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Arena: Southern Illinois University Arena
School Name: Southern Illinois University at Carbondale
What can Chris Lowery do for an encore? In his first season as the Salukis' head coach, Lowery guided Soudiern Illinois to a 27-8 record, a fourth straight Valley championship and a fourth straight trip to die NCAA Tournament. The Salukis made it to the second round before Oklahoma State ended their season with an 85-77 setback.
SIU might be hard-pressed to keep its tide and NCAA Tournament streaks alive this season with the loss of two-time conference Player of the Year Darren Brooks and three other players — Stetson Hairston, Josh Warren and LaMar Owen —who contributed mightily to last seasons success. Brooks and Hairston started together the past three seasons, and the loss of their experience leaves a gaping hole to fill.
But given die Salukis' recent run of success and their ability to restock rather than rebuild, Southern Illinois once again should be a player in the MVC race. Leading the Salukis' charge will be Jamaal Tatum, set for a breakout season now that Brooks and Hairston are gone, and Tony Young, the league's 2005 Sixth Man of the Year. Tatum finished 1 Oth in the league in scoring last season (12.3 ppg) and sixth in 3-point field goals made per game (2.03). Opposing teams can't relax on either end of the floor against Young, one of the league's top defenders.
Mike Dale gives Southern Illinois a big guard (6'5", 220 pounds) who will cause matchup problems, but the Salukis' early-season priority will be to develop an inside presence. Matt Shaw showed flashes while emerging as a starter at forward as a freshman, but SIU will need added production from 6'7" Ran-dal Falker and 6'9" Jamal Foster.
If Salukis fans need any encouragement heading into the season, they need to think back just two seasons ago. The predictions for demise following the loss of star guard Kent Williams and forward Jermaine Dearman wound up faulty as SIU came within a loss in the final league game of going 18-0 in Valley play.
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