The off-season is coming to a close, Dunk City After Dark was a smash hit, and now, after an eternity, the 2019-2020 college basketball season is upon us. Similar to last year, there is much uncertainty and unfamiliarity with the state of this FGCU roster. There are a lot of questions heading into the season and it is sure to be an exciting time as some of those answers present themselves. For now, here is a brief recap of Dunk City After Dark and what it could mean for the season, as well as a preview of the first game, potential key matchups to watch for, and predictions for the outcome.
Dunk City After Dark
Dunk City After Dark was a great time for the team and fans alike. With so many newcomers, it proved to be a great opportunity to see them in action for the first time. Transfer, Sam Gagliardi, showed off his sweet stroke and looks to be a real shooter for the Eagles. However, sophomore Caleb Catto stole the show by winning the 3-point contest. At one point, Catto drained 6 in a row, while the rest of the team rallied around him to show their support. This current squad of Eagles looks to be a very close group of guys.
Fortunately, there was a women’s and men’s scrimmage. These scrimmages can be likened to an NBA All-Star game where there are plenty of highlights and a lack of defensive effort. Even so, many players managed to show off their skills. Gagiardi flashed his sweet, fine-tuned, 3-point shot. Justus Rainwater provided several rim-rattling dunks. Dakota Rivers and Qwanzi Samuels gave a glimpse of their athleticism and versatility as players who can play down low and also spend some time on the wing stretching the floor.
The dunk contest featured four newcomers in Rivers, Samuels, Rainwater, and Jalen Harper. Rivers impressed by showcasing an elite vertical jump and paying homage to Vince Carter with an “arm-in-the-rim” dunk. Samuels gave a glimpse of his length and athleticism with a windmill, behind-the-back dunk. Rainwater tried a few potentially earth-shaking dunks but it was all in good fun as he was unable to land any in the allotted time. Harper was the surprise winner of the contest as he closed with a nasty alley-oop, under-the-rim, one-handed slam. At (maybe) 6’2″, his strength and explosiveness were one of the highlights of the night.
Saint Louis Billikens
To open the season, FGCU will be travelling to Missouri to take on the Saint Louis Billikens. These teams have never gone toe-to-toe so there is an opportunity for one of these squads to make history. Saint Louis is a member of what is to be a very strong Atlantic 10 conference this season. Last year they posted a record of 23-13 (5th place in the conference). They ended up winning the A10 Tournament and clinching an NCAA bid. There, they lost in the first round to #4 Virginia Tech.
The Billikens also play very well at home as they posted a 15-2 record at Chaifetz Arena last year. Additionally, they faced fellow ASUN member North Alabama last season. The Billikens struggled in that game but managed to eke out a 69-58 victory. Saint Louis enters this year without their top two scorers from a season ago and have only one senior who is sure to get real playing time. However, the Billikens have a rare combination of youth and experience. They boast both proven talent as well as potential and have the opportunity to be even better than last year. Below we will take a dive into the Saint Louis roster and look at some of the individual players to keep an eye on.
Players to Watch
Jordan Goodwin #0
Goodwin is the highest returning scorer and is set to lead the Billikens this season. He is a 6’3″ guard entering his junior year having started every game a season ago. As a sophomore, Goodwin averaged 13 pts, 3 ast, and an impressive 8 reb. He clearly plays bigger than his size and position might suggest. In a recent exhibition against Kentucky Wesleyan, Goodwin showed that he does not plan on slowing down or changing his versatile style of play. He finished with 10 pts, 11 reb, and 6 ast.
Tay Weaver #2
Weaver is the only Senior that is sure to be in consistent rotation for the Billikens. Transferring from Eastern Kentucky, the 5’10” / 170 lb guard is new to the team. As a junior, he started 28 games and averaged 10 pts and 3 reb. With all of his experience and success, Weaver should make an immediate impact.
Hasahn French #11
French enters his junior year with plenty of starting experience. Last year, he emerged as one of the lead forwards on the squad as he averaged 9 pts and 8 reb. French possesses size and strength at 6’7″ / 245 and should be a problem down low for most teams. In their recent exhibition game, he continued his dominance by scoring 19 pts and grabbing 11 rebounds in the process.
KC Hankton #23
Hankton enters his second season after excelling when called upon as a freshman. At 6’7″ / 215, he brings size, athleticism, and shooting ability. With the quality experience that he has already gained, Hankton has the opportunity to be a breakout player for the Billikens this year.
Jimmy Bell Jr. #32
Bell Jr is a massive freshman forward. He comes in as a 3-star recruit at 6’10” / 270. He is a big, physical player and former offensive lineman. He continues to transform his body as he played at 290 lbs in his senior year of high school (350 at one point).
Madani Diarra #21
Diarra is another big forward in their freshman class. At 6’10” / 240, he is a big, long, and strong center who could develop into a solid collegiate player for them.
Gibson Jimerson #24
Jimerson is a 6’5″ versatile guard. He has the range and ability to shoot from anywhere on the court. These skills could quickly translate to the college level and allow him to contribute early on.
Yuri Collins #1
Potentially the highlight of this freshman class, is Collins. He is a small guard (6’0″ / 175), but very well-rounded. He has showcased the ability to shoot, drive, pass, and rebound effectively. If he can acclimate his skills to the speed of the college game quickly, Collins could be an immediate contributor in the Billikens backcourt.
Battle of the Bigs
Hasahn French presents as a problem with his experience and imposing body type. It will be interesting to see how a player like Justus Rainwater can match up against him. They have similar body types and both seem to love physicality. French can absolutely take over if given the opportunity.
Additionally, the Billikens bring their two freshmen forwards (Bell Jr and Diarra) who both posses impressive size. This could pose a problem for the Eagles. FGCU will look to Brian Thomas to combat their size with his own (6’9″ / 255). Thomas is set to emerge as a leader for FGCU this year on and off the court. Dakota Rivers and Qwanzi Samuels have the versatility to match up with either of these players and potentially make a huge impact. The Eagles possess more proven size and length and could try to capitalize on this matchup. St. Louis appears to lack a true “big”. If French is held in relative check, this can be an advantage for FGCU.
The Billikens have experience in the backcourt with Goodwin and Weaver. Weaver, however, is new to the team and may need to work out some kinks as he finds his role on offense. Also, other returning players like Fred Thatch Jr and Demarius Jacobs will need to expand their role in order to emerge as a real contributors for Saint Louis. Yuri Collins could get significant playing time as a freshman as well.
The Eagles return two regular contributors from last season in Zach Scott Jr and Caleb Catto but will also have to integrate transfers like Jalen Warren and Malik Hardy, as well as freshman Jalen Harper, into the rotation. Saint Louis seems to have an abundance of guards who generally have tons of experience playing together. FGCU did a good job in the off-season acquiring players to fill positions of need among the guards but, outside of Catto and Scott Jr, they may lack the cohesion that the Billikens have, in theory. It will be interesting to see how both teams fare at this position battle in the first game of the season. If the Eagles can limit the production of Jordan Goodwin, their committee of playmakers can take over and ultimately win this positions win battle.
Predictions from the Guys
Elliott Kresse (0-0)
83 – 72 – Saint Louis
Russell Kelly (0-0)
72 – 70 – FGCU
Dawson Jordan (0-0)
72 – 70 – Saint Louis
Bryan Genter (0-0)
78 – 70 – Saint Louis