CARBONDALE — SIU's men's basketball team is hardly the only one in the Missouri Valley Conference dealing with big injuries before the season.
MVC preseason favorite Missouri State, Northern Iowa, Illinois State and Loyola are also battling injury bugs. The Salukis, who host Division II Rockhurst (Missouri) University tonight for their only exhibition game, are the only ones that will be down two starters when they open at Winthrop Nov. 10. Starting point guard Marcus Bartley broke a bone in his wrist and is out at least the next six weeks, and starting forward Thik Bol was scheduled to undergo knee surgery Friday morning.
"We can't have another injury. We can't have sickness. We just can't," said SIU coach Barry Hinson, after announcing Bol could be out six weeks or more at a somber press conference Thursday at SIU Arena. "We can't have foul trouble, but that's a big part of the game, but we can't have any more of this."
SIU hopes 6-10 forward Kavion Pippen, who was expected to rotate with Bol this season, can take the reins in the low post and protect the rim. Pippen blocked 53 shots in 27 games last season (1.9 per game) at Three Rivers (Missouri) Community College.
Missouri State forward Alize Johnson, the Valley's preseason player of the year, is nursing a knee injury that could keep him out of the season opener, according to coach Paul Lusk. Northern Iowa guard Wyatt Lohaus, who missed most of last season with an ankle injury, is day-to-day with a toe and knee issue, according to the Waterloo (Iowa) Courier. Illinois State is down to eight players for next week's season opener at Florida Gulf Coast, as freshman guard Elijah Clarence and 7-foot center David Ndiaye are expected out until December with stress fractures. Sophomore guard Matt Hein, who suffered a bone bruise in his knee in the Redbirds' closed scrimmage against Saint Louis, is expected out 4-6 weeks, according to the Bloomington Pantagraph.
Loyola will likely miss junior college transfer Adarius Avery, a junior guard who was the second-leading scorer in the NJCAA (24.1 points per game), for the 2017-18 season after he underwent offseason shoulder surgery. Christian Negron, a 6-7 freshman forward the Ramblers are high on, is still recovering frm a knee injury suffered during his final high school season.
Austin Weiher, a 6-8 junior forward, is also expected to miss SIU's exhibition game after offseason surgery to remove bone spurs in his foot. He has not been cleared to practice, Hinson said, but could return next week. Rudy Stradnieks, a 6-9, 240-pound junior forward, will rotate with Pippen at the center spot while Bol is out. Hinson said SIU could play four guards, with 6-4 guard Armon Fletcher and 6-5 guard/forward Brendon Gooch at the power forward/hybrid spot, moving forward.
"Kavion Pippen, there's no doubt in my mind, will get better from this. Aaron Cook and Eric McGill will get better because of Marcus' injury," Hinson said. "We realize the non-conference is really important, and I'd like to tell ya this league is gonna get a lot of at-large bids. That's not gonna happen, so we're gonna have to win the league and win the tournament. We're gonna have to put ourselves in position to do that, so, if we can get those guys back by Christmas, that's where we want to be, then we start taking off."