Southern Illinois Salukis: Young Team Ready to Contend In The MVC

Mike HendersonCorrespondent IIDecember 18, 2009

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 21: Kevin Dillard #1 of the Southern Illinois Salukis dribbles against Jrue Holiday #21 of the UCLA Bruins on November 21, 2008 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

The start to the season has been an inauspicious one for the Southern Illinois Salukis. Two road losses, one to a legitimate tourney contender (UNLV) and one to a rebuilding mid-major (St. Louis) were not offset by the weak home schedule wins. A strength of schedule rating in the 300's tends to question your legitimacy as both a conference contender or NCAA tourney contender.

The logic is fairly easy to understand. The Salukis are young, albeit talented, and wins can help build confidence. Pittsburgh, Syracuse and others did this for years, bulking up nice non-conference records against virtually nobody. Syracuse has been hurt by this in recent years come March.

The Salukis are a longshot to reach the Madness in 2010. They need an impressive win or two in Las Vegas this weekend to have any kind of momentum going into the conference schedule. And they need their coach to show a little faith in some of the talent they have there.

Kevin Dillard is a nice point guard, and only a sophomore. He played many minutes last year and the hope is that by playing a few less minutes per game this year, he could be that much more productive. Anthony Booker is another sophomore and one of the highest players ever to commit to a Missouri Valley team. Foul trouble has hindered his progress but this kid needs to play - a lot. Tony Freeman is the only senior on the squad and was Iowa’s leading scorer before transferring to Southern. Nick Evans has made huge progress, and, yes, is a sophomore. Gene Teague is a bit of a project but provides even more size and is a freshman.

Carlton Fay has not been the shooter he should have been but has been developing different aspects of his offensive game and is an outstanding foul shooter. Justin Bocot and Kendal Brown-Surles provide some back court depth.

Defensive intensity has been the staple of Saluki teams for many years. This year’s edition may not be the same type of team. Coach Chris Lowery has to decide if can let his offensively talented team loose and not try to grind it out every game. Maybe at times in the past this was done out of necessity or maybe it was stubbornness. Whatever the reasons, this team can score and that needs to be recognized and emphasized

This team can compete with Northern Iowa for the Valley Crown. They have talent and decent depth at all positions. The question is, can they win on the road? This weekend’s games, though classified as neutral site, may go a long way in determining the answer to that question.