SIU game preview

Salukis bring plenty of bite to Assembly Hall
Southern Illinois returns all five starters from last year’s NCAA Tournament team

By Chris Korman
331-4353 |
December 17, 2006

Southern Illinois is the best team — at this point in the season — that Indiana has had to face, according to Hoosiers coach Kelvin Sampson.

The Salukis — who’ve been to five straight NCAA tournaments and return their top eight players from last year — aren’t the big name many Indiana fans have wanted to see play at Assembly Hall this year.

But the quality of the basketball they play should assuage some of the fans who’ve grumbled about the less-than-tantalizing non-conference home schedule thus far.

“Right now, today, the thing that makes Southern Illinois so good is that they have five starters back,” Sampson said. “And they have the same coach. There is no game-to-game where they try to get better each game. They’re good now.”

Fans of defensive basketball should be especially pleased. The Salukis are allowing just 51.75 points per game, second fewest in the nation behind Duke. The Hoosiers allow 58.9.

“They extend and pressure,” Sampson said of Southern Illinois. “They trap every ball screen, they trap every handoff, they’re good at playing gaps. Those kids are veterans.”

Sampson held a lighter than usual week of practice to allow his players to concentrate on finals. When the team did gather, Sampson emphasized hitting more shots, mainly by taking different types of shots.

“The improvement that I’d like to see us make is to get easier baskets,” Sampson said. “Don’t feel like we need to wait on D.J. (White) every possession.”

Sampson said he felt White wasn’t running the floor as well as he did when he was a freshman. White has gained 20 pounds since then and is coming off two foot injuries.

So Sampson wants his more athletic players to not be afraid to push the ball up the floor. Consider this: Indiana scored just two points off the fast break against Kentucky, despite making 11 steals.

“You’ve got to go get a steal and a layup,” Sampson said. “All of a sudden you look up and you’ve got five layups, well that’s 5-for-5. If somebody contests all of your shots and you’re 0-for-5 in the half court offense, your shooting percentage is 50 percent. We’ve got to get easier baskets. That’s where I think Earl can help us and get us to run ahead of the ball and find a way to get D.J. down there faster.”

Sampson said a guard who can constantly penetrate controls the pace of a game more so than even a dominant big man. Driving allows for more outcomes: a kickout to an open player, two points, a missed shot and good chance for a rebound or a trip to the free-throw line.

Indiana has struggled in that facet this season, getting to the line just fewer than 18 times per game. Only two players — D.J. White with 30 and Joey Shaw with 29 — have taken more than 17 free throws.

Shaw is still developing as a slasher, too. He said he was mainly a shooter during high school. The 6-foot-6, 193-pound redshirt freshman has been more adept at getting to the lane early in his first college season.

“It comes naturally,” Shaw said. “If I see an opening, I’ll take it. I’m quicker than most defenders guarding me, so I can get by the first guy.”

The Salukis will have something to say about that. Without much size they rely on quickness at both ends of the floor.

Matt Shaw has developed into a diverse post player, good outside and in, even at 6-7. He leads Southern Illinois with 13 points per game, and has hit 13-of-30 3-pointers

Sophomore Bryan Mullins runs the team from the point. He was the Missouri Valley Conference Freshman of the Year last year and set the single-season school record for steals with 93.