▪ Here’s what I wrote in October when I filled out my Missouri Valley Conference preseason ballot:
9. Southern Illinois — Not good. Sad to see a strong talent such as Anthony Beane riding this out at the bottom of the MVC.
Wrong. Wrong. Way wrong.
I should have known a coach with Barry Hinson’s track record would figure it out. On Saturday afternoon, the Salukis will play Wichita State in sold-out SIU Arena and CBS Sports Network lucked into a big MVC game.
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“Barry Hinson, we know is a really good good coach,” said Steve Lappas, who will provide analysis on Saturday’s game. “(Anthony) Beane has really stepped up… becoming a Player of the Year candidate in the league. Give Barry a lot of credit.”
Senior guard Anthony Beane is the starting point for explaining SIU’s rise this season. He isn’t doing it alone. Forward Sean O’Brien and guard Tyler Smithpeters were once promising freshmen. Now they are solid juniors with good shooting touches. Junior Bola Olaniyan and Ibby Djimbe are a sturdy combination of rebounding and no-bad-shots at center.
Turnovers are down. Shooting is up. Opponents made 38.1 percent of their threes last season against SIU. This season, it’s 29.5 percent.
“They’re playing much better defensively,” Lappas said. “They’ve got guys with a little more experience. They’ve got some guys really step up who didn’t have as much experience.”
▪ SIU Arena will hold its first sellout (8,284) since 2014 and the 25th in the arena’s 51-year history.
How will the Salukis handle it? Wichita State is used to big crowds jacked up to change history by beating the Shockers. Lappas is interested to see how SIU reacts to the change in atmosphere on its home court.
“They’re playing the standard-bearer in the league,” he said. “They have a home game. They’re going to have a crazy crowd. They have everything to gain and nothing to lose. I think it’s a great opportunity for Southern Illinois. Wichita State, what’s made them so special and so good, they’ve been walking around with the X on their back for a long time and they’ve been able to do well with it.”
▪ I’m guessing Hinson throws all manner of double-teams at WSU’s big men. Coaches hate to see a repeat of past performances and WSU’s Shaq Morris scored 17 points in last season’s win at SIU Arena. He made 7 of 8 shots.
WSU made 58.3 percent of its shots in that 84-62 win, 10 of 19 from three-point range. Hinson’s strategy in that game was dictated by WSU’s Darius Carter scoring 25 points in an earlier meeting.
“We had gotten our butts whipped so bad on the interior by Carter the first time we played them, we tried not to let that happen again,” Hinson said after the game. “We gave up some threes.”
Hinson also dropped this:
“We had to play, literally, a perfect game,” he said. “We don’t have one player on our team that could start for Wichita State.”
Combine Morris’ history with Anton Grady’s effort (17 points) against Evansville on Wednesday and SIU should prioritize WSU’s big men. As Evansville did, it will surely make Evan Wessel and Zach Brown prove they can make shots. If those two are shooting well and if Morris and Grady can read the doubles and pass, the Shockers are off to a good start.
Opponents make 50.7 percent of their two-point shots against SIU and the Salukis don’t block many shots.
▪ The Shockers generally do a good job guarding Beane, who is 24 of 64 (37.5 percent) from the field, 5 for 18 from three-point range in six games and averages 11.8 points.
He scored 25 against WSU in 2014, making 10 of 19 shots, and the construction of that team is similar to this season’s. That team had Desmar Jackson to do a lot of the ball-handling and Beane ran free.
Last season, Beane went 4 for 12 in both meetings, 1 for 9 from three-point range.
“The big thing is, he can do it on his own,” Lappas said. “He doesn’t just need a screen. This is a guy who can take it off the dribble and put it right in your face.”
The Shockers rotated Brown, Markis McDuffie and Ron Baker on Evansville’s D.J. Balentine. I would expect something similar for Beane.
▪ Lappas, a former coach at Villanova, spent a few hours with WSU coach Gregg Marshall for CBS’ “Men of March” special that ran in December and January on CBS Sports Network.
“It was really a great experience,” Lappas said. “I know he’s at a place… Wichita is a place where they take a lot of pride in their program. It’s important to the city and they’ve got the right guy.”
Lappas said he asked Marshall why he turns down schools to remain at WSU.
“He said ‘Because the people here are rabid about basketball, it’s a great place to live, a great place to have a family,’” Lappas said. “He couldn’t be happier.”
When Lappas coached at Manhattan (1988-92), most coaches needed to climb quickly to higher-profile, better-funded schools if they wanted to reach the Final Four. He went to Villanova in 1992 and coached there until 2001 before finishing his coaching career at UMass.
Coaches such as Marshall, Mark Few and Shaka Smart show that high-level NCAA success is possible at more schools.
“I got the opportunity to go to Villanova and it was like a no-brainer, even though I loved Manhattan College,” Lappas said. “All us coaches are crazy about one thing, and that’s getting to Final Fours and winning national titles. You can get to a Final Four from Wichita State. You can get to a Final Four from Gonzaga. It’s not like it was when I first started.”
The movement of players to the NBA early in their careers opens up chances for a team with 23-year-old seniors to beat a power-conference team with freshmen and sophomores.
“You’ve got Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet,” Lappas said. “I’m taking those two guys against any freshmen and sophomores guard in the country in terms of running the game and doing what they need to do to win the game. They can hold their own with anybody in America, because they’re experienced.”
Around the Valley
All 10 schools play today. The 1 p.m.. Illinois State at Indiana State offers the most promise. The Redbirds are 3-0 in the MVC and have won six of seven games. Kenpom.com makes the Sycamores a 70-63 favorite at Hulman Center, which would put the WSU-SIU winner alone in first.
CBS Sports Network (2260 on Cox, 221 on DirectTV, 158 on DISH, 1643 on U-Verse)
Announcers: Andrew Catalon, Steve Lappas & Gary Parrish
On Air: KEYN, 103.7-FM