“We are going to be playing against the fastest team in America.” That was Coach Travis Ford’s preview for Billikens’ upcoming game in Madison Square Garden versus Virginia Tech on Thursday. And the numbers back up his assessment. In their 2-0 start, Virginia Tech has scored 111 and 132 points respectively. In comparison, SLU has scored 62 and 74 on their way to a 2-0 November.
So, how do they prepare? A SLU team that struggles to score for long stretches of clock, that turns the ball over at a high rate, and has had two sluggish starts? “We cannot simulate how they play in practice...We understand the challenge in front of this…This will be the fastest and most aggressive team they (the SLU Players) have played in their lives.”
Coach Ford feels it depends on how the team responds to the scouting report and how they respond to the atmosphere. “Anytime you can get in Madison Square Garden, you’ve got to take advantage of it…it’s an honor we get to play there, but we’re not just happy to be there…it’s a great great challenge…we are going there for a purpose. To prepare and compete first.”
If you’re looking for a Coach that can communicate from experience what it is like to play in gigantic games, in amazing arenas, under the greatest duress, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone better than Travis Ford. As a guard playing for Rick Pitino at Kentucky, Ford played in the 1992 Elite 8 game vs. Duke. The Laettner perfection game, fade away at the buzzer. Ford followed that by playing in the Final Four the next season losing an overtime heartbreaker to Michigan and the Fab 5. A game in which he played all 45 minutes, scored 12 points, grabbed 5 boards, dished out 6 assists, and had 3 steals.
He has stood on the biggest stage the college game has to offer, and he did not flinch. But, how to you translate that experience twenty-four years later to a group of twenty year olds? Coach Ford said he will draw on some of those stories, but that the jitters will be there and that he is “just as excited” as the players are. His eyes lit up when talking about the garden, lit up with excitement and fire. The Billikens have the right leader, but do they have the personnel. This will be the first true test of this group of players, and it’s tougher than most. The cupcakes are done, and now the man’s game begins.
Virginia Tech has not seen relentless defense like SLU’s yet, but will it be enough to keep this game close? We will have to wait and see, and some great things can come out of this contest. Playing an ACC opponent, at MSG, on ESPN. The next 5 years of the program could be sent on a completely different trajectory if the Bills can shock the NCAA on Thursday.
Either way…ESPN, ACC, MSG. Now it’s truly college basketball season.