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SIU Basketball

SIU Basketball | 28 reasons to love the Salukis

SIU forward J.D. Muila, a top-25 junior college prospect who missed all of last season with a torn meniscus, talks about starting out the 2021-22 campaign.

CARBONDALE — Season tickets are on sale, the Missouri Valley Conference preseason poll will come out Oct. 20, and the schedule is online. The 2021-22 SIU men's basketball season is coming before the end of this month.

Tuesday marks 28 days before the Salukis' first official game of the upcoming season, a road trip to Little Rock on Nov. 9 in Arkansas. You can catch SIU and coach Bryan Mullins' third team Oct. 26 when the Salukis play Division II Henderson State at the Banterra Center. Before those two teams tip off, here, in no particular order, are 28 reasons to get excited about Saluki Basketball: 

No. 1 — The return of Marcus Domask. SIU went 7-3 with the 2020 Missouri Valley Conference Newcomer of the Year and Freshman of the Year. The 6-foot-6, 215-pound sophomore forward is back for his third season after missing all but 10 games with a stress reaction injury in his left foot. 

No. 2 — Trent Brown for 3. The third-year sophomore guard made 44 of them in 2020-21 in 26 games on 113 attempts (38.9%). With Lance Jones (52 of 122 3s, 42.6%), SIU made 37.5% from behind the arc as a team, second-best in the MVC.

No. 3 — Jones putting up points. The Evanston native averaged 13.4 points per game last season, shooting 40.8% from the field and Valley-best 42.6% behind the arc. Jones put up 30 points in an overtime loss at nationally-ranked Loyola, broke 20 three other times, and won't have to carry the offensive load as much this season.

No. 4 — J.D. Muila's dreadlocks.

No. 5 — All your friends. SIU plans to offer full capacity at the Banterra Center, and drew an average of 4,586 fans per home game in 2019-20. The Salukis went 12-3 at home that season.

No. 6 — Four days in paradise. SIU will play three games in four days at the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands between Nov. 19-22. The Salukis' first game is against Colorado, which should be in the top 25, at 7 p.m. Nov. 19.

No. 7 — Nine home games against MVC opponents. After the two-game, two-day conference series in 2020-21, the Valley is going back to its normal 18-game, round-robin league schedule in 2021-22.

No. 8 — An early conference start. Love it or hate it (most hate it), SIU will either be 1-0 in the MVC or 0-1 after it takes on Evansville at the Ford Center on Wednesday, Dec. 1. It will be the earliest Valley game the Salukis or Purple Aces have ever played, as far as the calendar date.

No. 9 — Ben Coupet Jr. The 6-7 transfer from Little Rock can score it, shoot it, handle it, pass it, and dunk it. The graduate transfer will make an immediate impact at both ends of the floor for the Salukis. Coupet averaged 10.3 points and 3.6 rebounds per game last season for an 11-15 Trojans squad in 26 starts. 

No. 10 — Kyler Filewich bullying somebody underneath. The 6-9, 250-pound freshman center didn't expect to start in his first season, but after the injury to Muila, averaged 22.4 minutes a game in 26 appearances. Filewich, a member of the MVC All-Freshman Team, started 16 games and averaged 6.8 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. 

No. 11 — Randal Falker in the flesh. The Most Outstanding Player of the 2006 MVC Tournament won a championship in France, played 11 more seasons in Europe as a pro, and returns to Carbondale Friday night to join six others in the SIU Hall of Fame. Falker set the school record with 195 blocks in 137 games, is sixth all-time in rebounding, and 23rd in scoring. 

No. 12 — Falker's 3-point shot. His final pro season, Falker shot about as well from the 3-point line as the free-throw line, he said. And if you ask nicely, he might just walk out to the Banterra Center court Friday and pop one off. 

No. 13 — Ladies next. Four days after the SIU men play Henderson State, the Saluki women and their five returning starters take on Division II McKendree University at the Banterra Center. Tipoff is set for 1 p.m. Oct. 30.

No. 14 — Foster Wonders bombing away. The freshman guard from Michigan set the all-time scoring record in the Upper Peninsula, and will light it up from downtown this season. 

No. 15 — Scottie Ebube dunking away. If you think Filewich is powerful, wait until you get a load of the 6-9, 265 Ebube, a freshman center from Mundelein High School that wants to throw it down every chance he gets. And he'll get his chances.

No. 16 — Troy D'Amico doing everything. At 6-7, the freshman forward from Niles Notre Dame can play both ends. 

No. 17 — Four dates on real television. You can catch most of SIU's games on ESPN+ (subscription required) or ESPN3, but the Salukis currently have four games on a major network. SIU's home game against Loyola on Jan. 2 is scheduled to air on ESPNU, and the road game at Drake on Feb. 26 will air on CBS Sports Network. SIU's road game at Loyola was selected for Bally Sports Midwest/NBC Sports Chicago/ESPN+ or ESPN3, and the Salukis' home game against Dana Ford and Missouri State on Feb. 2 will air on Bally Sports Indiana Plus and NBC Sports Chicago Plus. Plan accordingly.

No. 18 — This could be the year. Right? When March rolls around, it will be 14 years since SIU competed in the postseason, but this is Mullins' third season as coach. Barry Hinson won 12 games in his third year, but he didn't have five starters back. Chris Lowery won 29 and made the Sweet 16. Bruce Weber won 16.

No. 19 — Steve Falat and "Are you ready for Saluki Basketball?" before every home game.

No. 20 — The smell of Just Nuts' roasted almonds on the concourse.

No. 21 — The return of the Dawg Pound, SIU's largest registered student organization (RSO).

No. 22 — The ovation the Banterra Center gives Marcus Belcher when Illinois State visits.

No. 23 — Fast breaks without the ball hitting the floor.

No. 24 — Floorburn U. SIU led the MVC in scoring defense in Mullins' first season, and was seventh in 2020-21. Look for the Salukis to be in the top three in scoring defense again this season.

No. 25 — Year 2 for Steven Verplancken Jr. and Anthony D'Avanzo. The two Division II transfers started for the Salukis late in the year, and are back to try to lead the program to its first postseason berth since 2008.

No. 26 — The Black Out Cancer game.

No. 27 — The live Saluki dogs.

No. 28 — "We..... have a winner!!!!!!".

todd.hefferman@thesouthern.com

618-351-5087

On Twitter: @THefferman

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