The Saint Louis Billikens were a trendy pick this off-season to win the Atlantic 10 conference this year – they were coming off a 23-win season which included an 11-5 conference record, and the whole team was returning.
Things have gone downhill since the off-season for Saint Louis.
The team’s two leading scorers from last year – PG Kwamain Mitchell and PF Willie Reed – have been suspended from the team amid sexual assault allegations. Mitchell and Reed averaged a combine 28.3 points per game last year, or 45% of the Billikens offense. Needless to say, these were key losses for Saint Louis.
Expectations have lowered a bit for Saint Louis, as Coach Rick Majerus is now working with a team composed of 11 freshman and sophomores. The good news for the remaining Billikens is that everyone is getting to play – through the first two games, Majerus has nine guys that are averaging 16.5 minutes or more.
Junior guard Kyle Cassidy is leading the Billikens in both scoring (16.5 points) and assists (3.5)
The Saint Louis frontcourt features an Australian and a New Zealander – hard to believe the two can co-exist!
Aussie native Cody Ellis, a 6’8″ sophomore, is averaging 9.5 points and 4.5 boards, and Kiwi freshman Rob Loe is netting 11.5 points and 5.5 rebounds a contest (while standing at 6’11”).
As tempting as it might be to feel confident about the Dawgs chances in this game, I feel compelled to remind everyone of the Dawgs‘ 0-11 record in true road games last season. Things were anything but cozy for Georgia away from the Steg, and Saturday night will give the Dawgs an opportunity to get Coach Mark Fox his first road win at UGA.
And yes, they will have to win it without leading scorer and rebounder Trey Thompkins.
Through the first two games of the season, Gerald Robinson, Travis Leslie and Jeremy Price are averaging a combined 56.0 points per game – an astounding 72% of the Dawgs‘ offense (with GR2 leading the way at 20.0). These three have really stepped up their games in Trey’s absence and picked up the slack on the offensive side of the court.
On Saturday night I am looking for more of the same from GR2 – push the ball on every possession, get into the lane and score or get to the line. He has been putting relentless pressure on opposing teams defenses and hopefully Saturday night will be no different.
Georgia upperclassmen Jeremy Price and Chris Barnes weigh a combined 504lbs, and I want to see them use that size to assert themselves on the offensive and defensive glass against this young Saint Louis team. As I already mentioned, Price has been great through the first two games – averaging 18.5 points. Against Colorado, Barnes stepped up big for Coach Fox off the bench, grabbing 8 rebounds and scoring 9 points. Georgia is going to need Barnes to be a regular contributor this season, so hopefully Tuesday night’s performance was a start.
This will be the first road game for freshman Marcus Thornton and Donte Williams, and on top of that it will be at 8PM on Saturday night in front of a likely sold-out Chaifetz Arena. We’ll see how the frosh handle the atmosphere of their first hostile collegiate environment.
If this Georgia team wants to be taken seriously by the NCAA Selection Committee come March, then they have to win some road games – just ask ESPN’s Andy Katz. And speaking of Andy Katz, this guy seriously loves plugging Georgia Bulldog basketball. In his recap of the first 10 days of the season, Katz says “The world is right again. Georgia handled Colorado after nearly losing to Mississippi Valley State, and both games were without injured SEC preseason player of the year Trey Thompkins.”
Even though the Billikens roster took quite a hit with the losses of Mitchell and Reed, they did lose to the Dawgs in Athens last year 64-56 and they no doubt will be looking to exact some revenge tomorrow night in the prime time slot.
One final thought – the last time that a Georgia Men’s basketball team was ranked in either the AP or USA Today Coaches Poll was March 10, 2003 (they were #21 in the AP; #22 in the Coaches).
At the moment, the Dawgs are just outside of both polls – they are receiving 42 votes for the AP and 4 for the Coaches. If Georgia were to win at Saint Louis on Saturday night, could they possibly break into the AP Poll next Monday?
It will be very interesting to see how Coach Fox’s team responds to its first road challenge of the 2010-2011 season.