Confessions of a stunned Saluki fan

Before I was a sportswriter, I was a fan. Just like you.

First of all, I would like to wish my beloved readers, fans and anyone else who comes across this web log a Happy New Year. May 2009 come with the success and happiness each one of you deserves.

Now that we got the particulars out of the way, let's get to it. Allow me to take off the dress clothes and put on some fan gear as I prepare to write this post.

With the SIU men's basketball team's 59-51 loss to Northern Iowa on New Years Eve, the Salukis closed 2008 with a disappointing 5-8 start to a season that started with promise and potential as the team was picked to finish in second place in the Missouri Valley Conference preseason poll. There are roughly 364 days left in 2009, but Southern is already stumbling out of the gate.

News of freshman guard Torres Roundtree and junior forward Christian Cornelius leaving the team have shocked me, as they are the fourth and fifth Salukis to leave the program since the end of the 2007-08 season. This news can't be good for a team looking for depth, balance, athleticism and a productive rotation.

OK, let us move to the issues on the court.

SIU is having trouble scoring. There is no other way to put it other than that. Viewer discretion is advised as the following numbers might be considered to be offensive:
  • 62.5 points per game (Rank: 279)
  • 10.8 rebounds per game (250)
  • 13.8 assists per game (151)
  • 40.1 field goal percentage (293)
The good news is Southern is getting it done at the 3-point line (39.6 percent, 21) and free-throw line (72.8, 56) but it has not been enough to spur the team to a winning record.

The scoring struggles are somewhat understandable after losing forwards Matt Shaw and Randal Falker, who accounted for 40.7 percent of the Saluki offense. However, players such as Anthony Booker and Nick Evans were expected to soften the blow of the big guys leaving. Southern's backcourt was expected to get a scoring boost when it added the youth and depth with freshmen such as Roundtree, Kevin Dillard, Ryan Hare and sophomore Justin Bocot.

Only Dillard is statistically carrying his weight as he ranks second on the team in scoring (11.2 points per game) and leads the team in field goal percentage (48.5 percent) and 3-point field goal percentage (52 percent).

And while scoring has not been the forte of SIU for quite awhile, the defense has carried the team for as long as I have been in Carbondale.

Again, viewer discretion is advised.
  • 65.2 points per game (134)
  • 21.5 rebounds per game (284)
  • 43.4 field goal percentage (196)
  • 38.0 3-point percentage (308)
The Salukis aren't getting it done on either side of the ball, it doesn't take a stat geek like myself to figure that out. But this team is better than that, so where does it go from here?

Who knows?

There are some people (who I would describe as nutcases) that would want to see head coach Chris Lowery step down. I'm not a genius by any stretch of the imagination, but I would be willing to make a gentleman's bet that these were the same folks praying for Lowery to sign a long-term deal with SIU.

There are others that are asking for Southern to tweak its system. And seeing that my other favorite college basketball team (No. 1 UNC Tar Heels) have more wins at Ford Field (1) this season than the Detroit Lions (0) and are known for lighting up the scoreboard, how can you make a philosophy change midseason.

Besides, you don't hear Matt Painter at Purdue and Bruce Weber at Illinois complaining about the three-guard motion offense. Shoot, the same offense almost won the Fighting Illini a national title in 2005, took the Salukis to the Sweet 16 in 2007 and has helped the Boilermakers become one of the Big Ten's best teams.

The success of Weber, Painter and Lowery at Southern was not an accident. Or was leading the team to NCAA Tournaments from 2002-2007 a mere fluke?

I doubt it.

Development is the name of the game from here on out. SIU is not void of talent, but it is short on experience. Division I college basketball is a totally different beast compared to high school hoops, even on its highest level. Judging the players, coaches and program becomes easier and is more fair to do down the line.

But as of now, Southern has earned a grade of 'D' for disappointment.

*Stats courtesy of Stats Inc