Finding a top dog
Southern Illinois athletic director Mario Moccia started with roughly 800 coaching biographies, narrowed that list quickly to 64 candidates and interviewed 10 last year in search of a new basketball coach.
He considered hiring the next rising star. He chose to go a more familiar and comfortable route with Barry Hinson.
Moccia watched former coach Chris Lowery take SIU to the Sweet 16 in 2007. Then he watched the program collapse. He knew both sides, and he knew the program needed and deserved a veteran with a history of winning. Even better, he knew the program deserved a coach who beat the best SIU teams regularly.
Hinson won 10 games against the Salukis from 1999-2008 as coach at Missouri State, more than any other MVC program. The recommendation from Kansas coach Bill Self, who hired as Hinson as director of operations, carried weight. So did the circumstances of Hinson’s firing at Missouri State. Moccia knew he would hire a man motivated by that pain.
“We only lost 40 conference games (in that time),” Moccia said. “Twenty-five percent of our losses came against Barry Hinson. That was something that really stuck out in my mind.”
Moccia told Hinson the program needed a lot of work. Bad grades and bad attitudes infested the roster. And, Moccia said, thing were even worse than they thought. He believed Hinson’s experience would help repair that damage.
“I knew he had the maturity of an older coach to say, even when things are bad, let’s not start jumping ship, let’s take a deep breath and assess it,” Moccia said.
Hinson’s deep breaths usually precede a storm of words. He isn’t afraid to let fans know how bad things are with the Salukis, on and off court. Daunting as those issues are, Hinson also knows SIU ruled the Valley not too long ago with six NCAA Tournament appearances from 2002-07.
While his need to rebuild the roster is pressing, SIU offers many advantages other rebuilds do not. There is a recent history of significant success. Winning — and maintaining success with resources and emphasis — is not new. SIU Arena is renovated and stands up to any venue in the MVC. SIU’s location, close to St. Louis and Chicago, didn’t change.
He said his job really starts next season, when he estimates at least 80 percent of his roster will be new.
“We’re six years removed from a Sweet 16, six years removed from all the NCAA Tournaments,” Hinson said. “We all knew what we were getting into.”
Tuesday’s 64-62 win over Wichita State makes it a lot easier to feel good about Saluki basketball. If Moccia’s hiring instincts prove correct, he may look back on that win as a landmark. Hinson’s up-beat personality and willingness to fire up fans is already paying off.
“My gut tells me that (fans) see better days on the horizon, just because Barry’s done a real good job of being upfront with them and being visible in the community,” Moccia said.
Fast breaks• Northern Iowa is showing how senior leadership can get a team through tough times. The Panthers, who start three seniors, started MVC play with an embarrassing 66-41 loss at Wichita State and slumped to 2-4. Since then, the Panthers are 4-2, with both losses on the road, one in overtime and one in the final seconds. They held WSU to a season-low 52 points on Saturday in a five-point and beat Missouri State 48-37 on Tuesday. “Everybody is going to lose a close game, or a couple of close games, in league play,” UNI coach Ben Jacobson said. “I give our guys credit for passing that test, because that can drag you down.”
• Improved defense is also helping Illinois State turn its season around after an 0-6 start to MVC play. The Redbirds gave up 70 or more points in five of those six losses. Since then, once entering Wednesday’s game against Drake. “It starts with defense,” coach Dan Muller said. “We’ve played harder. It’s not really rocket science.”
• Creighton sophomore Austin Chatman can get overlooked on a team with junior Doug McDermott and senior starters Grant Gibbs and Gregory Echenique. It is hard to overlook him when he scores 14 points and hands out 10 assists, as he did in last week’s win over Missouri State. “He is really taking over our program from the point-guard position,” coach Greg McDermott said. “Austin understands where the ball needs to go. He can make them pay with his jump shot.”
In their own words
“I told our team, I’m not scared of them. I’m scared of us. We haven’t really played anybody where I just come out on the floor and think, oh my gosh, we don’t have a chance at all,” Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson after Tuesday’s win over Wichita State
One to watch
Northern Iowa at Bradley, 2 p.m. Sunday — The Braves are 5-1 in MVC home games. Northern Iowa routed them 84-53 last month by making 15 of 26 three-pointers.