Schedule strength weak, but still no cupcake

Schedule strength weak, but still no cupcake

By Aaron Graff

March means madness in college basketball, but the Salukis only get a small taste of teams that made it that far last season.

SIU men’s basketball only plays two teams that played in the NCAA Division I Basketball Championship last season, and one of the teams plays in the Missouri Valley Conference.

The Salukis lost to Saint Louis 62-59 in the season-opener. The Billikens played as a fifth-seed last season and defeated North Carolina State, before falling to Louisville in the next round 66-51. SIU plays No. 11 Wichita State twice this season. The Shockers were a top-seed last season, but lost to Kentucky in their second game.

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The Salukis played four national tournament teams from the year before, in 2012 and 2013. Granted, Creighton was still an MVC team in 2012.

The Salukis last made the national tournament in 2007, and played five tournament teams the following year.

“We live in the past way too much,” coach Barry Hinson said. “We are not one of the teams in the past. We’re not respected amongst the arena of college basketball right now.”

Hinson said the MVC has a new schedule criterion, in which it is harder to play teams that played in the national tournament. He said conference teams cannot schedule many games against teams with high rating percentage indexes. Since other MVC teams, such as Wichita State, schedule those games first, there are not many quality teams left for SIU.

“They’re trying to make the change for strength of schedule,” Hinson said. “I don’t know. The proof is in the pudding.”

Outgoing athletic director Mario Moccia said the conference made a tougher schedule overall a few years ago, to make sure teams were not hurting their chances of getting at-large bids of the NCAA tournament.

He said this year, the conference has tiered the teams based on the previous success and the makeup of the roster. He said he likes the schedule because the players are young, and he wants them to build confidence.

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“Of course I’d love it when we played ultra-competitive teams,” Moccia said. “We had a Sweet 16 team, and we were an eyelash away of maybe going to the Elite 8.”

Hinson said he is not for or against the criterion yet. He served as Missouri State’s head coach for nine seasons, and said its schedule was always tough.

“I came from the days in the league when we were getting five to six teams from postseason every year,” Hinson said. “We only played, if I’m not mistaken, only three non-D-I’s. One of them was because we had to.”

Saluki junior guard Jalen Pendleton said the current schedule is good for the younger players, but he would like to play more tournament teams. He said conference games tend to be the toughest part of the season.

“We’d love to play tougher teams,” Pendleton said. “Really, we have to get ready for conference.”

Hinson said even though the team is playing schools like Austin Peay and Chicago State, he made the schedule that way. Austin Peay and Chicago State both defeated the Salukis last season.

SIU defeated Austin Peay 71-49 Saturday.

The Salukis play Southeast Missouri at 7:00 p.m., Wednesday in Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Aaron Graff can be reached at [email protected], on Twitter @Aarongraff_DE or 536-3311 ext. 269

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