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Southern Illinois is starting over with a familiar name on the sideline

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The Missouri Valley could be a wide open league in the next few years and the Salukis are trying to take advantage.

Kentucky v Missouri Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

With Missouri releasing their season non-conference schedule, we’re taking a brief look at each of their opponents. You can catch up with the previous posts in the series here:

Familiarity is a term which comes to mind for me when you mention the basketball program at Southern Illinois at Carbondale. Over the years, the program has sort of dropped the Carbondale part of its name, now simply going by Southern Illinois.

The Salukis are long-time members of the Missouri Valley Conference — joining in 1974 —and have won the conference nine times with 10 NCAA tournament appearances. Proximity to Missouri makes them familiar. Carbondale is just 30 minutes by car from Missouri and less than 2 hours by car to St. Louis.

Since joining Division I athletics in the early 70s, Missouri and SIU have faced off eight times with the Tigers winning the last seven of those contests. After taking the first ever meeting (according to sports-reference.com) in 1976, Mizzou won in ‘78, ‘85, ‘88, ‘93, ‘94, ‘03, and ‘13, with only the 2003 matchup happening in the NCAA tournament. Some of you may remember that game, where Missouri eked out a win behind a double-double from Arthur Johnson.

In the teams’ last meeting, Jordan Clarkson was the hero as he went for 31 points and was virtually unstoppable offensively, while aided by Jabari Brown. That game in 2013 represented the second season for a really uninspiring hire in Barry Hinson. Hinson spent seven seasons at SIU after spending nine at Missouri State, and achieved exactly zero NCAA tournament appearances. In fact, Hinson was replaced at Missouri State by current Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin.

Aw, the NCAA coaching circle of life.

Southern Illinois Salukis

Last season: 17-15, 146 in KenPom

Torvik Projection: 253

Head Coach: Bryan Mullins

2K Sports Classic Benefiting Coaches v Cancer Day 1 Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images

We haven’t featured a player’s picture here yet, and that’s because this is about the only picture in our photo tool which features the former Saluki point guard. Hiring Bryan Mullins to replace Barry Hinson is a move hoping to draw the program back to its mid-2000s heyday.

In case you don’t recall: From 2002 to 2007, the Salukis made six straight NCAA tournaments (and an NIT bid in 2008) led by both Bruce Weber and Chris Lowery (and a single season of Matt Painter). In 2009, however, the program fell from 62nd in KenPom to 156th, and have failed to crack the top 100 since.

Meanwhile, Mullins has been an assistant coach of the program pointed to as the top dog in the MVC the last few years, Loyola.

So Missouri gets the Salukis right when they’re hitting the reset button.

RETURNING PLAYERS OF NOTE:

  • Aaron Cook — 82.1% %min, 10.5 ppg
  • Eric McGill — 71.5% %min, 9.5 ppg
  • Brendon Gooch — 9.1% %min, 1.4 ppg

Yeah, there isn’t a lot there. The Salukis will rely upon a large set of newcomers to cover up for a roster which graduated six of their top eight players. The newcomers will include several graduate transfers, including former Northwestern post Barrett Benson, and former Missouri guard Ronnie Suggs.

An interesting player to watch might be former Chaminade standout Karrington Davis. Originally a Nebraska commit, he redshirted last season and transferred with the coaching change. He’ll likely apply for a waiver and should get one, considering the new staff at Nebraska basically told him to move on. But he is recovering from an achilles injury, so he may not be at full strength by the time the season arrives.

The Salukis will be an interesting program to watch over the next few seasons. Mullins is a player revered at SIU, and is a respected basketball coach moving into a program with some recent success in a league with inconsistent programs. Clearly, the ability to move up and quickly exists, but can they capitalize?

Unfortunately, I don’t see this as a game where Mizzou should be threatened. It will be nice to welcome Ronnie Suggs back to Mizzou Arena, but SIU is probably a little ways off from being able topple the Tigers on the road.