Daily Egyptian

Salukis trying to gain crucial momentum before postseason

By Sean Carley, @SCarleyDE

SIU men’s basketball ended its four-game losing streak Wednesday, but the toughest part of the schedule has just begun.

After breaking the losing streak, the Salukis are feeling the struggles of what coach Hinson calls “the dog days of college basketball.” SIU sits in fourth place in the Missouri Valley Conference after beating Indiana State, but are still in danger of falling out of the top six. The top-six teams get a first-round bye in the MVC tournament, while the bottom four would have to win four games in four days to secure a birth in the NCAA Tournament.

“Everybody is going through what we’re going through right now,” Hinson said. “This is very typical of February.”

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The Salukis aren’t the only ones feeling the pressure, as AP top-25 ranked teams have lost a total of 23 games already in the month of February, as of 9:30 p.m. Wednesday. No. 25 Wichita State lost its first conference game of the season to Illinois State on Saturday shortly after gaining a ranking.

While no team wants to go on a losing streak, Hinson said if one has to happen, now is the time.

“Some teams don’t go into it until right before the postseason tournament,” he said. “Like I said in the press conference [after losing to Loyola], this is one of the best things that we’re going through it now.”

Hinson said fans also don’t want the team to play in that first round.

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“When I first got here, I ran into an elderly woman at one of the caravans, and she said ‘Coach, I just have one favor to ask of you … can you not play in that play-in game?’,” he said. “It really weighs heavy on our fans. I don’t anticipate that we’ll play the play-in games, but if we keep losing then we will.”

Senior guard Anthony Beane understands the importance of staying out of the Thursday night play-in games.

Last season, the Salukis finished ninth in the MVC and had to play at 6 p.m. Thursday. They won, then had to turn around and play just 18 hours later at noon the next day against No. 1 seed Wichita State.

“You really don’t have it in your legs the next day,” Beane said. “With that extra day, you can get your rest and focus.”

Since the MVC tournament expanded in 1997 to include all 10 teams, one team — Bradley in 1998 — has played in a Thursday game and made it to the semi-finals. No team seeded in the bottom four has made the finals or won the tournament.

If the Salukis are able to get back to their winning ways, the momentum could carry over to success in the MVC tournament.

“We should just go out and win every game we have left,” junior guard Tyler Smithpeters said. “I think every one of them is a must-win for us.”

Momentum has carried over nicely for the Salukis in the past. Smithpeters mentioned his freshman year when the Dawgs won three of their last four conference games and were just three points away from defeating Indiana State to advance to the championship game.

Even with the recent struggles, the team feels confident of its chances moving forward into the tournament.

“We feel we’re one of the top teams in the Valley,” Beane said. “With us going in and having that momentum, anything can happen and that’s what we want.” 

Sean Carley can be reached at [email protected] or at 618-536-3307.

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