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Team Profile: 2006 BracketBuster Recap: Louisiana Tech 54, Southern Illinois 51

by Andrew Force | February 18th, 2006

SIU Arena, Carbondale, Ill.

The mission for Louisiana Tech should they choose to accept it: Win.

For Southern Illinois: Stop losing.

The goals may sound similar but the difference is more than perspective. LA Tech had endured a .500 record in their last six games prior to the Bracketbuster weekend, while the Salukis stood a good chance of losing their last four regular season games unless they could pick up a key home win.

Southern Illinois jumped out of the gate in Missouri Valley play and maintained their gaudy home-court winning streak of 30+ games. Then a stunning loss to a struggling Indiana State Sycamore squad brought the aura of invincibility crumbling down. Coupled with a loss to the Wichita State Shockers, SIU desperately needed to regain some momentum.

Despite the lengthy streak SIU once held, Millsap’s marionettes knew nothing of the toughness of the SIU Arena. Word does not travel over a thousand miles down the Mississippi River.

While Paul Millsap did not entirely belittle the Saluki frontline, he did get 20 second-half points. Only six rebounds dot the box score, but Powerful Paul hauled in four offensive rebounds. That is four extra possessions for his Bulldog teammates. And his rejection of Matt Shaw accompanied by two last-minute free throws broke the spirit of a resolute SIU team.

Chad McKenzie helped the visitors with eight points and eight ‘bounds. The Bulldogs’ frontline is not the deepest, but its starters rival almost any in size and strength.

Southern Illinois’ Randal Falker had a double-double. Again. Falker had a streak earlier in the year where he put four consecutive double-double efforts on the books.

A key stat in this game was that not one Saluki starter shot better than his typical shooting percentage. No player looked like a star but the team did play with a cohesiveness that successful mid-majors require.

Taking a look at the long-term bracket ramifications for each team…
This week Bracketography sees Louisiana Tech nearing the cutoff point. Unfortunately, the view is the Bulldogs still need to improve relative to other bubble companions. Paul Millsap could very well become the best player NOT to play in the Tourney. Ideally he will carry the traveling rowdy Rustonites into the coveted playground that is the NCAA Tournament.

Southern Illinois is still in the Big Dance but slipping dangerously close to the proverbial bubble. Hovering around the 9-10 seed line, the Salukis have to finish strong to avoid being a first round underdog. Starting the month of February with four losses in six games drags the stock of SIU down dramatically. Teams in perceived mid-majors generally need gaudy records to impress the Committee. This year could be an exception with the elevated conference RPI of the ascending Valley.

The game had some relevance but it certainly did not bust any brackets. If anything it helped Louisiana Tech revitalize its at-large hopes. Following an excellent start in the Western Athletic Conference, Tech floundered. The regular season crown will not be the runaway it once appeared it could be.

Nevada has the inside track in the WAC while the Valley will remain jumbled until the end. Either team could guarantee its berth in the 65-team field with a conference tournament victory. More likely, neither team will win the regular season and both will sweat out Selection Sunday in yet two more mid-major rites of passage.

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