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SIU guard Aaron Cook (10) gives SIU guard Darius Beane (5) instructions during the first half against Missouri State at SIU Arena on Wednesday in Carbondale.

The start of conference play gave SIU's men's basketball team a new start.

The Salukis (9-6, 2-0 Missouri Valley Conference) topped Missouri State 75-70 in both teams' league opener and rallied to beat Northern Iowa 58-51. Kavion Pippen's 18 points led three Salukis in double figures, and SIU headed to Des Moines in search of its first 3-0 start in the Valley since the 2015-16 season.

SIU fell 33 spots in the ESPN.com strength of schedule rankings as three opponents fell into the bottom 31 teams in the NET ratings (SIU-Edwardsville, Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Howard). Loyola moved into the top 100 in both the NET and the ESPN.com Basketball Power Index (BPI) to No. 78 and 76, respectively.

SIU Salukis (9-6, 2-0 MVC)

NET: 124

ESPN.com BPI: 127

ESPN.com SOS: 143

Last game: Beat Northern Iowa 58-51 / Next game: At Drake (11-4, 0-2 MVC) Tuesday

SIU OPPONENT WATCH

No. 18 Kentucky Wildcats (10-3)

NET: 12

ESPN.com BPI: 15

Vs. SIU: Won 71-59 Nov. 9

Last game: Lost 77-75 at Alabama / Next game: Host Texas A&M (6-6, 0-1 SEC) Tuesday

No. 19/20 Buffalo Bulls (13-1)

NET: 24

ESPN.com BPI: 24

Vs. SIU: Won 62-53 at SIU Nov. 12, won 73-65 in Buffalo Dec. 15

Last game: Won 74-58 at Eastern Michigan / Next game: Host Toledo (12-2, 0-1 MAC) Tuesday

Arkansas-Pine Bluff Golden Lions (4-10, 1-0 SWAC)

NET: 312

ESPN.com BPI: 321

Vs. SIU: SIU won 78-48 Nov. 17 in Carbondale

Last game: Beat Mississippi Valley State 64-52 / Next game: Host Alcorn State (4-10, 0-2 SWAC) Saturday

Howard Bison (7-9, 1-1 MEAC)

NET: 314

ESPN.com BPI: 304

Vs. SIU: SIU won 83-69 Nov. 19 in Carbondale

Last game: Won 79-39 at Maryland-Eastern Shore / Next game: Host Bethune-Cookman (5-10, 0-1 MEAC) Saturday

UMass Minutemen (7-7, 0-1 A10)

NET: 197

ESPN.com BPI: 148

Vs. SIU: Won 84-62 Nov. 22 in Las Vegas

Last game: Lost 69-60 at LaSalle / Next game: At Saint Louis (10-4, 1-0 A10) Wednesday

Tulsa Golden Hurricane (11-4, 1-1 American)

NET: 76

ESPN.com BPI: 132

Vs. SIU: SIU won 79-69 Nov. 23 in Las Vegas

Last game: Beat South Florida 78-75 / Next game: Host Cincinnati (12-3, 1-1 American) Friday

Colorado State Rams (5-10, 0-2 MWC)

NET: 252

ESPN.com BPI: 235

Vs. SIU: SIU won 82-67 Nov. 27 in Fort Collins, Colorado

Last game: Lost 78-67 at Fresno State / Next game: Host Air Force (5-9, 0-2 MWC) Tuesday

SIU-Edwardsville Cougars (5-9, 1-1 OVC)

NET: 302

ESPN.com BPI: 336

Vs. SIU: SIU won 82-61 Dec. 1 in Edwardsville

Last game: Lost 84-81 in overtime at Eastern Illinois / Next game: Host Tennessee Tech (5-10, 1-1 OVC) Thursday

Saint Louis Billikens (10-4, 1-0 A10)

NET: 60

ESPN.com BPI: 113

Vs. SIU: SIU won 61-56 Dec. 5 in Carbondale

Last game: Beat Rhode Island 60-53 / Next game: Host UMass (7-7, 0-1 A10) Wednesday

Southeast Missouri State Redhawks (6-9, 1-1 OVC)

NET: 294

ESPN.com BPI: 289

Vs. SIU: SIU won 83-73 Dec. 8 at Cape Girardeau, Missouri

Last game: Beat UT-Martin 74-69 in overtime / Next game: Host Austin Peay (10-5, 2-0 OVC) Thursday

Murray State Racers (11-2, 2-0 OVC)

NET: 41

ESPN.com BPI: 64

Vs. SIU: Murray State won 80-52 in Carbondale

Last game: Beat Eastern Kentucky 97-85 / Next game: At Tennessee-Martin (5-8, 0-2 OVC) Thursday

Winthrop Eagles (9-5, 1-0 Big South)

NET: 120

ESPN.com BPI: 149

Vs. SIU: Winthrop won 79-71 in Carbondale

Last game: Beat UNC-Asheville 80-65 / Next game: At Campbell (8-7, 1-0 Big South) Thursday

*Missouri State Bears (6-9, 0-2 MVC)

NET: 234

ESPN.com BPI: 195

Vs. SIU: SIU won 75-70; at Missouri State Feb. 6

Last game: Lost 82-66 to Valparaiso / Next game: At Indiana State (9-5, 1-1 MVC) Tuesday

*Northern Iowa Panthers (6-9, 1-1 MVC)

NET: 232

ESPN.com BPI: 225

Vs. SIU: SIU won 58-51, host Northern Iowa Jan. 23

Last game: Lost 58-51 to SIU / Next game: At Illinois State (8-7, 1-1 MVC) Tuesday

*Drake Bulldogs (11-4, 0-2 MVC)

NET: 149

ESPN.com BPI: 154

Vs. SIU: SIU at Drake Jan. 8, Drake at SIU Feb. 12

Last game: Lost 85-74 to Loyola / Next game: Host SIU (9-6, 2-0 MVC) Tuesday

*Valparaiso Crusaders (9-6, 2-0 MVC)

NET: 187

ESPN.com BPI: 161

Vs. SIU: Valparaiso at SIU Jan. 12, SIU at Valparaiso Feb. 20

Last game: Beat Missouri State 82-66 / Next game: Host Bradley (8-7, 0-2 MVC) Tuesday

*Illinois State Redbirds (8-7, 1-1 MVC)

NET: 203

ESPN.com BPI: 211

Vs. SIU: SIU at Illinois State Jan. 15, Illinois State at SIU March 2

Last game: Beat Evansville 58-46 / Next game: Host Northern Iowa (6-9, 1-1 MVC) Tuesday

*Bradley Braves (8-7, 0-2 MVC)

NET: 213

ESPN.com BPI: 197

Vs. SIU: Bradley at SIU Jan. 20, SIU at Bradley Feb. 2

Last game: Lost 65-60 to Indiana State / Next game: At Valparaiso (9-6, 2-0 MVC) Tuesday

*Loyola Ramblers (9-6, 2-0 MVC)

NET: 78

ESPN.com BPI: 76

Vs. SIU: SIU at Loyola Jan. 27, Loyola at SIU Feb. 24

Last game: Beat Drake 85-74 / Next game: At Evansville (7-8, 1-1 MVC) Tuesday

*Indiana State Sycamores (9-5, 1-1 MVC)

NET: 131

ESPN.com BPI: 210

Vs. SIU: Indiana State at SIU Jan. 30, SIU at Indiana State Feb. 16

Last game: Beat Bradley 65-60 / Next game: Host Missouri State (6-9, 0-2 MVC) Tuesday

*Evansville Purple Aces (7-8, 1-1 MVC)

NET: 168

ESPN.com BPI: 226

Vs. SIU: Evansville at SIU Feb. 9, SIU at Evansville Feb. 27

Last game: Lost 58-46 to Illinois State / Next game: Host Loyola (9-6, 2-0 MVC) Tuesday

* MVC school

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todd.hefferman@thesouthern.com

618-351-5087

On Twitter: @THefferman

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Sports reporter

Todd Hefferman has covered SIU athletics since 2008. A University of Iowa grad, he is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and a Heisman Trophy voter.

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