It was the fall of 2006, and my wife and I just moved to Mechanicsburg PA. Wearing an SIU hat, I walked into a Hes gas station. The man behind the register looked at me and said, "SIU, they have a heck of a basketball program down in Carbondale." I nodded my head and smiled.
Three years later, the Salukis from Southern Illinois are on the verge of a 20-loss season.
Two years ago, the Salukis were a basket away from a trip to the Elite Eight, falling to Kansas in a Sweet 16 classic. "They're as good as anyone in the country," said Kansas coach Bill Self.
From contending for a National Championship in the 2006-2007 season, to the laughing stock of the pitiful Missouri Valley Conference. It's amazing to see how fast the Salukis have fallen.
This decade has belonged to SIU. The Salukis won five regular season titles, one valley tournament, five NCAA tourney games, and one NIT game. They've done it under three different coaches: Bruce Weber, Matt Painter, and Chris Lowery.
A year ago, SIU missed out on the NCAA tournament for the first time in six years. The Salukis finished 17-14 and advanced to the NIT. They went on to defeat Oklahoma State in the first round, but they fell to Arizona State in the second round.
Despite missing out on the NCAA tournament, SIU welcomed their greatest recruiting class in recent history. According rivals.com, the Salukis 2008 class was the 25th best in the country. Anthony Booker was ranked as No. 44 and Kevin Dillard (Mr. basketball in Illinois) was No. 137.
Even with a dominating recruiting class, this was going to be a rebuilding year for the Salukis. Brian Mullins was the only returning starter for the Salukis. That said, I expected 10-11 wins from SIU in a very poor Missouri Valley Conference.
Overall, I predicted SIU to win 16 games and return to the NIT.
Forget about the postseason SIU fans, it appears the Salukis (11-17) are on their was to a 20-loss season. A program that typically locks up win No. 20 around Presidents Day has fallen.
Once considered one of the best home teams in college basketball, opponents now welcome a trip to the SIU arena. The SIU Arena is anything but intimidating, with SIU losing six times at home this year.
The swarming Salukis defense no longer exists. It's been replaced by confusion, inconsistency, and embarrassment.
Memo to Coach Chris Lowery, this not acceptable. This a nationally recognized basketball program. This is not Northern Illinois, Western Illinois, or Eastern Illinois. This is Southern Illinois University, and this type of play will not be tolerated.
The talent appears to be there, and these types of seasons wont be tolerated. Rebuilding or retooling is one thing, but collapsing is NOT acceptable.
Get it fixed and bring back the respectability that has somehow disappeared.