Could we win it all? MBB has a better chance of making the Valley championship this year

By Tamar Mosby, Sports Editor

I’m sure many Saluki fans remember last year’s less than disappointing Arch Madness tournament where Southern lost in the first round of play to UNI, whom they had swept in regular season play.

Last year’s men’s team was predicted to go far in the tournament with a highly talented, veteran-heavy team, but, for many reasons, they were unable to live up to these expectations.

This team was indeed extremely talented, but talent alone cannot win games. The problem with last year’s team dealt with lack of ball movement, team defense and structured plays.

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Because there were immensely talented athletes on the 2018-2019 roster, scoring plays often times circulated around single players and when these players were unable to produce, the team struggled to find ways to the basket.

From what I observed last season, very few plays were run and the ones that existed, lacked structure and purpose. Many times, the players seemed to be on their own sheet of music, scoring randomly. 

While SIU had very tough defenders last season, like Sean Lloyd, the team had no defensive identity and only a handful of players were committed to playing aggressive defense.

I would not say that this year’s team is as individually talented as last year’s, but I do believe that they have all of the proper tools to win the MVC championship.

What they lack in talent, they make up for with strong team dedication to ball movement, play execution, team defense and hustle.

The men’s team this season shares the ball extremely well and most nights, scoring is spread evenly amongst players. They do not solely make plays for or rely on single individuals and this helps them to win games.

The Salukis have recently taken out three Valley contenders in the first half of regular season play and during each night, a different player has led the team in scoring. When one player struggles or is heavily guarded, others are always there to step up and make big shots.

Senior guard Eric McGill led the team in scoring in SIU’s wins against Drake and Loyola, while freshman guard Lance Jones and freshman forward Marcus Domask led the team in it’s wins against UNI and Loyola respectively.

Another observation I’ve had about about this year’s team is the structure and overall effectiveness of the plays they run. Many times when the team is struggling to score, a timeout is called and immediately after the break, they run a seamless play that almost always results in a basket.

This is partially accredited to head coach Bryan Mullins, but it also shows how patient and disciplined this team is when it comes to getting the right look to score.

Defense is another thing that this Saluki team does well as they rank 11th of 353 teams nationally in scoring defense holding their opponents to just 60.3 points per game. 

I have seen this team’s defense in action and it is disciplined, aggressive, quick, and fluid. The team rotates well on help side and screening, it recovers quickly when players are beat off the dribble, and it applies pressure without losing control. 

While this team is far younger than last year’s, they play with far more discipline and far more attention to detail. 

I feel that they have the necessary tools to take them far this season because it has been proven that the teams who play as one on both ends of the floor can potentially win big. 

Take Loyola University Chicago for example. They did not have the most athletic or individually talented team in the 2017-2018 MVC season, but they did have the best team defense, play execution, and ball movement. Those things, in my opinion, carried them all the way to the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four.

This year’s SIU team has proven themselves skilled in each of these areas and I won’t be surprised when they win the championship in St. Louis.

The only thing that I could see hindering the success of this team is their road performance. Southern currently holds a 2-7 on the road, but 10-1 record at home.

Playing in the conference tournament nearly two hours away from the Banterra Center may prove to be tough for the young team, but they have a chance to improve their execution on the road this month.

Sports editor Tamar Mosby can be reached at t[email protected] or on Twitter at @mosbytamar.

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