Saluki basketball: This time it counts

Yeah, I took that picture. Aren't I so talented?

The SIU men's basketball team and its fans have been waiting seven months for meaningful basketball games.

The wait ends tonight.

The SIU Arena hosts the Carbondale region of the 2K Sports Classic that features SIU, UMass, California (Pa.) and Arkansas-Monticello. The winner of this region gets the chance of a lifetime, to play at New York City's Madison Square Garden: the Mecca of basketball.

The Salukis play the nightcap against Cal (Pa.) in their first regular season game of the season, but don't take the Div. II opponents lightly.

Georgia Southern bounced the University of Houston and will take on Duke for a right to head to MSG and Gardner Webb did the same to Kentucky last season.

Yep, Adolph Rupp was rolling over in his grave.

So while Saluki Nation wants to punch its ticket to the Big Apple - as do I because I'd kill for the opportunity to cover hoops in the House That John Starks Got Torched In By Mike - I refuse to take any opponent lightly.

SIU fans should know better.

The Salukis have always been America's sweetheart as an underdog.

The long shorts. The rabid fanbase. The unique mascot. SIU has been embraced by outsiders as the Midwest's Gonzaga.

And that has helped SIU knock of giants in the past while attempting to move towards being a giant in its own mind.

The Salukis have thrived being the team that is underrated and overlooked, even when it was ranked as high as No. 11 and went to the Sweet 16 two seasons ago.

A word to the wise: don't count your chickens before they hatch.