Southern Illinois Salukis
Overall Rank: #43
Conference Rank: #2 Missouri Valley
2007-08: 18-15, 11-7, 3rd
2007-08 postseason: NIT
There will be quite a few new faces at Southern Illinois this year. Fortunately for Saluki fans, they are a very talented bunch who can contribute immediately. SIU was inconsistent during the 2007-2008 campaign and had a ton of trouble winning on the road. Some senior leadership in the backcourt should help, but this is a team that is going to have to find a way to win on the road before they can be considered a contender to reach the NCAA Tournament.
When Coach Chris Lowery’s team was struggling to hit the outside shot, they could always go inside to Randal Falker and Matt Shaw. Falker was the heart and soul of this team and led the squad with 13.0 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. Shaw opened up space in the paint for the superstar by stretching out the defense with his outside shooting ability. There are experienced and talented options to replace Falker and Shaw, but it will not happen over night. Fellow starter Josh Bone has opted to transfer after averaging 8.1 points per game as a sophomore. Jordan Armstrong, Dion Coopwood and Brandon Wood will not be suiting up for the Salukis after seeing limited playing time a year ago.
There are six newcomers and all six of them could play a big role right away. In the backcourt it begins with Kevin Dillard. The 6-0 guard will likely be the starting point guard next year, but that does not necessarily mean that he will not be starting elsewhere this year. Dillard, Illinois’ reigning Mr. Basketball, is a great scorer and certainly has the ability to see plenty of action at the off-guard position in addition to his duties as the back-up point. But Dillard will have some competition on the wings from fellow newcomers Justin Bocot, Ryan Hare and Torres Roundtree. Hare’s shot continues to get better, as it needs to do, but he is strong enough to finish around the basket as a freshman. Due to his toughness and willingness to hit the glass, Hare will fit in well on a team that lost their only two players who averaged over three boards a game. Roundtree can play any position in the backcourt and his tenacious defending is a perfect fit at SIU. Dillard may be the star recruit on the perimeter, but the star recruit of the class is Anthony Booker. The 6-8, 220 pound forward is a superb scorer in the paint and is expected to take over a bulk of the scoring load left behind by Falker. That is a lot of pressure to put on a freshman, but Booker is talented enough to reach almost anybody’s expectations. At 6-11 and 250 pounds, freshman Nick Evans has the height and bulk to make an impact in the paint. It will probably take a year or two before Evans is ready to give major minutes, but he is skilled enough to play as a freshman if the team needs him to do so.
Who to Watch:
SIU only has two starters returning, but they are a couple of experienced guards and that is exactly what a team in the guard-orientated MVC needs from their seniors. Bryan Mullins is the underappreciated point guard. Last year he averaged 10.7 points and 5.0 assists. He is not known for his great scoring, but he did hit 41.0 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. In a backcourt that lacked the traditional Saluki scorer on the wing last season, Mullins did what he could to pick up the slack. It is hoped that the newcomers can fill that scoring void this year so Mullins does not have to do quite as much in the scoring department. But it is nice to know that he can when necessary. Wesley Clemmons will battle with the newcomers for one of the starting jobs on the wing. Clemmons is not a great shooter, but he is effective getting to the basket.
Carlton Fay and Tony Boyle have the unenviable job of trying to replace Shaw. Neither are going to hit the three-pointer like Shaw did, but both have decent mid-range jumpers and can stretch out the defense. As long as Booker emerges as the post scoring threat, Fay and Boyle will not have to do much scoring…they will just need to grab some rebounds and do the dirty work in the paint. With Booker in the frontcourt and Mullins in the backcourt, Southern Illinois has the tools they need to make a run at the NCAA Tournament, especially by March when the freshmen are hardly freshmen anymore.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Bryan Mullins, Senior, Guard, 10.7 points per game
Wesley Clemmons, Senior, Guard, 6.0 points per game
Ryan Hare, Freshman, Guard, DNP last season
Tony Boyle, Senior, Forward, 4.6 points per game
Anthony Booker, Freshman, Forward, DNP last season