In a sign of the times, I followed the SIU vs. Duquesne basketball game via Twitter last week.
Due to Christmas commitments, I was forced to sneak peaks at my telephone for occasional updates. The first update came midway through the first half, with SIU holding a slim lead. After a resounding loss to Nevada, it was heartening to see the Salukis on top.
The next update, 10-15 minutes later, contained a cryptic indication that SIU was playing without Marcus Bartley. Since the Salukis were already short-handed, playing without preseason All-MVC selection Thik Bol, the information about Bartley framed updates with a different perspective.
There is no need to rehash subsequent updates in detail. The Salukis led at the half, coughed up the lead midway through the second half, then rallied down the stretch to post a 10-point lead. The final margin of victory is misleading, but the game goes in the “W” column.
The Salukis enter Missouri Valley Conference play at 8-5. Thirteen games into the season, and it’s difficult to get an accurate read on this team.
Looking at the schedule in October, it’s clear an 8-5 record at this point would be disappointing. Expectations of 10-3, even 11-2 wouldn’t have been considered unreasonable.
That was before Bol underwent knee surgery. That was before Bartley broke his wrist. That was before Rudy Stradnieks and Eric McGill suffered hand injuries that forced them to miss time. And, although he has played in every game, Armon Fletcher is still bothered by a chronic knee issue.
Even with the injuries, the Salukis could be, should be looking at a 9-4 mark. There is no getting around it, the loss to Southeast Missouri State was a bad loss. The Redhawks deserved to win, but SIU was horrible that night.
Two other road games, Murray State and St. Louis University, were quite winnable. But, the Bol-less Salukis fell short. SIU lost by eight at Murray State, by five at St. Louis. Would the presence of Bol have been enough to swing those games?
Possibly, but that’s irrelevant.
What’s important is how the Salukis perform for the next 10 weeks.
There was a time when being a sports fan provided an emotional refuge from the cares of the world.
As could be expected with an ever-changing rotation of players, the Salukis have been woefully inconsistent – individually and as a team. The team appears to be an offensive juggernaut for 10 minutes, then will endure six-minute scoreless streaks.
Everyone on the roster has had big moments in key situations. By the same token, no true leader has emerged.
Sean Lloyd has come close to taking the bull by the horns. The soft-spoken junior has been the most consistent on both ends of the floor. For a bruising-type player he has a deft touch, but he is strong and fast enough to impose his will on opponents defensively.
Aaron Cook has matured markedly from his freshman season. Cook has shot the ball surprisingly well from the arc and is the one Saluki guard that seems capable of breaking down the defense and getting the ball to the rim at will.
Bartley, Fletcher, Stradnieks, Fletcher, McGill, Tyler Smithpeters, Jonathan Wiley, Kavion Pippen and Brendon Gooch have had their moments. But, for this team to contend for a top berth in the MVC, their level of consistency must improve dramatically.
How Bol’s return will affect that consistency is the key question that remains.
LES WINKELER is the sports editor for The Southern Illnioisan. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.