CARBONDALE — It could be a good thing for Saturday's loss in the semifinals of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament to stay with SIU's men's basketball team for a while.
Underdogs most of the year because of their lack of depth, the Salukis took one of the most talented teams in the league to overtime before falling 76-68. SIU avoided becoming only the second No. 2 seed to ever lose in the quarterfinals with a four-point win over Missouri State Friday night, and took some solace in taking Illinois State to the wire at the Scottrade Center.
"Well, I told them in the locker room that the two teams that played today will be picked to be the top of the league next year," SIU coach Barry Hinson said. "There's no ifs, ands or buts about that, and we're going to be in the top three, both of us. I don't know who's going to be; I mean, Illinois State will probably be picked first, but we're going to be in the top three."
SIU (20-13) could return all five starters, backup forward Rudy Stradnieks, backup guard Brendon Gooch, and hope to get one of its best players back in the middle.
Fourth-year junior Thik Bol, who blocked 76 shots in his first season with the Salukis in 2016-17, redshirted after undergoing knee surgery in early November. If he returns — Bol attended the tournament with his teammates but could be a graduate transfer — the 6-foot-8, 202-pound forward could give SIU the rim protector it didn't have this season.
Armon Fletcher, a second team all-conference pick, Sean Lloyd, an All-Defensive Team selection, and both point guards (Aaron Cook and Marcus Bartley) could all be upperclassmen next season.
Fletcher, Lloyd, Bartley and 6-10 center Kavion Pippen will all be seniors next season, and SIU will also get junior guard Eric McGill back after his medical redshirt.
This year may have given the Salukis the toughness to get back to the Final Four of the Valley Tournament next year. They won 15 of 16 games when holding their opponent to 69 points or less and eight of 10 games decided by five points or less.
"I'm proud of my teammates," Lloyd said. "We had a rough season, and we overcame everything that was thrown our way."