Self wasn’t trying to hide some secret preparations the Jayhawks have up their sleeves, head coach Chris Lowery’s team truly guards that well.
During Tuesday’s teleconference, Southern Illinois’ staunch defense was all the rage, and with good reason. The Salukis give up a stingy 56.1 ppg, which ranks third in the nation. Kansas will have to contend with what Self labeled “the toughest defensive team” KU has played all year.
Southern Illinois, like most teams from the Missouri Valley Conference, is frequently labeled as a “mid-major”. Well, this fourth-seeded Saluki team features a defense that is definitely a “major” force to contend with. Self spent most of the teleconference praising the Salukis and assuring the media that KU is well-aware of the challenges this team presents on the defensive end.
So far in this NCAA Tournament, Saluki opponents have combined to shoot 3-24 from three-point range. Virginia Tech, which finished near the top of the ACC, could manage only 48 points in round two.
The Missouri Valley champs feature a three-guard lineup and do not have a player in the starting lineup taller than 6-7. They may lack size, but they more than make up for it with their team quickness. The Saluki defense is anchored by 6-7 Randal Falker, the MVC Defensive Player of the Year. Falker leads the league in blocked shots (2.12 bpg), but is no slouch on the offensive end averaging over 12 points and nearly eight rebounds per game.
Self was asked who Southern Illinois’ defense would compare to. One writer suggested maybe a Big Ten opponent but Self quickly dismissed that idea.
“In the Big Ten they guard but they do it with two bigs. This (Southern Illinois) team is able to guard one pass away at all five positions,” stated Self. “They actually remind me of the Tulsa team I took to the Elite 8 in 2000.”
Self pointed out how quick, tough, and talented that Tulsa squad was though they fell just short of a Final Four appearance.
Defense has always been a constant for Self-coached teams wherever the 44-year old coach has been, and this KU team is no different. Southern Illinois may give up fewer points per game (56.1ppg vs. 61.6 ppg), but Jayhawk opponents shoot just a shade over 37 percent from the floor (SIU opponents shoot over 40 percent). Kansas has held its opponent to less than 50 percent shooting in 42 straight games and 71 of its last 72. Amazing numbers.
This has all the makings of quite a defensive battle.