Saint Mary's (West Coast) at Southern Illinois (Missouri Valley)
The SIU Arena - Carbondale, IL
8:05 PM EST
Even in a light week, we couldn't pass this one up, a rematch of the 2005 first-round mid-major-off between the No. 7 Salukis and No. 10 Gaels. That resulted in a wonderfully exciting 65-56 SIU win; it was the third straight Tournament appearance for Southern Illinois in a streak that's now reached six; the Gaels haven't been back since that loss.
But it sure looks like they're going back this year. We've talked about Saint Mary's (7-0) quite a bit these last few weeks, what with their big wins over Oregon, San Diego State and Seton Hall. They're your No. 1 team in the RPI, too. The Gaels play fast and fun, score a lot of points, and are pretty much everything you want out of a mid-major NCAA aspirant. But there's also this: look at their three leading scorers, and you have a freshman (Patty Mills
), a sophomore (Omar Samhan
) and a junior (Diamon Simpson
). They're undefeated with three wins against power- and money-league teams. If this is a team with seniors who just role-play, buckle up for a long future of trying to find new and interesting things to say about Saint Mary's.
On the other hand, we've spent the past few years trying to figure out new and interesting angles about SIU, since they've just kept on winning and going to the NCAA's and flying the Valley flag high. They've won at least 15 games in Hoops Nation's toughest mid-major conference five years running, and came into the season as one of those handful of teams at this level that get Top 25 votes. Not much poll love recently, though, since the Salukis have hit a major offensive slump during the last three games, averaging 50.6 points a contest in losses to USC, Indiana and Charlotte. The defense isn't a problem, though, never is... SIU averages 20.7 forced turnovers a game, and opponents turn it over 31 percent of the time. They'll find their shooting touch again, SMC just hopes it's not tonight.SIU 71, SMC 56