Saluki men’s basketball team hopes for Cinderella run in Missouri Valley conference tournament


Mallory Aukland | [email protected]

SIU men’s basketball player, Trent Brown, attempts to catch a pass thrown to him by teammate during the game against Indiana State Jan. 19, 2022 at the Banterra Center in Carbondale, Ill.

Southern Illinois will travel from Carbondale to St. Louis on Friday, March 4 to compete for a shot in the NCAA tournament. The tournament, nicknamed “Arch Madness” (a play on words from “March Madness” due to St. Louis’ historical landmark, The Gateway Arch), will give the Dawgs its first shot at a conference title since 2007.

The Salukis, currently seeded sixth, would need to win three straight games in the Enterprise Center against (presumably) higher-ranked opponents to bring home the conference championship.

“We’ve played some high-level basketball over the past couple weeks. I told the team, ‘we’re not there yet,’ [and] ‘we’ve still gotta improve over this next week to get to where we need to get to before St. Louis,’” Saluki Basketball Coach Bryan Mullins said.


Junior guard Steven Verplancken said everything the team has done this season has all led up to this tournament in St.Louis.

“This four-game winning streak we had is really coming at the perfect time. But we know we haven’t peaked yet, so that’s the good part,” Verplancken said.

The Salukis played their last home game against seventh-seeded Illinois State where they routed the Redbirds 90-69. Senior forward Ben Coupet Jr. said the team showed its versatility in the win on Wednesday night.

“When we go out there and put five guards out on the court we can do it all. We can shoot, switch off the ball, rebound and then push the ball up the floor,” Coupet said, “When the other team has a big in the game we try to play faster.”

Mullins said he was incredibly proud of the way his players had competed on senior night.

“They came out ready to play. They were excited to come and play for the seniors to be back at home one last time and play in front of this community and the Dawg pound,” Mullins said, “Overall, they came out the right way and shot the ball extremely well.”

To go along with the sweet taste of a victory on senior night, this was SIU’s fourth straight win.


“I think the momentum we have right now is huge. Everyone is confident, but we’re not satisfied. We still have lots of ways to get better,” Verplancken said.

Coupet said he feels SIU is playing its best basketball right now.

“We’re headed in the right direction right now. If we play our best basketball on Saturday, we can prove we can beat anyone in this conference,” Coupet said.

Unfortunately for Southern Illinois, their four-game win streak came to an end at the hands of Drake, after junior forward Marcus Domask missed a bucket to tie.

The Salukis are set to play the third-seeded Drake in the first round of the tournament on Friday. SIU is currently 0-2 against the Bulldogs, but Mullins said he thinks this is the time they turn it around.

“We have to execute. Our guys are excited, it’ll be a great challenge,” he said.

Verplancken said the week-long break the Salukis have will help get the players’ minds and bodies right.

COVID rescheduling forced SIU to play multiple games a week in early-mid January.

“When we went through that stretch that was definitely really tough on our bodies,” Verplancken said, “When you get that week before the tournament, it gives you the time to prepare mentally, physically, feel sharp and feel good about your game.”

Mullins said the Salukis are lucky they have multiple high-level scorers in Coupet, Domask and junior guard Lance Jones.

“I think those three guys have done a great job these last couple weeks just playing in rhythm, being decisive, playing with poise,” Mullins said.

However, SIU still has areas to improve. The Saluki guards have been working on their post defense in the practices before the playoffs, Coupet said.

“We do a lot of work on that because we go to that small mineup so much. We need to be able to switch on the bigs and we need to protect the paint,” he said.

If the Salukis manage to play to their fullest capabilities, there’s a chance SIU could be the new “Cinderella” team in the Big Dance.

“You always dream of it as a little kid, so it would definitely be a dream come true,” Verplancken said, “That’s what we’re focused on and all we talk about is March.”

However, Mullins said it’s important to keep their eyes on the prize and take it one game at a time. If you start looking ahead, he said, that’s when other teams can sneak up on you.

“We talk to the guys about every single game, the next game’s the biggest game. Not looking forward. For me, preparation wise, I don’t ever watch another team until after the game’s over,” Mullins said.

It’s safe to say both the coaches and the players are determined to put their best foot forward come March.

“Whenever we play on Friday, we’ll be ready. That’s for sure,” Mullins said.

Sports Reporter Cole Daily can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at cdaily_de. To stay up to date on all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter