a respectable offense this season.

Team defense

The Billikens are built to play low scoring games and pride themselves on the defensive end. By allowing a mere 65.4 point per game the Billikens were No. 23 nationally in scoring defense and second in the A-10. Per Kenpom, they allowed just 1.00 points per possession, which was the third best mark in the A-10. Their style of play is brutal and it makes opposing teams sluggish if the Billikens control the pace of play.

They project to be a top defense in the A-10, which will make them especially formidable in non-conference play. If they play up to their abilities, the Billikens will be entering A-10 play with some Q1 wins. With the expected offensive boost, this team will be a force in the A-10 and could make the big dance come March.

X Factor

Carte’Are Gordon’s growth

The impact of the No. 73 recruit in the country electing to stay at home with offers from Kansas and Missouri cannot be overstated. Here is what 247sports’ Evan Daniels had to say about Gordon:

“At 6-foot-7, Gordon is a tough, physical and bruising post player that does a good job on the glass, finishing off plays inside and is an enforcer in the paint.”

The freshman big man’s development will solidify an already strong front court with Hasahn French and D.J. Foreman. Gordon will be the bully in the middle for this team and should dominate when he steps on the court. His first big test of the season will be traveling to Seton Hall against their talented big man Taurean Thompson. If Gordon is already dominating in this game, then expect a big year that may end in A-10 Rookie of the Year honors.

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