Looking at SIU’s first 23 games the difference between winning and losing has been stark.
Granted, the Salukis have played some close games in the past 10 days, but overall most games have not gone down to the wire.
Through their first 14 wins, SIU’s margin of victory has been 12 points. Most of the lopsided wins came in non-conference play. The Salukis last six wins have been by an average margin of 4.5 points.
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Conversely, of their nine losses, only four have been by single digits. When the Salukis have lost, they’ve lost by an average of 13 points. Of course, the 42-point loss at Louisville skews those numbers. But, even if you throw out the Louisville game, the average margin of defeat is 9.3 points.
The spate of recent close games is indicative of Missouri Valley Conference play. There are no surprises among league teams. The strengths and weaknesses of each opponent are well documented.
Having said that, there are some marked differences in SIU’s play recently that have allowed the Salukis to win several close games.
First, the Salukis have hit some perimeter shots.
Throughout the early part of the season SIU coach Barry Hinson insisted the Salukis were a good shooting team despite numbers that clearly disputed that contention.
During SIU’s winning streak over Northern Iowa, Indiana State and Missouri State the Salukis have hit 24 of 47 three pointers. Obviously, it’s unlikely that SIU will continue to shoot better than 50 percent from beyond the arc, but given the team’s lack of size scoring from the perimeter is a key to success.
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And, hitting a few shots early is vital. The Salukis need to create space for Kavion Pippen, Armon Fletcher and even Sean Lloyd to get to the rim.
Which brings us to the second key – Pippen.
The Salukis are a much better team when Pippen is effective. And, effective is not synonymous with scoring. Although, coincidentally, the 6-foot-10 junior, has been quite proficient recently. Prior to Tuesday’s game at Drake, Pippen was 5-of-9 against UNI, 4-of-7 against Indiana State and 8-of-12 against Missouri State.
Taking good shots, smart shots, is a key for Pippen. When Pippen is on top of his game, he also distributes the ball well. Case in point, his assist to Fletcher for the game-winning basket at Missouri State.
Pippen was well-defended on the block. Rather than forcing the shot, as he has done at times this season, Pippen deftly hit Fletcher cutting to the hoop.
Finally, Pippen’s rebounding performance against Indiana State was a major plus. He was physical, quick off the floor and relentless in keeping the ball alive.
The third key is offensive contributions from players not named Fletcher and Lloyd.
Sophomore guard Aaron Cook was virtually unstoppable in the first half against Indiana State. Cook got to the rim at will and also hit open treys. Against Missouri State, it was Tyler Smithpeters’ turn to step up. Smithpeters hit all three of his first-half treys against the Bears, allowing SIU to built an 11-point halftime lead.
The second time through the MVC, it’s reasonable to assume most games will be decided by 10 points or less. It’s a good bet the Salukis will have to check off two of these three keys to have a chance to win.
LES WINKELER is the sports editor for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org / 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.