Barry Hinson sees only the good in every Missouri Valley Conference school. Maybe that’s not going far enough. He sees the great in every MVC school, sees their arenas packed and their players as deserving of more respect, and why in the world would Creighton consider leaving this group to play Seton Hall?
That is how Hinson sees the MVC, and for good reason. He is perhaps the nation’s most upbeat, homespun, say-what-you-feel coach and the Valley is the place he feels at home. He started coaching in the conference in 1999-2000 at Missouri State and saw almost every school hit a high point over the next nine years. After four seasons away, he is back as coach at Southern Illinois and absence made his Valley-of-Death-loving heart beat louder and prouder.
“You just fall in love with the passion of this conference,” he said. “We are a basketball conference, we always have been, and I don’t think we get enough credit. You’re sitting here with one of the best conferences in the nation, rest assuredly the best mid-major conference in the country.”
Hinson helped build that reputation in his nine seasons at Missouri State, where he went to four NITs and finished fourth or better in the MVC five times. He spent the past four years as director of basketball operations at Kansas for old friend Bill Self. Now he is trying to rebuild one of the MVC’s proudest programs. SIU (7-7, 0-3 MVC) plays No. 23 Wichita State (14-1, 3-0) on Wednesday at Koch Arena.
WSU coach Gregg Marshall, then at Winthrop, got to know Hinson after playing Missouri State in a 2007 BracketBusters game. The friendship continued while Hinson worked at KU and Marshall is pleased to see him back in the MVC.
“It saves the conference office some money,” Marshall said. “We don’t have to pay for a public-relations firm to tout the many virtues of that league. Barry spearheads that effort and he does a wonderful job with it. How can you not pull for that guy?”
This season won’t be easy for the Salukis. Without injured center Dantiel Daniels, they play one person taller than 6-foot-5. They are on an eight-game conference losing streak dating to last season, largely because of a porous defense.
“We just get worn down and we’re not mentally strong enough,” Hinson said. “We understand our deficiencies, which include suspensions, injuries and lack depth. We know them and there’s nothing we can do about them. The only thing we can do is approach every day and try to get better.”
SIU’s struggles don’t keep Hinson from leading the MVC in colorful comments, just as he did during his time at Missouri State.
• He led off the MVC’s preseason conference call with reporters by criticizing the Valley and his fellow coaches for ditching media day in St. Louis. “I hope we can make this even more impersonal next year and maybe we can just Tweet it,” he said. “We’ve got Creighton, which is ranked in the top 20. You’ve got one of the best players of the year in (Doug) McDermott, and chance for him to be player of the year and nobody’s going to know about it, basically, except our local institutions because we’re too lazy to come to St. Louis.”
• In December, he riffed on the possibility of a school leaving the MVC, soon after rumors of Creighton joining the seven Big East breakaway schools started. “What a great day to be a member of the second-oldest conference out there,” he said. “What a great day to be a part of the Missouri Valley. Doggone it. What do you want? You want to play in a basketball league. I don’t know what more you could ask for.”
Hinson said he passed on four jobs while at Kansas. SIU made sense. He loves Carbondale, which reminds him of growing up in a small town in Oklahoma. He witnessed the potential at SIU — it went to the NCAA Tournament six times from 2002 to 2007. Missouri State fired him after the 2008 season because he failed to get to the NCAA Tournament. In 2006, the selection committee ditched the Bears despite a No. 21 ranking in the RPI. In 2007, No. 36 wasn’t good enough.
And he gets to visit all his favorite MVC cities. He says a trip to Koch Arena (“sold out since Naismith was born”) should be on the bucket list for college basketball fans with Allen Fieldhouse and Cameron Indoor Stadium. He remembers the noise at Indiana State’s Hulman Center when Royce Waltman coached. He remembers when SIU beat Indiana at SIU Arena. He loves going to Bradley’s Carver Arena, where “it may not be sold out, but they’ve been drinking beer two hours before the game and it’s the most entertaining crowd you’d every want to see.”
"Oh yeah, he loved coaching in the Valley,” Self said. “Now understand this, it wouldn’t matter where Barry is, he is going to be outspoken about whatever he is doing. The dude does love to talk. But I think the Valley is really a perfect marriage for him.”