ST. LOUIS — With every basket St. Bonaventure scored against Saint Louis on Saturday, the knife seemed to plunge a bit deeper.
As the minutes ticked off in the Billikens' 71-53 loss to the Bonnies in the second round of the A-10 Tournament, the 2021 season felt like it was slipping away. A season that was supposed to be a special one.
Now, the Billikens can't do anything but just sit, and hope. They have to hope they did enough to earn an at-large bid into the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
Most prognosticators have SLU on the outside looking in as we hit the midweek point in the wait for selection Sunday.
ESPN's "Bracketology" has the Billikens as one of the first four teams out.
The odds look long right now, but they shouldn't. This SLU team deserves a spot in the big dance.
Like so many things this past year, my defense of SLU is going to start with, "If not for COVID". And that's really the hook, isn't it? If not for COVID, this team has nothing to worry about.
Like hundreds of thousands of people in the United States and many other professional and collegiate teams around the world, the Billikens' best-laid plans were uprooted by the pandemic.
This is a team that was 7-1 and looking strong... and then, poof. Done. They have to sit out for more than a month as the virus spread throughout the team.
SLU walloped Kansas City on Dec. 23. Their next game saw them fight tooth and nail but still lose to Dayton 76-71, and their next game to lowly La Salle 78-57.
It's impossible to know just exactly how the NCAA selection committee is going to look at teams who battled COVID. The Billikens saw themselves get ranked in the AP top 25 while they were paused, so people know what this team is capable of. But what about now? Will they be left out of the big dance because they only played 20 games and struggled after they beat the virus? They shouldn't be.
There's not a chance this SLU team isn't one of the 68 best college basketball teams in the country. Not a chance.
If you look at the combined rankings when it comes to NCAA Net rankings, KenPom and ESPN BPI, the Billikens look much better than the other bubble teams they're jockeying against.
Yes, of course I'm sure you can go out there and cherry-pick some other rankings and make SLU look bad as well. But looking at all those teams on that list, is there one you wouldn't see SLU handily beating? I sure don't.
A win against St. Bonaventure in the A-10 Tournament probably would've gotten it done. But now, the sweat is on.
This was the year SLU was building for.
With Hasahn French, Jordan Goodwin and Javonte Perkins in their senior seasons and a wealth of depth around them, this was the year Travis Ford had been eying for a legitimate postseason run.
Goodwin and French are big names that deserve another shot in the tourney, and that should mean something. The NCAA wants storylines and excitement, right? That duo can give it to them.
There needs to be a spot in the field of 68 for this Billikens team that's a product of this wild 2020-2021 season.