Young Salukis talented but untested

By Tyler Davis

In coach Barry Hinson’s third season, he finally has a team of players he recruited and fit his style of coaching. It has given him a lot of measured optimism after two wins to open the season.

SIU men’s basketball is preparing for its first game against a Division I opponent after it thrashed a couple teams in lower divisions. The team manhandled the University of St. Mary, which plays in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, by nearly 40 points to open the exhibition season. Then the Salukis smothered Division II Southwest Baptist University 79-63 on Nov. 1.

Hinson has played his freshmen extensively through the first two games. Freshman guard Deion Lavender started against SW Baptist and played 27 minutes—the second most on the team.

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SIU has six freshmen and three sophomores and only four upperclassmen, which makes them the youngest team in the Missouri Valley Conference. Some underclassmen have received starters’ minutes and all have appeared in both games, giving the youngsters experience.

That experience against easier competition will help against perennial NCAA-tournament contender, St. Louis University. The Billikens have made the big dance each of the last three seasons. With eight freshmen, they also boast a young squad; 13 of their 17 players are underclassmen.

The big question, as Hinson said on media day, will be the maturity of his players. In the limited time they’ve been together, the SIU freshmen have made good passes, been engaged on defense and taken good shots, especially forward Jordan Caroline.

Fellow freshman Chaz Glotta has shown an ability to make three-pointers but also a propensity to take some ill-advised shots. Hinson said he loves Glotta’s confidence, but shot selection is going to be important for the guard. He leads the team with 14 three-point attempts.

“[I’m concerned about] his shot selection, yes. But his shot, no,” Hinson said. “He can shoot, but his selection is not real good right now.”

It’s not just Glotta who will have some problems with taking bad shots. Hinson has said at nearly every news conference this season that inexperience will be an issue for the team as the competition level heightens.

“I think there are just going to be times that we’re so immature, that it’s just going to drive us nuts,” said Hinson on Nov. 8. “But we’re going to learn from our mistakes. I thought we learned from our mistakes the first game.”

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Hinson was referring to mistakes on defense and not boxing out opposing rebounders. Both St. Mary and SW Baptist had more than 10 offensive rebounds though their players were shorter than SIU’s. Hinson called those statistics unacceptable, and he’s right. If the Salukis can hardly outrebound Division-II teams, imagine how well SLU, Northern Iowa or Wichita State might fair on the glass.

Saturday’s matchup against SLU will be the first big test these Saluki pups will face. The Billikens have four players 6-foot-8 or taller, which is one more than SIU has.

Not only will SIU be facing a taller team, it will be facing a winning team and a team that has three postseason victories in the last three years. A Saluki win could go a long way toward building team chemistry and team confidence.

With a team so young, early success will be important, but patience will be needed as well. Hinson has not placed high expectations on the team, as far as wins and losses, and neither should fans and the media. This season will be a learning process for a group of young, talented ballplayers led by a potential MVC Player of the Year in junior guard Anthony Beane.

Effort will not be questioned. Fans can see it during games, these players don’t take a play off, which is different from past seasons.

Talent will not be questioned. Hinson has raved about the athleticism and potential of his players.

The question will be whether these Salukis can show up every night and play their best basketball, especially when the competition ratchets up a notch.

Barring two upsets and a playoff appearance, the football team’s season is coming to a close, so Saluki fans should be excited about the upcoming basketball season. It’s the tallest, most talented team I have seen in my three years at the school, but I will be sure to keep my expectations measured.

Saturday will be a good indication of just how measured those expectations should be.

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