The sting of the SIU men’s basketball (11-20, 4-14) team’s fourth 20-loss season in school history could heal if the Salukis win in St. Louis at the Missouri Valley Conference’s Arch Madness tournament.
The four-day stretch of games March 5 through 8 will decide the MVC’s champion. Teams such as No. 8 Wichita State (27-3, 17-1) and No. 11 Northern Iowa (27-3, 16-2) are already heading to the NCAA Championship regardless of their finish in Arch Madness.
But for SIU, this is its time to play spoiler and add confidence for the 2015 season.
Missouri State (11-19, 5-13), Drake (9-21, 6-12) and Bradley (8-23, 3-15) are all in the same boat.
Momentum may help the Salukis, as they ended their season well on a 70-64 win against Drake.
SIU left its bad habits behind while featuring something that has been absent throughout the season, an effective offense.
Junior guard Anthony Beane, No. 2 in scoring in the MVC at 16.5 points per game, leads the Salukis into the tournament.
In the last three games, Beane has been on fire, scoring 63 points on 26-of-45 from the field and 8-of-16 from behind the arc.
Sophomore forward Sean O’Brien scored an efficient 6-of-10 from the field for 14 points and corralled 4 rebounds in Saturday’s win.
“That’s the Sean O’Brien all along we thought he could be,” coach Barry Hinson said.
The mood afterwards was positive, considering where Southern Illinois sits in the standings.
That is because Cinderella stories do happen.
Butler, formerly of the Horizon league, made analysts look foolish in 2010.
The No. 5 Bulldogs lost the NCAA Championship against the No. 1 Duke Blue Devils 61-59 after a last-second miss by Gordon Hayward rimmed out.
SIU is not near the level this year of that Butler team, but more surprising things have happened.
In 2012 the Blue Devils lost in the NCAA tournament as a second seed.
It was the sixth time ever a No. 2 seed lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Then in 2013, No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast beat No. 2 Georgetown 78-68. Florida Gulf Coast became the first 15th seed to reach the Sweet 16.
Does this mean SIU should have the same confidence? Maybe. Maybe not. But a team with nothing to lose is a dangerous one.
The Salukis, despite their record, have had some encouraging signs as one of the nation’s youngest teams, and have proven this season to be competitive.
They just have not been able to keep momentum, which results in close losses.
Earlier this season, SIU led 26-23 at halftime against then No. 18 Northern Iowa. But senior forward Seth Tuttle, MVC’s Larry Bird Player of the Year, propelled the Panthers to a 59-52 comeback win.
Can the Dawgs press the reset button on the season, perform like they hope to in St. Louis and possibly join the ranks of Lehigh and Florida Gulf Coast? Only time will tell.
Southern Illinois starts the tournament against Missouri State at 6:05 p.m. at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. If they win, they face No. 1 Wichita State Friday at 12 p.m.
Matt Wells can be reached at [email protected] or at 536-6311 ext. 269.