I stood in stunned disbelief, I couldn't believe what just happened. We were so close. I'm sure experts wanted to predict a KU blowout, but couldn't out of respect to SIU. No one expected us to be this close---at one point I believe we had a 6 point lead. But it was such a back-and-forth game, anyone who watched figured that it would come down to the final possession.
Despite the loss, there are silver linings in the clouds this evening.
- With their second Sweet 16 appearance this decade, SIU finished with 29 wins, the most in school history. They also finished in the top 15 of both the Associated Press Poll and the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll, and in the top 10 in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI.) Nothing to hang your head about, it was an amazing season--from start to finish.
- With this Sweet 16 run, SIU solidified itself as not just the best of the so called "mid-majors" but a lot of people are calling them the "Gonzaga of the Midwest" which is a much higher complement than being the next George Mason. Gonzaga, a private West Coast university known primarily for being John Stockton's alma mater and a perennial Cinderella school, has solidified itself over the last decade as a "mid-major" powerhouse to the point where people are expecting the Bulldogs to be in the tournament every year. SIU's made the tourney the last seven years and are on the verge of being a program, not just another school. Randal Falker put it best when he said (and I'm paraphrasing) that as good as it is to break the records of the last great team he can't wait until this team's records are broken---that's how you know the program is still successful.
- In addition to building this university's basketball team into a basketball program (and I'll get to the difference between a team and a program in a later blog because it's worthy of it's own blog), this Sweet 16 run also has put SIU firmly in the spotlight. Not only in this state, but nationwide as well. The success of the basketball team this year gave the school free PR....good PR at that because everyone associates a good basketball school with a good university---except for Cincinnati because they don't graduate players. Not only will the hoops squad benefit, but hopefully the school will as well.
- A really cool thing about the loss (if there is a such thing) is the press we're getting from the north. I (among countless others) have chastised the northern press for not giving the Salukis enough love. While Illinois dominated the headlines with stories of DUI's, inconsistencies and calling for Coach Bruce Weber's head---SIU was taking care of business dominating the MVC and kicking down the door of exclusivity that generally keeps prorams like ours out. DePaul (of course) gets a lot of pub from the press up north--a talented team on the rise in the rigorous Big East Conference. They earned their press by making it to the final eight of the NIT, coming one point short of the semi-finals in New York City's Madison Square Garden. Loyola, Northwestern, UIC, NIU all got their fair share of publicity....but only U of I and SIU were dancing in March. We got ours in the end.
- Personally, I don't believe in moral victories. In my book, it's either a win or a loss. There is no column for "moral victories." But in a situation like this, I guess you just have to tip your hat to Kansas and take the moral victory, along with the pats on the back from the media. Jay Mariotti has been praising SIU for a while now, saying in today's article that he has never been more impressed with a team on the short end of the stick. I think that Mariotti is used to the sore loser mentallity brought upon by Ozzie Guillen and Dusty Baker in recent baseball years. That article is a must read. The Trib's Mike Downey also sang our praises and metioned the dreaded "moral victory." In the end, all the press SIU has gotten recently can only be good. Maybe it will get kids up north interested in playing for SIU. Who wouldn't want to play for the next big thing, a team that is consistently winning and seemingly on the rise. What kid wouldn't want to come to school here where the weather hits 80 degrees in mid-March when in Chicago it's fiftysomething if you're lucky.
- In the end, if you're a student or a fan or a distant admirer---you have just got to be proud of what the Salukis have accomplished this year. I know I am.
- B.U.D.D.Y by Musiq Soulchild
- Pop, Lock & Drop It by Huey
- Pose by Justin Timberlake (featuring Snoop Dogg)
- This Is Why I'm Hot by MIMS
- War Remix by Nas featuring The Game
- California Girls by The Beach Boys
- Papa's Got A Brand New Bag (Pt. 1) by James Brown
- Gangster of Love by Johnny "Guitar" Watson
- These Arms of Mine by Otis Redding
- Living For The Love of You by The Isley Brothers