At 4-1, best start since 2006
After its first five games of the season, the 2012 SIU men’s basketball team has the third best winning percentage in the Missouri Valley Conference and is the 13th best shooting team in the nation.
This is quite the surprising start for a team that finished ninth out of the 10 MVC teams last season and was slated to finish dead last in the conference this season by preseason polls.
In his first season with SIU, coach Barry Hinson has the Salukis (4-1) off to torrid start. His changes to the offensive game have increased the team’s field goal percentage from a dismal 41 percent last year to a now conference third-best 50 percent. The Salukis are also shooting better from beyond the 3-point line, as they have made almost 33 percent of their long range attempts on the young season and average about three 3-pointers per game.
Senior guard Jeff Early has been outstanding for the men’s team this year, as he leads the team in both scoring (18.2) and rebounds (9.0). Before the season started, the guard admitted he was wary of his role under a new coach. After averaging eight points per contest last year, Early is clearly a prime candidate to operate as a hybrid player in Hinson’s system. He speeds past larger post players, which has benefited the Salukis’ transition game. The 6-foot- 1 hybrid has out-rebounded most of his larger opposition as well, as he is tied with junior guard Desmar Jackson with 11 offensive rebounds for most on the team.
Despite his slow start to scoring the ball, Jackson has been a versatile weapon for the SIU squad. The Wyoming transfer has rebounded well for his position as he averages seven boards per game in his first season with the team. He holds the team’s second most steals (8) and 3-point field goals (4). The junior guard made two of four 3-pointers in Wednesday night’s victory against Fresno State and notched buzzer-beating threes at the end of both halves, including the game-winning bucket. Jackson scored 25 points in the Fresno State upset and exhibited the style fans expected from him — a lot of slashing and use of his 6-foot-6 frame to weave around guards in the lane.
Sophomore Dantiel Daniels has provided a much-needed post presence for a Saluki team that is without forwards Chase Heins and Bola Olaniyan. Daniels hasn’t returned to his All-Conference Freshman team form since returning four games ago from a groin injury, but he has contributed to the team’s success. The undersized postman already has the most blocks on the team (5), and he led the conference in blocks last year. At 6-foot-5, Daniels is shooting the highest field goal percentage on the team at 68 percent despite efforts from taller opposing defenders.
Freshman guards, Anthony Beane Jr. and Jalen Pendleton, have played well in some spots but must develop quickly because of the team’s lack of depth. Beane Jr. has scored nine points per game this year but has made only two of his 11 attempted 3-pointers.
Senior guard Kendall Brown-Surles has started every game he’s played this season and has connected the most 3-point buckets on the team (5). Surles leads the team in assists, but he must improve defensively as the Salukis are allowing opposing teams to make four shots per game from beyond the arc.
Collectively, the Saluki offense holds a 12-point scoring margin against competitors, and it averages 70 points per contest. However, ranking 13th in shooting may not be enough to succeed in the MVC as Creighton University is second and Illinois State is 10th. SIU’s defense must improve around the perimeter to win in conference play this season.
The Salukis are an undersized team, and opponents will be able to score in the post against them. If they are to accommodate for their glaring weakness, they simply cannot allow teams to beat them with the 3-ball.