When it comes to postulating a non-power conference teams chances in the post season, it’s difficult to sift through the numerous disparities that hamper a team’s chance of success when they are compared to organizations that are supposedly more competitive because of the strength of their schedule. While there may not be ample limelight space for every Wichita State or San Diego State program, there will always be that singular surprise story that will overcome immense adversity just to prove their worth. For the St. Louis Billikens, an A-10 team that oozed with intriguing potential all of last season and this year as well, it appears that their time to shine is closer than most people think. Although the accolades of this invigorated squad may be overshadowed by the flawless success of Wichita State, their sheer perseverance and resiliency makes the Billikens an under the radar threat that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Unlike most college basketball programs, the Billikens are a team that is able to thrive by having a plethora of solid guards and forwards rather than having a couple of supremely outstanding players. While their individual statistics may not wow sports fanatics, their deadly accuracy from the field more than makes up for their low scoring tendencies. Between senior forward Dwayne Evans all around contributions as a reliable scorer (shoots 49.4% from the field and scores 14.5 PPG) and rebounder (6.3 RPG) along with the exceptional guard play of senior Jordair Jett (13.2 PPG, shoots 48.1% from the field), the Billikens have confident veteran talent that can play with immense cohesion in any situation.
Although not every player on the Billikens roster may be as exceptionally accurate from within the arch as the aforementioned seniors, the rest of the starting line up specializes in their own scoring tactics that are just as effective. While starters Rob Loe, Jake Barnett and Mike McCall Jr. may have their issues with scoring field goals from time to time, they are all capable at making wise perimeter shots as all three of these athletes shoot 30% or better from beyond the arch. What is even better about these three underappreciated contributors is their defensive capabilities when it comes to playing the glass. Even though the overall averages may not show it, the defensive rebounds that Rob Loe and Jake Barnett garner in key games is what allows this offense to tick in the first place. The fact that the Billikens can score half of their points with just two players while the rest can focus their proficiencies when it comes to defense is what makes this team monumental success all the more intriguing.
However, while this team clearly has its key offensive contributors, nearly all of the Billikens roster can emulate this type of prolific success when the situation calls for it. Although Rob Loe averages just 9.8 PPG, he can just as easily put up over twenty points in a single game while still being an efficient defense asset (see overtime win against George Mason). In order to understand the sensational performances of the Billikens, one must look past the general statistics to see the essential intangibles this team brings to the table game in and game out. While this team may never have the overall flashy number of a Duke or Kansas squad, they almost always find a way to persevere through any sticky situation. If the Billikens can’t beat you with their sound defense, they’ll use their physicality to drive the basket for any easy layup. If that doesn’t work, the Billikens can always count on their clutch perimeter shooting to put the pressure on the opposition to alter their defensive schemes. As a result, the Billikens have becomes the conniving chameleons of college basketball as they’ll lull their opposition into thinking they play one way when they can just as easily change their appearance to be something completely unexpected.
In the end, while there are never any guarantees that a teams emotional drive will be enough to carry them far in the NCAA tournament, the Billikens not only have that intangible in spades, they actually have a plethora of well balanced athletes that can play with disciplined poise. Although the Wichita State Shockers have earned the right to be considered the best non-conference team in the game, the Billikens have also made their presence known as a no nonsense squad that can beat you just when you think their down. While the Billikens may have to muscle their way through the rest of their schedule before they get the attention they deserve, it will all be worth it when the nation witnesses a team that can win with both sheer athleticism along with an emotional drive that simply won’t quit.