As in years past, Salukis will likely call on freshmen

By Gus Bode

For the past four seasons, the SIU men’s basketball team has done its job, jabbing foes left and right to claim the regular season Missouri Valley Conference each year.

The problem is that the Salukis haven’t seen the fruits of their labor in the form of an MVC Tournament championship during the span.

The explanation isn’t that the Salukis don’t want it. Rather, tournament games usually serve as the Salukis’ opponents’ last chance to make it to the postseason. The last four seasons, the Salukis have been in good shape for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Junior guard Jamaal Tatum said their opponents usually aren’t.


“I think we come out prepared all the time,” Tatum said. “But maybe the other team comes out with just a little more fire in their bellies because they know it’s their last chance to get to the tournament.”

Such was the case last year. After beating former Southwest Missouri State twice, SIU was upset by the Bears in the semifinals of the conference tournament.

Tatum said that defeating an opponent twice is tough enough. To beat that same team a third time equates to a huge leap on the difficulty level. As the relativity between two teams increases, the gap separating the two can shrink.

“Sometimes, winning three games against one team in a single season is really, really tough,” Tatum said. “They come out prepared more than the first time we played them. And our defensive pressure got to them. But by the third time we play them, they’re used to it.”

Second-year head coach Chris Lowery said his team is equipped better for the long run than a short sprint. He said the Salukis haven’t played as well in the MVC tournament as they have during the regular season.

“A lot of people who win the league – if you look across – never win their conference tournament,” Lowery said. “That just goes across the whole board. Most people think the long haul, having your team grind out tough wins over a long period of time, is more important.”

With the conference tournament setup, it doesn’t always favor the best team. Just because the Salukis have proved themselves to be a staunch team in conference play, doesn’t mean they are best suited for a conference tournament title.


Sometimes, it’s the team with the least amount of injuries or the greatest amount of momentum.

“When you look at all the big time conferences across the country, very rarely does the No. 1 team win it just because it’s so hard,” Lowery said. “It’s hard to win three games in three days. You have to come back and prepare and prepare and prepare.”

No matter how much preparation is planted, no team can confide in the result. SIU has found that out the hard way the past four years. The code the Salukis haven’t cracked, though, is finding the reason they can’t obtain the elusive MVC Tournament Championship.

The only possible explanation may be that when it comes tournament time, the regular season isn’t always indicative of what a team can accomplish during a three-game span.

“There’s a lot of good teams in the Valley,” Tatum said. “Everyone’s going to

come out every night to compete and challenge the other team. Anyone can win on a given night … it is strange though that we can never pull it out.”

Reporter Jordan Wilson can be reached at [email protected]