Salukis can smell a conference basketball championship
The Southern Illinois University (SIU) men’s basketball team has been waiting 11 years to say the words for real.
“Every day before practice, we say, 'valley champs,'" Director of Operations John Clancy told the South West Illinois News. “That’s not just words, and our guys are really working toward that. This program has a great history, and it’s time for us to make that jump. We really feel we have the team, personnel and the system to win the conference.”
SIU finished last year with a 17-16 overall record and a 9-9 record in the Missouri Valley Conference. The Salukis were knocked out of the MVC tournament by Illinois State University in March.
The Salukis are predicted to finish in fifth place in the MVC this year, but Clancy said he expects the team shock some people.
“I was a little surprised at where we are ranked going into the season,” Clancy said. “But I think it’s given our guys a bit of ammunition at being an overlooked team. This is an experienced team, and we have talented guys. We are going to try to surprise some people and win the Missouri Valley Conference.”
SIU will have an experienced lineup, with only one freshman. Thik Bol and Sean Lloyd Jr. also are expected to give the team a boost after not playing last year.
“I think a lot of people forget that we had a real quality guard in Marcus Bartley, who sat out last year, and on top of that, Tyler Smithpeters was out with a medical redshirt,” Clancy said. “Bartley is a guy who I think can really take the conference by storm this year. Adding them into a rotation with the veterans we have really gives us a good nucleus of guys.”
Clancy said one area of focus going into the season is a new defense.
“In the past, we’ve had smaller guards, which required us to get up and press more,” he said. “Now we have some more length in all of our positions, and I think you’re going to see us in passing lines being smarter. We scrimmaged Oklahoma State last year and really defended them well, and they’re a Big 12 team.
"We feel that gives us confidence going forward. If we did that well against a Big 12 school, we think we can do great in conference play."
The Salukis open against Winthrop University and will play their first home game on Nov. 18 against the University of Illinois-Springfield. Some key games include a Nov. 21 matchup against the University of Louisville, a late December game against the University of Northern Iowa and a game against the University of Nevada, which will be nationally broadcast on Fox Sports 1.