Southern Illinois at Western Kentucky
E.A. Diddle Arena - Bowling Green, KY
8:00 PM EST
Southern Illinois: Sweet 16, 2007. Western Kentucky: Sweet 16, 2008. A pair of programs with major March impact over the past two seasons go at it tonight in the land of Big Red. And it might be a bit much to ask the same of either this season, as both are retooling after the losses of key players from those bracket-busting squads.
Courtney Lee was as good a talent as you'll see at this level, and it sure was fun to watch him these past few years. But last year's Sun Belt POY is gone, along with Darrin Horn, the coach that guided him through college (off to the green fields of South Carolina). What's left is an array of spare parts that hasn't quite fit together, but WKU fans will have at least a month's worth of patience for new bench boss Ken McDonald, in from Texas' bench. Western's (1-2) offense has been indefensible, scoring just 62.3 ppg and shooting just 40.1 percent on the new season. But this team will get it turned around eventually, and the cross-state Murray State Racers (89-61 winners
last Saturday) are advised not to gloat.
Southern Illinois' Valley hopes rest on the influx of five talented freshmen, one of the best recruiting classes the school's ever brought in. Learn the name Kevin Dillard,
because he's going to be a Valley POY before his career is through. He's scored 11.8 ppg and is already showing the kind of emotion the great Saluki teams have always run on. Unfortunately, new 6-11 big Nick Evans
is out 4-6 weeks with a broken wrist suffered at the Coaches vs. Cancer tourney in New York -- the crash when he hit the floor against UCLA still reverberates in our consciousness.
SIU has had the better of this series since it resumed as a home-and-home two seasons ago. On Dec. 9, 2006, Tony Young (now a Saluki graduate assistant) scored 21 to pace a 75-70 win
at Diddle. Last season, departed Topper hero Lee
(getting 10 minutes a night for the Orlando Magic these days) poured in 30, but SIU still prevailed by 10
behind three 20-point performances. Tonight, another chapter in the battle of two storied programs.Basketball State Preview/Box