Overall Rank: #117
Conference Rank: #6 Missouri Valley Conference
2008-09: 13-18, 8-10
2008-09 postseason: none
Coach: Chris Lowery (109-59 at Southern Illinois, 109-59 overall)
The Salukis had higher hopes than a 13-18 record for the 2008-2009 campaign. Coach Chris Lowery had a relatively experienced squad, but luck was not on the side of Southern Illinois. Even with Bryan Mullins the team struggled, but when the point guard went down with an injury, the season was practically over for SIU. Now the team has to retool, but there is enough talent to make a run at a Missouri Valley Conference title, even without a returning senior on the roster.
Key Losses: F Tony Boyle, G Wesley Clemmons, F Christian Cornelius, G Bryan Mullins
Tony Freeman is obviously the key newcomer on this squad. The 6-1 senior averaged 13.8 points per game as a junior two years ago at Iowa. And that was against Big Ten competition. Freeman, if he can get acclimated to life in the MVC, has the potential to dominate the league and score 20 points per game. Yet, there is more to the class than just Freeman. John Freeman is an experienced guard and Jack Crowder, a transfer from Cowley College, could be looking for a starting job sooner or later.
When Mullins was out with an injury, it was Kevin Dillard who took the team over. As a freshman, Dillard led the team with 12.2 points and added 4.2 assists and 1.3 steals per game. At times the turnovers were hard to bear, but that was when he was forced into duty as a freshman. Dillard should be a much more effective and efficient floor leader this time around. Ryan Hare and Justin Bocot will battle for one of the starting positions on the wing. Hare started a majority of the games last year and the 6-4 sophomore could emerge as a big time scoring threat. Bocot is more of a shooter off the bench type of player. Nearly half of his shot attempts from the floor in 2008-2009 were from beyond the arc.
The frontcourt lost one of its best scorer in Tony Boyle. During his senior campaign, Boyle tallied 9.4 points per game and added 5.4 rebounds. Carlton Fay will be the new go-to-guy in the paint. Fay is an effective rebounder and will likely lead the team in that category this year. That is unless sophomore Anthony Booker starts living up to his potential. Booker is a superb talent, but he only averaged 13.6 minutes per game as a freshman. With Boyle gone, Booker will have to step up and at least hit the glass and block some shots without getting into too much foul trouble. Fay can do enough scoring in the paint for both of them.
Who to Watch:
Replacing Boyle is what could turn this team around or keep them with a losing record in conference play. Most of the burden will fall on Booker, but Nick Evans and a couple of newcomers need to be able to produce off of the bench. Evans, a 6-11 sophomore, is another young player with potential. He may not score very often, but he can hit the glass and block an occasional shot. Incoming freshmen Gene Teague and Jordan Myers will also be in the mix for playing time.
Southern Illinois will be in good shape if the frontcourt can hold their own. Dillard has the potential to become the next in a great line of Saluki guards and Tony Freeman should be able to score 20 points a night. Yet, can this team be that much better than they were last year without Bryan Mullins and Tony Boyle? If everything works out, they might improve a little bit, but the good old days of Saluki basketball should return in another year or two.
Projected Post-season Tournament: CBI/CIT
Projected Starting Five:
Kevin Dillard, Sophomore, Guard, 12.2 points per game
Tony Freeman, Senior, Guard, DNP last season
Ryan Hare, Sophomore, Guard, 7.5 points per game
Carlton Fay, Junior, Forward, 10.4 points per game
Anthony Booker, Sophomore, Forward, 3.7 points per game