SIU enters final week in fragile state
Southern Illinois is 1-4 against the three teams ahead of it in the standings. While everybody could use a winning week to boost their confidence and seeding at the MVC Tournament, the Salukis need it more than any team in the top half.
Since a Jan. 12 win over Illinois State, SIU hasn’t defeated a team with a winning record in a 6-5 stretch. It is 0-2 against Wichita State and Evansville. A collapse at home in an overtime loss to Evansville started a four-game slide. On Saturday, the Aces led by as many as 23 points in the second half on its way to a 83-71 victory over SIU.
Salukis coach Barry Hinson said his team wet its britches.
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That lack of gumption makes him hesitant to mention seedings this week as a motivational tool.
SIU (21-8, 10-6 MVC) plays at Illinois State on Wednesday in the week’s first pivotal game. Fourth-place SIU trails Illinois State (17-12, 11-5) and Evansville (23-7, 12-5) and needs to win to stay in the race for second and third. The Redbirds need to win because they finish the season at Wichita State.
“We talked a little bit about (seedings) before Evansville and it didn’t go over well with our guys,” Hinson said. “We were a little frozen. Actually, we were scared. We played scared. It will be interesting to see how we approach this game.”
SIU’s improvement from last season’s 12-21 record is one of the MVC’s best stories. The story gets better if the Salukis roll into St. Louis with momentum and help fill seats in Scottrade Center.
Evansville won the Missouri Valley Conference title in 1999 and hasn’t finished better than a tie for third since. Illinois State finished third four times in the past seven seasons.
So finishing second should mean something to these teams.
Wichita State is the only school that knows its seed — No. 1 and playing at noon on March 4 in St. Louis.
Illinois State faces the toughest week, coming off a loss and facing SIU before traveling to Wichita State on Saturday. Second and third matter because everybody wants to be in the opposite bracket from the Shockers to delay a possible meeting until the tournament title game.
“We have not talked about seeding yet and I don’t plan on talking about it before this game,” Illinois State coach Dan Muller said. “We have talked about how important senior night is. I still remember, as a player, my senior night and I remember other people’s senior nights. That’s a tough one to manage, with the emotions.”
The Redbirds and Salukis could fall as far as fifth with an 0-2 week. SIU plays Missouri State at SIU Arena on Saturday.
Northern Iowa is the team with the most to lose or gain. The Panthers, who have won 7 of 8 games, can finish second or as low as eighth after games against Indiana State and at Evansville.
▪ Wichita State senior Ron Baker is the lone active NCAA Division I player with 1,500 career points, 70 blocks and an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.5. In the past 20 seasons, six other players meet those standards, including former Michigan State star Draymond Green (2008-12) and former SIU star Darren Brooks (2001-05).
▪ Illinois State’s DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell played nine minutes in a loss at Northern Iowa because of a migraine headache.
“It’s something I’ve worried about a little bit for the last two weeks,” Muller said. “It’s no fun. You can tell he’s in pain, at times. He hasn’t used that as an excuse, he hasn’t brought that up, but I do know it’s affected him.”
On Sunday, Redbirds freshman forward Roland Griffin left the team for undisclosed medical reasons, the school said in a news release. Griffin served a two-week suspension for a violation of team rules earlier this season. A toe injury also sidelined him for most of MVC play. He started four games and appeared in 16.
▪ Since Jan. 1, WSU has held opponents to 56.9 points and 32.1-percent shooting in road games, best in the nation. It is also first in all games, holding opponents to 56.6 points and 35.9-percent shooting.
Evansville guard D.J Balentine played all 80 minutes in last week’s wins over Drake and Southern Illinois and averaged 26.5 points and 6.5 assists. The Aces have won four in a row after Tuesday’s 67-55 win at Bradley.
Drake is 1-15 in the MVC after Saturday’s 73-70 loss at Bradley. Losing to Bradley’s roster of 10 freshmen is a bad sign for the Bulldogs. Even in a patient rebuilding, they should be farther along in coach Ray Giacoletti’s third season.
Get to know an MVC neighbor
Q: How many current MVC members own a winning record in the conference tournament?
A: Three — Illinois State (40-30), Missouri State (28-26) and Southern Illinois (34-31). WSU is 31-33.
One to watch
Southern Illinois (21-8, 10-6) at Illinois State (17-12, 11-5), 6 p.m. Wednesday (FSKC) — The Redbirds held SIU guard Anthony Beane to 5-of-18 shooting in a 81-78 loss in January at SIU Arena. Four teammates stepped up to score in double figures with Leo Vincent coming off the bench to make 6 of 7 three-pointers and score 24 points.