The Missouri Valley Conference has long been won by fourth and fifth-year seniors, but two teams were poised for a quick resurgence from the 2017-18 campaign with single-year superstars.
Drake, which hosted SIU on Tuesday night in both teams' third conference game of the season, had a player of the year candidate in guard Nick Norton before he tore his ACL against Evansville last week. Norton, a fifth-year graduate transfer from UAB, was the 12th-leading scorer in the league (14 points per game) and the Valley leader in assists (5.9 per game) for the top-scoring offense heading into the week. Valparaiso entered the week tied with the Salukis and Loyola atop the conference with a 2-0 mark. The Crusaders' only senior is graduate transfer Deion Lavender, a former guard here who was one of the team's top 3-point shooters.
Missouri State's top assists guy is Josh Webster, a point guard graduate transfer from Texas Tech that will be critical to the Bears' run to stay out of Thursday night action at the MVC tournament.
Even though SIU has held scholarships open in the hopes of landing a graduate transfer or a sit-out like Marcus Bartley was in 2016-17, it has failed to find one.
"It always comes down to timing. Do teams have scholarships?," SIU coach Barry Hinson said. "Dana (Ford) and his staff did a great job, but I go back. You have to have scholarships. We've held onto scholarships for the last two years up until the last minute to try to get a transfer or a graduate transfer. It's hard to get graduate transfers at the mid-major (level). Guys go to the high majors."
Hinson's right. Saluki fans have seen two of the best graduate transfers in the country up close, forward Reid Travis of 18th-ranked Kentucky and guard Tramaine Isabell of Saint Louis. Seventh-ranked Kansas has two grad transfers from Memphis, Dedric and K.J. Lawson, and fifth-ranked Gonzaga's second-leading scorer and top rebounder is grad transfer Brandon Clarke from San Jose State.
SIU has two scholarships open right now. If the Salukis break their 11-year postseason drought this year, maybe they'll be an attractive enough home for a graduate transfer or two.
* Salukis-Ramblers picked for ESPNU: ESPN has selected the Salukis' game at Loyola on Sunday, Jan. 27, in Chicago for distribution on ESPNU. The game will tip at 3 p.m. at a sold-out Gentile Arena.
Also, CBS Sports has selected the Indiana State at Illinois State game for distribution on CBS Sports Network on that day with a 1 p.m. tip. The network designations were previously listed as TBD on the MVC schedule.
SIU's game against Bradley on Sunday, Jan. 20, will also air on ESPNU. Tipoff for that game at SIU Arena is also scheduled for 3 p.m.