Salukis Pose Intense Challenge

Overall, the Salukis put a youthful team on the floor, but it is leavened with enough tournament experience that that the pressure of the NCAAs should not be a factor.

SCOUTING THE SALUKIS

Southern Illinois features a short, but skilled, starting five that accounts for almost all of its offensive productivity.

The Salukis' three-guard lineup includes its two double-figure scorers in the form of Jamaal Tatum (Jr., 6-2, 175 lbs.) and Tony Young (Jr., 6-0, 190 lbs.) Tatum leads the way with 15.1 points per game, while Young contributes 11.9 per outing. Tatum also distributes the ball well, as his 3.3 assists per game attest.

The third guard in the trio is Bryan Mullins, who concentrates more on ball handling duties and defense, as he averages 3.2 assists per game and leads the team with 91 steals. However, Mullins (Fr., 6-1, 185 lbs.) can't be ignored defensively, as he is the best shooter of the three starters in the backcourt, and contributes 5.6 points per game.

Bookend frontliners Randal Falker (So., 6-7, 230 lbs.) and Matt Shaw (So., 6-7, 225 lbs.) might not be the tallest players on the floor, but they handle themselves well inside. Falker records 9.1 points and 8.0 rebounds per game, while Shaw adds 9.9 points and 5.7 boards to the mix. Falker stays close to the basket, which accounts for his 51.1% shooting percentage from the field, while Shaw has range out to the three-point line, where he canned 37.7% of his attempts – the best mark on the team.

Off the bench, Wesley Clemmons (Fr., 6-3, 195 lbs.) provides most of the scoring punch, as he averages 3,7 points while giving the backcourt trio some rest. Forwards Tony Boyle (Fr., 6-8, 230 lbs.) and Jamaal Foster (So., 6-10, 210 lbs.) add a bit of help, combining for 3.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game.

OUTLOOK

Given SIU's tenacious defense and West Virginia's shot clock-milking style of play, a low scoring game appears to be in the offing. WVU, however, does have the potential to score in the mid 60s in this game – a total that would likely send the Mountaineers on to the second round.

BlueGoldNews.com
Game Info
Fri Mar 10
3:00 p.m. (Approx.)

Palace of Auburn Hills
Records
WVU 20-10, 11-5
SI 22-10, 12-6
Series
First Meeting
TV
CBS
RPI
WVU - 38
SI - 29
The Saluki defense is certainly no mirage, however. It allows just 56.2 points per game, which is also the fourth best mark in the nation. SIU has held 20 of its 32 opponents to 55 or fewer points – a goal for which they'll certainly be shooting against WVU.

To overcome that defense, West Virginia must be aggressive early in driving the ball to the basket, and it must do so with the intention of shooting first. Many of WVU's drives to the hoop end in kickouts to open three point shooters, which is fine, but that should be option B when Mike Gansey, Joe Herber, J.D. Collins or Darris Nichols take the ball to the rack. The concentration should be on getting to the basket and scoring first. Only if the avenue to the rack is closed should the focus shift to a pass to the perimeter.

If WVU can get a few backdoors and drives early, it could upset SIU's defensive plans, which could then allow WVU's three-point shooters some space to hit a few shots. And in a game that's expected to be low scoring, just a handful of made three-pointers could well be the difference between advancing or packing for home. That won't be an easy task, however, as SIU was first in the Missouri Valley in three-point field goal defense, allowing a success rate of just 30.3%.

On the other side of the ledger, West Virginia will face a team that probably won't be able to overpower it from the inside, which should allow it to play more of its signature 1-3-1 defense. The Salukis are adequate, but not outstanding, from long range, and if they can't hit at least a few shots from beyond the arc, could have trouble scoring against WVU's defenses. First team to 55 wins?

INJURY REPORT

WVU: Mike Gansey (Stomach) Will Play

SI: None

FAST BREAKS

Last year, West Virginia shot 601 free throws. This year, it has shot 387.

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Although it might not be familiar to the average college hoops fan, Southern Illinois is certainly no stranger to the NCAAs. The Salukis have made the last five dances – one of only 16 teams in the nation to do so. They have also won 20 games in each of those seasons, and a total of 126 overall – an achievement not to be taken lightly.

* * *

Barring a meteor strike early in the game, WVU will break its single-season record for three-point attempts against the Salukis. West Virginia attempted 885 a year ago, and currently has 880 in the 2005-06 campaign.

West Virginia's success rate from beyond the arc is marginally worse than it was a year ago, but that margin has likely cost the Mountaineers several wins. In 2004-05, WVU made 36% of its three-pointers. This year, that figure is 34.5%.

WVU has averaged 29.3 three-point attempts per game this year. Had the Mountaineers shot 36% instead of 34.5% this year, it would have resulted in a total of 45 additional points this year. How many games would an extra point or two have tilted in the Mountaineers' favor this year?

* * *

Need another reason the game could be low-scoring? West Virginia averages just 57.4 shots per game – one of the lower marks in the NCAA. Of course, WVU's reliance on the three-pointer raises the number of points per shot it can get, and if the Mountaineers are on target, 70 points isn't out of reach on a good night.

However, the Salukis are even more deliberate. In their 32 games, SIU has averaged just 52.1 shots per contest. Unless both teams exceed their season shooting percentages, it won't be surprising to see a score in the 50s.


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