Under Travis Ford this year, SLU lacked fire and firepower | Daily News Byte


It’s always hard to watch when one of the good guys is struggling. Happened to Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong. It was seen last year with Mizzou hoops coach Cuonzo Martin. There was Blues goalie Jake Allen in the weeks before Jordan Binnington’s first start.

And now, it’s happening in St. Louis U. basketball coach Travis Ford.

His talented team squandered leads and games and hopes.

The nonconference schedule should be a playground for Yuri Collins to record assists, Gibson Jimerson polish his stroke and Javonte Perkins get his legs back for conference play.

Instead, the Billikens went 8-5 with some odd losses.

Ford must start pressing different buttons to try to activate his team. If the Billikens are not going to compete for the Atlantic-10 Conference title, the school’s decision makers should start asking tough questions about SLU’s “this year is the year” déjà vu.

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I have always been a defender of Travis Ford, quick to point out how he works in difficult situations. And I’m a scoff at playing the what-if game about the 2020-21 team — if the Billikens hadn’t endured multiple bouts with COVID, they would have made the NCAA Tournament.

But I can’t defend it.

They perished in Iona (not Iowa, but Iona). Lost by 22!

The Billikens blew up in a home game against Boise State — in the final 33 seconds, SLU committed a turnover and missed two 3s to tie the game.

In the loss at Auburn — which would be a statement win for Ford — SLU shot 2 for 11 in the second half from 3 … and 1 for 11 in the second half from the free-throw line.

And then comes a statement game, all right. SLU lost at home to SIU-Edwardsville. While SLU is at No. 74 in the KenPom.com rankings (second among A-10 teams behind No. 59 Dayton), SIU-E is ranked 186th, right behind Gardner Webb and Tarleton State.

Going into this week, I planned to write a Christmas Day column about “Santa” Collins. This will be a fun piece about the gifts he delivers to teammates with his passes. But after the loss to SIUE, it just wasn’t right. It is a bad loss of too many. So, instead, you’re reading the column equivalent of coal in a stocking.

Point guard Collins is an interesting case study, as he leads the nation in assists per game (10.3), but the floor leader doesn’t usually lead his team in victories. Ford pointed out that Collins isn’t a vocal leader — and that SLU lacks any player who can really ignite his teammates. But can’t leadership be taught, to an extent? Collins won’t suddenly become huddle-barker Chris Paul, but he — or one of his teammates — could be Ford’s inspiration.

And speaking of inspirational play, what happened to the energizer Jimerson? He averaged 16.3 points per game last year — this year, he’s at 12.7. His 3-point shooting has lost its luster. It’s actually quite impressive. After nine games this season, the fourth-year player is shooting 43.8% from beyond the arc. That was consistent with his last season’s percentage of 42.

But over the past four games, Jimerson has gone 5 for 29 from 3-point range (17.2%). And SLU lost three of four.

Perkins doesn’t look like Perkins. Sure, he’s coming back from an entire season out with injury. But since Thanksgiving, the former conference player of the year candidate has only two back-to-back double-digit scoring games. Ford said he’ll let Perkins figure it out on the court, not from the bench. And in the SIUE debacle, Perkins scored 23 points on 9 for 15 shooting.

A perked-up Perkins could be crucial for SLU in conference play.

But as we learn, not much is guaranteed with the Ford team.

I, for one, was fooled into thinking this team would dominate his 3-point shooting. So, apparently, is Ford.

“We can put lineups in there that, I think, can be a really dangerous 3-point shooting team,” the coach said in October.

After all, last year’s squad was the 35th best 3-point team in the nation.

This year, SLU’s field goal percentage (32.1) ranks the Billikens 269th.

Some of that is SLU’s inability to consistently unlock low-post play. To use a football phrase, you have to establish the run if you’re going to pass a lot.

Fortunately, the Billikens are on a break. Ford’s team doesn’t play again until next Saturday at St. Joseph’s. In fact, six of SLU’s first nine conference games have been on the road. Not perfect. However, SLU was picked to finish second in the A-10 behind Dayton and ahead of Virginia Commonwealth and conference newcomer Loyola-Chicago.

Will SLU be able to navigate the conference schedule?

To cross this river, they would need the Ford to cross.


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