Why Are the Salukis So Good?
(St. Louis, MO) – Southern Illinois was picked to finish ninth in the Missouri Valley Conference pre-season poll. Surprise! The Salukis are 15-3 and 4-1 in Valley play. They are dramatically better than anyone had a reason to expect.
Yes, they have all-conference guard Anthony Beane, but he was part of that that 12-21 team last year. SIU was 2-12 on the road in 2014-15 and are 6-0 away from SIU Arena this year.
What is so different for this edition of the Egyptian Dawgs?
The offseason was brutal for Head Coach Barry Hinson. Leaving the program were leading rebounder Jordan Caroline, Deon Lavender, K.C. Goodwin and Chaz Glotta. Hinson was forced into some late recruiting and once he assembled his squad the fourth year coach decided he had to work the team harder than ever, to truly determine who really wanted to be a part of the team.
The recruiting was spot on, and the hard work paid off.
Guards Mike Rodriguez and Leo Vincent transferred in and have paid huge dividends. Rodriguez has taken over the point guard duties, secured the basketball and allowed Beane to return to his more natural shooting guard position.
For Beane, the results have been significant. He’s averaging almost four more points per game over last season and has made 45 three-pointers after making 48 all of last year. His accuracy from long distance has leapt from .333 to .429.
Rodriguez averages just under 10 points and four assists per game and his assist-turnover ratio is 2.1 leading the Salukis to the MVC’s second best +2.3 turn over margin.
Vincent, who scored a career high 24 points in Tuesday’s win over Illinois State and his been productive filling in at both guard spots. He’s averaging 8.6 points per game and has drilled 23 long distance shots.
But it isn’t all about the newcomers.
Holdovers Tyler Smithpeters, Sean O’Brien and Bola Olaniyan have stepped up their games. Those three juniors are significantly better this season
Olaniyan is scoring at about the same clip as his sophomore season, but has almost doubled his rebounding numbers from 4.5 to 8.4 per game. Sean O’Brien has added over five points per game to his scoring average (7.4 to 12.6) and is grabbing 6.3 rebounds per game.
Smithpeters has leapt into a key place in Hinson’s rotation. His numbers dwarf those of last season. He’s made more three point baskets (30 to 25) and is shooting at a higher percentage from the field and from the free throw line.
Prior to Tuesday’s game with Illinois State, Redbird Head Coach Dan Muller said it’s hard to say if the Saluki improvement is more about the newcomers or the improved returners.
The hard work is noticeable. Hinson’s players are bigger and stronger than a year ago. They are visibly more athletic and it pays off in tight games and in some of those ‘wars in the paint’. Their increased quickness has shown up in better defense. They are the second best Valley team in 3-point defense and in steals.
The hard work in the off season has paid off in ‘come-from-behind’ games. SIU has turned the comeback trick NINE times this season.
Momentum and confidence are illusive qualities. The Salukis won their first five games. Two of them were by three or less points and a third was achieved in overtime. That has been a proven quality from ‘Hinson’s Hounds’.
Tuesday’s 81-78 victory was SIU’s sixth win in eight games decided by five or fewer points and was their ninth come-from-behind win.
Hinson and his team have taken the approach of wanting to prove people wrong. That ninth place prediction does not sit well with someone as competitive as a man with over 200 wins as the head coach of Missouri Valley teams.
Beane is brilliant. The pieces have come together and the Salukis are learning how to win.