A preview for the 2022 Billikens season

After a disappointing A-10 semifinal loss and a 12-point loss to the University of Northern Iowa in the first round of the NIT tournament. The Billikens seek to bounce back after losing  players in the offseason. 

Markhai Strickland and Rashad Williams entered the portal and now play elsewhere. Martin Linsen, one of Billikens few centers last season, is now playing professional basketball in Germany, his home country. Jordan Nesbit also left. Nesbit’s commitment to SLU was a homecoming for him, having played his first year with Memphis, but is currently attending HBCU Hampton University. Andre Loretsson now attends Toledo, while Lassina Thaore committed to Long Beach. Brandon Courtney graduated, but now acts as a graduate assistant coach for the Billikens. The team also graduated Deandre Jones. This list includes 7 of the 14 Billikens on last year’s roster.

 The Billikens also picked up a lot of new players,  most of them guards. Coach Ford has a trend of recruiting small guards. Contrary to what some might assume, he has also had a lot of success with his small guards. Yuri Collins is a 6’0 point guard and Coach Ford himself is 5’9. Ford played for Kentucky and he had success on the team, averaging 9.5 points for Kentucky in 100 games.

Ford’s new guards include a 6 ‘0 transfer from the University of South Florida, Lamont Evans, Phill Jones from Chicago, Sincere Parker, a community college transfer, and Nick Kramer, a local from SLU High. Javon Pickett is a 5th-year senior from Missouri who is 6’5, while Larry Hughes Jr. is another local pick who attended CBC for high school. If Hughes’ name sounds familiar, it’s because his dad played for SLU and was in the NBA for 14 years.

 Ford did pick up two non-guards in the off season – Mouhamadou Cissé is the first. His nickname is “Momo” and heis the tallest player on the team at a whooping 6 ’10. Though the starting center job probably is going to Francis Okoro, who took over as starting center in the middle of last season. Jake Forrester’s height and versatility means Ford may decide to play him as a center some this season.

SLU’s NCAA assist leader Yuri Collins gave Billiken fans a scare last season when he announced he had entered the transfer portal. However, after only a few weeks he announced he would return to SLU for his remaining two years of eligibility. Yuri is a playmaker for the Billikens, and the team depends on his distribution abilities.

Gibson Jimerson is another well-known name on the Billikens roster. He averaged a solid 16.3 points last season, but is known primarily for his three point shooting ability. While Jimerson has been an extremely successful guard for the Bills, he may have something of a fight for his position this year. With a deep and versatile roster this fall, Ford may turn to Parker, Hughes or Evans for the job.

 Ford put 12 of his 16 players in last Saturday.  If you are looking for a position that is going to change the most this season, it is for sure power forward Terrance Hargrove Jr., “TJ”,  played most of the time last year. However, Pickett has also been solid for the Billikens, getting 12 points against Evansville. Fans will anxiously await what he can do down line. 

Fred Thatch Jr. has been a solid player for the Bills and has been known to create big plays that shift momentum quickly. Additionally, the Bills missed Javonte Perkins last season due to an ACL tear. The combination of Collins and Perkins could prove to be deadly once the Billikens enter A-10 play. 

Though, as Ford leads the way for his seventh year the question has to come up   is this the last year for Ford? The last time Ford took the Billikens to the big dance was in 2019, even if that first-round exit was not the best. If the Bills don’t make it past the semifinals in the A10 championship, fans might be concerned for the coach. Even with a combination like Collins, Pickett, Jimmerson, and Okoro, the stakes are high for Ford this season.

 The Billikens were having a nice 12-point lead against Evansville and almost gave it away by allowing  Evansville to gain a lead at the end of the first half. Thankfully, the Billikens reclaimed the lead,extending it to more than 10 points. The Billikens blew a lead that size at least four times last year – beginning with their game against Auburn a team that would go on to be a #2 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Billikens had a 13-point lead with 8:37 seconds in the game left then blew it. They did that against UAB and UMass as well.

The Billikens certainly can live up to the hype that has surrounded them the whole preseason. For the sake of Ford’s career, Billikens fans are hoping that he can make a successful season with the roster he has recruited. With unequivocal glimpses of success for the Billikens last season; now they need to bring their team back on the map of NCAA title contenders. That starts with beating out of conference teams, combined with a stellar conference season. It will take a remarkable A-10 season for the Billikens to fulfill their dreams of a championship ring.