Saluki basketball prepares for winter break

By Tyler Davis

As the activity in the classroom comes to a frenzied finish, action on the basketball court approaches a season high.

The Salukis will play 20 games between the men’s and women’s teams during winter break, meaning the players will remain on campus for practice, rather than go home.

Without classes in session, the Salukis will practice twice a day for most of winter break in preparation for their final non-conference games and the start of Missouri Valley Conference play.

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Men’s coach Barry Hinson, whose team lost a buzzer-beater against Southeast Missouri on Wednesday, said playing during finals can be difficult since players get less sleep because of intense studying. He said it negatively affects performance on the court for all teams.

“Most upsets in college basketball will be the games right after finals,” Hinson said. “The smart teams play the guys that aren’t very good during break.”

He said SIU does not have this luxury, as it will play six MVC opponents before classes resume Jan. 20.

Finals may not be the best time to play games, but Hinson said his teams usually grow the most during break. He said this year, he would like to see his team improve defensively with the extra practices.

Dan Muller, coach of Illinois State’s men’s basketball team, said his team also gets better during the break.

“You’re not limited with time or studying, so you have longer to watch more film,” he said.

Muller, whose team begins conference play against Indiana State on New Year’s Eve, said his players will go home for about three days near Christmas.

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Hinson said he will allow his players to go home too. He said players cannot go home on Thanksgiving break, so he allows them to spend a few days of winter break with their families.

SIU’s women will also get a week off to go home and celebrate the holiday season with their families.

Sophomore point guard Rishonda Napier, who is from Burbank, Calif., said she was looking forward to returning home.

“I’m so excited to go home for Christmas break, I get to see my family again,” Napier said. “Hopefully we can do a good job in New Orleans, so the holidays will be that much sweeter.”

The women play at the New Orleans Shootout Dec. 19 and 20.

No classes means more downtime for players, and more opportunity for unproductive activity.

Napier said she does not expect herself or her teammates to get into trouble during break.

“The winter time is when the team becomes the closest,” Napier said. “We just go over to someone’s house and we hang out. I think we’ll be in [the gym] more often.”

Junior center Dyana Pierre echoed Napier’s confidence in the team’s off-court decision making.

“We all know right from wrong,” Pierre said. “We know we have to keep our bodies in shape and get rest.”

Indiana State’s men’s coach Greg Lansing knows about positive behavior when not having classes. He played from 1986 to 1990 at South Dakota before taking the helm at Indiana State in 2010.

Lansing said he relished his intersession breaks as a player. He said he felt as if he was a professional basketball player because he did not have class or tests.

“You don’t have to go to class, you just practice, you just play,” Lansing said. “It’s just basketball [and] hanging around with your buddies, so I always thought it was the best time of year.”

He said one drawback of the winter break is the lack of activity on campus. Lansing said with less students in Terre Haute, Ind., there are usually less fans at the Hulman Center, where Indiana State plays its home games.

Muller said freshmen sometimes struggle with the lack of people on campus in Bloomington, because it can cause restlessness. He said the traveling and time away from families is tough for first-year players, but it is a part of the privilege of playing college basketball.

“You don’t get Thanksgiving break, you don’t get Christmas break and hopefully you don’t get spring break because you’re playing in postseason,” he said. “So you’ve got to help the freshmen some, but the returners, the older guys, it’s just normal life.”

The SIU men begin conference play Dec. 31 against Missouri State (4-3). The team will play seven of its 10 games at home during the intersession. That stretch includes another home game Jan. 10 against Lansing and the Sycamores (3-5), and away contests Jan. 3 at Bradley (3-6), Jan. 7 at Northern Iowa (8-0) and Jan. 14 at Wichita State (6-1).

The Salukis’ women will play Oregon State (7-0) and Toledo (4-3) at the New Orleans Shootout.

The Beavers’ women are ranked No. 15 in the Associated Press rankings and are outscoring opponents by an average of 26 points a game.

The women start conference play on Jan. 4 at Illinois State (0-7). SIU then plays Jan. 9 at Northern Iowa (1-6). The Salukis return Jan. 16 to face Indiana State (7-1) at SIU Arena.

Thomas Donley can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @tdonleyde.

Tyler Davis can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @TDavis_DE.

Brent Meske can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @brentmeskeDE.

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