But last night I was given the day off and awarded by assuming my old seats in the Dawg Pound amongst the people. I stood out like a sore thumb with my argyle sweater but cheered my heart out as SIU fell short of its upset bid of Drake University.
First of all, I never thought I'd have to type those words in my lifetime. Drake has never been a dangerous squad in the Missouri Valley Conference until last season when it won the Valley's regular season and conference tourney titles.
The Bulldogs have a unique recipe for success: a roster full of sharp-shooters that can hit jump shots from anywhere on the floor. They have some quality players (led by Josh Young and Jonathan Cox) but everyone is a threat. Evidenced by a team-high 17 points by guard Craig Stanely.
Drake's Dogs will continue to be a contender in the Valley as long as the team continues to drain jumpers at will.
As for SIU, the first thing I learned is that basketball is now the team's complete focus. It would have been easy for the team to show up flat, listless and unmotivated with a 5-8 record overall, 0-2 record in conference and without two bench players who recently left the team. Instead, the Salukis came out and (at times) put forth a solid effort. Unfortunately, their best wasn't enough.
Now for some random thoughts:
- Kevin Dillard's star continues to shine. The freshman guard from Homewood, Ill., scored a career-high 22 points (16 coming in the first half) on 8-for-14 shooting from the field with six rebounds, five assists and only one turnover. Too bad that one turnover turned into free-throws for Drake and turned the game around when it looked like SIU was poised for an upset. If he keeps up this pace he will go down as one of the greats at SIU before his time is done.
- Where's the 'D' at? SIU has always been known for its defensive prowess, but has struggled to play at that high of a level. And even though Drake only shot 23.5 percent from the field in the second half, the Salukis only forced nine turnovers and only grabbed two steals. The youngsters seem to have trouble with playing with the kind of intensity expected of the program 40 minutes at a time. Hopefully they will get to a point where the can play that signature style of defense before this season is up.
- Bryan Mullins ain't as good as he once was, but he was good once. Now I'm not saying B-Mull is bad, he's not. In fact he's still good. Really good. He still is one of the best one-on-one defenders in the MVC. He still knows how to set up his teammates with open shots. He still is a strong vocal leader. But color me selfish, but I want more. However, I am afraid I'm unsure where he will get it from. The talent that once surrounded Mullins (Falker, Shaw, Tatum, Young) have all graduated, and that might be the biggest reason why it looks as if he is not as productive as previous years.
- Mike Reis pre and postgame shows. As a fan, I miss those informative and entertaining shows. When "The Voice of the Salukis" took a job within the University, I worried that he would become a homer. I worried that he couldn't be critical. Reis eased my worries last night with his line of questioning for head coach Chris Lowery regarding the departures of Torres Roundtree and Christian Cornelius in the pre-game show and the team's performance after the game.