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The Southern Illinois game: first road challenge.

Southern Illinois Salukis
Overall record: 3-1
Missouri Valley Conference record: 0-0
2006-07 record: 29-7 (lost to Kansas in Sweet 16 of NCAA Tournament)
2006-07 RPI: 7
2006-07 Sagarin: 16
Series: IU leads 4-1
TV: 9:30 pm, ESPNU

Southern Illinois was the leading mid-major program last year, completing an outstanding regular season and advancing to the third round of the NCAA Tournament before falling to Kansas (by 3) in the Sweet 16. IU's 57-47 win over SIU in Bloomington probably was the Hoosiers' best nonconference win of the season. IU leads the series 4-1. All four IU wins were in Bloomington, and Southern Illinois beat IU the only time the Hoosiers have played at Carbondale (72-60 in 2001-02). SIU's program has been outstanding recently (the Salukis have played in six consecutive NCAA Tournaments). Current coach Chris Lowery's two immediate predecessors, Bruce Weber and Matt Painter, now coach in the Big Ten (no word on whether Lowery is a self-righteous crybaby).

As Pomeroy and other tempo-free oracles have often noted, teams that allow few points because they play slowly often are erroneously described as "good defensive teams," even if they give up lots of points per possession (Northwestern is the leading example of this fallacy). Southern Illinois is the real thing: the Salukis are a slow team that does play good defense. Last year, SIU averaged only 60.5 possession per game (sub 200) but ranked #18 nationally by allowing only .935 points per possession. The Salukis were mediocre offensively, averaging 1.04 points per possession (#141 out of 336), but their outstanding defense carried them. Last year, the Salukis ranked #22 nationally in offensive rebounds allowed and forced turnovers at a high rate. Not surprisingly for a team with a deliberate offense and strong defense, the Salukis did not rebound their own misses well.

This year, the picture has been a bit different for the Salukis. They have played much faster, averaging 66.4 possessions per game (that still good for only #250, but still faster in absolute terms). Once again, the Salukis have been ordinary offensively (only .96 points per possession, #216) and outstanding defensively (.86 ppp allowed, #29 nationally). For comparison, IU is now #22 offensively at 1.15 ppp and #101 with .945 ppp allowed. As last year, SIU does not place a priority on rebounding its misses (allowing 30 percent, #253) and turns the ball over on 23.7 percent of its possessions (#227). SIU isn't rebounding well defensively, either this season (34.8 #215) but is a turnover machine, forcing TOs on 33.8 percent of possession, #2 nationally. IU's rebounding numbers are middle of the pack offensively and defensively, and despite some breakdowns in recent games, IU is in the top 100 nationally with only a 19.5 turnover percentage offensively.

For the most part, this game pits strength against strength, weakness against weakness. If the Hoosiers can recapture last season's perimeter defense and can take care of the ball, they should win. If Eric Gordon's turnover problems continue, it could get ugly. IU can take some comfort from SIU's last game, a 70-45 beatdown by Southern Cal. USC shot 59 percent (way above average) and held SIU to 32 percent shooting. On the other hand, SIU returns most of its key players from last season's excellent team. Last season, IU shot only 38 percent from the field, compared to 45 percent for SIU, but won the turnover battle (20-11), rebounded well offensively and generated more shots than SIU, outscored SIU by 7 at the free throw line and made 6 three pointers to SIU's 3. This should be interesting.