Team Profile: 2008 Bracket Buster Preview: Nevada vs. Southern Illinois

by Andrew Force | February 20th, 2008

Southern Illinois was left for dead early on. Once it became apparent that the Salukis lacked their traditionally adequate scoring punch, national media jumped ship. The eyes SIU had attracted in the last couple of years looked elsewhere, searching for the next mid-major media darling.

Now, in the quieter moments, SIU is winning close games. The formula is the same, with fewer active ingredients: stingy defense, prideful defense coupled with powerful rebounding.

Southern Illinois still plays great at home. The strongest bodies in the Valley forbid visitors from rebounding within the ancient SIU Arena. Southern Illinois is second best in the Missouri Valley Conference in rebounding margin.

One player in particular rebounds with fury–Randal Falker, senior leader, was the MVC Preseason Player of the Year.

Head Coach Chris Lowery acknowledges, “He is our confidence. When he plays with confidence, it makes everybody else feel safer and play easier because they know they can depend on him to clean it up.”

On the offensive end especially, Falker cleans up, yanking down three offensive rebounds a night.

When SIU plays, shots are at a premium. Knowing each shot is valuable and critical, Saluki players loosen up and flourish when Falker is giving the Dawgs second chances.

Falker predominantly plays alone in the paint for SIU. The Saluki will have to learn to share Saturday when the Wolf Pack invades. Stringy Nevada center Javale McGee (7.5 rebounds per game) will be quite the ornery play partner.

Few connections exist between the two schools, as you can expect when 1935 miles separate campuses.

McGee played high school basketball in Illinois, albeit for one year. While he was a senior, SIU Coach Chris Lowery was an assistant at the University of Illinois. Digging deeper, Lowery assisted for Illinois during their 100-year basketball anniversary Alumni Game. Guess who played in that game…McGee’s father, former U of I player Big George Montgomery.

Nevada inexcusably dropped both games to Boise State in conference play. (Note to readers: the BSU Broncos don’t play their basketball games on the same obnoxious blue surface as the football boys.)

Winning at SIU will be more difficult than winning at Boise State. The venue will be rockin’.

The reaction and response of the Wolf Pack should be interesting. Only three times this year have the Nevada troops seen the number of fans sure to be present at SIU Arena on Saturday night. They have lost seven road games, winning only a half a dozen times away from the Lawlor Events Center.

Regarding the road losses, Nevada Head Coach Mark Fox says, “I don’t think we have had a confidence issue. I think we have an intelligence issue. At times we have been too confident and need to realize we have to think a little more with this group.”

Thinking when rowdy, occasionally incite-ful fans are barking your name and bobbing up and down can be difficult.

Will it be the Wolf Pack or the Egyptian dogs? May the stronger canine survive.

Prediction: Southern Illinois 63, Nevada 57

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