In each of the last two seasons, the Southern Illinois men’s basketball team has improved its record. It had appeared that the team would forever be in basketball purgatory after firing coach Chris Lowery and seeing Mr. Illinois Basketball, Kevin Dillard, leave for Dayton.
In Lowery’s last season, 2011-12, the Salukis finished 8-23 with a conference record of 5-14. The team was not as good as its record would suggest. None of the teams in the conference were afraid of challenging SIU and the Dawg Pound at SIU Arena. When Barry Hinson took the reins of the program in 2012, he inherited a team that was broken and lacking identity. Even after Southern’s dominance of the MVC in the early 2000s, its most talented players had left to seek other opportunities.
The team had one bright spot in Hinson’s initial season in Desmar Jackson, a versatile, rangy scorer. In his first seasons at SIU, Jackson led the team with 15.1 points per game while Hinson coached the team to a 14-17 record with a 5-12 conference record. This year, the Salukis finished 14-19 overall, but finished with 9-9 in conference play. Jackson also led the team with 18.6 PPG. Hinson also nabbed his first MVC tournament win this year as SIU defeated Northern Iowa, 63-58.
Hinson and his “Mama’s boys” finished as the hottest team in the conference and the tandem of Jackson and Anthony Beane (14.7 PPG) was the best in MVC. Next season, the team will lose Jackson but Beane, a sophomore, will be one year more experienced and he appeared to take the torch from Jackson in the late stages of the season.
SIU will be much improved on the interior next year as upcoming center Bola Olyanian will be paired with Illinois transfer Ibby Djimde and Jordan Caroline of Montverde (Fla.) High School. The team’s biggest challenge will be to fill the scoring void left by Jackson. Beane will no doubt have to shoulder much of the load, but he will need help from a young team riddled with underclassmen.
Hinson’s third season with the Salukis should see a team that has more depth than any other he has had, but it will be the youngest and most inexperienced as well. The MVC will be a weaker conference, which should allow Southern the opportunity to make a conference run.