SIU men’s early struggles carry over

By Gus Bode

After the comparably seamless drives to the postseason of years past, this season has been an uphill battle for the SIU men’s basketball team.

The sub-.500 squad has had its share of problems that have fans lighting up Internet chat boards and national media wondering what happened to the team that has made the NCAA tournament the last six seasons.

The members of the team and their opposition have offered several reasons for the slide from the national rankings.


Non-Conference Schedule

To date, SIU has played the fourth-toughest schedule in the nation, according to several RPI ranking Web sites. In the non-conference schedule, the team dropped key home games against several Top-25 teams, including then-No. 15 Indiana and then-No. 16 Butler.

SIU did get its only win over a ranked opponent as it upset then-No. 24 St. Mary’s at home, giving the Gaels one of only two losses on the season so far.

Rival coaches have noted SIU’s rigorous schedule so far this season.

“Most teams in the country who play that schedule are going to be .500 or worse,” Butler coach Brad Stevens said after his team beat SIU on a buzzer-beater by senior guard A.J. Graves. “And it’s not a team that’s going to be .500 long because they’re really good.”


It’s no secret there has been a lack of a consistent scorer with this veteran squad, even though they have the Preseason Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year Randal Falker on their side.


Most expected the senior forward to be the consistent threat for the Salukis but he hasn’t yet provided the offense needed to put them above .500.

With the loss of Jamaal Tatum, who averaged 15.2 points per game, no Saluki has stepped up to put the ball in the bucket on a consistent basis. Falker has seen his slumps, including going scoreless for the first time since 2005 in the Salukis loss to Charlotte on Dec. 8.

Falker has been swarmed by double teams all season long – preventing him from getting the ball in the rim. Scoring was the problem when the Salukis lost to Drake for the first time since 1999 on Jan. 2. Only junior guard Wesley Clemmons managed to score in double-digits.

The Saluki backcourt has also failed to make up for the difference when the Salukis have been stopped on the inside, though junior guard Bryan Mullins has improved his scoring from 6.3 points last year to 10.5 points this season.

ESPN personality Stephen Bardo, who announced the Salukis’ preseason Maroon Madness event, said it has to be up to sophomore Josh Bone and junior guard Wesley Clemmons to step in and knock down important shots when the time comes.

“Those young guys, they just have to step in and assume the responsibility,” Bardo said. “They don’t have to carry the load, but Wesley Clemmons has to step in and hit the jumper when it’s available or he has to drive when it’s available. Bone the same way, he has to step up and knock down a ‘j’ when it’s available.

“They don’t have to recreate anything – they just have to step up into their roles and trust in their teammates.”


One of the most notable statistic changes this season is the number of points the Salukis defense has allowed.

Known for their defense, the Salukis have allowed their opponents to score an average of 61.8 points per game – 5.6 more points than last season, which in many games has been the deciding factor.

SIU can’t seem to fill the void in its defense after the graduation of Tony Young – who was second in steals for the Salukis last season.

Saint Louis coach Rick Majerus, whose team went on a 13-0 run in the final four minutes to defeat the Salukis Dec. 15, said the loss of Young’s aggressiveness has been noticeable on defense.


The Salukis had one of the most successful seasons in Saluki history last season when they won the MVC regular season championship and a sixth-consecutive NCAA Tournament bid. The team finished the season with the highest national ranking in school history, which led to a No. 4 tournament seed.

The resulting national exposure and respect from MVC coaches and media, who unanimously picked the team to finish atop the conference, made a date with SIU this season was a large focus for nearly every opponent.

“We’re SIU. We’re going to have a target on our backs,” Clemmons said in a radio interview after the loss to the Drake.

Sealing the Deal

In most of the Salukis close losses, everything has come unglued when the clock winds down. In addition to the Saint Louis collapse, SIU let Indiana State fight its way into double-overtime in the Salukis 64-62 loss Saturday.

The heartbreaker to Butler is often blamed on Graves’ late 3-pointer, but the Salukis’ 3-for-12 performance at the free-throw line led to the loss of an extra cushion the Salukis needed in the final minutes of the game.

At the mid-point of the season, the Salukis have had a number of difficulties to overcome and will face more as they enter the bulk of tournament play and a push for their seventh-straight NCAA tournament appearance.

Megan Kramper can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 256 or [email protected].