Saluki Sports Update
It just isn’t as much fun as it used to be. And, of course we’re referring to “March Madness,” a catchy term the NCAA borrowed from the Illinois High School Association, which was popularly used in referring to this state’s high school tournament back in the days when 16 teams got together in Huff (no relation) Gymnasium on the University of Illinois campus in Champaign back in the 1940s.
Yes, those were fun years and so, too, were the late 1900s and early 2000s, when SIU’s Salukis made regular appearances in the NCAA or NIT.
The dates never appeared on SIU’s printed schedule, but you could almost figure that the Salukis would be competing in one or the other.
Don’t take us seriously, but you can blame Rich Herrin, the old, and retired, coach who turned SIU’s basketball program around in the late 1980s and set the pattern for Bruce Weber, Matt Painter and Chris Lowery who followed.
After taking over SIU’s troubled program in the mid-1980s and laying the foundation in 1986, 1987 and 1988, Herrin guided the Salukis to spots in the NIT in 1989, 1990, 1991 and 1992 before winning three consecutive Missouri Valley Conference tournaments and the prime prize of a berth in the NCAA in 1993, 1994 and 1995.
Seven years in a row. Postseason appearances. It was catching. Automatic. Made paying taxes less bothersome.
Yes, it ended briefly, but Herrin’s replacement, Weber, soon righted the SIU ship and had the Salukis back in postseason action in the 2000 NIT and NCAA Sweet Sixteen in 2002 and a couple of his assistants, Matt Painter and Chris Lowery, followed suit for the next seven seasons. It was quite a run. And, catching to Saluki fans who have not enjoyed either, the NIT or NCAA, since SIU’s Sweet Sixteen run in 2007 or NIT berth in 2008.
So what does it take? What’s needed? Will the Salukis ever be back in the postseason? You would have to ask some one far smarter than us for that answer.
Winning the Valley tournament in St. Louis appears to be the quickest, and most sure, answer. As long as the MVC has its automatic spot, it’s just that, a sure thing. Yes, occasionally the league is strong enough throughout the season that it’s number two team is rewarded with a spot.
That, however, is an iffy ticket and this year’s runner-up, Illinois State, didn’t receive any consideration as far as we know.
In fact, only one SIU opponent other than the Valley champion, Loyola, is in the tournament.
Murray State, an early-season winner over the Salukis, is in, but isn’t likely to be around long. It’s a long, tough road, but well worth the time and trouble to get there.
The recognition and publicity every team, even those eliminated early, is well worth the effort.
We’ve never seen any figures, if they exist, on what presence in the tourney means to participants.
With SIU’s enrollment figures being what they are, however, officials would surely welcome any assistance received from participation.
It just isn’t that simple. Ask SIU’s present coach Barry Hinson. He’s been at it for a lifetime and still hasn’t cracked the NCAA field.