It was a busy weekend on the STL Sports scene…so let’s get right to it…
-It has been a magical run by the Billikens to the NCAA Tournament, as they advance to the Big Dance for the first time since 2013-2014. Three days before the season started, Travis Ford had five big men with ability: 6-8, 250-pound South Florida transfer Luis Santos, 6-7 freshman Carte’Are Gordon, 6-11 senior Elliott Welmer, 6-8 sophomore Hasahn French and 6-9 senior D.J. Foreman.
Three days before practice started, Santos was suspended from the team and withdrew from school. During practice, the foot injuries that plagued Welmer all of last season resurfaced. As 2019 dawned, Gordon decided that he wanted to transfer, and did to DePaul. So a five big-man unit became two. Despite that, French and Foreman were terrific. Senior swing man Jevon Bess played through ankle injuries that prevented him from practicing, and still won A-10 defensive player the year honors, leading SLU in scoring in the process. Belleville-Althoff guard Jordan Goodwin became one of the most prolific guards in the country, leading all guards nationally in offensive rebounding, leading the team in assists and steals and sitting third in scoring. Transfer point guard Tramaine Isbell turned it on at the end of the season, averaging more than 20 points per game in his last ten games. And despite injuries that sometimes limited the Billikens to six available players, coach Travis Ford had them playing defense and made the necessary adjustments to win games. After starting their A-10 season 5-0 and then losing five of six, the Billikens finished 10-8 in the conference before winning four games in four days in the tournament. They may not have the depth to win much in the NCAA tournament, but they have a tenacious group and a terrific coaching staff that’ll make it interesting.
-The Blues are one of the most perplexing teams in sports. Since their team record eleven game winning streak, they’ve gone 5-5-3, earning thirteen of a possible 26 points. The weird thing about them is that of the eleven wins in the streak, six of them were against teams that are currently in playoff spots. In the eight losses since the streak, half of them came against teams out of the playoffs. For the season, the Blues have a record of 21-15-3 (.577) against teams that would be in the playoffs if they started today, and are 16-12-5 (.560) against teams out of the playoff race. In their last ten games, the Blues will only face two playoff teams…Tampa Bay and Vegas. Otherwise, it’s Edmonton, Detroit, the Rangers and Devils, Colorado, Chicago, Philadelphia and Vancouver. The only team that even has a chance to be playing for a playoff spot when the Blues face them is Colorado on April 1. If the Blues can simply play above the level of their competition, they should be able to make the playoffs with no problem. But can they do that? How does a team still battling for a playoff spot go into Ottawa and Buffalo and lose? It’s beyond me.
By the way, getting David Perron back is huge. Vladimir Tarasenko will be evaluated this week and will hopefully return, and Craig Berube will be able to get them integrated back into the lineup. Two top lines of Tarasenko and Brayden Schenn flanking Ryan O’Reilly and Perron and Jaden Schwartz working with Rob Thomas at center (what they should do) would give the Blues a chance to create much more offense. One other note; the Blues don’t have back-to-back games until the end of this month. If the Blues play their goalies as they have, Jordan Binnington should start each game of this four game home stand. We’ll see Jake Allen either March 29 at Madison Square Garden or March 30 in New Jersey and once again at Chicago on April 3 as the Blues return home to host the Flyers on April 4. The way I have hit scheduled, Binnington gets eight of the last ten games heading into the playoffs.
-The Cardinals: Hopefully the hitters are just bored with the Grapefruit League, or are working on approaches, or are regular season hitters, because they were no-hit for eight innings by the Marlins on Sunday. That performance comes on the heels of a Saturday game in which not one of the Redbirds opening day starters played, but they scored eight runs. In their last seven spring games, the Cardinals have one RBI from a regular; a Paul DeJong home run on Friday night. I don’t panic about spring training, but I sure would like to see some offense. The Cardinals have eight games left before opening their season a week from Thursday in Milwaukee.