First I'd like to welcome myself back to Carbondale after a week long vacation in the wonderful city of Chicago. The vacation recap post comes later, but right now I have some business to attend to....sweet business.
It's March Madness time and though my Final Four is still intact, my bracket success hinges on my Final Four making it there in one piece. Good news on the personal level, both of my favorite teams are still in the hunt, advancing to the Sweet 16 with victories this weekend. North Carolina beat some sixteen seed and then (thankfully) beat Michigan State to advance to the round of 16. Why thankfully? Because had MSU won, I would've never heard the end of it from my roommate who is a major MSU fan.
But this blog isn't about UNC today, it's about the Southern Illinois Salukis. I remember five years ago watching SIU advance to the Sweet 16 after beating Bobby Knight's Texas Tech team and Jim Harrick's Georgia Bulldogs. I remember thinking to myself that SIU was the place that I wanted to be when I went to college and wishing I was there to be able to celebrate that feat. Well that day has come again and this time I am a proud student at The Southern Illinois University.
The Chicago Sun-Times has it right when the headline in their photo section says "The Team That Nobody Wants To Play Is Still Playing." Really, that can be taken in so many different ways. Nobody wants to play SIU's type of grind it out type of game, as described in this ESPN article. And I'm sure that there is no player that wants to play against SIU's stifling man-to-man defense.
In addition, no one wants to play us....well in the state of Illinois at least. Former SIU coach Bruce Weber (now at the University of Illinois) is adamant about not facing the Salukis, going as far as throwing the game in the last five minutes against Virginia Tech, blowing a 10 point lead in less than 4 and 1/2 mintues. (Okay that's just my theory....but Weber's tried everything in his power to avoid SIU so that makes some sense in my head...but only in my head.) According to my sources up north, SIU has tried to schedule games against Chicagoland schools DePaul and Northwestern, but no deal has been made of yet.
And of course with that "mid-major" label sticking to them, BCS schools won't play SIU claiming that playing them doesn't help them (even though Arkansas made the NCAA tourney partially because of it's win against SIU in November on a neutral court in a tournament setting.....despite going 7-9 in conference play.)
But thanks to SIU's 61-51 win against Holy Cross and their 63-48 win against Virginia Tech (who they beat in the same tourney that they lost to Arkansas in) SIU is now in the Sweet 16 and will be playing Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks on Thursday night.
One of the good things about making it to the Sweet 16 is the press that the university will get. I don't care what anyone says, if a school has good athletics it's reputation will grow as an academic university because of its national exposure through the media, hopefully SIU's tourney run will get more kids interested in coming here. I still say SIU's biggest recruiting tool (besides the parties) is the weather during the winter months.
So what does the media have to say? CBSSportsline.com's Gregg Doyle goes out of his damn way to dis the Salukis run to the Sweet 16. Granted, I don't want the George Mason comparisons but to say SIU hasn't played anyone is absolutely ridiculous. They beat Holy Cross while one of thier most consistent offensive threats (forward Matt Shaw) was on the bench nursing a high ankle sprain while much maligned reserve forward Tony Boyle picked up the slack with 14 second half points. And who did HC dethrone to make it to the dance? Media darling Bucknell who was the defending two-time Patriot league champs. What about beating Virignia Tech? VT had a chance to win the ACC outright before stumbling in the last week, beat my boys in Carolina blue (twice!) and they beat Duke (at Duke!) and I don't care that Duke's down---winning on Coach K's court is difficult no matter what the personnel is.
I will say that Doyle makes a valid point when saying that GM had to go through college basketball's "Murderer's Row" to get to the Final Four by beating Michigan State, North Carolina and UConn....but a victory against Kansas would go a far way to validating SIU being in the Sweet 16.
As for the media up north? I spent my Spring Break spreading the good word about the Salukis to anyone who would give me an open ear. Friends, family members, people in the street, people at bars---anyone and everyone. However someone has been tooting our horn recently and that is Sun-Times resident instigator Jay Mariotti. In today's column, Mariotti stirs the pot of the whole Coach Lowery leaving for greener pastures storyline by mentioning him possibly going to Michigan to replace the recently ousted Tommy Amaker. Or maybe to Minnesota, where he'd have to rebuild a down-trodden Golden Gopher program. Or who knows what other schools will have openings at the end of the year. I think SIU will do everything in its power to keep its coach, who also happens to be an SIU alum, here in Carbondale.
Last week Mariotti put out a column that didn't piss me off (amazing!) by praising C-Lo and hyping the dream match-up of SIU/Illinois which would have happened had U of I not choked in the first round against Va Tech. And then there was this:
"If SIU whips up on the Illini, who have stooped to play the Salukis only twice (1982 in Champaign and 2001 in Las Vegas, both Illinois wins), I'll do everything I can to make sure the entire state adopts Southern."
Even though it didn't happen, I still think Mariotti should do what he said---but a Mariotti endorsement can be like a backhanded complement. I'm not sure that I want it.
Pep-rally tonight at the SIU Arena for the Egyptian Hunting Dawgs at 7 p.m. It should be a fun. It's good to be wearing Saluki Maroon today!