The SIU men’s basketball team kicked off the final month of the regular season in grand fashion by sneaking past Evansville Saturday.
After dissecting SIU’s narrow 53-52 victory, coach Chris Lowery said he likes how the rest of the schedule looks on paper.
“We looked at the back end (of our schedule) and knew what was at stake, but we knew that this one was important,” Lowery said. “It gives us a chance to get to 6-8 (in conference), and have some people that are ahead of us drop down to where we are, that’s the key. It’s a marathon.”
SIU (8-16, 5-8 Missouri Valley Conference) sits in a tie for eighth place in the Missouri Valley Conference with five conference games left before the MVC Tournament starts March 1.
The case could be made that SIU has a chance to win four of those games and avoid the play-in round, but the Salukis would have to buck a few trends to do so.
Missouri State (14-11, 7-6 MVC) comes to Carbondale Wednesday, and the Bears ride a five-game winning streak against the Salukis, including a 77-65 win Jan. 10. SIU fell behind by as many as 21 points in that contest, but the Salukis made runs in the second half to pull close before running out of gas in the end.
A game like that at the SIU Arena could turn in the Salukis’ favor.
But after that, SIU goes on the road Feb. 11 to face an Indiana State team they beat 73-67 in Carbondale Jan. 13. The Sycamores are tied with SIU for eighth place in the MVC as of Monday, and sweeping the season series against Indiana State would be important for a couple of reasons.
First, it would help break the gridlock that is the middle of the MVC standings and put SIU in a good position to move up. Second, Indiana State also has a weak schedule ahead of them, and a season sweep would keep some distance between the Salukis and the Sycamores.
The next game against Creighton (21-3, 11-2 MVC) Feb. 14 almost isn’t worth talking about. Even though they lost to Northern Iowa on a last-second three Feb. 4, they’re still easily the best team in the Valley.
This means the Salukis next chance at a win would be on the road against Drake (13-11, 6-7 MVC) Feb. 22, a team the Salukis fell to 75-68 in overtime Jan. 18.
The game will be the last road game for SIU this season, and it couldn’t come sooner as the Salukis are a measly 2-8 on the road, with its only wins coming against Northern Illinois and Bradley.
Because of the bad road record, SIU could enter its final game on a three- or four-game losing streak against Northern Iowa Feb. 25.
The Salukis could’ve won the away game in Cedar Falls, Iowa Jan. 31, if UNI guard Deon Mitchell didn’t go into beast mode in the final minutes to help spark an 8-2 run to make the final score 58-49. This is another example of a game that could swing the Salukis’ way on its home court.
The Salukis stand in a good spot to hop a few teams in the standings of a mediocre league, if they can get over their own mediocrity and win close games on the road.
Joe Ragusa can be heard on “The Saluki Report” every Tuesday at 7 p.m. on WIDB.net The Revolution.