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Minnesota Basketball: Previewing Southern Illinois

Gophers face Salukis after hot start to season.

NCAA Basketball: Air Force at Southern Illinois Byron Hetzler-USA TODAY Sports

If you didn’t know the Gophers were 5-0 and looking like one of the more intriguing teams in the Big Ten early in the season I don’t blame you. The team has barely been on TV and they weren’t in any holiday tournaments that would merit any additional coverage.

Still, after a handful of games we’re beginning to get a decent idea of what this team is capable of, what we can expect going forward and just how excited we should feel at this point. With a convincing win on Tuesday over Arkansas, the team’s toughest competition to date, it’s clear that the Gophers have the talent to hang with good P5 teams. And after such a disastrous 2015-16 campaign, that’s nothing to scoff at.

The Gophers next turn their attention to Southern Illinois. The Salukis aren’t expected to win the Missouri Valley and haven’t been for quite some time. But any top-half team from the MVC can be a threat, and they certainly are not a team to look past this early in the season. Despite finishing fourth in the MVC last year, the Salukis went 22-10 overall.

Essentials:

Who are the Gophers playing?

Southern Illinois Salukis

What time are they playing?

7 p.m. CT

Where are they playing?

Williams Arena

Can I watch the game on TV?

Kind of. It’s on BTN Plus, which requires its own subscription OUTSIDE of cable and is available online. You can cast it through Chromecast. It’s $9.95 per month.

Can I listen to the game on the radio?

Yes. 1500 ESPN.

Tell me more about the opponent

Southern Illinois comes into the game at 3-2 with wins over SIU-Edwardsville and Mount St. Mary’s and losses to Wright State and Arkansas, who dumped them by 25 points. And though they were a sneaky 11-7 last year in the MVC, the Salukis lost their top scorer and rebounder (two separate players) in the offseason, which hurts.

With their tallest player checking in at 6-9, SIU is a pretty small team, which should benefit the Gophers. But their two starting forwards, Sean O’Brien and Thik Bol, have been dominating on the boards, averaging 9 rpg each through the first five games. Even with all those boards, the Salukis haven’t been altogether competent on defense, allowing 77 ppg.

Bol is a 6-8, 208-lb transfer from Iowa Western Community College, where he was an NJCAA blocks maniac. A former volleyball player, he came from Sudan about a decade ago and takes over C duties after the previous placeholder abruptly transferred in late June. The transition has gone smoothly so far this season, as Bol is averaging 9.6 ppg, 9 rpg and 2.3 bpg.

O’Brien is the team’s most complete player, averaging 13 ppg, 9 rpg and 4 apg from the block. Much like Amir Coffey, he’s a skilled player and can create matchup problems down low. Also watch out for Mike Rodriguez, who leads the team in scoring so far and is one of four Salukis averaging in double figures.

Keys to the Game

  1. Attack the basket - The Salukis are doing a terrible job putting their opponents at the line, whereas the Gophers have been great at getting to the line. A bigger, stronger team, Minnesota would do well to get SIU’s thin frontcourt in foul trouble early.
  2. Keep the pressure on - The Gophers are rolling right now and have a couple of tougher games in Vanderbilt and Florida State around the corner. It will be important not to get complacent after a big win over Arkansas and two higher-profile games just days away.

Predictions

KenPom has this one going for the Gophers, 82-70. I like Minnesota by 10 in this one, 90-80.

Fun Fact:

A saluki is a dog breed originating in the Fertile Crescent and Persia and is classed as a sighthound and is typically deep-chested and long-legged. The saluki was chosen as SIU's mascot in 1951 in part because the southern Illinois region is colloquially known as Little Egypt.